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?

Introduction to Criticism

On 20 July 1831 Joseph Smith recorded a revelation identifying Independence, Missouri, as "the center place; and a spot for the temple[.]" (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.

Critics of the Church charge that this is a false prophecy since the temple in Independence was never completed in Joseph Smith's generation.

The supposed "prophecy" was actually a commandment and it may have already been fulfilled.

Response to Criticism

Commandment, not Prophecy

After the Saints settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph recorded another revelation rescinding the earlier revelation given 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).

Thus, when Smith declared the "temple shall be reared in this generation," he meant this as a directive (compare to the ten commandments: "thou shalt.." and D&C 59:5-13) and thus 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, Latter-day Saint 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.

Potential Fulfillment for the Commmandment?

Latter-day Saint scholars and apologists have speculated that the commandment may have already been met.

D. Charles Pyle wrote:

Indeed, this verse was fulfilled--in Kirtland. Here is what was recorded for that event in 1836:
George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place. (History of the Church, 2:428)

See also Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Most people who read the above verse in the above section of the Doctrine and Covenants assume that verse 5 has to refer only to the temple that was to be built in the center place of that time. However, all that is required is that a temple be built and that certain events happen in order to meet the conditions of this portion of the prophecy.

Trouble with [anti-Mormon] argumentation is that the prophecy was fulfilled, even if the location of the fulfillment was moved due to the conditional nature of prophecy and of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Bible is filled with such contingent prophecies. However [many] critics of the Church . . . take the Doctrine and Covenants out of context. Building a temple there would require the Saints to remain there in the center place. However, remaining in the center place was contingent by nature. Reading a number of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants shows the conditional nature of their stay there. The Saints failed to live up to the expectations and requirements to stay there. Therefore, they were driven out. . . . The Saints were building the city. The temple site had already been dedicated and foundational cornerstones laid the year previous. Note also the past tense of the latter part of verse 3. However, verse 2, as already noted, was to be tempered by the contingent nature of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants surrounding Section 84, particularly Section 58 and the Sections numbering in the 100s. Note the following verses from Section 58:

6 Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you--that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come;
7 And also that you might be honored in laying the foundation, and in bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand; . . .
19 For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land. . . .
30 Who am I that made man, saith the Lord, that will hold him guiltless that obeys not my commandments?
31 Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?
32 I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
33 Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above.
44 And now, verily, I say concerning the residue of the elders of my church, the time has not yet come, for many years, for them to receive their inheritance in this land, except they desire it through the prayer of faith, only as it shall be appointed unto them of the Lord.
45 For, behold, they shall push the people together from the bends of the earth. . . .
50 And I give unto my servant Sidney Rigdon a commandment, that he shall write a description of the land of Zion, and a statement of the will of God, as it shall be made known by the Spirit unto him;
51 And an epistle and subscription, to be presented unto all the churches to obtain moneys, to be put into the hands of the bishop, of himself or the agent, as seemeth him good or as he shall direct, to purchase lands for an inheritance for the children of God.
52 For, behold, verily I say unto you, the Lord willeth that the disciples and the children of men should open their hearts, even to purchase this whole region of country, as soon as time will permit.
53 Behold, here is wisdom. Let them do this lest they receive none inheritance, save it be by the shedding of blood.
54 And again, inasmuch as there is land obtained, let there be workmen sent forth of all kinds unto this land, to labor for the saints of God.
55 Let all these things be done in order; and let the privileges of the lands be made known from time to time, by the bishop or the agent of the church.
56 And let the work of the gathering be not in haste, nor by flight; but let it be done as it shall be counseled by the elders of the church at the conferences, according to the knowledge which they receive from time to time.

Note the words concerning "many years" in the afore-cited revelation? As can be seen, this above revelation shows some interesting things concerning this land and even was prescient concerning what would come in this region as well as what people would say when the Lord revokes and takes blessings away due to failure to keep the law of God. Did this not indeed happen? Had not it indeed been seen in those days by those who left the Church? And, is not it now being fulfilled by every single critic who has written concerning Section 84 and the land of Zion?

D&C 84:4 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.

The Saints did begin gathering to this location and building the city. They were driven out before the city could be completed because they had failed to live up to expectations for remaining there as a people. Again, see the context of the Doctrine and Covenants sections preceding and succeeding Section 84, particularly those numbering in the 100s. The Saints did not keep the conditions and were driven out. They were told to keep quiet of these things and not to boast, as well as keep the law of God concerning this land. They failed in all these things and were driven out as promised in a following revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants. See, for example, Section 97:26. This forced a move of locations for the building of a temple in that generation. . . . Suffice it to say, that it still was in the Lord's plan to build a temple within that generation.[8]

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]


  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. D. Charles Pyle, email to author, 2009. Cited in Jeff Lindsay, "What About the Failed Prophecy of a Temple in Missouri," <https://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_prophets.shtml#temple> (14 July 2020).
  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)