The Gathering of the Elect

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The “gathering of the elect” is linked to Jesus’ second coming and happened in the first century. We can be sure of this because of what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse in approximately AD 33:

“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other…Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matt. 24:31, 34, italics mine).

Notice how Jesus mentions both the gathering of the elect and his second coming, and then says “all these things” would happen with “this generation.” The Bible defines a generation as approximately forty years (Heb. 3:8–10; Num. 14:30–34; Neh. 9:21), which means it must have happened by about AD 70. Note: Jesus also specifically linked these events to the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:2–3, 34), which historians acknowledge happened in AD 70. (For more about the second coming, see my articles: “What is the Second Coming” and “The Timing of the Second Coming.”)

Approximately twenty years after Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, Paul spoke about these same events: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.”

Same coming. Same gathering. This is obviously the same event. And we know Paul expected it to happen within his generation because he specifically said “our gathering together to him.” Paul did not say “their gathering to him,” as if expecting it to happen in thousands of years; he said “our gathering to him.” This does not mean Paul himself had to remain alive—in fact, Paul was martyred by Nero in AD 64—however, it does mean the events would happen within the lifetime of his audience…just like Jesus said, too, in the Olivet Discourse (see above)!

The gathering of the elect had also been prophesied about numerous times in the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah said in approximately 700 BC:

“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse [this refers to the Messiah],

Who shall stand as a banner to the people;

For the Gentiles shall seek Him…

He will set up a banner for the nations,

And will assemble the outcasts of Israel,

And gather together the dispersed of Judah

From the four corners of the earth” (Isa. 11:10-12, italics mine).

This is an Old Testament prophecy about the gathering together of faithful Jews and Gentiles, from all nations, into one new corporate body called the church; and it was fulfilled in the first century. In fact, Jesus lamented that so many Jews in his day refused to be gathered: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37).

Paul referred to this gathering as “the mystery foretold long ago, that Gentiles would one day become fellow heirs, alongside the Jews, and partakers of God’s promise” (Eph. 3:3-6, paraphrase; see also Isa. 55:5 and 65:1-2). The mystery was not that it would happen, but how God would accomplish it. After all, Gentiles were once “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13).

Although this gathering had begun in part even prior to the second coming, the ultimate fulfillment would not happen until the second coming, as Jesus and Paul both said in the passages above—which would happen within the lifetimes of their audiences!

The Jewish Temple Embodied Division

Here’s a fascinating point related to this division between Jews and Gentiles. The temple that was standing in Jesus’ day—which was destroyed in AD 70—embodied this sort of division. For example, while Gentiles were permitted inside the temple, they could not enter the Jewish-only sections, under penalty of death. There was another section into which only men could go; women were not allowed. There was another section into which only priests could enter; ordinary congregants could not enter. There was even a division between ordinary priests and the High Priest; only the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year. The Old Covenant temple embodied division.

But the New Covenant temple that replaced this (Old Covenant) temple symbolizes unity in Christ. In the New Covenant temple, which is a spiritual temple (1 Pet. 2:5), there are no such divisions: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28; see also 1 Cor. 12:12-14 and Col. 3:11). In the New Covenant temple, the congregants are all priests (1 Pet. 2:5). In fact, Christians can even boldly enter the Holy of Holies (Heb. 10:19), which only the High Priest could do in the Old Covenant temple!

This is the temple Jesus “went away to prepare” at his ascension in AD 33 (John 14:2-3). In AD 60, Peter said this New Covenant temple was still “being built” (1 Pet. 2:5). By AD 65, John expected it soon: “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people’” (Rev. 21:2-3, italics mine). Revelation goes on to say this prophecy “must shortly take place…for the time is at hand” (Rev. 22:6, 10). Note: Revelation was written in approximately AD 65[1], so the AD 70 timing fits perfectly.

The New Covenant temple arrived in its fullness in AD 70, when the Old Covenant temple was destroyed. This is when the Old Covenant divisions officially ended, and when Jews and Gentiles were officially gathered together into one new body, the church.

For more information about the topics discussed above, see my book The End Is Here, available summer 2024.

Alex Polyak, The Bible Fulfilled 11/10/23


[1] For more about the dating of Revelation, see my book The End Is Here, available summer 2024.