The Book of Mormon begins with the story of a family and a people in crisis. While Lehi was out teaching in the city, he prayed earnestly in behalf of his family and his people. As he prayed he saw and was taught many things through a spiritual manifestation that caused his whole body to tremble. He was physically exhausted by the spiritual work (see also 1 Nephi 17:47; 19:20; Alma 27:16–18; Daniel 8:27; Moses 1:10; Joseph Smith–History 1:20); he cast himself upon his bed and was overcome by the Spirit. He saw a heavenly court full of brilliant beings. One of them handed Lehi a book with the judgment to be passed upon Jerusalem: death, destruction, and deportation to Babylon. This represents Lehi’s call to be a prophet; his experience parallels that of others, including Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1), Alma (Alma 36:22), and Joseph Smith (D&C 137:1).
Lehi was to the people of his day what Joseph Smith is to our day. As with other prophets, Lehi then went forth to boldly declare what he had seen and heard. He detailed for Jerusalem’s citizens a lengthy catalog of their sins; the result was mockery, anger, and violence. That the city of Jerusalem was doomed to destruction could not have been such shocking news to the Jews, as other prophets had issued the same warning. Jeremiah had been sounding that warning for nearly three decades already. What could be so difficult about believing that people would be taken captive to Babylon when thousands had already been taken? Surely someone would now be ready to listen! But people do not like to hear about their sins, especially when they are enjoying them and have no inclination to change. Lehi’s hearers wanted to remove his antagonizing, grating voice.
Another significant witness Lehi bore to his Jerusalem audience was of the coming of a Messiah, for “none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ” (Jacob 7:11; see also 3 Nephi 20:24). John later exclaimed that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10); that is, testifying of Jesus is the essence of prophecy. Even six hundred years before he would come in the flesh, the people needed to know to whom they should look for a remission of their sins. Lehi was a special witness of Jesus Christ.