Having yielded to mercy, the Lord presents his plan to save his vineyard. It is outlined in verses 52 through 54 and is implemented in verses 55 and 56. These verses must be carefully studied. The Lord’s plan is to graft the natural branches of Israel back into the tree from which they had been taken. The mother tree into which the Gentile branches had been grafted was to have these branches (which produce the most bitter fruit) removed so the natural ones could be grafted in their stead. The roots of the natural branches would then be preserved (vv. 52–53). The Israelite roots of the Gentile branches were yet alive; therefore, the Lord would establish these Gentile branches as a mother tree into which the natural branches could be grafted when the mother tree was sufficiently strong to sustain the graft (v. 54). This was done, and then the natural branches were grafted back in (vv. 55–56). This is the overall plan which began with the restoration of the gospel in A.D. 1830.
The first step—the establishment of the mother tree, as father Lehi had explained—was to come “after the Gentiles had received the fullness of the gospel” (1 Nephi 10:14); or “in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief … , then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed” (1 Nephi 15:13). In other words, the Church would have to be established among the Gentiles before it could bring back the natural branches. The house of Israel had been scattered among the Gentiles, and the roots were still alive (the blood of Israel was still among the Gentiles). The mother tree must be re-established as a tree of Israel, by the gospel being preached to the Gentiles, and by those of the blood of Israel (roots) becoming the tree. It is only logical as well as scriptural that the mother tree be established through the birthright holder of the house of Israel, Ephraim. Jeremiah foresaw this movement.
6 For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the LORD our God.
7 For thus saith the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel.
8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.
9 They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. [Jeremiah 31:6–9]
An explanation of the prophecy will not be given here, but note the role of Ephraim as the administrator of the latter-day gathering because he is the firstborn. Furthermore, the Lord has confirmed by revelation that the early priesthood holders of the Church were “lawful heirs, according to the flesh” (D&C 86:8–9). President Joseph F. Smith made this observation in 1902: “A striking peculiarity of the Saints gathered from all parts of the earth is that they are almost universally of the blood of Ephraim.”
The Lord further prescribed that the pruning be light, cutting off only the most bitter wild branches, until the natural branches could derive nourishment from the natural roots or true vine (Jacob 5:57–60; see also 1 Nephi 15:15–16). Jesus Christ told his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my father is the husbandman” (John 15:1). He, of course, is the source of strength to his covenant people who are grafted back or have “come to the knowledge of the true Messiah” (1 Nephi 10:14).