“He Was Lifted Up Upon the Cross”

Brant Gardner

Once again, the vision of Lehi is interlaced with the life of the Savior. The interpretation of the vision, the meaning of the vision, is inextricably interwoven with the life of the Savior. In this case, when Nephi related his father's vision, he mentions a great and spacious building with mocking people. In his own vision, that building has very specific ties to the people who rejected Christ and had him crucified. Nephi's last definition in verse 36 takes that symbol from the specific back to the general. Not only is the great and spacious building full of the people who did reject Christ, it is full of those who would do so today through their pride which does not let their hearts feel the pull of the gospel.

The fall of this building is still in our future. When he sees the fall of it, it is not in a chronological context, but rather a revelatory one which shows Nephi the ultimate defeat of the prideful by the gospel of Christ.

The Image of Christ on the Cross in the Book of Mormon: In verse 33 Nephi sees Christ lifted up on the cross and slain. This event in the life of Christ had such a profound impact on the Christian community that the cross is the quintessential symbol for Christ throughout much of the world. The imagery of that death, and the language of the cross permeate the New Testament letters. How does this image appear in the Book of Mormon?

The references to Christ and the cross are minimal indeed. Until Christ himself mentions it, there is only one verse which uses the term in a manner reminiscent of the New Testament: "Jacob 1:8 Wherefore, we would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world. . ." As Nephi's brother, Jacob would most likely have known of the relationship of the cross and Christ's suffering directly from his brother. However, this is the last reference in the Book of Mormon until 3 Nephi 12:30 and 3 Nephi 27:14 where it is the resurrected Christ which talks of the cross.

The cross was never a symbol in the Book of Mormon texts, and mention of the cross and Christ fade within perhaps the first hundred years. Why? Because the image was in vision only, and perhaps not as gruesome or impressive in vision as it was in person. For Nephi, the impact of the vision was not Christ's mode of death, but his life, mission, and resurrection. That view of Christ permeates the Book of Mormon, not the New Testament's glorifying of the instrument of torture.

Historical note on the cross in the New World:The absence of the cross as an image in the Book of Mormon bears at least some mention in connection with the prevalence of the cross in Mesoamerica. The primary association of the Mesoamerican cross was the tree of life, and has no context at all as an instrument of death. If there were any connection at all between those symbols and the Book of Mormon, they would have entered after the visit of Christ to the Americas, and not as a result of Nephi's dream. The conflation of the tree of life with Christ, and Christ's mention of the cross might provide a context which would allow the development of the Mesoamerican themes associated with their symbol. This history in Mesoamerican is clouded in the mists of time, and there is no way to show that this is the way it happened. However, it does provide a context in which the cross and the tree image are merged, retaining almost exclusively the meaning of the tree, and having none of the associations of the Roman cross with death and torture.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon