GATHERING THE ELECT (2)

PMW 2018-065 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In my last article I introduced a “problem” that arises in some Christians’ minds regarding the first-century fulfillment of the opening section of the Olivet Discourse. One problem that confuses many is Matt. 24:31, which reads:

“And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”

We must note that just three verses later Jesus unequivocally declares: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34). This clearly demands that the statement before us must come to pass in the first century. And as we shall see, so it does!

The last article focused on the typology of the Jewish Jubilee Year, which is embodied in this language. In the current article I will complete the interpretation of Matt. 24:31, showing how it applies to the first century.

It is particularly after the fall of Jerusalem that the new covenant, Christian Church (the new Israel of God) is freed from its bondage to Judaism. This occurs so that she might become a truly universal Church, rather than a racially-focused, geographically-confined people. A major problem plaguing the pre-AD 70 church is its Judaizing tendencies, as is evident in Acts 10, 11, 15, Galatians, and Hebrews. This is a serious threat to the universality and the advance of the Christian message. As J. M. Boice notes in his commentary on Galatians, if this Judaizing tendency continues “Christianity would lose its distinctive character and soon become little more than a minor sect of Judaism.”

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A classic, thorough explanation and defense of postmillennialism (600+ pages). Complete with several chapters answering specific objections.

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Though the mission to the Gentiles actually begins before Jerusalem’s fall, Christ highlights AD 70 as the ultimate spark to the worldwide mission. Indeed, the events of AD 70 finally separate Christianity from Judaism. As Gibbs notes in his Jerusalem and Parousia, this pattern of Israel-judgment-then-Gentile-mission appears in several of Jesus’ parables. To illustrate this let us consider two parables.

The parabolic evidence

In Matthew 21:38–45 the Parable of the Landowner teaches that Israel’s religious leaders who condemn Christ will be brought “to a wretched end” so that the owner of the vineyard can then “rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers” (Matt 21: 40–41). Jesus interprets this to Israel’s religious authorities: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it” (21:43).

In Matthew 22:1–14 the Parable of the Marriage Feast teaches that the gospel was first offered to Israel but that she refused it (22:2–4). Then when Israel mistreats the gospel messengers “the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast’” (22:7–9).

The “heaven” statement

So then, through gospel preaching by faithful messengers (“angels”), God gathers the elect into his kingdom from “the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (Matt 24:31b). In some English versions such as the KJV and NRSV the phrase “from one end of the sky to the other” is translated as “from one end of heaven [Gk.: ouranos] to the other” (e.g., KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV, NRSV). This rendering suggests that the elect are being gathered from heaven itself, so that it would seem to require a miraculous, eschatological, supernatural activity.

But this use of ouranos does not indicate that the action occurs in heaven above. Note two interpretive clues: (1) This language parallels the preceding phrase: “from the four winds” (i.e., the four points of the compass). (2) In Scripture such language often signifies simply “from horizon to horizon” (Deut 30:4; Neh 1:9; cp. Matt 8:11; Luke 13:28–29). In fact, the LXX version of Deuteronomy 30:4 reads: “from the end of heaven to the end of heaven.” Hence, in Matthew 24:31 the phrase “from one end of the sky to the other” means from one direction where we see the sky “touch” the horizon, to the opposite direction where the sky “touches” the other horizon.

So then, here these two world-encompassing phrases speak of evangelistic success spreading throughout the earth. Consequently, this statement picks up on the theme presented in the parables of the landowner and the marriage feast in Matthew 21 and 22 and anticipates the coming “Great Commission” (Matt 28:19). These phrases hold forth the promise of the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, such as Psalm 22:27: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, / And all the families of the nations will worship before Thee.” And Psalm 2:8: “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, / And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession” (See also: Psa 65:5, 8; 66:4; 67:7; 72:8; 86:9; 98:3; Isa 45:22; 66:23; Mic 5:4; Zeph 9:10).


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The “gathering” statement

The “gathering together” is the translation of the Greek episunaxousin which is the future tense of episunago (you will recognize the word “synagogue” is related to this word). This word only appears three times in Matthew. Besides this use in 24:31 it appears two times in 23:37 where Jesus laments:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather [episunagagein] your children together, the way a hen gathers [episunagei] her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

Obviously the second usage regarding gathering chicks is intended to illustrate the first. Here Jesus longs to gather disciples to himself from Jerusalem. This gathering of disciples is the same meaning in 24:31.

The word episunago also appears in Hebrews 10:25, where it urges Jewish converts (hence, “The Epistle to the Hebrews”) not to forsake “assembling together” . . . in the church. That is, he is warning them not to leave Christianity and return to Judaism, especially in that they should “see the day drawing near,” i.e., the day of Israel’s judgment in AD 70. James 2:2 uses the root sunagoge in speaking of a church assembly: “If a man comes into your assembly [sunagoge]. . . .”

Thus, we must realize the significance of the collapse of Jerusalem in AD 70. Not only does it dramatically conclude the old covenant (cp. Heb 8:13; cf. John 4:21–23; Gal 4:21–31). . . . Not only does it judge Israel for rejecting her Messiah (Matt 21:33–45; 22:1–14; 23:37–24:2) . . . . But it effectively removes a major hindrance to the spread of the Christian faith.

We see this particularly in two respects:

First, the Jewish ceremonial laws confuse many early Christians — since the earliest Christians were Jewish. Circumcision is particularly troublesome in that some deem it necessary for salvation (Acts 15:1; Gal 5:1–6; Phil 3:1–3). The growing danger exists that Christianity will be a mere sect of Judaism, as the Roman imperial government originally assumes. With the Temple’s destruction, this tendency will subside as it becomes evident Christianity is now a distinct religion.

Second, the first persecutors of the faith are the Jews (Acts 8:1ff). With the AD 70 demise of the Jews’ strength and the decline in their legal status with Rome, Christianity receives less resistance from them. Jewish persecution of Christians does not cease altogether (Polycarp is a dramatic case in point), but it is greatly hampered.


The Beast of Revelation (246pp); Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (409pp); Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues (211pp).

In the Logos edition, these volumes by Ken Gentry are enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

For more study materials, go to: KennethGentry.com


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3 thoughts on “GATHERING THE ELECT (2)

  1. Victor Daniels August 14, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Great study! As always, I am thankful for your site. Keep up the good work. I look foward to it every week.

  2. Kenneth Gentry August 14, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    Thanks. Be aware that I may have accidentally merged someone else’s comment with yours. I need to slow down and do it right! 😉

  3. Vincent S Artale Jr August 14, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    If we were Calvinist, I’d say it was predestined 😄😄😄

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