This is my understanding of this chapter, expounded verse by verse, beginning with the chapter heading.
The chapter heading
The chapter heading reads as follows:
Israel shall be gathered when the Book of Mormon comes forth—The Gentiles shall be established as a free people in America—They shall be saved if they believe and obey; otherwise they shall be cut off and destroyed—Israel shall build the New Jerusalem, and the lost tribes shall return. [A.D. 34]
For the most part, whoever wrote this heading got it right. However, the first statement is incorrect. Israel shall not be gathered when the Book of Mormon comes forth. The Book of Mormon came forth (or was published) in 1830. That was about 179 years ago. Now, ask yourself, during the past 179 years, was/is Israel gathered? (The answer is no.) How about the church? Is the church in a gathered or scattered state presently? (The answer is scattered.) So, this heading is obviously incorrect.
Verse 1 – A sign unto the remnant of Jacob
And verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place—that I shall gather in, from their long dispersion, my people, O house of Israel, and shall establish again among them my Zion;
“these things” — The Lord here is talking about the gathering, in which Israel is restored to the lands of their inheritance and Zion is established among them. The sign will show to the remnant of Jacob that the gathering of Israel and the establishment of Zion is about to take place. In other words, the sign occurs first, the gathering of Israel and establishment of Zion occurs second. (The Lord began talking about this gathering in 3 Nephi 20.) Note: the description of the sign takes up seven verses (3 Nephi 21: 1-7.)
Verse 2 – The unabridged record of the Savior’s Nephite ministry
And behold, this is the thing which I will give unto you for a sign—for verily I say unto you that when these things which I declare unto you, and which I shall declare unto you hereafter of myself, and by the power of the Holy Ghost which shall be given unto you of the Father, shall be made known unto the Gentiles that they may know concerning this people who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, and concerning this my people who shall be scattered by them;
“these things which I declare unto you, and which I shall declare unto you hereafter of myself, and by the power of the Holy Ghost which shall be given unto you of the Father” — The “these things” referred to by the Savior is not the abridgment of the Savior’s Nephite ministry which we have in the Book of Mormon, which apparently was the assumption made by whoever wrote the chapter heading, but the unabridged record found on the Large Plates of Nephi.
“shall be made known unto the Gentiles” — The unabridged record of the Savior’s ministry among the Nephites is to first go to the Gentiles.
Verse 3 – Unabridged record goes first to Gentiles
Verily, verily, I say unto you, when these things shall be made known unto them of the Father, and shall come forth of the Father, from them unto you;
“from them unto you” — The unabridged record is to first come forth and be shown to the Gentiles and then the Gentiles will bring it to the remnant of Jacob.
Verse 4 – Anarchy must reign among Gentiles
For it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth from them unto a remnant of your seed, that the covenant of the Father may be fulfilled which he hath covenanted with his people, O house of Israel;
“established in this land” — At some point the Gentiles would come into the land and become established here. This has already occurred.
“be set up as a free people by the power of the Father” — The government of the Gentiles would be broken up at some point and they would be brought into tribal anarchy. This is still a future event. Some have assumed that this event referred to the establishment of the Constitution of the United States and the independence of Americans from Great Britain. However, the Lord here is talking about the Second Act (the Strange Act), not the First Act.
“that these things might come forth” — Tribal anarchy must first come to the Gentiles because their system of government and their man-made laws are incompatible with the laws of the Savior given in the unabridged record of his Nephite ministry. The Lord’s people would not be able to live the laws in that record while under the Gentile governmental system because that system would prohibit them from doing so. So, the order of the prophecy is that first the Gentiles come here and establish themselves (erecting their own forms of government), then their governments are broken up and they enter into the freedom of tribal anarchy, and finally the unabridged record comes forth.
“a free people” — Here are some other prophecies that speak of the same time and event when the Gentiles shall become a free people:
“And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.” (D&C 87: 4)
“Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people, and ye shall have no laws but my laws when I come, for I am your lawgiver, and what can stay my hand?” (D&C 38: 22)
Verse 5 – Unabridged record taken by Gentiles to remnant of Jacob
Therefore, when these works and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter shall come forth from the Gentiles, unto your seed which shall dwindle in unbelief because of iniquity;
“these works and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter” — This refers to the unabridged record.
Verse 6 – Gentiles given a last chance to repent
For thus it behooveth the Father that it should come forth from the Gentiles, that he may show forth his power unto the Gentiles, for this cause that the Gentiles, if they will not harden their hearts, that they may repent and come unto me and be baptized in my name and know of the true points of my doctrine, that they may be numbered among my people, O house of Israel;
“that they may be numbered among my people” — This is the final chance of the Gentiles to peacefully repent, prior to the gathering of Israel. If they believe the unabridged record and repent, they become Israelites and are gathered with the remnant. If they do not believe the record, they are to be bound into bundles and burned. Everything hinges upon the reaction to the unabridged record. Nephi had view of this last, unabridged record coming forth when he wrote:
For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken. (1 Nephi 14: 7)
When Nephi wrote the following, he had view of the numbering of Israel in that day when the unabridged record (and other records which will come forth) would be shown to the Gentiles and Jews:
For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 30: 2)
Verse 7 – When remnant receives unabridged record, it will be a sign to them
And when these things come to pass that thy seed shall begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel.
Verse 8 – The reaction of kings
And when that day shall come, it shall come to pass that kings shall shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
“when that day shall come” — The day referred to here is the day that the remnant of Israel receives the unabridged record, which is the day that the sign is manifest.
“it shall come to pass” — This is after the sign is manifest.
“kings shall shut their mouths” — The Savior here is paraphrasing Isaiah 52: 15, which says:
So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
The reason why the kings will be so awed into silence is because they will witness the gathering of Israel, which must come by the miraculous power of the Father.
Verse 9 – The marvelous work occurs during this time period, not before
For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them; and there shall be among them those who will not believe it, although a man shall declare it unto them.
“in that day” — The day referred to here is the day that the unabridged record comes forth. The Lord here is referring to the Second Act (the Strange Act). The First Act is when the Book of Mormon comes forth, which is a preparatory (D&C 133: 58 ) record. It is the Strange Second Act which is known as the great and marvelous work, or the marvelous work and a wonder, etc., not the First Act.
“and there shall be among them those who will not believe it” — Despite the convincing power of the unabridged record (see 1 Nephi 14: 7) and the many signs and manifestations of the power of God, as well as the testimony of prophets, leaving them without excuse, there will be many who will disbelieve the record.
“although a man shall declare it unto them” — Prophets will again be in the land.
Verse 10 – Angels and messengers of heaven will be sent
But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.
“my servant” — The Savior is here expounding upon Isaiah 52: 13-14. Although the noun is singular, it encompasses every Elias that will participate in gathering Israel and restoring all things, including the Elias who heads up this dispensation. Isaiah 52: 7, although singular, is read the same way:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
Verse 11 – Already expounded here
Verses 12 and 13 -Unrepentant Gentiles shall be vexed by remnant of Jacob
And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off.
This will happen after the Gentiles reject the words of Christ found in the unabridged record. This is to stir them up to repentance. The Lord has used the Lamanites in this manner before. (See 2 Nephi 5: 25.) Another prophecy that talks of the same event is found here:
And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation. (D&C 87: 5)
(Not all Gentiles, though, will reject the words of Christ. The above will only happen to those Gentiles who are unrepentant and reject the Lord’s words. The other Gentiles, who repent, become numbered with Israel and gathered.)
Verses 14 to 21 – Utter destruction upon the still unrepentant Gentiles
Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots; and I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strongholds; and I will cut off witchcrafts out of thy land, and thou shalt have no more soothsayers; thy graven images I will also cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee, and thou shalt no more worship the works of thy hands; and I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee; so will I destroy thy cities.
And it shall come to pass that all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, shall be done away.
For it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that at that day whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son, them will I cut off from among my people, O house of Israel; and I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.
“wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent“ — After the vexation, which will be to stir the Gentiles up to repentance, which will be their very last chance to turn from their evil ways, the Gentiles who still remain unrepentant will be destroyed.
“whosoever will not repent” — This destruction will come upon the unrepentant among both the Jews and Gentiles. It will be even according to Nephi’s words in 2 Nephi 30: 2.
Verse 22 – Establishment of church and covenant people of the Lord
But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance;
“establish my church among them” — The repentant Gentiles, for this verse is speaking of the Gentiles, who believe the unabridged record will become the church of the Lamb of God spoken of by Nephi (see 1 Nephi 14) and will be numbered with with Israel and become part of the covenant (to be gathered) that the Father made with Israel. This land (America) will be their land of gathering.
Verse 23 – The repentant Gentiles will assist the remnant of Jacob in building the New Jerusalem, not the other way around
And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem.
“they shall assist my people” — It is commonly thought among LDS that it will be the Lamanites who assist the Gentile LDS to build the New Jerusalem, despite what the Savior says here. In other words, that the LDS will be the chief builders of the New Jerusalem while the Lamanites will be their helpers. This is because interpreters of this scripture cannot see that conditions will change among men and that this scripture will be literally fulfilled, as it is written. The converted Lamanites and others of the house of Israel (by lineage) will be the chief builders of the New Jerusalem, while the Gentile converts (Israelites by adoption) will be their assistants.
“that they may build a city” — The New Jerusalem will be built prior to the Lord’s Second Coming, not after as many LDS believe. It must and will be built first, before the Israelites are gathered in under the Lord’s wings, as a place of refuge and defense from the storms that will usher in the Lord’s Second Coming.
Verse 24 -The Gentiles will assist the remnant of Jacob in gathering those scattered
And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
This work of gathering happens after the New Jerusalem is built, not before. All of these events occur prior to the Lord’s Second Coming.
Verse 25 -The saints will be endowed with power and enter into presence of the Lord
And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst.
This is when the following scripture will be fulfilled:
And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; and the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.
And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.
And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy.
For when the Lord shall appear he shall be terrible unto them, that fear may seize upon them, and they shall stand afar off and tremble.
And all nations shall be afraid because of the terror of the Lord, and the power of his might. Even so. Amen. (D&C 45: 66-71, 74-75)
Verse 26 – Back to the sign, the lost tribes of Israel
And then shall the work of the Father commence at that day, even when this gospel shall be preached among the remnant of this people. Verily I say unto you, at that day shall the work of the Father commence among all the dispersed of my people, yea, even the tribes which have been lost, which the Father hath led away out of Jerusalem.
“at that day” — The Lord here is coming back to the sign. The day He is indicating is the day that the unabridged record goes to the remnant of Jacob.
“among all the dispersed of my people, yea, even the tribes which have been lost” — The Lost Ten Tribes must return with their prophets and their scriptures before the Lord’s Second Coming. Nephi spoke of this in 2 Nephi 29. The gathering of Israel, all of Israel, will occur prior to the Lord’s advent.
Verse 27 – First, Israel to be restored to Christ
Yea, the work shall commence among all the dispersed of my people, with the Father to prepare the way whereby they may come unto me, that they may call on the Father in my name.
“all the dispersed of my people” — This is Israel in its scattered state, prior to the gathering.
“with the Father to prepare the way” — The Book of Mormon and events of the First act are part of that preparation.
“whereby they may come unto me, that they may call on the Father in my name” — The records that go forth to the scattered Israelites will convert them to Christ.
Verse 28 – Second, converted Israelites to be restored (gathered) to lands of inheritance
Yea, and then shall the work commence, with the Father among all nations in preparing the way whereby his people may be gathered home to the land of their inheritance.
The gathering does not occur until Israel is converted to Christ. Only after their conversion does the Father covenant to gather them, not before. (See 2 Nephi 30: 2.) Once they are in the covenant, and have accepted the new records, they will be gathered.
“with the Father among all nations in preparing the way” — Again, the First Act is a preparatory act, but there will be a further preparation during the Second Act.
Verse 29 – The Gathering
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.
I think that verse is fairly plain. No exposition needed, except maybe to say that the gathering will not occur by car or plane (“not go out in haste, nor go by flight.”)