Bible Question:

Can you tell me about Zion and its meaning and history in the Bible? Basically, what is it? Thanks for any help you can offer.

Bible Answer:

The scriptures refer to Zion 162 in both the Old and New Testaments. In occurs 155 times in the Old Testament and 7 times in the New Testament. It occurs 39 times in Psalms and 46 times in Isaiah. In these passages there are five different meanings for the word Zion. Zion can refer to a hill, the city of Jerusalem, the nation of Israel, the eternal heaven and the heavenly Jerusalem.

Zion – Hill on Which Jerusalem Sits

The word Zion can refer to the mountain on which the city for Zion sits. That is the message of Psalm 2:6.

But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.
Psalm 2:6  (NASB)

This verse reveals that Zion is a mountain. It is called holy because Christ will reign as King in the city some day. The city of Jerusalem was originally built on the mountain. Jerusalem has expanded and now sits on four hills (Mt. Zion, Mt. of Olives, Mt. Moriah and Mt. Scopus), with valleys between. The city itself sits about 2,500 ft (762m) above sea level.

The Mount of Olives is on the east side of Jerusalem. If one was to look to the west from the Mount of Olives, one would see Mount Moriah on which sits the Temple Mount. Between these two hills is the Kidron Valley. Continuing to the west of the Temple Mount is Mount Zion. Mount Zion was the largest hill on which the city of Jerusalem was built. This explains why it is called the “Upper Hill.” To the south of Mount Zion lies the Valley of Hinnom. Beyond the Hinnom Valley are the newer parts of Jerusalem. The fourth hill is called Mount Scopus and it is to the north of the Mount of Olives.

Mount Zion and Mount of Olives

Mount Zion was the first spot on which buildings of the city of Jerusalem were built. From there the city expanded outward. As a result, the name Zion came to include the entire city of Jerusalem along with the temple. It is here that King David built his palace.

Zion – City of Jerusalem

Zion also refers to a city called Jerusalem. The first time this occurs in the Old Testament is 2 Samuel 5:7.

Nevertheless, David captured the stronghold of Zion, that is  the city of David. 2 Samuel 5:7 (NASB)

In this passage we are told that King David militarily captured a stronghold on Mount Zion. Another name for this stronghold was the “city of David.”  In 1 Kings 8:1 we discover that the city of David is also called Jerusalem (Isaiah 33:20; Zephaniah 3:16; Zechariah 1:17).

Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all  the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel, to King Solomon in Jerusalem,  to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from  the city of David, which is Zion. 1 Kings 8:1 (NASB)

Since the city was built on the mountain of Zion, the city inherited the same name of Zion.

Zion – Nation of Israel

Zion is rarely used for the entire nation of Israel. One such occasion is Zechariah 2:7.

Ho, Zion! Escape, you who are living with the daughter of Babylon.” Zechariah 2:7 (NASB)

It is clear that Zion refers to more than just Jerusalem or the mountain of Zion. Here the Lord urges the Jews living in Babylon to escape. When King Nebuchadnezzar deported Jews to the city of Babylon captives were taken from more than just the city of Jerusalem. This reveals that Zion has a broader meaning that includes the nation of Israel.

In Psalm 126:1-5 there is rejoicing for the returning captives, but now they are said to come back to Zion. Whatever city the captive belonged to is not important. Zion is the focus of the Jewish people. Zion now refers to all who are from the land of Israel.

Zion – God’s Capital of the World

In Joel 3:16-17 we discover that Zion will be the capital of the world sometime in the future. God will reign in Jerusalem which is a kingdom that covers the world.

The Lord roars from Zion
And utters His voice from Jerusalem,
And the heavens and the earth tremble.
But the Lord is a refuge for His people
And a stronghold to the sons of Israel.
Then you will know that I am the Lord your God,
Dwelling in Zion, My holy mountain.
So Jerusalem will be holy,
And strangers will pass through it no more.
Joel 3:16-17 (NASB)

Other passages such Zechariah 9:9 echo the same truth. Isaiah 33:5 announces,

The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high;
He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness.
Isaiah 33:5 (NASB)

That is, Christ is ruling as king in Zion. He is not doing that today, but He will some time in the future. When He does, He will rule as King of kings and Lord of lords over the entire earth. These verses describe Christ’s rule during the millennial kingdom (Joel 3:17-21; Zechariah 14:8-9, 20-21; Revelation 20:4-6).

Zion – The Future Heaven

Revelation 20:4-6 refers to the millennial kingdom as a 1,000 year kingdom.

Then I saw thrones, and  they sat on them, and  judgment was given to them. And I saw  the souls of those who had been beheaded because of  their  testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the  mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and  reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Revelation 20:4 (NASB)

This passage tells us that Christ will rule for 1,000 years. This agrees with Joel 3:17-21 and Zechariah 14:8-9, 20-21 which tell us that Christ will reign too! However, Revelation 20:4 reveals that He will reign as king over the old earth for a thousand years or for a millennium.

After that, Revelation 21:1 declares that after the old universe and current heaven is destroyed (2 Peter 3:11-13; Revelation 20:11). Then God will create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1) and a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). Joel 3:17-21; Zechariah 14:8-9, 20-21 and Micah 4:7 are important verses since they reveal that God will begin to reign in the millennial kingdom and then we are told He will reign forever.

I will make the lame a remnant
And the outcasts a strong nation,
And the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
From now on and forever.
Micah 4:7 (NASB)

Christ will reign over Zion into the eternal heaven.

Zion – The Heavenly Zion

Lastly, Zion is another name of heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to  myriads of angels to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who  are enrolled in heaven, and to God,  the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than  the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24 (NASB)

This passage teaches us that Zion, the city of Jerusalem, is the city of the living God. He loves this city. He will live there and reign there! Every believer from the ages past will live there forever and forever in the city of Zion, the city of the living God. Hallelujah!

Conclusion:

Mt. Zion is the place where Jesus will reign during His 1,000 year kingdom on the earth, and from where He will meet and talk with us face-to-face. God loves us and some day those who believe in Jesus Christ will live with Him forever.

Reference Links:

Which Mountain?
The Choice – Mt. Sinai or Mt. Zion
Together on Mount Zion