My wife and I welcomed our first child in April. It was love at first sight when we saw her, and we were determined to choose a name that would capture her beauty and our love for her. After lots of deliberation (poor girl didn’t have a name until the day after she was born), we settled on a name with biblical implications: Zion!
This name is special to us, but it’s been special to God for thousands of years.
The City of the Lord
The name Zion is both versatile and valuable in Scripture. Most often in context, it simply means “city of God,” and it’s a place God loves. It’s used throughout the Old Testament to mean both the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, depending on the context. It also refers to Mount Moriah, otherwise known as Mount Zion, the name for the physical location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The first place we see Zion mentioned in Scripture is in 2 Samuel 5:7. Immediately following in Scripture his anointing as king, David took this Jebusite fortress in Jerusalem, along with the city of Jerusalem itself, for the nation of Israel.1 This was a major moment in Israel’s history approximately 3,000 years ago that first gave the nation the claim to the city. The Lord approved this action, as David knew God had established him as Israel’s king and that Zion would be a key contribution to the exaltation of the Lord’s Kingdom (v. 12).
A Mark of Ownership
Interestingly, tzion, the Hebrew word for Zion, most directly translates to “indication” or “marking.”2 It’s an accurate description for the city. More than just a mountain stronghold, Zion wraps up Jewish identity as a whole. The Jewish people hold this designation because God has marked them as His own covenant people. Because of their unique adherence to Hebrew texts and God’s Law, His marking on these people is evident to the world as well.
The Lord will come from Zion to save His people forever—a great reason for all people to be joyful at the mention of the name Zion.
Jewish law states, “When a physical object has a sign, a marking, should it be lost, the sign enables it to be returned to its owners.” In this way, Israel, the Jewish descendants of Abraham called by God, has a clear path back to the Lord. He is their Owner, and He has marked His people to be returned to Him—something we look forward to according to the words of Romans 11:26–27: “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” The Lord will come from Zion to save His people forever—a great reason for all people to be joyful at the mention of the name Zion.
New Jerusalem: God’s Dwelling Place
While the Jebusite fortress and the city of Jerusalem are physical locations you can point to on a map, Zion refers more generally to the place where God’s presence dwells, not unlike the Tabernacle and the Temple in the Old Testament. It’s referenced often in idealistic ways, almost as a place of paradise more than the city of Jerusalem as we know it today. That’s because the Zion we know from Scripture points to the city where God will reign physically on Earth in the future: New Jerusalem.3
Zion is so often referenced as a place of hope in the Old Testament, and that hope lives on today, still looking toward its fulfillment. This is because it’s a key component of God’s coming Kingdom and a picture of the New Jerusalem we await.4 Zion isn’t just a mountain in the way Mount Everest is a mountain (albeit an impressive one). It’s a place of God’s favor both in anticipation of the Lord’s First Coming in the Old Testament and in its fulfillment following His Second Coming.
The writer of Hebrews invoked memories of Mount Sinai when speaking of Mount Zion, saying, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels” (Hebrews 12:22). In Exodus 19, the Lord began to give Israel His covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, but He warned that those who approached the mountain would die. Only Moses could come to the mountain to accept His commandments. Mount Zion, then, is the completed picture of Mount Sinai in the New Testament. Instead of being separated from God’s presence as the Israelites were at Mount Sinai when the Mosaic Covenant was forged, we have full access to God and His dwelling, the New Jerusalem, which the author of Hebrews calls Mount Zion because of Jesus’ work to forge the New Covenant now and forever. We can be fully confident that we can enter His presence and dwell with Him through His forgiveness of our sins.5
We can be fully confident that we can enter His presence and dwell with Him through His forgiveness of our sins.
For much of history, Jerusalem hasn’t been the peaceful city of God’s glory that God intended it to be. But all this will change one day when Gentiles no longer attack the city. This beautiful future for Zion is recorded in Isaiah 60: “Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; and they shall call you The City of the Lᴏʀᴅ, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (v. 14). Zion will accept its rightful place as the glorified city of God, a place of worship for Gentiles and Jewish people alike.
So what makes Zion such a critical piece of our faith?
1. It initiated Israel’s ownership of Jerusalem as the nation’s capital city.
2. It’s an indication of Israel’s future spiritual return to the Lord.
3. It’s the city of glory that is yet to come where God will dwell when He returns to Earth—and we can dwell with Him there.
It’s a precious place for God, and a right understanding of the city will make it a precious place to us, too. May the name Zion always bring a smile to our face and a wellspring of hope to our hearts!
1 “What is Zion? What is Mount Zion? What is the biblical meaning of Zion?” Got Questions. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.gotquestions.org/Zion.html
2 Baruch S. Davidson. “What is Zion?” Chabad. Accessed August 13, 2021. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1543702/jewish/What-Is-Zion.htm
3 “What is the biblical significance of Zion? What is Zion? What is Mount Zion?” Compelling Truth. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.compellingtruth.org/Zion.html.
4 Candice Lucey. “What Is the Meaning of Zion in the Bible?” Christianity. Last modified July 3, 2019. https://www.christianity.com/wiki/bible/what-is-the-meaning-of-zion-in-the-bible.html
5 “What does Hebrews 12:22 mean?” Bible Ref. Accessed August 26, 2021. https://www.bibleref.com/Hebrews/12/Hebrews-12-22.html