Jackson County, Missouri

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Jackson County, Missouri

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Question: Is "Zion" associated geographically with only one specific location in the New World: the "New Jerusalem" that is to be built in Missouri?

Church leaders and scripture have repeatedly taught that Zion applies to the entire North and South American areas

Church leaders and scripture have repeatedly taught that Zion, as understood by the Latter-day Saints, applies to the entire North and South American areas.

Any attempt to equate Zion exclusively with the location of the New Jerusalem contradicts the words of Joseph Smith

Any attempt to equate Zion exclusively with the location of the New Jerusalem contradicts the words of Joseph Smith:

"speaking of the Land of Zion, It consists of all N[orth] & S[outh] America but that any place where the Saints gather is Zion which every righteous man will build up for a place of safety for his children…The redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N[orth] & S[outh] America."[1]

What does the Bible Dictionary say about Zion?

The Bible Dictionary has the following definitions for "Zion:"

  • The pure in heart (DC 97:21). Zion also means a place where the pure in heart live.
  • The city built by Enoch and his people that was eventually taken to heaven because of righteousness was named Zion (DC 38:4; Moses 7:18-21,Moses 7:69).
  • In the latter-days a city named Zion will be built near Jackson County, Missouri (United States of America), to which the tribes of Israel will gather (DC 103:11-22; DC 133:18).
  • The Saints are counseled to build up Zion wherever they are living in the world.
  • The city of David was called Zion, 1 Kings 8:1.
  • The New Jerusalem shall be called Zion, DC 45:66-67.
  • Independence, Missouri, is the place for the city of Zion, DC 57:1-3.
  • The Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, Moses 7:18-19.
  • Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent, A+of+F 1:10.

Other Church leaders have also stated what "Zion" means

Brigham Young

And what is Zion? In one sense Zion is the pure in heart. But is there a land that ever will be called Zion? Yes, brethren. What land is it? It is the land that the Lord gave to Jacob, who bequeathed it to his son Joseph and his posterity, and they inhabit it, and that land is North and South America. That is Zion as to land, as to territory, and location. The children of Zion have not yet much in their possession, but their territory is North and South America to begin with.[2]

You need not teach that this place is Zion, or that Nauvoo or Missouri is Zion; but tell the people that North and South America are the land of Zion…[3]

John Taylor

And it is not enough for us to embrace the gospel and to be gathered here to the land of Zion. [Pres. Taylor was speaking in Salt Lake City.][4]

Wilford Woodruff

This land, North and South America, is the land of Zion; it is a choice land-the land that was given by promise from old father Jacob to his grandson and his descendants, the land on which the Zion of God should be established in the latter days.[5]

Ezra Taft Benson

"This is our need today—to plant the standard of liberty among our people throughout the Americas… the struggle for liberty is a continuing one—it is with us in a very real sense today right here on this choice land of the Americas."<refEzra Taft Benson, Conference Report (October 1962), 14–15.</ref>

Bruce R. McConkie

"The Americas are the land of Joseph—the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, the land of the Nephites, the land of the Ephraimites who are gathering in the latter days." (italics added)[6]


Question: Was Joseph Smith's prophecy that the Independence, Missouri temple "shall be reared in this generation" a failed prophecy?

Jesus Christ used the very same terminology in Matthew 24:34: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled"

There is a double standard of interpretation that critics use against Joseph Smith, since Jesus Christ used the very same terminology. Matthew 24:34 quotes Christ as saying, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Luke 21:32 repeats this prophecy. The term "these things" refers to wars, famines, the sun being darkened, and even the "stars falling from heaven." Some of "these things" occurred during Christ's time period. Some have continued since then. Some have escalated into our time. Some have not occurred yet.

So we must ask, since Joseph Smith is charged with false prophecy concerning "this generation," did Jesus Christ utter a false prophecy? Absolutely not! So, if Joseph Smith uttered a false prophecy about "this generation," then so did Christ. It has been many centuries longer from the time of Christ until now, than it has been from the 1830's till today.

The word "generation" has different meanings. According to scripture, the word "generation" can have reference to a time frame, a people, or even a dispensation. Without specific wording which would indicate exactly what the word "generation" means, it is dishonest to accuse one (Joseph Smith) of false prophecy, while accepting another (Jesus Christ) when both use it in a general form.

Joseph Smith's revelation in D&C 84 may appear on the surface to be a failed prophecy, but a more informed reading reveals that it may not have been a prophecy, and if it is, its fulfillment is still in the future.

When the scriptures use words such as "this generation," "a little season," "nigh," "soon to come," "quickly," and "in due time," it can mean several years, or even centuries

The main problem critics have in interpreting D&C 84 is timing. They cannot understand that when the scriptures use words such as "this generation," "a little season," "nigh," "soon to come," "quickly," and "in due time," it can mean several years, or even centuries. They have no problem with accepting a long time when the Bible makes these statements, but they refuse to interpret Joseph Smith with the same standard. To criticize such terminology is to claim the Bible false. The four hundred years of Israel's Egyptian captivity was a "little season" to the Lord. All the scriptural terms of time (nigh, shortly come to pass, at the doors, about to be, soon to be, in due time, not many days, a little season, near, close at hand, time will come, not many years, and generation) are not specific in numbers of years. Most of them are conditional. To say that "next generation" as used in the Bible can mean thousands of years, and turn around and say these very same words mean only a hundred years when used in the Doctrine and Covenants is hypocritical. Scripture comes from one source, God. His prophets write as they are inspired by the Holy Ghost. The Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Bible use the same terms, with the same meaning, because they come from the same source. You cannot interpret one in one way, and another in a different way. When the Lord wants something accomplished, it will be done, in the Lords time.

Historical background

On 20 July 1831 Joseph Smith recorded a revelation identifying Independence, Missouri, as "the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse" (DC 57:3). Joseph and Sidney Rigdon dedicated a site for the temple on 3 August 1831. The following year, Joseph received another revelation concerning the gathering to Zion:

2 [T]he word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.

3 Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.

4 Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.

5 For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house (DC 84:2-5, (emphasis added)).The Saints were expelled from Jackson County in late 1833, before they could make any progress on the temple. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to return to reclaim their lands. After they settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph recorded another revelation rescinding the earlier commandment to build the Independence temple:

49 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings....

51 Therefore, for this cause have I accepted the offerings of those whom I commanded to build up a city and a house unto my name, in Jackson county, Missouri, and were hindered by their enemies, saith the Lord your God (DC 124:49,51).

It is unclear from the wording of the 1832 revelation whether Joseph Smith meant it to be a prophecy or a commandment

When he declared the "temple shall be reared in this generation," it's possible that he meant this as a directive (Compare to the ten commandments: "thou shalt.." and D&C 59:5-13). If this is the case, D&C 84 is not actually a prophecy. Webster's 1828 dictionary noted of "shall":

In the second and third persons [i.e., when applied to another person], shall implies a promise, command or determination. "You shall receive your wages," "he shall receive his wages," imply that you or he ought to receive them; but usage gives these phrases the force of a promise in the person uttering them. [7]

Thus, "shall" indicates a promise or command—and, LDS theology (with its strong emphasis on moral agency) always holds that man is free to accept or reject the commandments or promises of God, and that God will often not overrule the free-agent acts of others which might prevent his people from obeying. In such cases, God rewards the faithful for their willingness and efforts to obey, and punishes the guilty accordingly.

If the revelation is meant as a prophecy, the timeline for its fulfillment depends on what Joseph meant by "generation"

Typically we consider this to mean the lifespan of those living at the time of the revelation. However, in scriptural language "generation" can indicate a longer period of time.

During his ministry in Jerusalem, Jesus revealed the signs of his second coming, and prophesied that "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34). All those who heard his prophecy died nearly 2,000 years ago, so evidently Jesus meant "generation" to mean "age" or some other long period of time. It's possible that Joseph meant the same thing in his revelation about the Independence temple, and therefore the time period for its fulfillment is still open.

In Easton’s Bible Dictionary of 1897, the English word “generation” is variably defined with reference to the KJV text:

Gen. 2:4, "These are the generations," means the "history." 5:1, "The book of the generations," means a family register, or history of Adam. 37:2, "The generations of Jacob" = the history of Jacob and his descendants. 7:1, "In this generation" = in this age. Ps. 49:19, "The generation of his fathers" = the dwelling of his fathers, i.e., the grave. Ps. 73:15, "The generation of thy children" = the contemporary race. Isa. 53:8, "Who shall declare his generation?" = His manner of life who shall declare? or rather = His race, posterity, shall be so numerous that no one shall be able to declare it. In Matt. 1:17, the word means a succession or series of persons from the same stock. Matt. 3:7, "Generation of vipers" = brood of vipers. 24:34, "This generation" = the persons then living contemporary with Christ. 1 Pet. 2:9, "A chosen generation" = a chosen people. The Hebrews seem to have reckoned time by the generation. In the time of Abraham a generation was an hundred years, thus: Gen. 15:16, "In the fourth generation" = in four hundred years (comp. verse 13 and Ex. 12:40). In Deut. 1:35 and 2:14 a generation is a period of thirty-eight years.

So, the nineteenth-century understanding of KJV Biblical/religious usage of "generation" includes such variations as:

  • all the descendants of
  • history
  • contemporaries
  • succession or series of people from same stock
  • race, posterity
  • one hundred years
  • thirty-eight years
  • people

Contemporary with Joseph Smith, Webster's 1828 dictionary defined "generation" as:

...2. A single succession in natural descent, as the children of the same parents; hence, an age. Thus we say, the third, the fourth, or the tenth generation. Gen.15.16. 3. The people of the same period, or living at the same time. O faithless and perverse generation. Luke 9. 4. Genealogy; a series of children or descendants from the same stock. This is the book of the generations of Adam. Gen.5. 5. A family; a race. 6. Progeny; offspring. [8]

Webster relied heavily on examples drawn from the KJV of the Bible in his definitions. Thus, when those of Joseph's era used Biblical language speaking of "generations," they understood multiple potential meanings. Whether these shades of meaning were intended by the original biblical authors is immaterial; they reflect the usage of religious English in Joseph's day.

Note the double standard of interpretation critics use against Joseph Smith, for Jesus Christ used the very same terminology

Let's look at what Jesus himself said to the people of his day concerning prophecies of His second coming. Matthew 24:34 quotes Christ as saying, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Luke 21:32 repeats this prophecy.

What are "all these things," and have they come to pass?

  1. Many shall come in Christ's name, deceiving many (Matthew 24:5, Luke 21:8)
  2. Wars and rumours of wars (Matthew 24:6, Luke 21:9-10)
  3. Famines (Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
  4. Pestilences (Mathew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
  5. Earthquakes (Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:11)
  6. Apostles killed (Matthew 24:9, Luke 21:16)
  7. Many shall be offended (Matthew 24:10)
  8. Many shall be betrayed (Matthew 24:10)
  9. Men will hate one another (Matthew 24:10)
  10. False prophets will deceive many (Matthew 24:11)
  11. Iniquity shall abound (Matthew 24:12)
  12. Love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24:12)
  13. Gospel shall be preached in all the world (Matthew 24:14)
  14. Distress of nations (Luke 21:25)
  15. Men's hearts will fail them because of fear (Luke 21:11)
  16. Sun shall be darkened (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
  17. Moon shall not give her light (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
  18. Stars shall fall from heaven (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25)
  19. Sign of the Son of man shall appear (Matthew 24:30, Luke 21:27)

Some of "these things" occurred during Christ's time period. Some have continued since then. Some have escalated into our time. Some have not occurred yet. So we must ask, since Joseph Smith is charged with false prophecy concerning "this generation," did Jesus Christ utter a false prophecy? Absolutely not! But, according to the critics' rules of interpretation, he did, because "this generation" passed away without "all these things" being fulfilled. So, if Joseph Smith uttered a false prophecy about "this generation" so did Christ. I have never read anything from anyone who is a critic of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that attacks Jesus Christ, or the Bible, for making a prophecy of "this generation" which has not yet occurred. Yet it has been many centuries longer from the time of Christ until now, than it has been from the 1830's till today. It should be noted that D&C 84 does not say the "people now living," it says "this generation." The word "generation" has different meanings. According to scripture, the word "generation" can have reference to a time frame, a people, or even a dispensation. Without specific wording which would indicate exactly what the word "generation" means, it is dishonest to accuse one (Joseph Smith) of false prophecy, while accepting another (Jesus Christ) when both use it in a general form.


Question: Will Mormons "walk back to Jackson County" before the second coming of Christ?

No, this is a "faith promoting" myth

Graham W. Doxey in the April 1979 Ensign:

Myth #1: We’re going to walk to Missouri to prepare for the Second Coming. Scripture makes it clear that Missouri has a prophetic role to play in the Second Coming and it seems logical that some people will need to go there to assist in portions of that work. But the scriptures contain no references that spell out in detail how that assistance will be given.

One of the quotations I hear frequently repeated is part of a sermon by Joseph F. Smith in 1882: “When God leads the people back to Jackson County, how will he do it? Let me picture to you how some of us may be gathered and led to Jackson County. I think I see two or three hundred thousand people wending their way across the great plain enduring the nameless hardships of the journey, herding and guarding their cattle by day and by night. … This is one way to look at it. It is certainly a practical view. Some might ask, what will become of the railroads? I fear that the sifting process would be insufficient were we to travel by railroads.” (Journal of Discourses, 24:156–57.)

This is a vivid mental picture, but people frequently remember the picture and forget he said “some of us” and “may be gathered.” We should also keep in mind that he said this is “one way to look at it,” remembering also the perspective of 1882. From our perspective in 1979, it seems even less likely that we would sell our automobiles and herd cattle along our freeway systems. But we simply have no scriptural information about who—if any general Church members—will be called to go back and the means that they might use. The prophets of our day have not found it timely or necessary to speak on the matter. [9]


Question: Will all Mormons return to Jackson county before the second coming?

No, this is a "faith promoting" myth

Graham W. Doxey in the April 1979 Ensign:

Myth #2: The entire Church will be gathered to Missouri. Here recent prophets have been quite specific. President Spencer W. Kimball said in October Conference, 1978: “We are building up the strength of Zion—her cords or stakes—throughout the world. Therefore, we counsel our people to remain in their native lands and gather out the elect of God and teach them the ways of the Lord. There temples are being built and the saints will be blessed wherever they live in all the world.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 76.)

During the time of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, it was essential for members of the Church to “gather to Zion” for their own spiritual and physical safety. But now that temples, welfare proJects, educational facilities, genealogical research libraries, and the blessings of a full church organization in stakes are available, this gathering is no longer required or wise. And although the Church purchased some Clay County land last December, it was solely for investment purposes—not for other Church use. At a general conference, President Harold B. Lee stressed the point made by Elder Bruce R. McConkie at the Mexico City Area Conference: “‘The place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico; … and so it goes throughout the length and breadth of the whole earth. Japan is for the Japanese; Korea is for the Koreans; Australia is for the Australians; every nation is the gathering place for its own people.’” (Ensign, July 1973, p. 5.)

Of course, there will be special functions of the temple in Jackson County, but worldwide gatherings of the Saints to Missouri may not be necessary, or desired—after all, the mission of members is to always share the gospel with the nonmembers who surround them throughout the world, and this activity will undoubtedly continue after the Second Coming. Elder Harold B. Lee further cautioned the Saints in all lands to be guided by the current prophet, not by rumor or supposition, and “look forward to the instruction that shall come to them from the First Presidency of this Church as to where they shall be gathered and not be disturbed in their feelings until such instruction is given to them as it is revealed by the Lord to the proper authority” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 55).[10]


Question: Will there be immense destruction in Jackson County before the second coming of Christ?

This may have already taken place, or it is yet to occur

Graham W. Doxey in the April 1979 Ensign:

Myth #3: But won’t there be immense destructions in Missouri preceding the Second Coming, so extensive that “not a yellow dog will be left to wag his tail”? It’s true that destruction throughout the earth is one of the conditions prior to the Second Coming. Yet as far as destruction in Missouri is concerned there are two schools of thought among members.

One believes that it has already taken place. Elder B. H. Roberts published a reported prophecy of Joseph Smith to Alexander Doniphan, his lawyer in Missouri. According to Doniphan’s brother-in-law, writing the incident over seventy years after it occurred, Joseph Smith warned Doniphan that “‘God’s wrath hangs over Jackson County … and you will live to see the day when it will be visited by fire and sword. The fields and farms and houses will be destroyed, and only the chimneys will be left to mark the desolation.’

“General Doniphan said to me,” his brother-in-law continued, “that the devastation of Jackson county [during the Civil War] forcibly reminded him of this remarkable prediction.” Elder Roberts cites additional descriptions of Jackson County’s role during the Civil War as fulfillment of this prophecy. (See Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:538–59; italics added.)

The other school of thought on the so-called “yellow dog” prophecy is that some members feel it is yet to occur. However, a study of the supposed source of the prophecy is helpful. It seems to have originated in a conversation between Heber C. Kimball and Amanda H. Wilcox in Salt Lake City in May 1868. She reports him as saying, “The western boundries of the State of Missouri will be swept so clean of its inhabitants that, as President Young tells us, when we return to that place, ‘There will not be left so much as a yellow dog to wag his tail.’” (Prophetic Sayings of Heber C. Kimball to Sister Amanda H. Wilcox, n.p., n.d., p. 6.)

There seem to be a number of questions about the authenticity of this account since Heber C. Kimball was apparently in Provo, not Salt Lake, during the month of May. Also, no other record exists of Brigham Young making a similar statement. However, it is sufficiently similar to Joseph Smith’s statements, except for the “yellow dog,” that someone may have remembered the original substance but in the retelling allowed embellishment to creep in.[11]


Notes

  1. Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, [edited by Dean C. Jessee], "Joseph Smith's July 19, 1840 Discourse," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 3 (Spring 1979), 392.
  2. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:258.
  3. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:72.
  4. John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor, Third President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, ed. G. Homer Durham, Teachings of the Latter-Day Prophets (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1998), 89–90 (in Assembly Hall, 12 February 1882); italics added..
  5. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 15:279.
  6. Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1980–1986), 311.
  7. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "shall."
  8. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "generation."
  9. Graham W. Doxey, "Missouri Myths," Ensign (April 1979)
  10. Graham W. Doxey, "Missouri Myths," Ensign (April 1979)
  11. Graham W. Doxey, "Missouri Myths," Ensign (April 1979)