(Meridian readers can receive a free PDF copy of this first of eight books about Zion. The following is the introduction to the Zion series. Click here to receive your free book.)
In the beginning of the thirty-fourth 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 Third 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. We are left to speculate as to their degree of righteousness, but as we shall see, they needed time to change some things. The Savior 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, who had escaped the annihilation, had taken to heart his commandment and invitation and had changed their lives so that within twelve months they achieved Zion.
How did they 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 Third and Fourth 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. This book explores the Lord’s call to us to likewise repent, become converted, and come to Jesus with full purpose of heart so that he might heal us too and establish us as Zion people.
An Important Key to Establishing Zion
In the latter days, a key to establishing Zion in our lives is found in Doctrine and Covenants 42, the revelation called, “the law of the Church,”[vi] which comprises the law of Zion. In one sentence, the Lord prophesied that he would give us three significant covenants that had the power to make us Zion individuals: “And ye shall hereafter receive church covenants, such as shall be sufficient to establish you, both here and in the New Jerusalem.”[vii] The references in this scripture lead to what we are calling in this series The Three Pillars of Zion:
- The New and Everlasting Covenant (D&C 132:4–7).
- The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (D&C 84:33–44).
- The Law of Consecration (D&C 82:11–15).
These three covenants (pillars) are sufficient to establish Zionlike qualities in our individual lives and in our marriages, families, and other groups under the direction of the priesthood. Understanding that this is the Lord’s way of establishing Zion, we are left without excuse. Clearly, we have been given all that we need. To become the pure in heart, which is the definition of Zion people,[viii] we simply must better understand our covenants, and then live up to our privileges.
The eight books that comprise the Zion series explore the contrast between Zion and Babylon, the three covenants or pillars upon which Zion lives are built, the elements of the journey to achieve a Zionlike life, and a portrait of the pure in heart.
Enoch’s Dispensation Is a Pattern
The scriptures that describe Enoch’s Zion provide us a model for establishing Zion in our lives. For example, both Enoch and Joseph Smith were commanded to:
Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ ( Moses 6:37; 7:19; D&C 19:21, 31; 38:41)
- Gather the Saints to places of safety (Moses 7:17–19; D&C 33:6; 45:69, 71; 115:6)
- Attain unity and righteousness ( Moses 7:18; D&C 21:4–7; 38:27)
- Become “pure in heart” ( Moses 7:18; D&C 97:21)
- Care for the poor and needy ( Moses 7:18; D&C 38:35; 42:30)
- Build a “City of Holiness” ( Moses 7:19; D&C 45:66–70)[ix]
“Zion is the ensign to the nations. ‘I intend to lay a foundation,’ Joseph Smith boldly declared, ‘that will revolutionize the whole world.’ And then, emphasizing the source of this revolutionary movement, he added, ‘It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel.’”[x]
The Three Pillars of Zion
With very few exceptions, this series does not attempt to describe what the latter-day “priesthood society”[xi] of Zion will look like. That is the prerogative of the President of the Church. What this series does attempt to describe is Zion people, those individuals who become Zionlike now and who will one day make up the latter-day Zion priesthood society. Therefore, when the word Zion is used in this set, it is almost exclusively meant to refer to a Zionlike person.
We must keep in mind that the term Zion is described in the scriptures and by prophets in a variety of ways. Zion is a location, a group of followers, a journey, and a destination.[xii] It is always a condition of the heart.[xiii] Zion can be manifested in a telestial setting and an Edenic terrestrial setting—and, of course, its ultimate manifestation is in a celestial setting.
Despite our best efforts, without divine help we cannot establish Zion in our lives, marriages, families, or a priesthood society. Only the Lord can establish Zion.[xiv] The Saints in Third Nephi are a case in point. They did all that they could do, but in the end the ideal of Zion was created because the Lord came to help them complete their journey. Were they Zion people before his appearance? Of course; but they had not yet achieved the ideal. That step required the Lord’s intervention. Can we similarly qualify as Zion people without having achieved the ideal? Most assuredly.
As we journey toward Zion and earnestly strive to assimilate Zionlike attributes in our lives, we are Zion. We simply must keep our eye single to the ideal of Zion and move forward with the Lord’s grace compensating for those attributes that we have not yet acquired. Thus, in these books, when we discuss Zion and its various manifestations, we will typically be describing the ideal that should be our goal.
Striving to become Zion people is as important as arriving. Enoch’s people achieved their ideal of Zion “in the process of time.”[xv] Neither Enoch’s people nor Melchizedek’s people nor the Nephites who were visited by Christ achieved the ideal of Zion overnight. As far as we can tell, they were much like us, people who made covenants with the Lord and did their best to understand and live those covenants. Their prophets, like ours, held the ideal of Zion before them, and they rose to the occasion.
According to prophecy, we will do likewise in the latter-days. In writing these books, my only desire was to promote the cause of Zion and to urge us to gain a greater appreciation of our covenants, which have the power to make us the pure in heart.
About the Zion Series
In these eight books, I made every effort to research and document statements. Combined, the set includes more than 5,000 references. When I presented an opinion, I attempted to use qualifying language so as not to advance a doctrine or interpretation. I tried to assume the position of guide, allowing prophets and well-respected gospel writers to state or clarify doctrine, offer explanations, or paint descriptions.
The result, I hope, is an asset and a resource—my gift—to the Latter-day Saints to help them understand and appreciate that Zion is both their origin and their destiny.
These books are being offered free as PDF editions through Meridian Magazine. If you will help with Meridian’s subscription campaign by introducing this wonderful magazine to your friends and family, we will give you a free PDF copy of Zion—Our Origin and Our Destiny.
And we will give your friends and family a free copy of the book too! Click here to receive your free book.
[i] 3 Nephi 8:5.
[ii] 3 Nephi 10:18.
[iii] 3 Nephi 9:13.
[iv] Book of Mormon title page.
[v] 1 Nephi 19:24; 2 Nephi 11:8.
[vi] D&C 42 head note.
[vii] D&C 42:67.
[viii] D&C 97:21.
[ix] “Enoch and His Message for Latter Days,” LDS Church News, Feb. 5, 1994.
[x] “Enoch and His Message for Latter Days,” LDS Church News, Feb. 5, 1994, quoting Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 366.
[xi] President Spencer W. Kimball called Zion a “priesthood society” in his address, “Welfare Services: The Gospel in Action,” 77–78.
[xii] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1624–26.
[xiii] Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 118.
[xiv] Nibley, Approaching Zion, 6–7.
[xv] JST Genesis 7:27.