SEEKING TO ESTABLISH ZION
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object.”1 “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and . . . have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without [seeing it]; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory.”2
The concept of establishing and building up Zion is a mystery to some. Yet our scriptures and ceremonies are full of references to this doctrine. The Doctrine and Covenants refers frequently to the establishment of Zion in the latter days; there are more than 200 such references. Even before the Church was formally organized, the Lord directed a number of brethren to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (D&C 6:6; 11:6; 12:6; 14:6).
Becoming the “Pure in Heart”
Zion is defined in various ways—as a city, as a nation, as a continent, and as people who are “pure in heart”:
— The city built by Enoch (Moses 7:19).
— Jerusalem and its mount (1 Kings 8:1).
— North and South America (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 362).
— The Church of Jesus Christ(D&C 113:7–8).
— The New Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri (D&C 57:1–5; 101:67–73).
— The pure in heart(D&C 97:21).
The last and most important example of a Zion people is, those who will welcome the Lord at His Second Coming. Hopefully, some of those will be ourselves or our descendants.
One thing is certain—He will not come to inherit a non-Zion people or kingdom. So, while we may believe we are waiting for Him, it may be more accurate to say He is waiting for us. Only when we have become a Zion people will we be worthy and ready to receive Him.
President Spencer W. Kimball asked, “What does this mean to us? It means that if the members of the Church do real proselyting in their home wards that the number of converts could grow to astronomical figures and even hasten the time when the Lord will be returning to the earth in His second advent.”3
ZION IN PREVIOUS DISPENSATIONS
Zion in the City of Enoch
Enoch established the city of Zion, where the people became “of one heart and one mind.” When they achieved this, “Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not (Moses 7:67–69). They were translated into heaven (Moses 7:18–21) This is the same city that will return again at the Second Coming to join with the Saints in the city of the New Jerusalem where Jesus will reign as King (D&C 45:12; JST Gen. 9:21–25). The account of Enoch and his people is important to us today because it helps us to understand what we must do to establish Zion.
Zion among the People of Melchizedek
Melchizedek, the great high priest, established righteousness among his people (JST Gen. 14:25–40). When He assumed the office of prophet/leader, Salem (later called Jerusalem) was under a veil of spiritual darkness and rebellion (Alma 13:17). But Melchizedek was a man of faith and righteousness, who preached repentance unto his people and established peace. He was therefore called “the prince of peace” and King of Salem (‘peace”). (Heb. 7:1–4). Eventually, his people and city became righteous enough to be translated. And the highest order of priesthood was called the Melchizedek priesthood in honor of the great high priest Melchizedek (D&C 107:2–4).
Zion Was Lost by the Children of Israel
The Lord gave the Children of Israel an invitation to become a Zion people (Exodus 19:1–9). The Lord promised if they would be obedient he would make them “a peculiar treasure, . . . a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” This meant that Israel would become the Lord’s own special people or treasure , favored above all others and chosen to bear the priesthood and the gospel to all people (Deut. 7:6; 14:1–2; 1 Peter 2:9). These are the same promises given to Enoch’s people (vv. 3–6). They are the same conditions as will be in the Millennium.
As Moses learned on his first visit to the top of Mt. Sinai, the requirement to receive these blessings was obedience (v. 5). Israel’s answer was, “We will!” (v. 8). Three things were necessary for God to elevate the people of Israel to a “Zion” status:
— They would have to be sanctified—cleansed from their worldly ways (D&C 84:23).
— They would need to receive the Melchizedek priesthood (Exodus 19:6).
— They would need to construct a temple and receive its ordinances (Exodus 25:8).
Moses returned to the Holy Mount to receive the higher ordinances and covenants of the temple. On his way, 73 Elders saw Jehovah at the same time. This great spiritual experience occurred as the Lord accepted their commitment (Exodus 24:9–11). Instructions were given for building and operating the Tabernacle—a portable temple. Tables of stone were promised, written with the finger of God (Exodus 24:12) on both sides (Exodus 32:15). Moses went back up to the top of the mountain.
Moses was gone 40 days (5 weeks) (Exodus 32:1–4), and while he was gone, Israel rejected God’s covenants. They had been disobedient from the beginning. Now, even while Moses was receiving temple blessings and promises, they continued to rebel. They turned to idolatry—old and familiar practices they learned in Egypt (Exodus 32:1–9). They made and worshiped a golden calf, which worship included nakedness and adulterous public sexual practices which the calf represents. Moses returned and found them engaged in gross sins (Exodus 32:6,17–20). He broke the tablets knowing he could not share such sacred things with so wicked a people. Three thousand were slain by earthquake and fire (Exodus 32:26–29).
As a result the Lord declared that He would no longer lead the camp of Israel personally. They would receive only the ministering of an angel (an Aaronic priesthood level of revelation) (Exodus 33:2–4). Moses pitched a temporary tabernacle outside the camp (Exodus 33:7–10). This “tent” was not the Tabernacle described in Exodus 25–30. It was a tent belonging to Moses, which was made into a temporary sanctuary where the pillar of cloud came down upon it, and Jehovah talked with Moses. It was there that the “Lesser Law” was provided (Exodus 34:1).
Zion in the Early Christian Church
The members of the Church in the days after Christ’s early ministry lived the law of consecration; (Acts 4:32–37). But Ananias and Sapphira misused sacred funds (Acts 5:1–11). Among Jewish members, the practice worked reasonably well. But prejudice against Gentile converts made it difficult to be “as one” as time went by. Eventually, the Church was taken from the earth, along with consecration.
Zion among the Nephites
Mormon lists a number of attributes that were prominent among them, and which would need to be present in any latter-day Zion (4 Nephi 1:1–19).
— Every man did deal justly (v. 2).
— There were “no manner of -ites” (vv. 15, 17).
— “There could not be a happier people” (vv. 15–16).
This society lasted nearly 200 years, but eventually gave way to selfishness, greed, and pride. The Nephites became a wicked people again.
ZION IN THE LAST DISPENSATION
We Have Been Commanded to Establish Zion
The early Latter-day Saints were very excited to learn concerning the Zion established by Enoch’s people. In January 1831, during the third conference of the Church, the Prophet received Doctrine and Covenants 38, wherein the Lord identified Himself as “the same which had taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom” (D&C 38:4). The Saints desired to know what they might do to become a Zion people also.
The Lord’s response was remarkably similar to the one he gave to the children of Israel in Moses’ day. They were commanded to gather to Kirtland, Ohio (D&C 37:1–4). “There I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high” (D&C 38:32). This is a reference to the temple blessings that would soon follow.
The Savior promised the Saints in D&C 38:7–8: “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you that mine eyes are upon you. I am in your midst and ye cannot see me. But the day soon cometh that ye shall see me, and know that I am; for the veil of darkness shall soon be rent, and he that is not purified shall not abide the day.”
The Lord also said: (Just as he said to the children of Israel anciently):
— The kingdom is theirs, with blessings heretofore unknown (D&C 38:9, 15).
— They will receive an inheritance in a land of promise (D&C 38:18–20).
— He will be their king and lawgiver (D&C 38:21–22).
— The Lord’s law to his Church will be given in Ohio (D&C 38:32; 41:2–3).
— An endowment from on high will be received (D&C 38:32).
Thus, two things were needed before Zion could be realized in this dispensation:
— Revelation from the Lord giving his law and the revealed Order of Zion.
— The preparation and sanctification of the Saints.
These would be accomplished in Ohio through two major developments:
— The law of consecration by which they could become “one” in all things.
— The initial ordinances of the temple, by which they could be sanctified.
Commandments for a Zion People
To become a Zion people, they Saints were to: (D&C 38:23–42)
— Esteem their brothers and sisters as themselves (vv. 24–25).
— Be one (v.27).
— Go to Ohio (v. 32).
— Beware of pride and the love of riches (v.39).
— Labor with might to raise the voice of warning (in meekness) (vv. 40–41).
— Go out from the wicked and “be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (v. 42).
The “Law of the Church” was given to the Saints in Kirtland as the Lord had promised (D&C 38:32). This law called for them to become a pure people, and to establish “the City of Zion—New Jerusalem—which was to be built by the law of consecration and obedience.” It also included the same Ten Commandments given anciently to Israel (D&C 42:18–29).
Later, the Lord revealed his intention to “raise up . . . a pure people that will serve me in righteousness” (D&C 100:16). Latter-day Saints, like the ancient Israelites, were to be a covenant people with the responsibility and the privilege to help establish God’s kingdom through obedience to his laws.
Zion in Missouri
The Prophet Joseph Smith said in a letter to the elders of the Church that the Lord desired the Saints to establish a “holy city” of Zion on the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, near present-day Independence.4 But as we know from history, the Saints did not do well in Missouri.
— They gathered in haste . . . contrary to the Lord’s instructions.
— They came without means to buy the land and establish themselves.
— Early settlers (like Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer) bought up land and sold it at increased rates to those moving in.
— There were “jarrings” and “contentions” and “abominations” in their lives.
— They were warned but did not repent . . . and were driven off the land.
Like the ancient Israelites, the Latter-day Saints were not yet a Zion people. They assumed that they could build a place of Zion without building a people who were pure in heart. Some individuals fulfilled the personal requirements of a Zion people, but as a whole the Saints did not (D&C 105:1–2). Thus, the Church would have to “wait for a season” (D&C 105:9) in order that “my people may be taught more perfectly, . . . and know more perfectly concerning their duty” (D&C 105:10).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “It appears from this declaration [D&C 103:16–20] that the redemption of Zion was not to come immediately, but was to be postponed to some future day. Moreover, that day would not come until. the members of the Church were willing to keep their covenants and walk unitedly, for until the members of the Church learn to walk in full accord and in obedience with all of the commandments, this day cannot come. It may be necessary in order to bring this to pass for the Lord to use drastic measures and cleanse the Church from everything that offends. This he has promised to do when he is ready to redeem Zion (Matt. 13:41).”5
In June 1834 the Lord indicated that Zion might already have been established except for the transgressions of His people (D&C 105:1–10). It is not the Lord who causes delays in bringing forth the establishment of Zion and the fulness of blessings upon the Saints. The rate at which His promises to His people are fulfilled and His blessings come to them is determined by their willingness to respond to His counsel and to do what they have been asked through His prophets.
Gathering to the New Jerusalem (D&C 48:5–6; 58:1–7, 44–45; 103)
Orson F. Whitney said, “Will our mission end here [in Utah]? Is the State of Utah the proper monument of the “Mormon” people? No. . . . The monument to “Mormonism” will stand in Jackson County, Mo. There the great City will be built: There Zion will arise and shine, “the joy of the whole Earth,” and there the Lord will come to His temple in His own time, when His people shall have made the required preparation.”6
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “The length of time required ‘to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion’ is strictly up to us and how we live, for creating Zion ‘commences in the heart of each person.’7 That it would take some time to learn our lessons was seen by the prophets. . . . Unfortunately we live in a world that largely rejects the values of Zion. Babylon has not and never will comprehend Zion. . . . Zion can be built up only among those who are pure in heart, not a people torn by covetousness or greed, but a pure and selfless people. Not a people who are pure in appearance, rather a people who are pure in heart. Zion is to be in the world and not of the world, not dulled by a sense of carnal security, nor paralyzed by materialism. No, Zion is not things of the lower, but of the higher order, things that exalt the mind and sanctify the heart.”8
What are some specific things we can do to build Zion? The answer lies in doing all those things that the earlier Saints did not:
Strive to be pure in heart (D&C 97:21).
Become unified (D&C 38:27). The people in the city of Enoch were described as “being of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18). Lack of unity was one of the reasons the early Saints were not able to build the city of Zion (D&C 101:6; 105:4).
Care for the poor and afflicted (D&C 105:3). The Saints who were trying to establish Zion in Missouri were chastised by the Lord for failing to care for “the poor and afflicted among them” (D&C 105:3).
Build temples and receive temple blessings (D&C 97:10–16). Temples are important in building Zion because in them we make covenants regarding the establishment of Zion, which, if kept, will create the kind of Zion society that exists in our Father’s exalted kingdom (D&C 97:13–16; 105:9-12).
Teach one another and learn our duties more perfectly (D&C 105:10). We must learn our duties more perfectly and then live our lives accordingly if we wish to become a Zion people.
Preach the gospel to the world (D&C 133:8–9). The Lord directed the elders of the Church to call people out from Babylon (the world) to Zion. In recent months we have been told that the Lord is accelerating this work in preparation for the coming of our Lord and the ushering in of the Millennium.
THE FUTURE OF ZION
In Doctrine and Covenants 97, the Lord speaks of many blessings that will come to Zion in the last days:
— Zion will spread and become glorious and great (D&C 97:18).
— Zion will be honored by the nations of the earth (D&C 97:19).
— The Lord will be Zion’s salvation (D&C 97:20).
— Zion will rejoice (D&C 97:21).
— Zion will escape the Lord’s vengeance (D&C 97:22–25).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “As of now, the Lord has laid upon us the responsibility to lay the foundation for that which is to be. We have been commissioned to prepare a people for the Second Coming of the Son of Man. We have been called to preach the gospel to every nation and kindred and tongue and people. We have been commanded to lay the foundations of Zion and to get all things ready for the return of Him who shall again crown the Holy city with his presence and glory.”9
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. If we will ding to our values, if we will build on our inheritance, if we will walk in obedience before the Lord, if we will simply live the gospel, we will be blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way. We will be looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness. ‘And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 2:3). Great has been our past, wonderful is our present, glorious can be our future.”10
1. History of the Church, 3:390–391.
2. History of the Church, 4:609–610.
3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1976, 4; or Ensign, Nov. 1976, 4.
4. History of the Church, 2:254.
5. Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [1946–1949], 1:484.
6. Address, Salt Lake City, April 9, 1916.
7. Quoting from Journal of Discourses, 9:283.
8. In Conference Report, Apr. 1978,119,121–22; or Ensign, May 1978, . 79–80.
9. “Come: Let Israel Build Zion,” 116, 118.
10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 94; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 69.