“The Lord Whom Ye Seek Shall Suddenly Come to His Temple”

Alan C. Miner

Towards the end of his preaching to the Nephites on the American continent after his resurrection, Christ promised that he would return to the earth a second time in the last days. To emphasize this fact, he first had them record, and then he quoted them the words of the Old World prophet Malachi: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple." (3 Nephi 24:1).

According to T.J. O'Brien, in a most remarkable coincidence, Hernando Cortez unwittingly chose to visit the Eastern Aztec shores in the year "one reed" and on the day "nine wind" of the Aztec calendar. For the Spaniards this was Good Friday, April 21, 1519; for the natives this was a new century cycle. Even more amazing, it was a year prophesied for the return of the enduring and bearded culture hero, Quetzalcoatl. (Year Prophesied: Carrasco 1984, 194-5)

If this were not enough to stir native superstition, the very beaches upon which the Spaniards disembarked were the same from which the revered Quetzalcoatl supposedly had departed centuries ago. These two remarkable coincidences make it obvious why the Indians greeted the Spaniards with mixed feelings of apprehension and good will. . . .

Many spectacular temples to the numerous gods of ancient Mexico pierced the skies of Tenochtitlan (the Aztec capital). One of them was dedicated to a singular god called Quetzalcoatl, the ancient fair skinned culture hero the Aztecs inherited along with other religious beliefs from the Toltecs, who had worshiped him as a prophet and teacher of the arts of civilization and healing. This bearded Toltec deity now resided in the sacred memory of the Aztecs as well, and both cultures represented him with the strange but easily-recognized symbol of a feathered-serpent. Like the coiled serpent, the temple of Quetzalcoatl was also circular in form. The entrance resembled a giant serpent's mouth, bristling with sharp fangs and teeth "diabolically painted" (Serpent temple: Gomara 1964, 165)--probably red to represent fresh blood. Although his temple sounds threatening, Quetzalcoatl was a peacemaker, and no god was held in higher esteem.

Sacred manuscripts, guarded since Toltec times, insisted that although Quetzalcoatl had left the land centuries before the Aztec emergence, he promised to return some day and resume possession of his empire which had been passed on to the Aztecs from the Toltecs. Each succeeding generation looked forward confidently to his arrival. But in the long silent absence, the Aztecs had replaced him with their own earlier tribal war god. This one, unlike Quetzalcoatl, hungered daily for sacrificial blood and human lives. (Bloodthirsty God: Bancroft 1883, Vol. 5, 482)

Montezuma painfully remembered the promised return of the fair god, a return awaited by the Aztecs with as much assurance as the Messiah by the Jews or Jesus by the Christians. Rumors of bearded white men along the shores of his domain and of the increasing occurrence in nature of strange signs convinced the disturbed King that the appointed day for Quetzalcoatl's return was finally at hand. He also knew that the revered Lord, Quetzalcoatl, forbade human sacrifices. Yet, daily, the Aztecs now performed these bloody rites to their ravenous war god and his blood-thirsty companion-gods. Some estimates say these sacrifices reached as high as 50,000 humans for the dedication of the great temple. (50,000 Sacrifices: Prescott (Modern library), 48)

In welcoming Cortez to his capital city, the courteous Montezuma provided some background to the mysterious reception of near-adulation given Columbus by the natives at so many landings. Prescott relates the Montezuma claimed that his own distant ancestors were not natives to this land either, but newcomers. They were led here by a great being, who, after giving them laws and ruling over the nation for a time, had withdrawn to the regions where the sun rises. This great lord had declared on his departure that he or his descendants would again visit them to "resume his empire. This valuable insight to the now-familiar white god legend was recorded by Cortez in a document sent to Spain in 1520."(Return: Prescott (Modern Library), 305-6; Castillo 1972, 204; Pagden 1992, 85,98.) . . .

The ancient "Indian" belief in a returning fair god was so implanted in the mind of Montezuma that, even when he finally realized that Cortez and the Spaniards were mere mortals, he still pledged allegiance to their sovereign, the King of Spain. Although the Aztec ruler was the highest of high priests, with absolute power over millions of subjects, a power steeped in centuries of unchanging traditions, he was willing to concede to a foreign ruler as the rightful Lord of all and to continue his own rule in the name of the Spanish King. (Rule in Name of King: Prescott (Modern Library), 306) . . . [T.J.O'Brien, Fair Gods and Feathered Serpents, pp. 22-24, 26-27]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary