Zion in the New Testament

RESEARCH: Zion in the New Testament

Definition and origin of the word "Zion"

Professor of Biblical Languages, Pacific Union Colleg

The need for careful discrimination in comparison of Old Testament and New Testament expressions is revealed in the use of the word "Zion." This word occurs many times in the Old Testament. It is the name of the south west hill of Jerusalem, the older and higher part of the city. It is often used as referring to the whole city, the city of David. At other times it refers to the whole Jewish nation, of which Jerusalem was the capital. But in other places it clearly refers to God's church in Old Testament times.

In the New Testament the word occurs seven times. In each case in the Authorized Version it appears with the spelling "Sion" rather than "Zion." Let us study these seven New Testament texts. Two texts" (Rom. 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:6) refer to something well known among the Jews, and doubtless well known to us. The stones for Solomon's Temple were all previously chiseled and prepared before being brought to the place where the Temple was being erected. One stone, however, of peculiar shape was rejected as unsuitable and was laid aside, until finally it was found to fit exactly into a key position.

Thus in the church, the temple of the New Testament times, the divine Messiah is found to be the chief cornerstone of the structure. The Jews wanted a Messiah who, as the son of David, would overthrow their enemies and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. Jesus of Nazareth did not conform to their idea of the Messiah. He was both the son of David and the Son of God, and He came to establish the kingdom of heaven, first the kingdom of grace and then the kingdom of glory. But misunderstanding His mission, they rejected Him. This is the stone that Peter says the Jews rejected, and yet He became the cornerstone of the Christian church. Peter himself is only a stone in this temple; Christ is the cornerstone. But more, He is the stone cut out without hands that will strike the image (symbol of earthly kingdoms) on the feet, and then that stone becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth.

There are three other texts (Rom. 11:26; Matt. 21:5; John 12:15) that use Zion as a name for Jerusalem. First the Deliverer, Christ, is said to come back from Zion. In this text Paul also quotes from the Old Testament. (See Isa. 59:20.) The texts in Matthew and John refer to Christ's entry into Jerusalem. In the Old Testament text that Matthew and John quote (Zech. 9:9), we have the Hebrew parallelism: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee." The expression "daughter of Zion," which is repeated as "daughter of Jerusalem," refers evidently to the nation of Israel.

In the other references to Zion the word refers very clearly to the heavenly Jerusalem. (Heb. 12:22 and Rev. 14:1.) In Revelation, John tells of the 144,000, whom he sees standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion, but in Hebrews Mount Zion is definitely applied to the heavenly Jerusalem. "You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." R.S.V.

Putting these texts together, we notice an interesting transition. Mount Zion at one time meant the Temple and the nation of Israel, of which the old earthly Jerusalem was the capital. In the New Testament this comes to mean the Christian church, the nation of the redeemed spiritual Israel of which the heavenly New Jerusalem is the capital. The word Zion is used in seven different places in the New Testament, but five of them are quotations from the Old Testament. Here is an indication of the need for rightly dividing the Word of truth.



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Professor of Biblical Languages, Pacific Union Colleg

April 1952

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