When and How Many Times Did Jesus Visit the Nephites?

John W. Welch

It is not hard to estimate the year when the Savior appeared to the Nephites. Based on the statements of Mormon in his abridgement of this book of Nephi (the son of Nephi, the son of Helaman, as identified in the headnote to this book), several events included by Mormon were linked to a specific year, and in one case, even to a specific day. However, there is no statement of exactly when and how many times the Savior taught and ministered to the Nephites during that year. Perhaps, in a sense, the writers of the Book of Mormon wanted these events in Nephite history to be, in a spiritual sense, timeless.

Time was kept carefully before the appearance of the Resurrected Lord. In 3 Nephi 1:1, the text records that in the ninety-first year of the judges, six hundred years since Lehi left Jerusalem, Nephi prayed mightily because the deadline for the fulfillment of the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite was imminent.

Nine years later, the signs of the birth of Jesus became the origin of the new dating system under the Nephite calendar (2:6-8)—as it would later become the basis for the Christian calendar system in the Old World.

Twenty-five years later, in 3 Nephi 8:5, the record states that three days of darkness and destruction began at the beginning of the thirty-fourth year after Jesus’ birth—specifically, “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month.” And in 3 Nephi 9:15, before the dust had settled, the people who had survived the calamities heard the voice of the Savior at that time. Out of the darkness, He declared His identity, defined the damage, and explained His purposes in the rest of that chapter.

Then, in 3 Nephi 10:18, we have a statement by Mormon that is a bit unclear. He says, “And it came to pass in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, behold, I will show unto you that the people of Nephi who were spared, and also those who had been called Lamanites, who had been spared, did have great favors shown unto them, and great blessings poured out upon their heads, insomuch that soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them—showing his body unto them, and ministering unto them.” Although this complex sentence—which originally had no punctuation—has been read otherwise, it seems to me to make the best sense to understand that Jesus “did truly manifest himself unto” the people in 3 Nephi 11 “soon after” his “ascension” into heaven.

When might that have been? That “ascension” cannot have been the time when Jesus “ascended to [His] Father” (John 20:17), the morning of his Resurrection, because by that time He had not yet taught anything to anyone. Thus, that ascension would more likely refer to Jesus’s “ascension” forty days later, during which days the resurrected Lord had taught to the Apostles in Jerusalem and Galilee many things “pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1: 3). Moreover, after Jesus had taught the people in Bountiful the words found in 3 Nephi 11–14, He told them “Behold, ye have [now] heard the things which I taught [in the Old World] before I ascended to my Father” (3 Nephi 15:1).

This would mean that the words “in the ending of the thirty and fourth year” should best be understood as having been written from the perspective of Nephi and Mormon, speaking of things as they stood at the ending of that 34th year. Many “great favors” and “great blessings” had been poured out upon the heads of these people during the rest of that year.

Knowing that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred in the spring, just before Passover in Jerusalem, the next festival on the Israelite calendar of holy days would have been Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks, seven weeks, fifty days, after Passover). That early summer festival celebrated the “firstfruits” (Exodus 34:22) and also the giving of the law (the Ten Commandments) to Moses on Mount Sinai. If Jesus appeared in Bountiful at that time, it would explain (1) why the people had gathered at their temple, as Pentecost required; (2) why Jesus emphasized so much, especially in 3 Nephi 12, obedience to the full meaning and purposes of the Ten Commandments; and also (3) how the Nephites would have rejoiced exceedingly at the resurrection of Jesus, which is that power that yields “the first-fruits of Christ unto God” (Jacob 4:11), through baptism, the “first fruits of repentance” (Moroni 8:25).

This also helps us understand that the Savior’s visit to the multitude at the Bountiful temple was only the beginning of a series of learning sessions, church organizational steps, missionary trips, blessings, and great favors that no doubt ran throughout that year, which concluded at the end of 3 Nephi. During that time, Jesus came and went at least two more times and probably more.

Thus, at the end of chapter 18, Jesus “departed from them, and ascended into heaven” (18:39; 19:1). He returned again in 3 Nephi 19:15, after the disciples conducted baptisms and had given the gift of the Holy Ghost while attended by angels. At that time, Jesus again “came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them” (19:15), when he taught extensively about the nature of the covenant and the prophecies of the Old Testament (3 Nephi 20–26).

And later, as the disciples were preaching the things they had heard and seen, Jesus showed himself again in 3 Nephi 27:2. After talking to the twelve disciples one by one (28:1), “He touched every one of them with his finger save it were the three who were to tarry, and then he departed” (28:12). He may well have appeared other times during the remainder of that 34th year unto the disciples as they went forth establishing his word. Thus, during that entire year, Jesus poured many great blessings and favors down upon them, even more than could be fully recorded.

Further Reading

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Is So Little Said about the Timing of Christ’s Temple Ministry? (3 Nephi 10:18),” KnoWhy 481 (November 1, 2018).

John W. Welch Notes