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Imagine the jubilation in a capital city after a good king has subdued a rebellion, and you have a picture of what Zion stands for in Scripture. The term Zion refers primarily to the mountain on which the temple was built in Jerusalem. But as Scripture unfolds, it comes to symbolize God’s victory over His enemies and so much more.

a shadowy zion

Zion’s story begins with the Lord’s choice of it: “The Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place” (Ps. 132:13). But in order to dwell there and establish His reign, the Lord first needed to defeat the enemies who opposed Him and occupied His mountain. These are the Canaanites, specifically the Jebusites. With God’s help, David defeated this last holdout of God’s enemies (2 Sam. 5:7; see Josh. 15:63).

Having subdued His enemies, God establishes His city. He has Solomon build the temple in the middle of the new city. The climax comes when Solomon moves the ark from Zion (the old Jebusite city) to the new Zion (the temple mount; see 1 Kings 8:1). God crowns these labors with His glory coming down to fill the temple (1 Kings 8:11). He is Zion’s founder and consummator (Isa. 14:32).

Psalm 132 celebrates these events as the Lord’s enthronement as King on earth. Of course, God has always reigned as the Creator. But now the Lord is publicly recognized as the rightful King of all the earth.

So when you think of Zion, think: the Lord reigns. On Zion, the Lord is enthroned as the high King (Ps. 9:11; Isa. 24:23). On Zion, the Lord has established David to be His vassal king, who reigns on His behalf (Pss. 2:6; 110:2). Regardless of literal elevation, Zion is the highest of the mountains of the earth (Ps. 48:2; see Isa. 2:2), for from it the Lord towers over all the peoples (Ps. 99:2).

At the center of the world is Zion, where the Lord, the King of all, exercises His rule. From Zion come the Lord’s kingly rescues (Ps. 14:7). To Zion come all of the Lord’s people to worship Him and offer Him their fealty (Pss. 65:1; 84:7). Zion is the place where we see as nowhere else the glory of God’s reign: it is a new Eden, the most beautiful place on earth (Ps. 50:2). God’s people love it so much that they wish they could live there all the time (Ps. 84:2–4).

Thus, Zion represents God in a way that no other place does. His name dwells there (Isa. 18:7). To see the glory of Zion is to see the glory of the Lord (Ps. 27:4). To despise Zion is to despise the Lord Himself (Isa. 37:22–23). And as God’s reign radiates outward from Jerusalem, so also does the name Zion, in concentric circles. Zion regularly refers not just to the temple mount but to Jerusalem as a whole (Isa. 40:9), which is sometimes called the “daughter of Zion” (or “Lady Zion”; Mic. 4:10). Zion can also refer to the entire people of Israel (Isa. 51:16).

Given that Zion symbolizes the Lord’s invincible reign over the world, it is astonishing that Zion falls to the nations. How can the temple, the very throne of God, lie in ashes (Mic. 3:12; see Ps. 125:1)? The answer is that God Himself abandoned His throne because of His people’s rebellion against His kingship (Jer. 7:13–14).

the ultimate zion

And yet, even after its destruction, Zion remains the heir of staggering promises. The prophets promise that God will again reign at Zion in even greater glory (Isa. 4:3–5; 51:11). But when the Lord returns in the person of Jesus Christ, He comes to reign not from a temple on earth but from the heavenly temple on the heavenly Zion (Heb. 12:22; 1 Peter 2:6). The shadowy Zion was a copy of this ultimate Zion all along. Think about how glorious the first Zion was, and now realize how glorious this ultimate Zion is after the consummate victory of Jesus. You and I are citizens of this heavenly Zion. And one day, this mountain will come to fill the whole new creation.



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From the August 2022 Issue
Aug 2022 Issue