I was recently reading in 3 Nephi where Jesus discusses how He was commanded not to tell the Jews much about His other sheep in other folds, which he would bring and unite with His visit and voice.
14 And not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem.
15 Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land.
16 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:
17 That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
18 And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them.
19 But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.
20 And verily, I say unto you again that the other tribes hath the Father separated from them; and it is because of their iniquity that they know not of them.
21 And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
22 And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching.
23 And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice—that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost.
24 But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.
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.
4 And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer.
5 And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 15:13-16:5)
This section is odd because it would seem like it would prompt a reaction of self-satisfaction—“We are some of Jesus’s other sheep and others were too stubborn and unbelieving to know of us.” But it has to be given for an instructive purpose, not necessarily for a back-patting one.
Why would the Jews not understand Jesus’s words about other sheep? In v22 we get a partial answer. They thought Jesus’s other sheep were the Gentiles. Why did they assume this? I think it is because the Jews also assumed they (the Jews) were the only people in the world that knew the truth, and that everyone else outside their region and society were Gentiles and heathens. Yet, from time to time, Heavenly Father had led faithful groups out from the Jews because of the Jews’ iniquity, but the Jews who remained thought those who left were the wicked ones and those who remained were righteous.
It is also possible that the same thing happened among the Nephites. While there were dissenters who went to the Lamanites and stirred up trouble, there was also a big trend of emigration northward in Alma 63 and across the sea. There was no contention associated with this mass movement. Are we to believe that these were unbelievers? It is more likely that they were Jesus’ sheep.
The thing about Jesus’s sheep at that time is that they don’t need missionary work because they are already in the covenant and part of the kingdom and already faithful. As such, they are ready for a personal visit.
How would it help the faithful in these different lands to know that they were some of Jesus’s sheep and that He had other sheep elsewhere? I would think it reduces the tendency toward superiority complexes and exclusivity. If a fold goes bad, good sheep can still be separated out, so a faith community must watch its p’s and q’s.
How does this help us today? Maybe it is obvious, maybe it isn’t. Today, because of modern transportation and communication, there truly can be one fold and one shepherd, and we need not be surprised to find remnants of covenant people and their traditions in strange places. If we did not know this, our missionaries might listen to people of another culture enthuse about how our doctrines fit so well with their ancient traditions and not know what to say to them about it. Or we might treat their stories with derision or dismiss it as counterfeit or heresy. But instead we can get excited too and realize we found an old part of the Great Shepherd’s fold.
The knowledge of multiple folds becomes an aid to latter-day missionary work and conversion. New converts are blessed to find truth that builds on old truths held by long tradition and to know they’ve found what their forefathers once knew. Missionaries are blessed to know that Heavenly Father has prepared the way and that He does have elect all over the earth waiting for the truth. It is like new acquaintances discovering they have a common ancestor—suddenly you’ve got new family!
Perhaps another one of the ways it helped the Nephites to know this was it assured them that they (through their records) would be instrumental in helping bring the Gentiles and the scattered remnants of Israel back together to the knowledge of Christ and the fold of God even though they had been separated from the Jews. It is a great blessing to the isolated to know that over the long term they would have a great positive influence on Christ’s other sheep.