Lehi’s Prophecy of Perdition: Who Would Partake of the Tree of Life and then Leave?

Have you ever asked the question about Lehi’s dream regarding those that partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life and then become ashamed and then leave? Partaking of the Tree of Life is the assurance of eternal life – yet it doesn’t make sense that there would be a group that would have this assurance and then fall away. This essay explores this question and suggest that those that partake and then fall way are perdition – and it happens enough to include it in a powerful prophesy.

Nephi and Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life serves as a doctrinal framework for the entire Book of Mormon. It is the revelation of the plain and precious truths of the doctrine of Christ that restores us to a knowledge of how to obtain the presence of the Lord.

If we wrest this revelation by misappropriating the doctrine and assuming that we are experiencing the path in ways that we aren’t, or misinterpreting the doctrine to fit our own experience, we run the risk of once again losing the plain and precious truths of the gospel. There is great power in understanding both the vision and the doctrine of the revelation (found in 2 Nephi 31-32) because we can then know exactly where we are in our journey to Christ, and we can know what to do next.

If we fail to understand where we are personally in this doctrinal structure, then we will fail to make the progress needed to move forward. We will at a minimum be stagnant in our progression; but the greater risk is that we will fail to fulfill the spiritual requirements for real spiritual progress. We must get this right and not wrest the scriptures to our own destruction” (Alma 13: 20).

In order to clearly understand the Lehi and Nephi’s vision, and the doctrine of Christ, we must be really clear about the meaning of the Tree of Life – what it means and who partakes of its fruit. Thankfully, the scriptures are really clear about this point of doctrine.

What is the Tree of Life?

We first encounter the tree in the multiple accounts of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We should note that they were forbidden to partake of the fruit after they partook of the fruit of tree of knowledge of good and evil. Why would this be? Why would the plan of God be thwarted and they would live forever in their sins?

Alma’s Teaching

Of course these questions have depths and layers impossible to explore quickly in a single essay. But at a minimum we should understand that the consequence of eating from the Tree of Life would cause them to “live forever” (Moses 4:28). The Lord protects the tree by placing cherubim and a flaming sword so that those who do not qualify cannot partake and live forever in their sins.

This is the first indication that the Tree of Life is to partake of eternal life. As Alma teaches this doctrine he also makes clarifies the following:

“But behold, it was appointed unto man to die—therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth—and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man.

And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will…

and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord,…

And now remember, my son, if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord.” (Alma 42: 6-23).

Alma makes it clear that the tree of Life is the presence of the Lord. In the 12th chapter of his record he teaches that those who prepare themselves for the Tree of Life enter into the rest of the Lord.

And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect…

But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;

Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.

And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest.

And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first.

And now, my brethren, seeing we know these things, and they are true, let us repent, and harden not our hearts, that we provoke not the Lord our God to pull down his wrath upon us in these his second commandments which he has given unto us; but let us enter into the rest of God, which is prepared according to his word” (Alma 12: 26-37).

Why is this sermon from Alma so significant? It is because he includes language and doctrine that we learn from Joseph Smith in his revelation on the Priesthood in D&C 84 that “the rest of the Lord” means something very specific. Joseph revealed about Moses exactly the same thing Alma was referencing – and that is to enter into the rest of the Lord is to enter into his rest. Those that are extended the invitation in this life (by receiving the oath and covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood) is to enter into his rest in the flesh. Denying this invitation brings the provocation of the Lord, which is both Alma and Joseph’s revelatory warning.

But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84: 24).

Again, why is this important? Because if we understand the unifying revelation of Moses, Alma, and Joseph Smith, we learn that partaking of the Tree of Life is to enter into the rest of the Lord – which is to enter into his glory while in the flesh. This is the great doctrine of the higher priesthood and the fulness of the priesthood.

In his sermon to the Zoramites in chapter 32 and 33, Alma teaches that partaking of the seed will bring you to a place that the Tree of Life springs up within you, and you partake of the fruit of the tree which is “most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst” (Alma 32: 42). This is the state of those that have regained the presence of the Lord. It is the state of receiving a perfect knowledge of his goodness and reality.

Nephi’s Teaching

Nephi teaches that partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life is the greatest of the gifts of God.

Wherefore, the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life, whose fruit is most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God”  (1 Nephi 15: 36).

From the D&C we know that the greatest of God’s gifts is eternal life.

“And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14: 7; 6:13).

When he was given an interpretation of the Tree of Life he was taught that it was the love of God.

And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of lifewhich waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God” (1 Nephi 11: 25).

This is an extremely important scripture to both consider and also to resist the mistake of concluding that the love of God means feeling his love through the spirit in measure. It is equating eternal life to the love of God.

When Nephi describes something as the love of God, he is describing the gift of eternal life. It is easy to confuse this notion of tasting of the love of God through the spirit as partaking of the Tree of Life. It isn’t. The Tree of Life is eternal life, and partaking of the fullness of the fruit is to partake of the promises, blessings, and endowments of the promise of eternal life.

Why is it so important to carefully draw this out? Because it is easy to mistakenly believe that since we experience the love of God that we are partaking of the Tree of Life. It is a very different thing. We can begin to partake of the fruit through a process of consumption (as outlined in Alma 32), but we must not mistake the reception of the Holy Ghost or experiencing the love of God as partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life. We are at risk of wresting the scriptures if we do not grasp what Nephi is really teaching when he describes the fruit as the “love of God”. When Nephi refers to the love of God when partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life is referring to the blessings of the promise of eternal life. It is the calling and election made sure and the Second Comforter blessings.

When we enter the path we receive of the first comforter through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost – becoming born again. When we endure to the end we receive of the Second Comforter – which is the rest of the Lord and promise of eternal life. It is in this summary of the doctrine of Christ that Nephi teaches the calling and election made sure is the reward of the strait and narrow path:

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31: 20).

The promise of obtaining the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life.

Nephi couldn’t be clearer: the strait and narrow path leads strait and narrow path leads to eternal life (2 Nephi 31: 18). And promise of obtaining the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life.

Why is it so important to emphasize this through the cataloguing of this doctrine with so many scriptural witnesses? It is because it is so common to refer to covenant members of the church as those who are partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. It is even common to describe members of the church as those who are standing at the Tree of Life and partaking.

Yes, we begin to taste of the fruit in degrees when we are born again and are on the strait and narrow path. But it is critical to make a distinction between this and partaking of eternal life at the tree. The Tree of Life represents the Second Comforter blessings of the gospel. To judge it differently is to wrest the scriptures in a potentially very dangerous way.

Perhaps the reason why we often don’t associate partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life with the calling and election made sure is because of something very peculiar that Lehi witnesses.

Who Partakes of the Tree of Life then Leaves?

If the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life, why does Lehi witness those that partake of it and then are ashamed and leave?

“And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.

And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed” (1 Nephi 8: 24-25).

The question is simple: why would someone who partakes of the greatest of all the gifts of God, receives a fullness of his love, partakes of the most desirable of all things – even the promise of eternal life, and then gets ashamed? And then leaves?

Because it seems absurd that someone would have these blessings and then become ashamed, it is very common for readers to then assume the fruit of the Tree of Life is not eternal life. It just doesn’t add up that this group of people would exist. The assumption then becomes that the Tree of Life is something other than eternal life.

We should be very careful about making this judgment. If we read and study carefully, we can understand who Lehi is witnessing and learn exactly what is happening.

The first thing to recognize is that Lehi is seeing more than just his family in his vision. He is also seeing his posterity.

“And behold, because of the thing which I have seen, I have reason to rejoice in the Lord because of Nephi and also of Sam; for I have reason to suppose that they, and also many of their seed, will be saved” ( 1 Nephi 8: 3).

Considering that that Lehi is seeing a vision of his posterity on the path and at the tree, we can then explore who in the Book of Mormon record Lehi may be witnessing. One group happens to be the Nephites that existed in a Zion society for 200 years after the coming of Christ. This is a portion of Lehi and Nephi’s seed about which we don’t have a lot of information (presumably it is contained in the greater portion of the Book of Mormon).

This group of Nephites that once lived in a Zion society were all partakers of the “heavenly gift“.

And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4th Nephi 1: 3). 

What is the heavenly gift? Ether chapter 12 and Hebrews chapter 6 gives insight into this curious and rare term.

Ether 12 is a phenomenal account of individuals that exercised faith in order to receive the greatest blessings, manifestations, and promises of the Lord – and most important of these is the assurance of eternal life. In reference to the heavenly gift, the record reveals the following:

For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.

But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen” (Ether 12: 8-9).

The context reveals that the heavenly gift in Ether is receiving the presence of the Lord. Hebrews also contextually affirms this meaning in the following verses:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6: 4-6).

Paul teaches that if someone partakes of the heavenly gift that it is impossible for them to repent. They fall into a state of perdition “seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”

This is a description of the spiritual state of perdition. It is also a warning to those that have been received the heavenly gift  that they can fall away and be permanently severed from presence of the Lord.

What is fascinating is that we have a warning from Paul of the possibility of exactly what happens to the Nephites of 4th Nephi. We have a people that are partaking of the heavenly gift, they are partaking fully of the tree of life, and they fall into apostasy and are cut off from the tree. We are all familiar with the tragic demise of the Nephites who enter into this collective perdition state.

Consider also that at the end of the 1000 year millennial reign of Zion upon the earth, that there will be a final confrontation with the Adversary because the righteousness of the hearts of the people will no longer bind him from their presence. This is another example of the possibility of a people partaking of the heavenly gift and then choosing to be cut off from the Tree of Life.

Perhaps those that qualify for perdition are far more numerous than thought. Those of 4th Nephi, and those at the end of the Millennium, and perhaps groups in the times of Melchizedek and Noah also produced this class of people.

In other words, the reason it is difficult to imagine that there would be a significant group of people that would receive the promises of eternal life and then fall away is because we are unfamiliar with a Zion structure. It isn’t in our awareness or experience of what it would be like to live in a society of saints that have the heavenly gift; and we haven’t experienced the spiritual temptations and nature of this type of situation.

Lehi’s dream is so instructive on a level that exceeds our experience in this generation of the church. Even though it is not in our experience to live in a Zion state, we all too often yield to the temptation to associate all of the experiences of the Tree of Life with our own spiritual experiences – assuming in an odd way that we, as a people, know what it is like to live in a covenant body that lives and experiences the fullness of the gospel. We wrest the scriptures to believe that if we are active members of the church than we must be partakers of the Tree of Life – even though our experiences have no resemblance to those societies in the scriptural accounts of those that received collectively the heavenly gift.

It therefore becomes confusing to us that there would be people who would partake of the Tree of Life and then fall away if the Tree was the assurance of exaltation. Because we don’t experience that redemptive experience broadly it is hard for us to understand how it could be possible that it would happen enough to even make mention.

But it does happen, and it happened to Lehi’s posterity. And this is why he witnessed it. And his dream served as a prophetic warning to his future generations that this would happen.  It also serves as a warning of how to avoid the temptation once they find themselves partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life.

As we understand the truth of the components of the Tree of Life, we are able to receive the detailed insight as to our own spiritual situation, and how to more clearly come to Christ. We receive the invitation to come into his presence in the flesh. And we are warned of the great power of the temptation to yield to those in the Great and Spacious Building.

May we resist the temptation to wrest the scriptures and take the warning of Alma seriously that if we do so, we do it unto our destruction.  We need to stop casually referring to ourselves as a people that partakes of the fruit of the Tree of Life. This is reserved for a people that have actually entered into a Zion structure and have collectively received the heavenly gift.

And may we also be full of gratitude for the record of the Book of Mormon that both invites us into the presence of the Lord while we are in mortality, and also warns us of the complexity and power of temptations and darkness that will seek our overthrow.

 

 

 

Author: Todd McLauchlin

This is an LDS site that is dedicated to the invitation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to awake and arise to the great promises of redemption and transformation. My name is Todd Mclauchlin and I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have a love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and would like to share openly my feelings, testimony, and personal perspectives of the Doctrine of Christ. I currently reside in Draper, Utah.

One thought on “Lehi’s Prophecy of Perdition: Who Would Partake of the Tree of Life and then Leave?”

  1. These last two posts have addressed questions I have asked for a long time and given me much to ponder. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights!

    Like

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