The “Gathering” spoken of in both the Old and New Testaments has its roots in Jewish history. In 930-928 BC the 10 northern tribes split with the south. The northern kingdom is usually referred to as Israel. (The tribe of Ephraim came to embody the northern kingdom and the Bible sometimes refers to the northern kingdom as Ephraim. And sometimes the term Israel is a reference to all 12 tribes.) The tribe of Judah came to embody the southern kingdom, which is consistently known as Judah.
Israel had a series of bad kings, beginning with Jeroboam, which contributed to their spiritual decline and apostasy. God used the Assyrian army to judge Israel for her sins in 722 BC. At that time, the inhabitants of Israel were deported and dispersed. For the most part, they lost their identity as they melded into the gentile people of the region. They never fully recovered.
By the year 600 BC Judah had become apostate too and subject to God’s judgment (Ezekiel 8:17-18). Judah was punished by God in 586 BC, using Babylon as his agent. Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Solomon’s temple and the Jews were exiled to Babylon. God ultimately forgave Judah as her sins were not as severe as those of Israel. And the lineage of Judah was necessary to produce the Messiah.
After the Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BC, the Jews in exile were allowed to return to their homeland in Judah. They built a new temple in Jerusalem under Nehemiah which was completed in 515 BC. The Bible speaks of a REMNANT of Jews from Israel that migrated to Jerusalem along with prior residents of Judah (1 Chronicles 9:3). The concept of the remnant becomes significant, as we will see.
The Jews longed for re-unification. Such re-unification, or GATHERING, came about in a spiritual sense with Jesus. Below are the primary passages about The Gathering, followed by my comments.
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him. . . . The wolf shall dwell with the Lamb. . . . In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the REMNANT that remains of his people. . . . He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and GATHER the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:1, 6, 11, 12)
The “second time” of Isaiah 11 above is probably a reference to the return of the Jews from Babylon. The first time God reclaimed his people was from Egypt through the Exodus. The Jews offered sacrifices on behalf of all 12 tribes (Ezra 6:17; 8:35), suggesting a partial gathering or at least symbolic of a future further gathering. The final fulfillment is when “the wolf dwells with the lamb” in the new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-27). So, this final gathering is a spiritual one through Jesus.
“For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a REMNANT of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth.” (Isaiah 10:22-23)
This passage above from Isaiah 10 is referenced by Paul in Romans chapter 9:
“For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel. . . . This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9:6-8) . . . And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel; ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a REMNANT of them will be saved. . . . So too at the present time there is a REMNANT, chosen by grace.” (Romans 9:27; 11:5)
Paul is apparently making an association of the “remnant” of Israel with believing Gentiles being brought into the kingdom along with believing Jews. That is, the Gentile inclusion was fulfilling the GATHERING. This is reinforced by Paul from Hosea:
“And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be GATHERED together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. . . . And I will make for them a covenant. . . . and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are My People,’ and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 1:11; 2:18, 23)
The New Testament applies this promise of Hosea to the New Covenant church (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Galatians 4:21-28). Paul quotes Hosea above, saying
“Even us whom He has called not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles.” As indeed he says in Hosea: Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved I will call beloved.” (Romans 9:24-25)
The true Israel is composed of both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9:24; 1 Peter 2:9-10). The “Israel of God” per Galatians 6:14-16, in context with the rest of Galatians, consists of all those who walk according to the Spirit, by faith in Jesus Christ. So, the GATHERING includes all believers, including Gentiles.
“And now the Lord says he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to Him; and that Israel might be GATHERED to Him. . . . I will make you as a light for the gentiles/nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:5-6)
Back to Isaiah for more evidence that the GATHERING is about the inclusion of Gentiles into the kingdom. Here we see the concept of being GATHERED associated with being SAVED. We know that salvation means being saved from our sins from Romans 11:26-27 where Paul says, “And in this way all Israel will be saved. . . when I take away their sins.” (cf. Luke 1:77)
“Thus says the Lord God: Behold, ‘I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will GATHER them from all around, and bring them to their land. And I will make one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no long two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. . . . My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. . . . I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forever.’” (Ezekiel 37:21, 22, 24, 26)
The New Testament reveals that this shepherd-king (Ezekiel 37:24) is Jesus (Matthew 2:2; John 10:11, 14; Acts 5:31). The everlasting covenant is the Christian Age, which is forever (Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 2:44; 4:3, 34; 7:14, 18, 27; Luke 1:31-33; Ephesians 3:21; etc.) The eternal sanctuary is Jesus (John 2:19-21; Revelation 21:22) built on the foundation of living stones (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 21:14)―no longer a physical temple.
“The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. . . . At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I GATHER you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.” (Zephaniah 3:15, 20)
Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah. These prophets were writing between the fall of Israel in 722 BC and the exile of Judah to Babylon in 586 BC. There is a sense implied here that these things would be fulfilled at the return from exile, but this prophecy finds final fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who satisfied God’s judgment against sin and overcame the enemies of God would accept Jesus through his death on the cross and victory at his Parousia (Luke 10:18; John 12:31; Romans 16:20; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 2:14-15; Revelation 12:9; 20:10). So, here again, “gathering” has the sense of salvation (through Christ).
“He [Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to GATHER into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (John 11:51-52)
This interpretation by John of Caiaphas’ fear of Jesus being believed by all Jews, sheds yet more light on THE GATHERING. In the purposes of God, Caiaphas unknowingly affirmed that Jesus’ death was necessary for the salvation, not only of Jews, but of the elect of the whole world.
“On you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth. . . . O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those that who are sent to it! How often would I have GATHERED your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not. . . . . Not one stone will be left upon another. (Matthew 23:35, 37; 24:2)
The gathering of Matthew 23:37 imparts the sense that Jesus was offering the Jews entrance into his kingdom, thus salvation. But, the Jews refused to accept Jesus as Messiah, and his saving grace. So, they will be judged in AD 70 for their sins and refusal to accept Him. (Matthew 27:25; Ephesian 5:6; etc.)
“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will GATHER his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. . . . Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. . . . When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then He will sit on his glorious throne. Before Him will be GATHERED all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 24:30, 31, 34; 25:31-32)
The Jews refused Jesus’ offer of salvation, so here in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus is tying the gathering to his coming in judgment in AD 70. “Coming on clouds” is Old Testament language about how God came in judgment on nations (example: Isaiah 19). This finalized the Old Covenant order, ushering in the New Covenant to its fullest―and completing his work of salvation (Matthew 24:13; Luke 21:28; Hebrews 9:28; etc.)
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being GATHERED together to Him. . . .” (2 Thessalonians 2:1)
This final passage for our consideration re-affirms what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse. This is not a literal rapture, but rather a spiritual affirmation of Christ’s victory at the Day of Lord judgment in AD 70.
Conclusion: The GATHERING is fulfilled with the New Covenant. Jesus had 12 disciples which represented the spiritual uniting of the 12 tribes of Israel. The remnant of 10 lost tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel is replaced by Gentiles. Believers are gathered together in the eternal kingdom of Christ―the New Covenant.