“The first shall be last and the last shall be first”

By Frank M. Keele

Today we are going to discuss this “first last, last first” thing from a broadened and more comprehensive perspective that will hopefully provide us with a basis for understanding the interplay between the Jews, the Gentiles, and the rest of the house of Israel. We start by going to 1 Nephi 13 where we read:  

42 And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

We learn from the above verse that “the time cometh that he”, Christ that is, “shall manifest himself unto all nations”. However, that ministering is to follow a very specific and well-defined path. The ministering starts with the Jews first and the Gentile last in the meridian of time and then reverses order with the Gentiles first and the Jews last in the fullness of times. Thus, “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last”. That sounds simple enough at first glance but there is actually more to this process than initially meets the eye and here’s why.

Shortly after the Lord’s mortal ministry and crucifixion, we know that he appeared to and personally ministered among the Nephites here in America, who was also of the house of Israel. While among the Nephites he revealed the existence of “other sheep” and his intention to personally minister among them as well. In 3 Nephi 16 we read:

1 And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.

2 For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them.

3 But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them.

How many other sheepfolds he visited we cannot say but considering how widely Israel was scattered it could have been quite extensive. However, we do know of his visit among the ten tribes. From 3 Nephi 17 we read:

4 But now I go unto the Father, and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them.

We conclude that the ministering process in the meridian of time started with the Jews and then expanded out to encompass the balance of the house of Israel, including the lost ten tribes. And not only did he minister among all the scattered tribes of Israel but did so before the gospel message was taken to the Gentiles, otherwise, they wouldn’t be last, would they?

This expanded view of how the Lord’s ministering unfolded in the meridian of time illuminates the path ahead and gives us much greater insights as to what we can expect as the process is reversed here in the fullness of times. For example, as the day of the Gentiles comes to an end, we can be sure that the Lord will minister once again among the balance of the house of Israel before he makes his appearance among the Jews at the battle of Armageddon!

The difference is that this time they, scattered Israel that is, shall gather from around the globe and “as many of the house of Israel as shall come” shall help “build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem”. “And they shall go out from all nations; and they shall not go out in haste, nor go by flight, for I will go before them, saith the Father, and I will be their rearward”. The gathering of Israel and the ten tribes to America and their participation in the building of the earthly New Jerusalem are both millennial events and are prelude to the Lord’s appearance to the Jews as their Messiah.

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