On my mission, whenever I would read about the angel asking Nephi “knowest thou the condescension of God?” in 1 Nephi 11:16, I would kind of smirk to myself and think, “No” (which as a 19-year old kid I thought was hilarious). The fact was I didn’t even know what the word “condescension” meant, much less grasp the concept intended by “condescension of God.” I was only beginning to come to a sense of curiosity about the scriptures, but for some reason my curiosity didn’t really extend to this expression. And somehow I’ve gone all these years without really giving that expression a second thought. But in preparing for Sunday’s lesson I of course read the passage once again, and decided perhaps it is finally time that I try to get a handle on what the angel is trying to show Nephi here.
Our first problem is trying to grasp what the word itself means. The English verb condescend derives from Latin condescendere, meaning “to let oneself down, to stoop.” (Notice embedded in the word is our English derivative “descend.”) Being 6’5″ I know a thing or two about occasionally stooping down.
This is kind of a hard word for us to grasp, because in modern English it is usually used with a negative connotation. In our patter a person who is “condescending” has or shows a feeling of patronizing superiority. Synonyms would include arrogant, disdainful, snobbish, haughty. But the more historic usage is something like “voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior” or “to sink willingly to equal terms with an inferior.”
Our second problem is that we simply cannot prooftext a single verse and grasp the angel’s meaning here. We have to get a running start at it (something we’re not used to doing at Church, where we only like to focus on individual verses as opposed to entire passages), covering at least verses 8 through 33. I’ll bullet point some of the high points:
- Spirit shows Nephi the tree. (v. 8)
- Nephi desires to know what it means. (v. 11)
- He sees a fair virgin. (v. 13) 
- An angel asks him what he sees, and he replies a virgin. (vv. 14-15)
- The angel asks “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” thus introducing the key word. (v.16)
- Nephi replies “I know that he loveth his children, nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things.” (v. 17) 
- We learn the virgin is the mother of the son of God “after the manner of the flesh.” (v. 18) 
- Then he sees her bearing a child in her arms. (v. 20)
- “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” The angel again asks Nephi whether he knows the meaning of the tree which his father saw. (v.21)
- “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad.” (v. 22) 
- Nephi sees the Son of God among the children of men. (v. 24)
- With all of that introduction and background, then the angel says “Look and behold the condescension of God!” (v. 26)
- Neph sees his mortal ministry, the twelve apostles (v. 27)
- Him healing the sick, casting out devils (v. 31)
- He is judged by the world (v. 32)
- And finally he is lifted up on the cross and slain for the sins of the world. (v. 33)
So when I sorted through all that, it finally made sense to me. Jesus was God, but he lowered himself (i.e., condescended) to be born as an infant human being, in humble circumstances to a humble family. He modeled how we should treat each other. He was condemned, brutalized, and ultimately died for us. In fine, the condescension of God is the incarnation, ministry and atonement of Jesus Christ.
To me, this Book of Mormon conception of the condescension of God is well summarized in Philippians 2:5-11 (remember that “servant” in KJV usage means “slave”):
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
 How pray tell does Nephi know just from looking at her that this is a virgin? I’m guessing virgin is used here in the sense of a young woman, as opposed to the technical sense of a virgo intacta.
 Rather like my missionary self.
 What does “after the manner of the flesh” mean? In later Mormon materialism it might suggest the physical conception of Jesus, but the BoM seems awfully early for such a notion. I’m inclined to see this expression as referring more to the birth than to the conception.
 For the unusual expression “love which sheddeth itself,” see https://bycommonconsent.com/2007/07/14/love-which-sheds-itself/