And here it is, the climax of the whole story. God himself comes down from the heavens to visit his people. Note that this is how we always experience that singular (even if repeated) event: it’s in the future. We’re always waiting for the parousia and never ourselves experiencing it.
The Book of Mormon builds strong parallels with the New Testament, which are made explicitly conspicuous here. I’ll focus on three of them. First, there is but one historical fulfillment of our collective waiting and looking for the Messiah (this is true, although it’s also true as Givens points out, that the Book of Mormon’s introduction of a second incarnation, and its hints at others, radically alters the theology). But it’s of course a tiny fraction who experience it. I really don’t think this event of Christ’s visit shifts or changes the typical state of things: typically all of us struggle from this side of the veil, unable to penetrate the heavens, constantly groping after a God that hides himself. Meanwhile, we always have available to us those rare individuals—prophets, whether of our own day or more often of former days—who claim to have been granted access to the other side of the veil and been commanded to share and teach us. Peter and Paul testify of what they’ve seen, as did Isaiah and others before them. Maybe there were even “above 500 at once” (as the author of I Corinthians declares) who saw the resurrected Christ. And here we have a handful of Nephites, some several thousand, who in one great event see and hear from the resurrected Christ. I do not diminish its sacred significance—but it does not alter the fundamental framework under which we operate; these witnesses are not even a drop in the bucket of humanity. The condition of mortality is that we don’t see our God. At best, we hear from someone—or, much more likely, read their words—who tells us that they’ve experienced God directly.
Note that Nephi himself doesn’t dwell on the appearance and descension of Christ. Instead, he jumps immediately to another parallel with the New Testament that is obviously a crucial validation for him—namely that his people are just as legitimately of the House of Israel as those people who remained at Jerusalem. Their following Lehi and leaving the promised land in hopes of another will not diminish their status or blessings. Hence, Christ will appear to them too; they will receive twelve “apostles” (note that the text never calls them apostles, but reserves that word for the twelve back at Jerusalem), and they will all ultimately be judged as members of the House of Israel.
It is also striking that this is the main function of the appearance of Christ: to implement an institution. Or at least, this is what Nephi focuses on. An institution is put in place, resulting in some three and half or so generations of righteousness.
And then there is a final New Testament parallel of which we get the first hints here with the appearance and work of Christ and the salvation of four generations: the inevitable loss. The brilliant morning ultimately leads us back to night. Not even God’s personal appearance and personal institution building can sustain the celestial people here on earth. Why, after the first two generations of golden righteousness, why didn’t Bountiful rise up to the heavens? The fact of its downfall highlights a fundamental variable involved in achieving Zion: the difference—or at least, the difference available in the text—between Bountiful and Enoch seems to be the future designs of God.
What does my God design for my own future? Will I ascend and transverse the veil or continue in a fallen world?