From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Sorensen, A. Don
Latter-day Saints use the name Zion to signify a group of God's followers or a place where such a group lives. Latter-day scriptures define Zion as the "pure in heart" (D&C 97:21). Other uses of the name in scripture reflect this one. For example, Zion refers to the place or land appointed by the Lord for the gathering of those who accept his gospel (D&C 101:16-22; 3 Ne. 20-22). The purpose of this gathering is to raise up a committed society of "pure people" who will "serve [God] in righteousness" (D&C 100:13, 16). Hence, the lands of Zion are places where the pure in heart live together in righteousness. Geographical Church units are called "stakes of Zion" (D&C 101:21-22). The Church and its stakes are called Zion because they are for gathering and purifying a people of God (D&C 43:8-11; Eph. 4:11-13). Scripture also refers to Zion as a "City of Holiness" (Moses 7:19), because the "sanctified" or "pure" live there (Moro. 10:31-33; Alma 13:11-12), and a "city of refuge" where the Lord protects them from the peril of the world (D&C 45:66-67).
"Pure in heart" may be explained in terms of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that to be saved a person must believe in him, repent of sins, and be born of water and of the Spirit (John 3:5, 16; 3 Ne. 27:20). Scripture describes the rebirth to which Jesus refers as a "mighty change in your hearts" or being "born of God" (Alma 5:13, 14). It means that the person puts off the "natural man" and puts on a new nature that has "no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2;3:19). A person pure of heart is one who has died to evil and awakened to good. Thus "pure people," being alive to good, dwell together in righteousness and are called Zion (Moses 7:18). Zion, then, is the way of life of a people who live the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Since love comprehends all righteousness (Matt. 22:36-40), the people of Zion live together in love as equals (see Equality; D&C 38:24-27). They have "all things common" (4 Ne. 1:3). They labor together as equals, each contributing to the good of all and to the work of salvation according to their individual talents (D&C 82:3; Alma 1:26). As equals, all receive the things that are necessary for survival and well-being, according to their circumstances, wants, and needs (D&C 51:3, 9). Consequently, among a people of Zion there are no rich or poor (4 Ne. 1:3). It is written of the ancient people of Enoch that "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" (Moses 7:18).
People of Zion enjoy fulness of life, or happiness, in the highest degree possible in this world and, if they remain faithful, in the world to come (4 Ne. 1:3, 16; Mosiah 16:11). According to LDS belief, persons may attain different degrees of "fulness" of life, ranging from "celestial" to "telestial," depending on the level of "law" they "abide" (D&C 88:22-35;76). By living the principles of Zion, the people live together according to the celestial law that governs the highest order of heaven and partake of the life it promises (D&C 105:4-5). Fulness of life in the celestial degree consists in being filled with God's love, or being alive to all that is good-a state of happiness that reaches full fruition only in eternity (Eph. 3:17-19; Moro. 7:16-25, 44-48). The capacity of people to live celestial law and enjoy life in its fulness results from the purifying rebirth already mentioned.
The prophets always labor to prepare people to become a people of Zion. Sometimes people embrace Zion; most often they do not. For example, the followers of Enoch (the son of Jared and father of Methuselah; Gen. 5:18-24; Luke 3:37) built Zion, and because of their righteousness, "God received [them] up into his own bosom" (Moses 7:69; Heb. 11:5). Later, Noah declared the word of life unto "the children of men, even as it was given unto Enoch" (Moses 8:19). Still later, Moses "sought diligently" that his people might be purified and enter the rest of God, as did Enoch's people (D&C 84:23-45). But the people of Noah and, to a lesser degree, the people of Moses "hardened their hearts" (D&C 84:24) and refused to accept the ways of Zion. On the other hand, "the people in the days of Melchizedek" were "made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God" (Alma 13:10-14). Before 125 B.C. in ancient America, King Benjamin's people, and the Nephites who followed the prophet Alma 1 underwent that mighty change of heart that makes a people pure (Mosiah 2-5; Alma 5:3-14). When Jesus Christ visited his "other sheep" in ancient America after his crucifixion (John 10:16; 3 Ne. 15:21), he established Zion among them. It is said of them that "there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people . Surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God" (4 Ne. 1:3, 15-16). The Bible also describes early Christians who experienced purification and lived the order of Zion (Acts 2:44;4:32;15:9).
In the restoration, Joseph Smith taught his people that they can, and must, become people of Zion. That vision inspires the labors and programs of the Church to this day. In establishing Zion, Latter-day Saints believe they may be a light to humankind (D&C 115:4-6) and usher in the millennial reign of Christ (Moses 7:60-65; D&C 43:29-30). During the Millennium, Zion will have two great centers-Jerusalem of old and a New Jerusalem in America-from which "the law" and the "word of the Lord" will go forth to the world (Isa. 2:3; Ether 13:2-11).
Zion as explained here is much more detailed than, but bears certain social similarities to, the idea of Zion found in the work of Martin Buber in On Zion: The History of an Idea (New York, 1973). An LDS work that applies the idea of Zion to contemporary life is Hugh W. Nibley's Approaching Zion (CWHN 9).