This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.)
The Book of Mormon Guide to Establishing Zion
In the beginning of the 34th year of the Nephite calendar,[i] a remarkable event occurred, one that is of critical importance to us today. According to Mormon, on the fourth day of the first month of the year, the Nephite nation collapsed under the weight of its own depravity. The fall was on the scale of the cataclysms of the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. Only a small group of Christians survived.
Suddenly, above the darkness that had choked out any semblance of light, the voice of Christ was heard announcing his identity and the fulfillment of his mission; he declared the destruction of the wicked, lamented the evils of his people, and invited the remnant to come unto him with full purpose of heart.
Then the record goes silent. Mormon picks up the account “in the ending of the thirty and fourth year,”[ii] nearly twelve months later. What happened in the lives of the surviving Nephites during that year? Mormon only hints at what the people did with Jesus’ message; but when we piece together the account, we discover one of the great sermons of the Book of Mormon—a sermon that is of utmost importance to those of us who would become Zionlike.
Parallels between the 3rd Nephi Saints and the Latter-day Saints
We should keep in mind that these people were not unlike many of us: either they were new members or they were good people who were trying to live the gospel as best they could. Perhaps some were lukewarm; maybe others were sitting atop spiritual plateaus and lacking the motivation to keep climbing.
Whatever their condition, we do know this: The Lord declared that they had escaped the destructions only because they were “more righteous” than the ones who had perished. That was not saying much. He was also quick to point out that they needed to change. Therefore, he called them to repentance and bade them strive to become truly converted so he could heal them.[iii]
Why is this account important to us? To answer that question, we must first remember that from the outset of the Book of Mormon, Moroni testifies that the book was written for us.[iv] Then, within the first pages of the Book of Mormon, Nephi instructs us to read the book by likening the scriptures unto ourselves.[v]
Armed with those two pieces of information, we might envision ourselves as members of that small group of Nephite survivors. Somehow these people, whom the Savior had deemed barely righteous enough to escape annihilation, had taken to heart his commandment and invitation and changed their lives so that within twelve months they achieved Zion.
In One Year
Brigham Young said, “[Zion] commences in the heart of each person.”[vi] “The length of time required ‘to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion’ is strictly up to us and how we live.” [vii] Like Joseph Smith, President Young was obviously frustrated with the Saints’ slow pace. At another time, he suggested an intriguing timeframe, which, if we were to apply, we might also become ready for the establishment of Zion: “…which we might have received in one year.”[viii]
If it were not for the account in 3rd Nephi, we might discount President Young’s preparatory “year” as optimistically short. Nevertheless, the Nephites, who were not unlike us, qualified in about a year to become pure in heart so they could come into the presence of the Lord. Of course, the Nephites were highly motivated because of the recent destruction and the Lord’s strict commandment to change. We would hope that we could change without such motivation. Nevertheless, the account in 3rd Nephi is our latter-day model for how we might prepare to become Zion people in a relatively short period of time.
How did the Nephites do it? How can we do it.
Mormon seems to have wanted us to dig for the answer, as one would mine for a pearl of great price. A careful reading of the books of 3rd and 4th Nephi, which include the Savior’s directives and Mormon’s description of the achievement of Zion by the Nephite people, fill in the twelve-month gap and show us what we must do to rise to such a lofty ideal.
When we talk of establishing Zion in our lives, we often look beyond the mark for the announcement of a program or an exodus. While any number of possibilities might lie in our future, the one thing we can do personally is to become Zionlike, as the Nephites were commanded to do. The Lord required of them immediate changes, among which were true repentance that leads to conversion, coming to him with full purpose of heart, and ceasing pettiness, disputations and contentions.
A Mighty Change of Heart
We suspect that the Nephites took to heart Jesus’ admonition to repent—really repent--and come to him with full—not partial--purpose of heart. Alma describes this process as called being “born of the spirit.”[ix] King Benjamin’s people called it the “mighty change” in which they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”[x] In examining various scriptural accounts of those who described the transformation of their hearts—often within a short period of time--Blaine Yorgason lists ten significant aspects of this mighty change.