When the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820, what would have been their view of the Book of Mormon, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve asked as he spoke to departing mission presidents June 26.
"Their perspective surely would be shaped by two long-standing promises that they had made to humankind," he said. "First is the ancient promise to gather scattered Israel. The second is their long-standing promise that the Lord will come again."
Elder Nelson, chairman of the missionary executive council, spoke on the final day of the 2013 Seminar for New Mission Presidents.
He spoke of God's promise that through Abraham's lineage all people of the earth would be blessed. When the posterity of Abraham — the Israelites — rejected the Lord, they were scattered among the heathen nations. But He promised that one day scattered Israel would be gathered back into the fold of the Lord.
"Isaiah, for example, foresaw that in the latter days, the Lord would send 'swift messengers' to those people who were so scattered," Elder Nelson observed. "Remind your missionaries from time to time that they are those 'swift messengers' of whom Isaiah prophesied."
Elder Nelson remarked, "The coming forth of the Book of Mormon is a tangible sign to the entire world that the Lord has commenced to gather Israel and fulfill covenants that He made to father Abraham, repeated to Isaac and to Jacob. We not only teach this concept, but we get to participate in it. We get to do so as we help to gather the elect of the Lord on both sides of the veil."
Regarding the redemption of people who have died and the Church's family history website, Elder Nelson said, "We can't have any of our missionaries going out into this world who don't know how to find an ancestor on FamilySearch. And if it's not in the [Missionary Training Center] curriculum yet, it will be. If it's not in your curriculum, it will be. We're gathering people on both sides of the veil and it's all one great work."
Elder Nelson said that in the modern-day dispensation of the fullness of times, priesthood keys have been restored for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.
"The great promise that all nations would be blessed by the posterity of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has yet to be fulfilled," he said. "The people of the other parts of the world — Africa, Asia and the islands of the sea — are just as precious as is this land. And so we go about our duty. The promise of the gathering is woven through the fabric of the scriptures. It will be fulfilled just as surely as were the prophecies concerning the scattering of Israel."
Elder Nelson said the choice to be gathered unto Christ is not a matter of physical location. "It's a matter of individual commitment. People can be brought to the knowledge of the Lord without leaving their homelands, thanks to you."
He added, "Zion is the pure in heart. Zion is wherever righteous Saints are. Publications, communications, congregations are now such that nearly all members have access to the doctrines, keys, ordinances and blessings of the gospel regardless of location. … Spiritual security will always depend on how one lives, not where one lives. We are all reminded that the gathering of Israel is not an ultimate endpoint; it is a beginning."