You can read 1 Nephi 11:13-22 here.
After hearing his father relate the vision of the tree of life, Nephi had a great desire to really understand what his father’s dream meant. Nephi spent time pondering and praying, and then had his own vision of his father’s dream that helped him to understand it.
Nephi aches to understand what the meaning of the tree of life is. An angel is showing him the meaning of Lehi’s dream, and the first thing that is addressed is the meaning of the tree.
I’m paraphrasing here, but the angel asks what Nephi wants to know. Nephi says he wants to know what the interpretation of the tree of life is. And this is the response:
“And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence.
13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.” – 1 Nephi 11:12-13
So – the angel departs from Nephi’s presence, and then Nephi sees a vision. He sees Jerusalem and other cities. He sees Nazareth. In Nazareth, he sees a virgin.
What does this have to do with the Savior or the tree of life? Well, let’s read on.
“And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.” – 1 Nephi 11:14-15
The angel returns again and asks Nephi what he saw. What was it that Nephi saw? Well, he recognized that he saw a virgin who was beautiful and fair. He saw Mary.
I have no idea how Nephi understood that Mary was a virgin. Maybe it was an impression. Maybe it was something based on a cultural understanding that I have no knowledge of. … Okay, so I did a quick internet search, and found this: “How did Nephi know Mary was a virgin? A few verses later, the angel calls her as such, but Mary may have been wearing the veil of a virgin or the double sash, plainly indicating her status to Nephi (See Mary and Elisabeth by S. Kent Brown, 13).” (See here.)
So – he knew that she was a virgin. And he describes this virgin as
- exceedingly fair and white
- Most beautiful and fair above all other virgins
By the way – notice what Nephi said about the tree:
“And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” – 1 Nephi 11:8
This tree sounds a lot like Nephi’s description of Mary. The tree is beautiful – exceeding of all beauty. It was whiter than the driven snow. The tree is what bears the fruit and Mary is the woman who bore the Savior.
I’ve never really noticed this before, and I can’t say that I figured this out on my own. I read an article here that clued me into this connection.
Now, I know that this really is about the Savior. And that is what this dream is about, too. After all Lehi partook of the fruit of the tree.
So – in understanding this vision of his father’s the angel of the Lord shows Nephi Mary. Then he asks Nephi a critical question. We read the question and Nephi’s response:
“And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” – 1 Nephi 11:16-17
Here, the angel is starting to help Nephi understand the meaning of the tree by asking a simple question. The angel asks if Nephi knows the condescension of God.
Nephi admits that he doesn’t, but he prefaces his lack of understanding with something he does know – that God loves his children.
(Side note: I love this. We don’t need to know everything. Nor should we have blind faith. Though Nephi didn’t know everything about God, he knew that God loved him – that God is a trustworthy, loving father).
The angel continues:
“And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.” – 1 Nephi 11:18-20
The angel explains that the virgin Nephi saw was indeed Mary – the mother of our Savior. Nephi didn’t see her for a bit, and then he sees her again – still a virgin – bearing her child in her arms.
And now, the angel announces:
“And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!…” – 1 Nephi 11:21
This little baby in the virgin’s arms – is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the Savior of the World. Nephi saw this and understood it. We read:
“…Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” – 1 Nephi 11:21-22
Nephi saw this virgin and her son and recognized that He was the fulfillment of the prophecies of his father and other prophets. Though John hadn’t yet written his scripture (See John 3:16), Nephi understood that this baby was the embodiment of the Love that God had for our world. Nephi saw and understood all of this when he saw Mary hold the baby in her arms.
I can’t help but think of another experience recorded in scripture:
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.” – Luke 2:25-33
Sometimes it is hard for me to imagine – how did Nephi understand that the baby that Mary held was the Savior of the world. I mean, later on, Nephi learns more about the Savior’s life, but he “got it” before seeing all of that. It is only after seeing Mary hold the baby Jesus in his arms that he understands that the tree of life that his father saw was the love of God – the most desirable of all things (and, as the angel mentions, the most joyous to the soul). How did he understand this?
I suppose it is the same way that Simeon understood that the newborn babe in the temple was the consolation of Israel, salvation, light, and glory. It is because the Holy Ghost was upon Him.
Simeon saw the tiny infant Jesus and saw the “fruit of the tree” – most desirable and joyous of all things.
And, Nephi, though in a vision 600 years prior to Simeon’s experience, saw the same thing.
We don’t need to have lists of proofs and experiences to know the Savior. (By the way, they are there). We don’t need to have a rational explanation of the greatest joy and love this world has ever known. We simply need the Holy Ghost to bear witness to us that it is true.
Our world as a whole, and our individual lives, have eternal hope, meaning, and joy – all because a fair, young virgin chose to be the Lord’s handmaid and bore the Savior into this world.