Working Backwards From Zion

Some good discussions this week about Zion, a perennial favorite topic of my own. Most Mormons can probably agree that we should be seeking Zion, working towards Zion, consecrating ourselves to the establishment of Zion. But the next steps can seem a little ambiguous at times. We LDS no longer called to a literal gathering, we don’t talk anymore of Jackson County, and the temple lot is not ours (it belongs to other Mormons). At times it feels like we’re in a sort of holding pattern when it comes to Zion. We go to church, we do our callings, we pay tithing. Is that all there is? If we’re not gathering or building (aside from donations and regular callings), what are we doing? Where is our utopia?

Maybe part of what’s missing is some sort of sustaining vision of where we’re headed, the ultimate goal. So here are all the relevant scriptures on Zion that I could find, the ones that tell us what that utopian society is like.

Psalm 48:2:

Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.

Psalm 50:2:

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.

Psalm 125:1:

They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.

Isaiah 1:27:

Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

Isaiah 2:3:

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Isaiah 4:3:

And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:

1st Nephi 22:14:

And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.

2nd Nephi 26:31:

But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.

2nd Nephi 28:21:

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

Mosiah 15:29:

Yea, Lord, thy watchmen shall lift up their voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.

4th Nephi 15-17:

And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

D&C 38:4:

I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom; and verily, I say, even as many as have believed in my name, for I am Christ, and in mine own name, by the virtue of the blood which I have spilt, have I pleaded before the Father for them.

D&C 45:64-71:

Wherefore I, the Lord, have said, gather ye out from the eastern lands, assemble ye yourselves together ye elders of my church; go ye forth into the western countries, call upon the inhabitants to repent, and inasmuch as they do repent, build up churches unto me. And with one heart and with one mind, gather up your riches that ye may purchase an inheritance which shall hereafter be appointed unto you. 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.

D&C 63:29-31:

Wherefore, the land of Zion shall not be obtained but by purchase or by blood, otherwise there is none inheritance for you. And if by purchase, behold you are blessed; And if by blood, as you are forbidden to shed blood, lo, your enemies are upon you, and ye shall be scourged from city to city, and from synagogue to synagogue, and but few shall stand to receive an inheritance.

D&C 76:65-66:

These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just. These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.

D&C 97:18-21:

And, now, behold, if Zion do these things she shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible. And the nations of the earth shall honor her, and shall say: Surely Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there; And he hath sworn by the power of his might to be her salvation and her high tower. Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.

D&C 105:5:

And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.

Moses 7:18:

And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

Article of Faith 10:

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

There are many more scriptures which talk of Zion, and clearly some prophets are talking of one Zion while others are speaking of a different Zion. If you have other scriptures which you think add to our overall characterization of Zion, let’s hear them in the comments. From these scriptures, here’s a list of attributes that I view as central to Zion:

-Physical safety
-Spiritual rest
-No poverty
-Sharing of substance
-Full of joy
-No system of currency (??)
-Both source of law and a place of justice
-Means of establishing to be peaceful & divine
-Vigilantly defended both inside and out

Anything else? And if these are the attributes of Zion, how would our ‘Zion activism’ be tailored to achieve those ends? In other words, if we work with the end in mind, what are the proximate next steps towards Zion?


  1. Focus group testing showed that “Zion” was considered odd by group participants. It will be replaced by a series of memes showing that we were actually Zion all along.

  2. jaxjensen says:

    A physical boundry/location.
    Any effort to actually have all things in common. (the biggest hang up in my mind)
    A willingness to talk about differences of opinion/viewpoints (instead of pretending we all believe the same things so that we appear to be “of one mind”) and discuss even sensitive issues.
    Accepting that “be ye therefore perfect” is an attainable goal and working toward it

  3. Much of the rest of 4 Nephi belongs here too. For example, verses 2 and 3:

    “And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
    And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.”

    That adds to your list: no contentions; all converted; no rich(!); all free.

  4. Tim, 4th Nephi is an interesting text to consider in total.

  5. All I know is that there’s not much point to Zion without a choir. That’s something I can work on, even in ideological disjunction with much of the rest of the agenda.

  6. Vigilantly defended both inside and out

    This is a double-edged sword, to say the least. This is what (some) Germans felt they were doing in the Great War (well, defending civilization), for example, and look how they get portrayed in Hollywood super hero movies for all their efforts.

  7. In other words, if Zion is going to be built on a nation state, there’s going to be trouble.

  8. The extra trick is defending without shedding blood. Going to have to invest in non-lethal tactics and blunt force weapons.

  9. Right, which is why some think that Zion is an entirely post-2nd coming affair.

  10. As I read through, the two things that occur to me are that there is some form of law-government-collective action-defense, and that capitalism and capitalists don’t fit. A polar opposite of Ayn Rand-ism?

  11. Loursat says:

    “Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be pulled up, and none of whose ropes will be broken.” Isaiah 33:20 (NRSV)

    “Look upon Zion, city of our solemn feasts, let your eyes rest on Jerusalem, a land of comfort, a tent that shall never be shifted, whose pegs shall never be pulled up, not one of its ropes cast loose.” Isaiah 33:20 (NEB)

    “For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.” D&C 82:14

    I love the poetic beauty of these verses. I’m also looking for something that helps us understand where Zion may be established in a time when we have moved beyond the migratory gathering-to-Zion of the 19th Century. In the Old Testament, Zion is Jerusalem. The Doctrine and Covenants mostly talks about the Zion of Jackson County. But the D&C also suggests the idea that the shelter of Zion might expand to cover any place where her stakes can be strengthened. It seems important that the term “stake,” which derives from this image of Zion, is permanently planted in the organizational scheme of the church.

    For me, one of the trickiest problems in thinking about this is how strongly Doctrine and Covenants scriptures about gathering can move us toward isolation and separatism in establishing Zion. The separatist tendency creates enormous tension with our charge to take the gospel to all the world.

  12. Christian, you’re not wrong…

  13. Loursat, I love those verses. And yes, now that we’re not gathering I’m looking for something else.

  14. MDearest says:

    The scripture which has take up residence in my mind recently is D&C 49:20 “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.”

    The context in which it is given refers to economic inequality, in Kirtland, but I expand it to address all forms of unearned, random privilege. (Examples: sexism, racism, classism, access to education, freedom from poverty, access to healthcare, etc.) The part that hit me like a thunderbolt, and will not leave, is that because of this the world lieth in sin; that this is the reason why we live in a fallen world in which Zion eludes us. It’s like Christ, who is the narrator of the D&C, gave us this jewel of a pro-tip in the form of a throwaway scripture, and no one ever sees it, much less quotes it. It is the very opposite of prosperity gospel, after all. And it has too much in common with the theories espoused (if not actually practiced) by the political left.

    So it’s kind of a given that it’s not going to be the centerpiece of a general conference address or lesson, but I take it seriously and ponder what the actions inspired by this scripture may be. I think it accomplishes more as a general directive; it’s good that we aren’t given specific policy commands by the Lord. That way we can have as many interpretations of how to correct the problems of inequality as there are people to think of them. And that’s what it would take, because those problems are thorny and insurmountable. At least they are until those who benefit from random privilege believe that such a thing needs to be corrected.

  15. I love this.

  16. Wait, where does it say no currency system? In your defense you did put (??) next to that one. I know there can’t be poor, but it seems more likely we’d create a flourishing society with a currency system than without. I mean Hunter gatherers were an egalitarian bunch, but they also lacked universal healthcare!

  17. Thanks for your efforts, Steve. I “feel” Zion as I meet with fellow Saints in Church meetings.

  18. Roger Hansen says:

    I suspect that Zion is a state of mind given today’s realities. Very little the church leadership is doing has it headed toward an “Imagine” society. All we can do is create our own Zion and pass it on to our progeny.

  19. jaxjensen says:

    Zion isn’t solely a post-2nd coming event Steve. It has already happened. At multiple times with multiple peoples. It has happened on this continent. The only reason that it might turn out to be a post-2nd coming event FOR US, is that we don’t have the faith/desire to make it happen. We love our “stuff” too much.

    The D&C allows for currency in Zion.
    104:69 Or in other words, if any man among you obtain five dollars let him cast them into the treasury; or if he obtain ten, or twenty, or fifty, or an hundred, let him do likewise;

  20. jaxjensen, you don’t say!

    re: your reading of D&C 104, I believe you are reading that completely wrong.

  21. JasonB, laborers in Zion do not receive money for their labor.

  22. Kris: me too. It’s also sometimes where Zion feels furthest away.

  23. We LDS no longer called to a literal gathering

    Is it not at least arguable that that may be part of our problem in conceiving a way towards Zion? I mean, we are no longer being called by our ecclesiastical leaders in Salt Lake to do a great many of the things implied by the scriptures quoted here, but they are rightly worth pondering all the same. Why should we exclude gathering from that list?

  24. Loursat says:

    2 Nephi 26:30-31:

    30 [T]he Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish.
    31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.

    Why can’t we interpret verse 31 as meaning that the laborer in Zion must not labor for the sake of material gain, regardless of the medium of payment? In verse 30, we read about those who employ the laborer; the employer must be motivated by love. In verse 31, we have the corresponding observation about the laborer. Everyone in Zion must be motivated by love. But people still have to eat, and they have to be paid somehow. “If they labor for bread they shall perish” would mean the same thing.

  25. Russell, yes, that’s part of what I’m getting at.

    Loursat: your interpretation is a very likely one. I drove the point towards currency as a way of approaching the idea that a Zion economy may be vastly different from what we currently know – in fact I think it needs to be vastly different.

  26. Though I admit it was a little disingenuous to push the point that way.

  27. jaxjensen says:

    RAF, what do you make of the fact that they are no longer calling us to do them, but we are still making the covenant to do so in the temple AND told that if we don’t live up to every one of those covenants we’ll be in Satan’s power?

  28. FarSide says:

    Perusing these scriptures from the various books of the standard works prompts the following questions:

    Is it possible that the Zion described and experienced by one prophet/scribe differed in important respects from that of his counterparts who lived at different times and under different circumstances? If that is the case, is there more than one viable model of Zion, within certain broad parameters? If so, is it possible for multiple Zions to exist, function and succeed simultaneously that differ from each other in some ways based on the culture, background, knowledge, understanding and desires of the individual members? Or does the Mormon belief system require that any such differences be differentiated in the same manner in which Mormons imagine the different degrees of glory in the afterlife?

  29. Scott Abbott says:

    I once published an essay in Sunstone asking if we would find ZION or make ZION. Your thoughts here take me back

  30. jlouielucero says:

    Jax: is it possible Satan, the father of lies, is lying about us being in his power?

  31. jaxjensen says:

    jlouielucero: Is it possible Satan wrote/controls the temple covenants?

  32. Regarding section 104, it is not about Zion, per se. It is all about the dissolving of the United Firm, a small group of men who were responsible for the properties and printing of the early Church. They used pseudonyms for themselves and even for the UF, which got changed to United Order, and for some reason that name was never changed back to the original. Too bad.

  33. Scott, I want to read your essay.

  34. Loursat says:

    Me too. I haven’t read it yet, but I downloaded it here.

  35. Scott Abbott says:

    That pleases me. A link in Loursat’s comment

  36. FarSide says:

    Scott, your essay suggests that you might answer my initial question—Is it possible that the Zion described and experienced by one prophet/scribe differed in important respects from that of his counterparts who lived at different times and under different circumstances?—by saying that, it is not only possible, but quite likely.

    Not only do I concur with your notion that we make Zion instead of it being dictated to us, I would extend that proposition to virtually every other aspect of our religion, e.g., we made our own temple ceremonies, we implemented our own version of the priesthood, etc. This is not to deny the role of inspiration in the development of these practices, doctrines and rituals, but it does recognize that what the Lord has found acceptable in our era may differ in several respects from what the He has blessed and sanctioned in the past.

    I believe when we attempt to confine our understanding of Zion to the incomplete, and sometimes vague and inconsistent, descriptions contained in a scriptural record generated by disparate voices that were heavily influenced by their respective cultures and unique circumstances, we circumscribe our imagination and deny ourselves the ability to create a Zion that will best advance our eternal progress.

  37. Scott Abbott says:

    You are approaching this as I did, with a sense for the problems that come from absolutist versions of anything and for the splendid possibilities of working things out on our own…with our own limitations, yes, but also with our own capabilities and insights

  38. FarSide says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Scott, and for bringing to our attention your essay. I intend to put it in my “keeper” file.

  39. Scott Abbott says:

    It is good to find a reader. Thanks

  40. Bro. B. says:

    Steve, Zion by all these definitions seems a long way off. Especially if there is no capitalism there, and no room for the City Creek Mall nor lawyers and bankers. Maybe it will take closer proximity to the Millennium.

  41. I have often thought that what we are missing is a detailed explanation in the Book of Mormon of how they created a Zion society. Odd when you think of it, we have untold chapters on war preparations and strategies and almost nothing on the actual goal. You would think Third and Fourth Nephi would be the longest of the books in the Book of Mormon. Detailed stories of how the missionary work was organized and went forward. Thrilling tales of personal change as people accepted the gospel covenant in large numbers and shared it with others. Full details of how a society changed so that there were no poor among them. Did they just share or was knowledge poured out on them in abundance that made everyone rich, not just everyone getting by. After visiting South America and seeing the remains of their civilizations, I believe the latter was true. There are ruins there I do not see we could create today with all our knowledge and technology. While we enjoy reading these kinds of stories for individuals earlier in the book, how was this made universal and how so quickly?
    So my belief is that we lack the knowledge to move forward and that that knowledge is in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon plates. When we are closer to a Zion people, the instructions will be provided. Perhaps we just need to concentrate on is the current task, with the faith that it will prepare us as a people for the next step, whenever that is revealed.
    I do much genealogy and one of the insights I have gained is that while the work today can go forward so much faster than 20 years ago, it is built on the foundation of the slow and painstaking work done by the prior generations. Without the foundation they have laid, our task would be so much harder.

  42. Bro. B., you could be right. I support the mall, I think it’s a good thing for the city, but is there consumerism in Zion?

  43. John Mansfield says:

    The challenges of laboring for Zion came to mind as I recently read a news article on projects designed to find gravitational waves through observation of pulsar timing. Data sharing is an issue that comes up frequently with projects of this sort. Researchers put effort into creating data for motives that are a combination of self-interest and contributing to the public good. They want to increase the body of human knowledge, but would prefer when possible that new things be discovered and disclosed to the world by themselves. The glory-seeking aspect of it not entirely self-serving: receiving support for such efforts depends on making the case that support for a particular research effort has a good chance of bearing fruit, and if it does, then it serves the public good to make it known that the researchers in question can get things done. At any rate you may find interest in considering a case like this, removed from the usual finance-centric focus of laboring for Zion:

    In 2008 the three projects teamed up to form the IPTA [International Pulsar Timing Array]. The first joint data set came out last year and contained a cumulative 559 years of data amassed from 49 pulsars. “It’s hard to quantify how much sensitivity you gain,” says Verbiest, who headed the effort. “A quick and dirty estimate says we gained by a factor of two.” The combining process was “a sobering experience,” he adds. “As much as we are a tight-knit community, each group still has its own methods and habits.”

    Each team also wants to be able to make claims on its own, in part to increase its chances of getting funding. Sharing data is a sticking point, says Sesana. “When you share, you open the database of interesting physics to everybody. You might have students working on projects on specific pulsars, and you want to protect your students.” Still, with scientists circulating among the projects and closer collaborations in the works for future facilities, says Verbiest, “the pulsar timing arrays are slowly growing to accept a more global approach. (link)

  44. John Mansfield says:


  45. Thanks John, that’s fascinating.

  46. Just came across an interesting, related article. Evidently the Incan Empire ran without money or marketplaces. Taxes were a portion of your labor. (link)

    So it can be done, just no one currently living knows how.

  47. Very useful addition, John Mansfield. It puts me in mind of another non-finance/commerce issue. In the 1990s I got a taste of power (as a bishop for two years and a C-level executive for four years). Of course I believe I was benevolent and righteous, but that’s not the point, which is that I *liked* it. Wholly apart from recognition and money, I liked being in charge. These are not-to-be-repeated experiences in the practical realities of my life, so maybe I can now sign up for Zion. But knowing that making decisions and calling the shots is a blast (at least for people built like me), I wonder how to fit that into any version of Zion? Cf D&C 121:39.

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