The sinners in Zion are the same as the tares who are in the church. “There are many sinners in Zion, and they are likened to tares among the wheat.” Review and Herald, November 10, 1893.
Jesus gave many illustrations to help us understand the difference between the true Israel (church) and Israel (professed church) according to the flesh. Romans 9:1–8. One illustration is that of the true vine. (See Desire of Ages, 830.)
There is an outward connection that apparently is part of the vine, but really is not, and there is an inner vital connection that makes a person part of the vine. The one with the outer connection only is a professed Christian, a professed church member, his name is on the roll on this earth but he is not really a member of the true church, he is a false or pretended brother or believer. Testimonies to Battle Creek Church, 64. When tested this person does not produce fruit. It is the same with the tares, they look like wheat but they are pretended or false brethren or believers and do not produce fruit. Christ Object Lessons, 71, 72. Notice how the following quotations explicitly state these facts: “The branch which does not derive its nourishment from the vine, is unable to bear fruit. Having no real, vital connection with the vine, not receiving the sap which flows through the parent stock, it is fruitless. So it is with those who are not truly united to Christ. They may claim to know him, their names may be on the church roll, but unless they are living branches of the True Vine, this is of no value. There is a union with the church that avails nothing with God. Their profession will not save them, for their want of faith, their lack of fruit, proves that they are false branches.” Signs of the Times, December 3, 1896. (A false branch, a pretended or false brother or believer, cannot be a true brother or believer, and a true brother is obviously a member of the true church, because we are all brethren. Matthew 23:8.)
“Faith is that mysterious and mighty principle that attracts the soul of man to God. As the sapless branch is united to the living vine, so we must be connected with Christ. There are two kinds of connection between the branches and the vine stock. One is visible, but superficial. The other is invisible and vital. So there is an apparent union, a membership with the church, and a profession of religion, which, though in itself good, is too often unaccompanied by saving faith in Jesus or living obedience to the commandments of God. The branches that are connected with Christ, the living vine, will make it manifest by bearing much fruit in good works to the glory of God. But the branches which have nothing but an apparent union, will be fruitless. As the branch cannot possibly bring forth fruit without a vital connection with the parent stock, so the Christian can be fruitful in good works only as union with Christ is made and preserved. The ruin [the sifting of the sinners in Zion] of those who are not connected with Christ, is as complete as though they had no name to live; for they are dead. Christ compares them to lifeless branches that are gathered and burned in the fire.” Signs of the Times, July 27, 1888.
See also Christ Object Lessons, 216, 279, 304.
So the sinners in Zion are outward, professed members of the body of Christ, the true church, but their profession is not accompanied by the real vital connection to Christ, which would enable them to overcome sin. During the time of the shaking and sifting they will be sifted (separated) from the loyal and faithful and true. Notice that the 1886 statement (see Manuscript Release, vol. 12, 324; or Selected Messages, vol. 2, 380) does not say that they will be sifted from the church organization; it distinctly says that they will be sifted from the loyal and true and that this is a most terrible ordeal. In a later article in Land Marks we will look at inspired statements about this sifting process in more detail but for now let us notice just who Zion is. There is a Zion according to the flesh, according to profession—all those who profess the Seventh-day Adventist faith—but, “He whom God accounts a citizen of Zion is he that ‘speaketh the truth in his heart;’ ‘that backbiteth not with his tongue,’ ‘nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor.’ ” Education, 235, 236. [All emphasis supplied.]
“False brethren will continue to increase.” Signs of the Times, January 3, 1884.
“When trees without fruit are cut down as cumberers of the ground, when multitudes of false brethren are distinguished from the true, then the hidden ones will be revealed to view, and with hosannas range under the banner of Christ.” Testimonies to the Battle Creek Church, 64.