I continue to get questions from people I know well about the end of the world. It seems the political upheavals we are witnessing continue to trouble even the most grounded saints. These concerns arise as a natural consequence of the bad news we hear every day.
The budget and deficit spending in America is out of control. The prophets of doom and gloom continue to spread fear and uncertainty all around. Conspiracy theories abound. Few are escaping the effects of the 2008 financial market meltdown. Widespread doubts about the future are escalating. Inflation is eroding purchasing power. Gas prices are averaging $4 per gallon in five states, and continue rising in more. The price of basic food is rising at the grocery store. It is a troubling time for most.
In the aftermath of General Conference two weeks ago, I've had a chance to review the content, topics and themes we heard expressed by the living prophets. Patsy and I were asked to speak about the prophets in a recent sacrament meeting.
I chose to focus on the two senior Apostles -- President Thomas S. Monson and President Boyd K. Packer. What did you hear from them two weeks ago? I heard a clear emphasis on priesthood power as it relates to family. Temple ordinances and marriage covenants were also themes. Missionary work and proclaiming the gospel throughout the world also came up more than once. Temple marriage was a plea from the Prophet to young single men.
So where were the themes of doom and gloom, predictions of the pending demise of the planet being ground into dust? Conspicuously absent. Rather, we hear the announcements of three new temples echoing each opening statement by the Prophet as General Conference begins each six months. Just this week a new "super building" housing 5 stakes and 48 wards in Provo was announced. The City Creek project surrounding Temple Square in Salt Lake is on time set for opening in a year from now.
Time and again we hear, "and this is just the beginning" in the promised establishment of Zion in the midst of Babylon. Living prophets are decidedly optimistic because of their absolute faith in the plan of salvation. There seem to be no fears in any of the living prophets.
Many years ago I began putting it all together on paper. I discerned four facets related to our understanding of the word "Zion" in the scriptures. I found that in each scriptural reference to Zion one could pinpoint one or more applications of the word. These four facets are people, place, condition or time.
Zion is a covenant people, set apart, consecrated, and sanctified from the rest of the world. They are different, they are peculiar and they are pure. They have come out of the world, entered in at the gate of baptism, are born of the Spirit and have taken hold of the iron rod. They reject the clarion voices from amid the mists of darkness, and ignore the taunts and jeers of those in the spacious building of sin. God has purged his people in all the other dispensations of which we have record, and the purification has come as a result of extreme adversity and affliction. Gold is never refined in an air conditioned chamber. If the covenant people cannot sacrifice and consecrate their lives to God, it has forever been the case that the rest of the world was willing to cast them out, throw them into the lions' den, or stoke up the fiery furnace. Let us never be deluded into thinking we will inherit Zion in any other way, nor be worthy of the company of earlier martyrs at that future wedding feast unless we consecrate.
Zion is two world centers of righteousness and judgment that are ultimately joined together physically. One is Independence, Missouri, the "centerstake," from which “the law” will emanate, the other is Jerusalem, from which “the word” will go forth. Those who love and cherish the Constitution of the United States, it would seem, will rally to Zion and her stakes (and by extension her temples) upon the American Continent and throughout the world wherever they may find themselves. Christ will come to the Earth and sit in his temples in Jerusalem and in Jackson County, from which will go forth his word. They will combine eventually in the Lord's timetable with the heavenly Zion when the earth enters the terrestrial phase of its existence, thus returning to the status it once enjoyed referred to in the 10th Article of Faith as "paradisiacal glory." This telestial world in which we now live will give way to a terrestrial world that will stand for one thousand years, a period of time referred to as "The Millennium." This is the place at the end of the path in Lehi's vision where the tree of life grows.
Zion will stand apart from all worldly influences. Men and women of honesty and truth will seek the peace Zion affords, trust their temporal and spiritual welfare to each other, or sink lower and lower with the rest of the world who will be at war. There will be no middle ground -- either total acceptance of God's salvation, or Lucifer's damnable embrace of death and destruction. Zion will be the light on the hill, and so formidable will be her strength and beauty because of God's overshadowing presence that her enemies will shrink at the sight of her. The society will be characterized by people of one heart, one mind, and one objective spreading the truth of God's salvation over the face of the earth as with a flood.
Zion will come to pass in the due season of the Lord, and that season is upon us even now. We live at the end of the sixth seal of John's Revelation, meaning the end of the sixth thousand-year period since the Fall. It is called "today" in the scriptures, and it is a day of sacrifice. It is not a day in which to trust in the arm of flesh, seeking security in the carnal pleasures of today's society. Zion's time is not fully ripe until the Bridegroom comes to accept the Bride, as John foresaw. The paradox of Zion's timetable is that she will be nurtured as it were in the bull rushes like Moses, in the midst of unparalleled wickedness and abominations among men. The wheat and tares continue growing together, and the tares keep looking more and more like the weeds they are. And we also see the fig tree putting forth its leaves every day.
The Spirit whispers the truth that Zion will indeed have to be led out of bondage as the children of Israel were led out under Moses. While we are in the midst of spiritual bondage right now, the scriptures are replete with types and shadows of a physical bondage yet to come that will precede the day when all things are fulfilled.
We will not see the establishment of the headquarters of Zion until the temporary landlords who now occupy the sacred sites of the habitations of the New and the Old Jerusalem are swept off. The reclamation of those lands will come in the wake of destruction as foretold by all the prophets who witnessed the promised day, and that time is not far distant. Without an understanding of the impending destruction as the lynch pin to prophecy, the promises of the Lord to Israel that she will ultimately redeem the promised lands of her inheritance seem incomprehensible.
One need not read far into The Book of Mormon to discover that this land is not promised to the Gentiles who now occupy it. Rather, it will be given as an inheritance to the scattered remnants of the House of Israel now being gathered, and to those relatively few Gentiles who repent, embrace the gospel and by adoption become Israel. To think otherwise would be to deny the very faith that gave the prophets their utterance. And this despite the obvious evidence that the Gentiles who occupy this Promised Land today have material wealth and military might beyond even the wildest imaginations of the prophets who foresaw their destruction.
Ephraim's descendants will figure prominently in the leadership of the House of Israel in the development of Zion, but it would be a gross error to assume that Zion is the private domain of Ephraim. The scriptures speak plainly of all the tribes coming to their inheritances in their various lands. We are witnessing the emergence of all these long-lost cousins in Israel in our day, as adversity, lawlessness, and political upheavals continue to drive them to our borders of freedom. They come because of wars, famines, diseases, natural disasters, and the love of freedom, but whatever the reasons they are coming to claim their promised blessings at the hands of Ephraim. Let us never be so surfeited by the things of this world that we cannot embrace them, when they come with little more than the clothes on their backs.
There is not a clear road map to Zion, a "checklist" if you will, that will land us unerringly at the gates of the Holy City. To come to Zion requires clean hands, a pure heart, and pure faith. To be a consecrated saint is to hearken to the voice of the Lord by the power of the Holy Ghost, to receive revelation upon revelation, and to possess a submissive heart that endures all that the Lord sees fit to inflict upon us. All the inhabitants of Zion are as little children, full of faith, and eager to do the will of the Father in all things.
We are not worthy of Zion's society in our present state, but the chastening is in full effect and the spiritual mettle of us all will be put to the test in due time. Those who persist in their hidden sins while proclaiming their beliefs with their lips only, will fail to accumulate the needed midnight oil droplet by droplet over a lifetime of faithfulness. Those who cling steadfastly to their institutional faith, never risking the failure of individual responsibility for their decisions will sink in the depths of forgotten dust with the discarded baggage. We cannot endure the journey to Zion on borrowed light, nor will we find the oil of the Spirit to buy at midnight.
We must beware of repeating the patterns of old. Zion is a steadily progressing caravan of strangers and foreigners seeking a city built without hands. It is to be expected that the "corporate" Church would have difficulty implementing the celestial principles upon which Zion will be built. That reality does not make the Church's doctrines any less true, nor the need for the Church's organization less compelling. One laudable development is that the Church is adapting to the worldwide need for simplicity, as evidenced by the priesthood and Relief Society manual of instruction – it’s back to basics with Gospel Principles.
This is an important point that cannot be glossed over. The Church members' compromise with Babylon is nearly complete. In a forthcoming day there will be an entire separation of the righteous from the wicked. Babylon is slated for destruction. That fact is a well-documented scriptural reality, and so is the establishment of Zion.
We are in the world as never before in our history, and we are more of the world too. From the days of Brigham Young whose mission was to separate the saints from the world by leading them to these remote valleys of the Mountain West, to the administration of Gordon B. Hinckley who has welcomed the world with the red carpet, we have come full circle. Living prophets lead the way.
But never doubt for one minute -- the caravan is on course, though there will always be those among us who cling to the past fiercely, as though we are going to return somehow to the purity and simplicity of an earlier time. These somehow wish they could live in the days before the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and started rolling downhill. We are picking up speed as the little stone rolls forward. But let us not be smug.
God will cut short the work in this last dispensation of the fulness of times. The Bride may have grown weary while waiting and defiled herself with the world, but this time there will be a wedding with the Bridegroom and the Church will become the Bride of Christ. The best course we can take is individual repentance and to let the rest of the Church and the world who fail to repent go their merry way to destruction. As midnight draws nigh there will be fewer opportunities to obtain oil to light our little lamps of faith. Unconsecrated material possessions in that hour will be a poor store of value -- ancient prophets used the word “slippery.” (Helaman 13:31).
Now I offer this final observation. Patience with the unfolding timetable of the Lord is indispensable to the true disciple. Many, knowing what the scriptures reveal concerning conditions in a Zion society, and observing these circumstances do not now exist in the Church, and thinking they have somehow been "called" to lead the way, have made unwise and premature decisions to move out in front of the caravan. Like the ancient Rechabites of Jeremiah’s day they prefer the separatist life to the heat of the day in the kingdom with all its paradoxes, contradictions and ironies. They are never wise stewards, and seem to lack the faith they proclaim.
The keys of the priesthood reside with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and those keys and this kingdom will never again be taken from the earth. The path to Zion is first discovered deep within the hearts of men and women, and they gravitate to others who have made a similar discovery, all of whom are subject to the Lord's mouthpiece. That man, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like Moses who stood at the head of another caravan, will lead Israel out of whatever form of bondage enslaves us.Until that promised day comes, it is enough to hear the Lord whisper again, "Be still, and know that I am God." His promises will never fail, and the gates of the Heavenly City await us.
So put away your Mayan calendar, and add to your food storage in the spirit of faith not fear.