Zion and the Coming of the Lord

By: J. Stapley - October 07, 2005

There is a tension in Mormonism between our pragmatism and our Millenarianism. Every Saint in this dispensation has wondered if they would live to see the great and terrible day. Most believed they would, only to be corrected by death’s disappointment. Kirtland. Independence. Nauvoo. Salt Lake City. The Mexican Colonies. Each held their promise of fulfilling one of the great precursors of the Lords return: Zion. Not simply the pure in heart of which we now frequently speak, but the institution that so many of our people died for – the community of God.

The early saints did not look back. The promises of Independence were abandoned for Far West, Nauvoo and then again for the new Territory. The most important issue was not where, but what, as Wilford Woodruff explained:

…before Christ comes, a people have got to be prepared by being sanctified before the Lord. Temples have got to be built; Zion has got to be built up, there must be a place of safety for the people of God while his judgments are abroad in the earth, for the judgments of God will visit the earth, there is no mistake about that, the revelations are full of promises to this effect and as the Lord has declared it, he will not fail in keeping his word. (Journal of Discourses vol.18 pg.192)

That Zion be established before the Lord comes is a central tenant of the restoration. It wasn’t until after the great accommodations of the modern era that the vision of an independent Zion was abandoned. In the place of this active pursuit, a retrospective anticipation of Independence as the seat of Zion returned. The idea has evolved such that where, not what, has become paramount.

If we are disappointed in the night of our slumber, perhaps it will be that in the stress of concurrently looking to the future and at the present we chose not to build the successor to our grand attempts at Zion, but to simply hope for their return.


  1. A grand trend of the current dispensation is the spiritualization of previously literal concepts. Zion is now the pure in heart, and in my experience a large proportion of the current LDS membership doesn’t even know that Zion was once supposed to be Independence, MO. This just goes along with the blood of Israel, the kingdom of God, etc.

    But in addition to the literal concept of Zion, I detect nostalgia for a second previously literal, now spiritual concept: the gathering of the Saints. It becomes difficult for the Saints to build “a place of safety” when the Saints aren’t at “a place” at all. So, perhaps, one of the reasons that we’ve lost sight of the original concept of Zion is that it has become an awkward match for our current policy of non-gathering. Hence, Zion becomes a future, apocalyptic expectation rather than an impending reality.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — 10/7/2005 @ 8:57 am

  2. I still plan on buying 20 acres or so in Caldwell County to hold in reserve as an inheritance. Maybe I will retire there. I am surprised that many saints do not purchase at least some vacant land in Missouri. They sure do leverage themselves to buy houses near the temples so why not the ultimate in preparedness – an inheritance in Zion.

    Which brings up a question that I have pondered for quite a while. Will there be significant deed restrictions and zoning rules in Zion to keep the sloppy people from detracting from its overall beauty?

    Comment by Kevin — 10/7/2005 @ 9:02 am

  3. That’s interesting RT. Most places I’ve lived “out in the mission field” seem more aware of Millennialism than here in Utah.

    Comment by Clark Goble — 10/7/2005 @ 10:11 am

  4. Hmmm, that’s a thoug, Kevein. Like a strict Zion homeowners association… If it is anything like my HOA it would be very bad for keeping us of one heart.

    I had a Zion post I almost put up last night instead of that evolution post J. Now I’ll have to revise it to respond to yours. It is a “what” instead of “where” post about Zion.

    Comment by Geoff J — 10/7/2005 @ 10:18 am

  5. Geoff,

    I think that the practical aspects of a Zion city would be very interesting to discuss. How many of our day-to-day frustrations concern local government and relations between neighbors?

    Comment by Kevin — 10/7/2005 @ 10:41 am

  6. Clark, my remark was offered on the basis of my experience in Latin America; many of the members there seem to see the Missouri period of church history as just another stop along the way when it comes up in the D&C manual. This is reasonable and appropriate, since most of them belong to families and wards that have only been members under the “spiritual gathering” church.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — 10/7/2005 @ 11:11 am

  7. It is a “what” instead of “where” post about Zion.

    …you know what they say about great minds.

    RoastedTomatoes, I believe you are correct.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/7/2005 @ 12:00 pm

  8. Many years ago we had a fireside speaker, related to a well known (un-named) church “authority”, who told us the church was starting to buy large plots of land throughout the country for the saints to gather to. These were to be places to gather to wait out the wrath of God etc.etc.

    Interesting but false rumor. But since that time, I too have thought about buying some land in Jackson County just in case. Is it too late?

    Comment by Don — 10/7/2005 @ 12:21 pm

  9. Don,

    I don’t think it is too late. It is not really that expensive to buy Missouri farmland. I just don’t know how extensive or how large of an LDS return we can expect. Is it just a select group of members that will be chosen to return? If so, how do you stop the rest of the saints from gathering of their own accord? There is no defined timetable to return. However, as we have discovered in many things, we can expect that the return will most likely be accomplished in a manner we do not foresee or anticipate.

    I chose to buy land in Caldwell County near Far West rather than Jackson County which is experiencing suburban sprawl from Kansas City.

    Comment by Kevin — 10/7/2005 @ 12:30 pm

  10. This is interesting…it outlines the tendancy of my post. Instead of building zion where we are like the early saints (who jettisonned the necessity for Indepence), we are hoping retrospectively for a chapter that for many years was closed.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/7/2005 @ 12:39 pm

  11. J.

    Look at what happened in Nauvoo when they announced the building of the old temple. That geographic area saw its housing prices increase dramatically as many LDS couples chose to retire to western Illinois. The whole character of the region changed very quickly. The church purchased the Catholic school from the nuns and the long-time residents are having to re-adjust to a different culture becoming dominant.

    The church did not have to do anything to encourage this activity. It occurred naturally. I think this is a good model for what could occur in Missouri.

    Comment by Kevin — 10/7/2005 @ 12:49 pm

  12. A thought: You buy land and get it legally (according to earthly governments) titled. Do you think the Lord is going to pay attention to earthly governments? What is your land was originally stolen from the saints? What about Brigham Youngs? dream about the land being swept clean (not even a yellow dog???). Just some thing to think about.

    Comment by Daylan Darby — 10/7/2005 @ 2:29 pm

  13. The church ownes over 10% of the land in my home town, which is in Jackson County. The city has accused the church of hording land for a future Zion, but the church has repeatedly denied it, saying their purchases are purely for investment purposes. Still, it’s kind of interesting.

    Comment by Eric Russell — 10/7/2005 @ 2:54 pm

  14. It was interesting to hear Elder Uchtdorf in this recent General Conference emphasize the need no longer to emigrate to Zion and his assessment of the toll the previous emigration of saints out of Europe has taken on the Church in Europe. He even speculated on what the Church would look like in Europe today if those numbers had not emigrated. I am a product of such emigration. I think it was absolutely essential for the establishment of the church for the saints to gather at one place–their Zion–in the initial phases. Doing so, arguably, is what allowed the Church to survive numerous serious setbacks. But I agree with Elder Uchtdorf’s point.

    Still, I wonder what prompted Elder Uchtdorf to say that in this conference. From my exposure to saints in Europe (arguably a lot) I don’t know many or any who think that they are still supposed to find a way to emigrate to Utah. They are all fully on board with the idea of Zion being in the stakes of the Church and in the pure in heart. They are actively building Zion in their own countries.

    Comment by john fowles — 10/7/2005 @ 2:56 pm

  15. So…we have determined that we are not to accept a future literal gathering to Zion. And we are to remain in our stakes and seek to purify our hearts. Does that mean that the church will not be building a temple in Far West or in Jackson County? Does that mean the physical blueprints for these towns drawn up by Joseph and Brigham are to be abandoned?

    And where will the literal city of Zion return to when it descends from heaven? It can’t return to every stake in Zion.

    There have to be some answers to these questions.

    Comment by Kevin — 10/7/2005 @ 3:10 pm

  16. I don’t know Kevin. It seems to me that Joseph, Brigham, and the others up to JSF abandoned Indepence and Farwest to the millenium. That said, it seems quite evident that they thought they would probably see it realized.

    I have to admit to being a little bit more of a primitive Millenerian than what was popularized by JSFII and McConkie. Before them, it seems that Mormon eschetology was a matter of Zion, Gathering of Isreal, Temples, and the sign of the Son of Man. It wasn’t until later in the 20th century that all of the cosmic complexities were introduced.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/7/2005 @ 3:23 pm

  17. J.– I like this idea that we spend more time looking backwards at Zion instead of looking forward to/for it. I wonder if, as modern Saints, we are caught up in a state similar to Arrington’s idea of the “centrifugal bias” — we aren’t building Zion but waiting for it to be announced to us from 47 East South Temple Street.

    Comment by kris — 10/7/2005 @ 3:40 pm

  18. Roasted Tomatoes,
    While I agree that there has been a shift in our emphasis from the physical to the spiritual, I think that both are perhaps distortions. When Nephi speaks of the gathering of Israel to his brothers, they ask him whether his words are to be taken as relating to the physical or the spiritual. He tells them that it is both. The result is that there is a spirtual gathering that constitutes a literal gathering of Israel. As we preach the gospel, the literal descendents of Abraham are being brought in the arms of the gentiles. Why? Because those gentiles are their fathers and mothers, and we don’t see the mixture of Israel that is among all the people of the earth.
    Perhaps something of the sort may happen with Zion. As we spiritually establish Zion among the pure in heart, the way might be more clear for the establishment of a literal city of Zion. Certainly the reign of the savior on the earth, made possible as we prepare ourselves for it, would need a seat of government–or perhaps two. There is no reason to believe that this would naturally be Salt Lake, unless you are committed to the argument that makes geographical comparisons to Isreal.

    Comment by Steve H — 10/7/2005 @ 3:41 pm

  19. P.S.–My Aunt and Uncle (not members) retired to Missouri, and they want my folks to buy some land there as well. The prices in the little town where they live are so cheap (a house and the acre it sits on for $10,000) that my personal opinion on the land ownership issue is that the church has a savings account for this and will suddenly swoop in and buy the whole state. 😉

    Comment by Steve H — 10/7/2005 @ 3:44 pm

  20. The mormons aren’t the only ones who believe in the gathering to Jackson county, MO. The RLDS (Restoration) is currently based there (they never left Missouri after Joseph Smith). There is also the very separate entity of the Community of Christ, which has denounced original beliefs of the early mormons. People have been led there who are not affiliated with any groups. In my opinion, know your savior personally and if you are led it is for a purpose. I know of families who moved because they wanted to and where not led and circumstances soon displaced them. God has a mission for all of us and some are meant to do work inside Zion, others elsewhere.

    Comment by kjones — 3/4/2008 @ 6:23 pm

  21. One might consider the symbolism between Johnathan Livingston Seagull and Zion. The type given there describes being chosen or qualified on an individual basis, not en-mass. Just a thought.

    Comment by Jeff Foli — 8/17/2008 @ 2:17 am

  22. Question: Why is the banner/inhabitants of zion seen as terrible? Are the principles by which zion operates, a celestial law, so terrible?

    Comment by Jeff Foli — 8/17/2008 @ 2:34 am

  23. Gallatin Missouri, near AOA (adam-on-diahman) has increased to 40% LDS in just a few short years. I grew up here and things are showing real signs of germination. The story behind the expulsion has never been fully told from a fair and balanced perspective. We have grown up as LDS, knowing only 1/2 of the perspective. We might find it very interesting to know the other side, and it just might prepare us to accomplish good things, instead of repeating history, as is now being done in Missouri again. God help us to learn from the past so that we might not continue to suffer as we have. Isreal is a possible type and shadow of the coming Missouri future for the saints.

    Comment by JEFF FOLI — 8/25/2008 @ 11:39 pm

  24. Jeff, “terrible” in English didn’t originally have the negative connotation it does today. Think more along the lines that others are terrified of Zion because of it’s power. That is they are afraid to come up against it. A better translation given the evolution of the word is frightening.

    Comment by Clark — 8/26/2008 @ 12:06 am

  25. when lehi arrived on this land he bless the whole continent as the land of Joseph. Being from Haiti I intend to built zion there, While looking toward Misouri for the word of the Lord, and to the restored Jerusalem for Law of the lord and I will be as blessed as those who live in the city of zion

    Fritzner Merilan

    Comment by Fritzner merilan — 9/10/2008 @ 11:29 am

  26. In D&C 124:50-52 Joseph Smith describes the curse for 3-4 generations unless repentance occurs. The decendants of the Missouri peoples do not even remember what happened at hauns mill. Its hard to repent of something unless you know what it is. To me, the curse is ours to let go of and realize our responsibility. My daughter, 4 year old Brianna, the great-grand-daughter of Gideon Carter, was playing last week with the great-grand-son of Willaim O. Jennings, who led the raid. As I watched them playing together, it brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the scripture above. I realized that Joseph Smith and Gideon Carter had stolen the cannon of Sherriff Jennings and the few residents of the area became very scared and angry. Let us begin to understand what really happened, and that there were two perspectives of what was happening. The curse is ours to give up. Let us forgive and embrace the past. Imagine the curse being lifted, and Missouri being open to us instead of us continuing in the old one sided perspective of blame, projection, distruction and tragedy.

    Comment by Jeff Foli — 9/15/2008 @ 4:07 am

  27. Zion is come. Zion is here. I have seen it.

    Comment by Jeff Foli — 5/15/2009 @ 4:17 am

  28. Dear Fritzner Merilan,

    Thank you for your comments. Amen to you. I believe what you say! I will do what I can in Missouri, and you do what you can in Haiti. Only together can create the world we seek. Our vibrations will work together even if we never meet. The vibration of Zion calls us all to integral awareness. May we be sensitive to the source of all. You might think I am nuts, but I have sought it my entire life, and Zion is here. I have seen it. It has begun. The collective human consciousness is starting to metamorphasize. All things work together for this purpose. I am grateful to play my one note in the divine symphony. I ernestly wait to hear all the other notes of the entire orchestra resonate together to create the most elegant music of the spheres.

    Comment by Jeff Foli — 6/11/2009 @ 12:17 am

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