The Last shall be First, and the First shall be Last
In Luke, Chapter 13, we find this:
"23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:
26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last."
In a similar vein to the admonition by the Savior in Matthew, Chapter 7, verses 21-23, not everyone who thinks they are justified for the kingdom of God will be admitted. What was perceived as being fit for the kingdom is judged by Christ to be the work of iniquity. What is it that we must do individually to be accepted of God? I hope these pages help answer that question.
Let's now look at another use of this phrase found in the Book of Mormon, 1st Nephi, Chapter 13:
"40 And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.
41 And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.
42 And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last."
In the last verse, we are told that Christ will manifest or present himself to the Jews and then to the Gentiles after which He will manifest Himself to the Gentiles and then to the Jews.
This can be broken down into four events:
- Christ manifest to the Jews
- Christ manifest to the Gentiles
- Christ manifest to the Gentiles
- Christ manifest to the Jews.
The first three have happened and can be expanded by scripture references to follow. The last is yet to happen but this transition is foretold in the scriptures. We will now examine these four events.
Let's follow the sequence.
Christ is manifest to the Jews
In the meridian of time, Christ was born and raised among the Jews. He stated in Matthew, Chapter 15:
"22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Christ's message was exclusively for the Jews. In this above instance early in His ministry, he declined to help the woman from Canaan because she was not of the house of Israel. The terms 'Jews' and 'house of Israel' can be used interchangeably as found in the 15th Chapter of 1st Nephi which states:
"17 And this is what our father meaneth; and he meaneth that it will not come to pass until after they are scattered by the Gentiles; and he meaneth that it shall come by way of the Gentiles, that the Lord may show his power unto the Gentiles, for the very cause that he shall be rejected of the Jews, or of the house of Israel.
18 Wherefore, our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
19 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, spake much unto them concerning these things; yea, I spake unto them concerning the restoration of the Jews in the latter days.
20 And I did rehearse unto them the words of Isaiah, who spake concerning the restoration of the Jews, or of the house of Israel; and after they were restored they should no more be confounded, neither should they be scattered again. And it came to pass that I did speak many words unto my brethren, that they were pacified and did humble themselves before the Lord."
This dispensation fulfills the first segment of the phrase. Christ did initially come to the Jews. His message was not received.
Christ is manifest to the Gentiles
The Jews or the house of Israel rejected the message of Christ. Following his resurrection, the apostles were still focused on the Jewish nation for converts until Peter encountered Cornelius. The work was then opened up to the Gentiles. Christ foreshadowed this transition in a parable presented in Matthew, Chapter 21:
"33 ¶ Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.
35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.
38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet."
Christ tells the priest and Pharisees that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to another. This represents the transition from the Jews to the Gentiles. This idea is stated explicitly in the 13th Chapter of Acts where Paul explains why the Gentiles are allowed to receive the message of the kindgom:
"44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
47 For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."
So the Jews were given the first opportunity to accept the message of Christ. When they rejected Him, the Gentiles were then the focus of the good news. History tells us the the Christians came not in large part from the Jew, but from the non-Jewish segments of the society. This sequence is also captured in the following scripture found in Romans, Chapter 2:
"9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:"
Following the pattern identified above, the sequence is now reversed with the Gentiles first and then the Jews.
Christ is manifest a second time to the Gentiles
This, of course, is the restoration of the 'gospel' in our time. In 1830, the Book of Mormon was published and sent to the world with the message of the restored Gospel. All people were to be invited into the kingdom but there was a sequence that is exhibited in the scriptures. The following is found in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 107:
"33 The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.
34 The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews;
35 The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews."
We, the gentiles, are presented with the opportunity to accept and promulgate that gospel just as the Jews were given the first opportunity in the meridian of time. What shall we do with it?
Christ is manifest a second time to the Jews
As we have seen from the scriptures above, the Lord has established a sequence of events leading up to His return in glory. The gentiles now have been given the opportunity to individually and collectively accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first time around, the Jews counted themselves unworthy of the gospel message. In this dispensation, there are two ways this can unfold
First, the gentiles can accept the fulness of the gospel, establish His church based on that gospel and do the works that meet for the kingdom as described earlier. This is the opportunity that we, as gentiles, have been presented as defined in 3rd Nephi, Chapter 27.
Second, the gentiles can reject the fulness of the gospel, build a church based on the works of men, and find ourselves rejected. This is the sword that now hangs over our individual and collective heads.
We know that this transition will occur with the message going to the Jews. The Book of Mormon repeatedly encourages us, the gentiles, to repent and come unto Christ and be numbered with the house of Israel. We, individually, have a choice to make.
Let's examine the scriptures that predict the outcome.
Earlier in this segment, I presented the parable of the wicked husbandman found in Matthew 21. In that parable, Christ warned the Pharisees that they were to lose the kingdom of God. In the Joseph Smith translation of Matthew, additional information was presented regarding the gentiles 'opportunity.' Here is the text found in the JST Matthew Chapter 21:
"50 And now his disciples came to him, and Jesus said unto them, Marvel ye at the words of the parable which I spake unto them?
51 Verily, I say unto you, I am the stone, and those wicked ones reject me.
52 I am the head of the corner. These Jews shall fall upon me, and shall be broken.
53 And the kingdom of God shall be taken from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof; (meaning the Gentiles.)
54 Wherefore, on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.
55 And when the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, he will destroy those miserable, wicked men, and will let again his vineyard unto other husbandmen, even in the last days, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
56 And then understood they the parable which he spake unto them, that the Gentiles should be destroyed also, when the Lord should descend out of heaven to reign in his vineyard, which is the earth and the inhabitants thereof."
Here is a warning to the Gentiles that the same rock upon which the Jews were broken, would grind them to powder. Who are the husbandmen in these last days who were tasked with keeping the vineyard? These will find the same fate as the the scribes and Pharisees.
In the 45th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants we find the word of the Lord to His apostles in the meridian of time:
"24 And this I have told you concerning Jerusalem; and when that day shall come, shall a remnant be scattered among all nations;
25 But they shall be gathered again; but they shall remain until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
26 And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men's hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth.
27 And the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound.
28 And when the times of the Gentiles is come in, a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fulness of my gospel;
29 But they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men.
30 And in that generation shall the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
Here we have another reference to the Gentiles being presented with the fulness of the gospel but not accepting it. The Jews will remain scattered until the Gentiles have had their opportunity. Like a flickering ember that fails to ignite, the gospel was not able to take hold.
Earlier in the execise, there was a scripture citation from 3rd Nephi, Chapter 16, regarding the Gentiles. We read in verse 6 that they were blessed because of their belief in God given them of the Holy Ghost. We read in verse 7 that 'in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them.' In verse 8, we find that the 'unbelieving of the Gentiles' scatters the house of Israel. The assumption is that if there needed to be a designation of unbelievers among the Gentiles, we have to assume that there were believers also.
The following is found in verses 10 through 12:
"10 And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
11 And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them.
12 And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel."
Here we find, again, that the fulness of the gospel is rejected by the Gentiles and extended to the house of Israel. This scripture speaks of the Gentiles collectively and, as shown above, includes the LDS Church as represented by the faithful believers that were given the truth.
Again, in the next verse, we see the Lord reaching out to the Gentiles:
"13 But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel."
We have the opportunity to repent and return to God. How does one return to a place that they have never been? This implies that we once embraced the gospel but then rejected it. God is asking us to return. Several times during his tenure as a church leader, President Ezra Taft Benson told us that the condemnation found in section 84, verses 54 through 57, of the Doctrine and Covenants still applied to us because we took lightly the Book of Mormon. Has this condemnation ever been lifted? As discussed, we need to accept the fulness of the gospel which requires us to repent and be baptized both by water and by fire and the Holy Ghost in order receive a remission of our sins.
The Lord also warns us what will happen if we do not return:
"15 But if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel."
We do not know if this treading will be of a spiritual or physical nature but we can take a clue from the effect the rejection of the gospel had upon the Jews at the time of Christ. It is also important to note the reference to the salt and savor. In Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101, we find this reference:
"39 When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men;
40 They are called to be the savor of men; therefore, if that salt of the earth lose its savor, behold, it is thenceforth good for nothing only to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men."
The salt that has lost its savor would point to those who did not accept the gospel and covenant (you may recall that the people of King Benjamin covenanted with the Lord after they had received a remission of their sins).
So there it is... We are all called to embrace the fulness of the gospel - to repent and be baptized, to receive a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, to be sanctified and made holy. By so doing, we can establish Zion, the pure in heart and prepare for the return of our Lord and Savior. Such is the message of the gospel.