3 Nephi 21:1-7 is the longest sentence in the Book of Mormon, clocking in at 392 words.
It’s an odd section anyway, or so I thought when I first read it. Here we have none other than the resurrected Jesus Christ teaching the righteous survivors of an apocalyptic destruction. After a declaration of basic doctrines, a version of the Sermon on the Mount, and some beautiful healing and angelic ministering miracles, most of the rest of 3 Nephi focuses on the not-terribly-exciting subject of the gathering of Israel.
I used to find that anti-climactic. No parables, no conflict, no drama at all, really–most of the famous visit to the New World is a dry lesson on one aspect of the future.
And this sentence may be the weirdest part. Jesus tries to make a simple point, but seems to keep getting distracted and going back to start over. It’s easy to get lost in the jungle of syntax here.
I broke the passage up by highlighting some key repetitions and setting off parenthetical details, using colors and indenting. I think the major point comes across more clearly this way.
The “sign” (marked in red) is at first the prophecy itself which the Lord was about to deliver (note that the sign is there given “unto you”). At the end of the passage, the sign has become the fulfillment of that prophecy–the emergence of the Book of Mormon (given “unto them”).
This transition is also seen in the green phrases–the first use of “these things” refers to the prophesied gathering, but the next three usages refer to these teachings of the Savior being “made known unto the Gentiles” and coming “forth from the Gentiles, unto your seed” (with the third of those usages specifically extending the material to be published in the future to include “these works and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter“).
The fifth and final appearance of the phrase in green makes it very clear that this long prophecy of the final gathering is also about the Book of Mormon itself.
The blue parts both state the theme here, to be understood first by the Lord’s immediate Nephite listeners, and ultimately by their distant descendants.
In short, this very long sentence says that when the Book of Mormon is published, the gathering of Israel will have started. That’s really it.
Why the long digressions in purple, if it can be read sensibly without them? Those parts add explanatory detail to the coming forth of the book and the parallel gathering process, they explain the spiritual blessings of that work, and they praise the Father for this great plan.
Worthwhile things to say, all, and though it could have been arranged more clearly in our contemporary English, there’s a certain charm to imagining Jesus Christ frequently pausing to elaborate, and then returning to the main thought.
Pondering this sentence in context makes me realize why so much of the Lord’s preaching to the Nephites was about a subject that might appear so obscure or irrelevant at first blush–because it’s important. It’s important enough to warrant such careful explication, at least.
Perhaps these “more righteous” disciples (3 Nephi 9:13) didn’t need any more of the parables and such that we associate with Christ’s ministry–after all, they were ready to initiate more than a century of spiritual Utopia in 4 Nephi. Perhaps what they wanted and needed most was an assurance that their distant descendants would likewise be blessed. Perhaps a detailed account of this aspect of the future was the cherry on top of the bountiful dessert of their knowledge. Perhaps it was the only pertinent blank they had left to fill in.
And for us, perhaps knowing about all of this could impress us again with the importance and power of this priority of the last days: growing the Lord’s kingdom by spreading the gospel, via sharing the Book of Mormon.