Unto him that keepeth my commandments, I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life. DC 63:7b
Because the kingdom and Zion are closely related, many people equate the two ideas and do not distinguish at all between them. I believe that this approach has caused many to be confused about the nature of both, and often leads to the conclusion that some important characteristics of one or the other must be disregarded. Consider the following pair of scriptures.
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; Neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, Lo, there! For, behold, the kingdom of God has already come unto you. Luke 17:20-21
The nations of the earth shall honor her, and shall say, Surely Zion is the city of our God; and surely Zion can not fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there... DC 94:5b
The Pharisees were demanding that Jesus tell them when the kingdom would come. Jesus replied that the kingdom he was talking about was not observable to them. They would not be able to point somewhere and say, "There it is." In fact, the kingdom had already come among them at that time (past perfect tense), and they were not aware of it. Zion, on the other hand, will come (future tense) and all the nations of the earth will be able to point to it and tell where it is because the power of the Lord will be in that place.
Was the unobservable kingdom of which Jesus spoke the very same as the city of Zion which all the nations of the earth shall see nearly 2000 years later? If we do not distinguish between the two, then we are faced with a paradox. I believe that the paradox is resolved by observing that the first passage refers to the kingdom, and the second to Zion, and that the scriptures consistently use these words in different ways. Notice the consistent pattern in the following sample passages.
Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God; and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel. Mark 1:12-13 (14-15)
[The Father] hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. Colossians 1:13
Hearken, O ye people of my church, to whom the kingdom has been given... DC 45: 1a
In each case, the kingdom is spoken of in the present or completed past. Zion, on the other hand, is (for our day) yet to be.
Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness; and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose. Zion shall flourish upon the hills, and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed. DC 49:5a,b
Keep all the commandments and covenants by which ye are bound, and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good, and Satan shall tremble, and Zion shall rejoice upon the hills, and flourish; and Israel shall be saved in mine own due time. And by the keys which I have given shall they be led, and no more be confounded at all. Lift up your hearts and be glad; your redemption draweth nigh. Fear not, little flock, the kingdom is yours until I come. Behold, I come quickly. Even so. Amen. DC 34:6
In this last passage, notice that Zion is spoken of in the future and is tied in with the prophecies concerning the salvation of Israel. The kingdom, on the other hand, is available in the present. This is entirely consistent with the definition of the kingdom given earlier, namely righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, but we have yet to give a satisfactory definition of Zion that is also consistent with these observations.
The name "Zion" is literally the Hebrew word for "fort," and it is used in the scriptures to describe three cities:
And it came to pass in his days that [Enoch] built a city that was called the city of holiness, even ZIONÉand lo! Zion, in process of time, was taken up into heaven. DC 36:3a,d
David took the stronghold of Zion; the same is the city of David...So David dwelt in the fort. II Samuel 5:7,9
For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; thou shalt weep no more; he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee. Isaiah 30:19
I will remember the covenant which I have made with my people, and I have covenanted with them, that I would gather them together in mine own due time; That I would give unto them again the land of their fathers, for their inheritance, which is the land of Jerusalem, which is the promised land unto them for ever, saith the Father...And then shall be brought to pass that which is written, Awake, awake again, and put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city... III Nephi 9:67,68,74
Righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out my 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. And the lord said unto Enoch, Then shall you and all your city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us, and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other, and there shall be my abode, and it shall be Zion which shall come forth out of all the creations which I have made; and for the space of a thousand years shall the earth rest. DC 36:12f-13b
Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land... And that a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph...and it shall be a land of their inheritance; and they shall build up a holy city unto the Lord, like unto the Jerusalem of old. Ether 6:4-8
Gather up your riches that ye may purchase an inheritance which shall hereafter be appointed unto you, and it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the most high God; and the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it; and it shall be called Zion... And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion singing, with songs of everlasting joy. DC 45:12c-14
The land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the Saints: wherefore this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. And thus saith the Lord your God, If you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence, is the Center Place... DC 57:1a-d
Let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion ... there is none other place appointed than that which I have appointed, neither shall there be any other place appointed than that which I have appointed for the work of the gathering of my Saints, until the day cometh when there is found no more room for them. DC 98:4f,h
Having seen that the name Zion has been applied to three separate cities where there was, is, or will be a gathering place for the people of God, the question arises as to whether there is a single, simple definition of Zion that is consistent with all of these passages. The following statement about the promise that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not receive but were assured of sums it up for me. (See also DC 45:2g,h)
[Abraham] looked for a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:10
For me, this is the primary definition of Zion. The name is also applied metaphorically to the people who belong to Zion, and we will say more about this in the next section. However, some final remarks about the close relationship between the kingdom and Zion are in order.
[My people] might have been redeemed even now; but, behold, they...are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; and Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom. DC 102:2a-c
You can have the kingdom without Zion, as was the case during the golden age of the Book of Mormon, but you cannot have Zion without the Kingdom. The relationship between the kingdom and Zion is like the leaven and the loaf. Jesus said:
The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. Matthew 13:32 (33)
The leaven is the necessary ingredient to make the bread rise and to make it useful. The city of Zion, like the dough, will undoubtedly change in physical form over the many years of its existence, but it is the kingdom within it that will cause it to be Zion and make it fulfill God's purpose. Gathering is necessary, but as the Saints of the early church discovered, not sufficient to establish Zion. Until we are part of the kingdom, responding to the commands of the King, and being united according to His law, the land of Zion will not be Zion to us (DC 106:2c).