In early June 1831, just weeks after the gathering from New York to Ohio was complete, the Saints assembled in Kirtland for a conference of the Church. On June 7, the day after the conference ended, Joseph Smith received a revelation that turned Church members’ thoughts toward Zion: “The next conference … shall be held in Missouri, upon the land which I will consecrate unto my people” (Doctrine and Covenants 52:2).
The Saints were intensely interested in establishing Zion—a holy city, a peaceful refuge for the righteous fleeing the wickedness of the world. To prepare the Saints, the Lord had repeatedly counseled them to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:6; 11:6; 12:6; see also 14:6). Now Church leaders would be leaving immediately to determine the location of Zion. Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and others started the 900-mile journey to Jackson County, Missouri, on June 19, traveling by water, by coach, and for many miles on foot. The journey was difficult and strenuous, but the Prophet felt the Lord’s protecting care: “Notwithstanding the corruptions and abominations of the times, and the evil spirit manifested towards us on account of our belief in the Book of Mormon, at many places and among various persons, yet the Lord continued His watchful care and loving kindness to us day by day; and we made it a rule wherever there was an opportunity, to read a chapter in the Bible, and pray; and these seasons of worship gave us great consolation.”1
In mid-July, the Prophet arrived in western Missouri, a beautiful area of rolling, fertile prairie, thick with flowers. There, in reply to his pleading to know Zion’s specific location, the Lord revealed that “the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse” (Doctrine and Covenants 57:3) and that tracts of land should be purchased. On August 2, Joseph Smith and others met to begin the building of Zion. The Prophet recorded: “I assisted the Colesville branch of the Church to lay the first log, for a house, as a foundation of Zion in Kaw township, twelve miles west of Independence. The log was carried and placed by twelve men, in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel. At the same time, through prayer, the land of Zion was consecrated and dedicated by Elder Sidney Rigdon for the gathering of the Saints. It was a season of joy to those present, and afforded a glimpse of the future, which time will yet unfold to the satisfaction of the faithful.”2 The following day, the Prophet dedicated the temple site.
The Saints from Colesville, New York, were among the first Church members to settle in Missouri. They had made the arduous journey from New York to Kirtland, Ohio, but had lived in Ohio only a short time before being commanded to travel to Missouri. Polly Knight, a member of the Colesville branch, traveled to the land of Zion, only to die there a week later. Although she had been in failing health, she was determined to hold on. Her son wrote: “She quietly fell asleep in death, rejoicing in the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel and praising God that she had lived to see the land of Zion. … Brother Joseph Smith attended the funeral of my mother and addressed us in a very able and consoling manner.”3 Although the Prophet soon returned to Kirtland and continued to lead the Church from there until 1838, many Saints continued to move to Missouri.
The Saints worked diligently to build up Zion, but by late 1833, they had been driven out of their homes in Jackson County by severe persecution, leaving behind their dreams of establishing Zion and building a temple there. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed that the conditions for the redemption of Zion in that land were not yet fulfilled and that the establishment of Zion must “wait for a little season” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:9).
The Lord designated Jackson County, Missouri, as the land of Zion—a place where the Saints of Joseph Smith’s day would gather and where the holy city of Zion would eventually be built.
“I received, by a heavenly vision, a commandment in June , to take my journey to the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and there designate the very spot which was to be the central place for the commencement of the gathering together of those who embrace the fullness of the everlasting Gospel. Accordingly I undertook the journey, with certain ones of my brethren, and after a long and tedious journey, suffering many privations and hardships, arrived in Jackson County, Missouri, and after viewing the country, seeking diligently at the hand of God, He manifested Himself unto us, and designated, to me and others, the very spot upon which He designed to commence the work of the gathering, and the upbuilding of an ‘holy city,’ which should be called Zion—Zion, because it is a place of righteousness, and all who build thereon are to worship the true and living God, and all believe in one doctrine, even the doctrine of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ‘Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion’ [Isaiah 52:8].”4
In the early 1830s, the Saints attempted to lay the foundation of Zion in Jackson County, Missouri, as commanded by the Lord, but were unable to do so because they were not spiritually prepared. The Prophet Joseph Smith said the following about the time when Zion would be established: “I cannot learn from any communication by the Spirit to me, that Zion has forfeited her claim to a celestial crown, notwithstanding the Lord has caused her to be thus afflicted, except it may be some individuals, who have walked in disobedience, and forsaken the new covenant; all such will be made manifest by their works in due time. I have always expected that Zion would suffer some affliction, from what I could learn from the commandments which have been given. But I would remind you of a certain clause in one which says, that after much tribulation cometh the blessing [see Doctrine and Covenants 58:4]. By this, and also others, and also one received of late, I know that Zion, in the due time of the Lord, will be redeemed; but how many will be the days of her purification, tribulation, and affliction, the Lord has kept hid from my eyes; and when I inquire concerning this subject, the voice of the Lord is: Be still, and know that I am God! All those who suffer for my name shall reign with me, and he that layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again. … May God grant that notwithstanding [our] great afflictions and sufferings, there may not anything separate us from [the] love of Christ [see Romans 8:35–39].”5
We build up the cause of Zion by becoming a people who are pure in heart and by working diligently with one heart and mind.
“The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory.”6
“Anyplace where the Saints gather is Zion, which every righteous man will build up for a place of safety for his children.”7
“There will be here and there a Stake [of Zion] for the gathering of the Saints. … There your children shall be blessed, and you in the midst of friends where you may be blessed. The Gospel net gathers of every kind.
“… We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object. … The time is soon coming, when no man will have any peace but in Zion and her stakes.”8
“In regard to the building up of Zion, it has to be done by the counsel of Jehovah, by the revelations of heaven.”9
“If Zion will not purify herself, so as to be approved of in all things, in His sight, He will seek another people; for His work will go on until Israel is gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel His wrath. Let me say unto you, seek to purify yourselves, and also all the inhabitants of Zion, lest the Lord’s anger be kindled to fierceness. Repent, repent, is the voice of God to Zion; and strange as it may appear, yet it is true, mankind will persist in self-justification until all their iniquity is exposed, and their character past being redeemed, and that which is treasured up in their hearts be exposed to the gaze of mankind. I say to you (and what I say to you I say to all,) hear the warning voice of God, lest Zion fall, and the Lord swear in His wrath the inhabitants of Zion shall not enter into His rest.”10
“So long as unrighteous acts are suffered in the Church, it cannot be sanctified, neither can Zion be redeemed.”11
“Let every one labor to prepare himself for the vineyard, sparing a little time to comfort the mourners; to bind up the broken-hearted; to reclaim the backslider; to bring back the wanderer; to re-invite into the kingdom such as have been cut off, by encouraging them to lay to while the day lasts, and work righteousness, and, with one heart and one mind, prepare to help redeem Zion, that goodly land of promise, where the willing and the obedient shall be blessed. …
“[We] pray our heavenly Father that you may be very prayerful, very humble, and very charitable; working diligently, spiritually and temporally, for the redemption of Zion, that the pure in heart may return with songs of everlasting joy to build up her waste places, and meet the Lord when He comes in His glory [see Doctrine and Covenants 101:18].”12
Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be built upon the American continent.
Articles of Faith 1:10: “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.”13
“The city of Zion spoken of by David, in the one hundred and second Psalm, will be built upon the land of America, ‘And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads’ [Isaiah 35:10]; and then they will be delivered from the overflowing scourge that shall pass through the land. But Judah shall obtain deliverance at Jerusalem. [See Joel 2:32; Isaiah 26:20–21; Jeremiah 31:12; Psalm 1:5; Ezekiel 34:11–13.] These are testimonies that the Good Shepherd will put forth His own sheep, and lead them out from all nations where they have been scattered in a cloudy and dark day, to Zion, and to Jerusalem.”14
“I shall begin by quoting from the prophecy of Enoch, speaking of the last days: ‘Righteousness will I send down out of heaven, and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten, His resurrection from the dead [this resurrection I understand to be the corporeal body]; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine own elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, a holy city, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming, for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem’ [Moses 7:62].
“Now I understand by this quotation, that … righteousness and truth are to sweep the earth as with a flood. And now, I ask, how righteousness and truth are going to sweep the earth as with a flood? I will answer. Men and angels are to be co-workers in bringing to pass this great work, and Zion is to be prepared, even a new Jerusalem, for the elect that are to be gathered from the four quarters of the earth, and to be established an holy city, for the tabernacle of the Lord shall be with them. …
“… ‘Behold this people will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob, and it shall be a New Jerusalem.’ [3 Nephi 20:22.] Now we learn from the Book of Mormon the very identical continent and spot of land upon which the New Jerusalem is to stand, and it must be caught up according to the vision of John upon the isle of Patmos.
“Now many will feel disposed to say, that this New Jerusalem spoken of, is the Jerusalem that was built by the Jews on the eastern continent. But you will see, from Revelation 21:2, there was a New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband; that after this, the Revelator was caught away in the Spirit, to a great and high mountain, and saw the great and holy city descending out of heaven from God. Now there are two cities spoken of here. As everything cannot be had in so narrow a compass as a letter, I shall say with brevity, that there is a New Jerusalem to be established on this continent, and also Jerusalem shall be rebuilt on the eastern continent [see Ether 13:1–12]. ‘Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake also concerning the house of Israel, and the Jerusalem from whence Lehi should come; after it should be destroyed, it should be built up again, a holy city unto the Lord, wherefore it could not be a New Jerusalem, for it had been in a time of old.’ [Ether 13:4–5.]”15
“The Prophets have said concerning Zion in the last days: how the glory of Lebanon is to come upon her; the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box tree together, to beautify the place of His sanctuary, that He may make the place of His feet glorious [see Isaiah 60:13]. Where for brass, He will bring gold; and for iron, He will bring silver; and for wood, brass; and for stones, iron [see Isaiah 60:17]; and where the feast of fat things will be given to the just [see Isaiah 25:6]; yea, when the splendor of the Lord is brought to our consideration for the good of His people, the calculations of men and the vain glory of the world vanish, and we exclaim, ‘Out of Zion the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.’ [Psalm 50:2.]”16