The Three Nephites: Did They Ever Die?

By Chris Layton

“And he saith unto them, Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John my beloved, which was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me;” (3 Nephi 28:6)

We’ve often speculated (justifiably) that at that moment, Jesus granted The Three Nephites immortality for the remaining duration of this Earth’s existence to never die but do the scriptures bear out this commonly held belief?

We read in 4th Nephi chapter 1 that there was a great peace in the land, that the people lived in happiness and righteousness from the time that Jesus came and ministered to them after the great and terrible destruction which came upon the land after His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. In verse 14 we learn that roughly 100 years afterwards, we encounter these men ministering to the people of Nephi:

“…yea, even an hundred years had passed away, and the disciples of Jesus, whom he had chosen, had all gone to the paradise of God, save it were the three which should tarry.” (4 Nephi 1:14)

We see them appear again, roughly 130 years later, not saying exactly when they showed up or when they left because the account simply records their ministering again to the people. Interestingly enough, the time between their appearances in the scriptures is about 100 years give or take. At minimum, long enough for a man to live a lifetime between these scriptural accounts of their ministries.

“And now it came to pass in this year, yea, in the two hundred and thirty and first year, there were a great division among the people. And it came to pass that in this year, there arose a people which was called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ;… therefore, the true believers in Christ, and the true worshippers of Christ, (among whom were the three disciples of Jesus which should tarry,) were called Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites.” (4 Nephi 35-37)

Why doesn’t the record reveal the names of “The Three Nephites?”

Mormon records that he was intimately connected with them:

“Behold, I was about to write the names of those who were never to taste of death, but the Lord forbade; therefore I write them not, for they are hid from the world.” (3 Nephi 28:25)

Why does the Lord forbid Mormon from revealing the names of these 3 disciples appointed to tarry? John the Beloved is well known in the Bible as one who was appointed to tarry just like The Three Nephites and yet God didn’t forbid his name from being revealed. Why the difference? Because it is relevant to a future labor that would involve both Mormon and his beloved son Moroni to the prophet Joseph Smith Jr.

The Beloveds

The scriptures record in two places the Nephites being ministered to by these men. They were known as “Beloved Disciples of Jesus Christ” a peculiar anointed quorum whose members serve as God’s messengers to the Nephites. Both Mormon and Moroni would serve in this capacity.

All of the true followers of Jesus Christ who gathered unto the ministerings of these men were called by the various names such as the “Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites and Zoramites” and those who did not believe as the scriptures record were called “Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.”

The last known recorded hint of the labors of these disciples appears in Mormon’s account when he mentioned that he endeavored to preach to the people at the tender age of 15 but says that:

“my mouth was shut, and I were forbidden that I should preach unto them; for behold they had willfully rebelled against their God, and the beloved disciples were taken away out of the land, because of their iniquity. But I did remain among them….” (Mormon 1:16-17)

Who then were the “beloved disciples” and how did Mormon know of their comings and goings? How was he associated with them? The record does not give exact dates, names or numbers of how many of them were taken away out of the land. The record is silent on these questions but only indicates that Mormon’s ministrations to them came to an abrupt end. Perhaps, it’s the reader that must find the answers.

Solomon once said that it is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search them out. Does this account leave a breadcrumb trail of possibly the last ministerings of these men who Jesus said would not “taste of death?” What does all that mean when Jesus said this? He told John the Beloved that he wouldn’t taste of death, yet when Peter asked about John’s ministry Jesus chides him saying: “if he is to remain until I come what is that to thee?” Then the scriptures record that the people began to say that John would never die but the scriptures record:

“…yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (John 21:23)

Two Kinds of Death

What does Jesus mean then when He is talking about death? He told his disciples that Lazarus was asleep but when pressed further He said “Lazarus is dead.” Why didn’t He just tell them that in the first place? It is because He was teaching them about what kind of death man may experience.

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

There are two kinds of death according to the scriptures, sweet and bitter. We can gain greater clarification from this when we read from Joseph’s revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Sweet Death

“……. those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them.” (D&C 42:46)

For death to be sweet, the scripture says that you do not taste the bitterness of death. This type of death is reserved for those who die in Christ. It is for those who die for Christ taking His name and denying themselves and bearing their cross as He did. This type is for those who give up their good name among men and walk circumspectly before God despite those who mock them and speak evil of them dying daily for Christ. These will experience this type of death which is blessed and sweet. The place where the righteous would go is known by various names: Abraham’s Bosom, Paradise of God, The Third Heaven, Eden (where the tree of life is planted.) This would be a temporary place where the righteous wait between this Heaven and Earth until the final judgment.

Bitter Death

“And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter.” (D&C 42:47)

The death that is bitter is reserved for those who deny Jesus Christ because they live their lives for themselves. They take upon themselves His name, but it is in vain. They give an impression of piety on the outside, but on the inside they are something quite different because they are only managing their image. This group seeks for gain and praise among men. They want titles, degrees and certificates and they make institutional proselytes of their children so that they too can advance themselves in this worldly spiritual trap. They want power, prestige, fancy cars, bigger houses, notoriety, big churches and lots of family and friends and all the things this world has to offer. They may not even possess these things but spend their time pursuing them. Their lives aren’t centered around Jesus Christ. Instead, their lives are centered around their traditions, holidays, lusts of the flesh, worldly fashions, and to their greatest detriment, their enmity of those who have been made humble by the word of God. The scriptures chronicle their fate just as Jonah (who experienced his descent into hell for abandoning his call from God to preach to the Ninevites) in the belly of the whale known variously as Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus, and Sheol.

“For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about; all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever; yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.” (Jonah 2:3-6)

Mormon’s and Moroni’s Role

So back to Mormon, just how close was his association with The Three Nephites? What was the purpose of their existence? Their hope was to bring as many souls to Christ as they could so they prayed for the ability to minister among the children of men.

How about Moroni? Didn’t he have the same hope as his father Mormon which was to bring as many souls to Christ as they could? Both Mormon and Moroni were the holders of the records that would be the key to the salvation of many. What was his association with The Three Nephites? If his Father Mormon knew them and was intimately associated with them, wouldn’t it make sense that Moroni was also associated with them? Could he also have been one of them?

I know the next question, “but I know Moroni was the son of Mormon, how can he be one of The Three Nephites? I thought they were immortal and come and go as they wish from Heaven”

Didn’t they say the same thing to Jesus in the book of John?

“And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?” (John 6:42)

Jesus said that “he who believes in Me shall never die” but then didn’t the people mock Him when He said this?

“Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?” (John 8:52-53)

How can Jesus say such a thing that they who believe in Him will never die? I refer you back to the Doctrine and Covenants.

“Those that die in me shall not taste of death” (D&C 42:46) and I’ll go on further .. “…..and if they die, they shall die unto Me, and if they live, they shall live unto Me.” (D&C 42:44)

So did we ever know what Jesus meant by death and dying or eternal life and living? He left the answers in plain sight right in our scriptures. Does it take a prophet to see that God’s word is true? Isn’t the testimony of Jesus Christ as the scriptures record “the spirit of prophecy?” Would to God that all men were prophets. Would to God that all men would read their scriptures and believe them.

Joseph’s First Vision

What about Mormon and Moroni? What about the two personages that visited Joseph Smith? The currently held belief is that it was Jesus Christ and God the Father who visited him in the account of his “first vision.” But, is it so preposterous to perhaps consider that those two ministering angels who prayed for the opportunity to minister to men in the flesh might be those same two characters who ministered to Joseph in the Spring of 1820?

“It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other- This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History 1:17)

Who had charge of the plates right up to the end? Who more than Mormon and Moroni would be the ones to lay those records down in the earth to be the very ones to reveal their location to the young boy Joseph who just happened to be at the same age of life as Mormon was when he was called?

The first time the messenger identifies himself by name was on September 21, 1823 when Angel Moroni visits him in his home while Joseph is praying to God.

“While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday (same brilliant light as the first vision), when immediately a personage (same description of the visitors in the first vision “personages”) appeared at my bedside, standing in the air (just the same as they did in the first vision) for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness (same description of the blinding whiteness as the first vision)It was whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant….. glorious beyond description… countenance like lightning… He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do….” (JSH 1:30-33)

The King’s Proclamation

When Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites everyone knew who he was because he announced his name saying:

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the Heavens and the Earth, and all things that in them is. I was with the Father from the beginning, I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name. I came unto my own, and my own received me not… I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” (3 Nephi 9:15-16,18)

Surely, if this is who came to visit Joseph Smith he would have given the same pronouncement but that was not the case. Is it impossible to believe that those two were messengers from God rather than God himself? Does God have the right to send someone in His stead to convey His message?

Standing in the Air or on the Ground?

When Jesus came to the Nephites, the record says that He “stood in their midst” and they all came forward and thrust their hands in His sides that they might feel Him. When the Angels came to Joseph Smith, they stood in the air to give him their message which would place them just outside of his reach. Why the difference? Joseph again in the Doctrine and Covenants gives us the keys of understanding.

“When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you. If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand. If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear- Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.” (D&C 129: 4-7)

This is why these two “personages” were just outside of Joseph’s reach. This is also why Jesus when He came, “stood in their midst”.

Why did God tell Mormon not to reveal the names of those disciples who should not “taste of death?” How would it look to those who received Joseph’s testimony for him to reveal that it was Mormon and his beloved son Moroni who visited him? Would they have accepted it taking into consideration their previous religious underpinnings as Methodists and Baptists and others?

We know that Mormon was killed at the end of the Book of Mormon because his son records that he was killed in battle. How could he be one of those 3 Nephites if he died or are we even asking the right question? How would his death have been? According to the scriptures, Mormon was a righteous man and so his death would have been sweet. Would he have “tasted of death?” Again as the scriptures record, the answer is no, because those whose death is sweet do not taste of death.

We’ve got to rethink entirely what Jesus meant when He said that those who believe in Him will not taste of death. We also need to reconsider what the scriptures mean when it says that we may “entertain angels unaware.” All that angels are is by definition in the Hebrew and Greek lexicon, “a messenger.” The Three Nephites are messengers, the prophets are messengers, Mormon and Moroni are messengers, those with the testimony of Jesus Christ are messengers. We must reconsider the greater message that Jesus was conveying to His disciples and this can’t be comprehended without the understanding of “Eternal lives” or “Multiple Mortal Probations”. We will all live countless times many lives to become as God is followed by “Immortality.” Immortality comes after we have finished our labors.

“…therefore more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death, but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father, unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled, according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory, with the powers of heaven; and ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory, ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.” (3 Nephi 28:7-8)

Will Those Who Believe Suffer?

“Therefore that they might not taste of death, there was a change wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow, save it were for the sins of the world. Now this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day; but there was a change wrought upon them, insomuch that Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them (they had no desire to sin); and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them.” (3 Nephi 28:38-39)

Didn’t Jesus Christ suffer all these things, pain, agony, thirst, and fatigue for the sins of the world? Will we not experience the same or similar things even though we believe and whom will we suffer by? Jesus said that it would be by those of our own household.

Is there anyone on this earth who has lived who is greater than He? Even after going to the mount of transfiguration Jesus suffered, thirsted on the cross and died having power within him to lay down his life and take it up again as He witnessed His Father do.

So did The Three Nephites, the “Beloved Disciples of Christ” or John the Beloved ever die? According to the scriptures as in the case of John the Beloved, Jesus never said that they would not die, but He did say they will never taste of death.

What does it mean to “Taste of Death?”

Both Lehi and Nephi saw the tree of life and that the fruit was white above all whiteness and sweet above all sweetness they had ever encountered but before that, they saw that all who would come to the tree of life must first come through the mists of darkness. The only way they will make it through is to hold to the Iron rod. We’re here to be tested and tried, to yield to the Lord and make His paths straight. The scriptures record that we must build our house on a rock so that when the rains come, which are the fiery darts of the adversary as in the evil word spoken against you, the friends who would cross the street to avoid you, the loved ones who pretend not to notice you as you pass by.

“They will put you out of the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. But I have told you these things so that when their hour comes, you will remember that I told you about them. I did not tell you these things from the beginning, because I was with you.” (John 16:2-4)

Though all these things may be done to you, your house will stand because your faith is anchored in Christ. You will not taste of the bitter death because it will have no power to drag you down to the bitterness of regret which is called “The gulf of misery and endless woe” or as in Matthew 18 being turned over to “the tormentors” and taken down the red carpet to hell.

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)

“Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the storm at the last day; yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by the whirlwinds; but when the storm cometh they shall be gathered together in their place, that the storm cannot penetrate to them; yea, neither shall they be driven with fierce winds whithersoever the enemy listeth to carry them.” (Alma 26:6)

As Jesus said to Martha:

“…I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26)