Pluripotency is defined by a cell's potential to differentiate into any somatic cell type. How pluripotency is transited during embryo implantation, followed by cell lineage specification and establishment of the basic body plan, is poorly understood. Here we report the transcription factor Zfp281 functions in the exit from naive pluripotency occurring coincident with pre-to-post-implantation mouse embryonic development. By characterizing Zfp281 mutant phenotypes and identifying Zfp281 gene targets and protein partners in developing embryos and cultured pluripotent stem cells, we establish critical roles for Zfp281 in activating components of the Nodal signaling pathway and lineage-specific genes. Mechanistically, Zfp281 cooperates with histone acetylation and methylation complexes at target gene enhancers and promoters to exert transcriptional activation and repression, as well as epigenetic control of epiblast maturation leading up to anterior-posterior axis specification. Our study provides a comprehensive molecular model for understanding pluripotent state progressions in vivo during mammalian embryonic development.