Israel Regathered For The Coming Of Her King
The disciples had asked our Lord for the sign of His coming and of the end of the age. Already we have seen what He designated as the sign of the end of the age: a world war attended by famines, pestilences and great earthquakes in diverse places (Matt. 24:7,8). In vs. 30, however, He referred to some specific sign which will indicate His immediate return. It is some phenomenon which occurs in the heavens and which can be seen by the inhabitants of the earth. As to what this is, no one can possibly tell, because there is no hint as to its nature. All one can say is that it will be some unusual phenomenon in the skies which will be of such a nature as to indicate to the great masses of the people that it heralds His personal return to earth. There is always congruity between the symbol or sign and the thing signified. We may therefore conclude that it will be a symbol appropriate to indicate its import and that this sign will not become visible until the Tribulation Period has ended.
We are told in Matt. 24:30 that all the tribes of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. This event is, of course, after the Great Tribulation and must not be confused with the coming of the Lord for His saints, which we will begin to discuss in the next chapter.
On the last night of our Lord's ministry prior to His arrest, He told the apostles that it was necessary for Him to go away and to prepare a place for them (John 14:1-6). This being true, He assured them He would come again and receive them unto Himself so they could be where He is.
According to Acts 1:6-11, Jesus led the apostles out to the Mount of Olives and from there ascended into Heaven. In a final conversation the apostles asked Him if He at that time would restore the kingdom of Israel. He replied that it was not for them to know the times and seasons which the Father had placed in His own authority. What is meant by this reply? What is the significance of the expression, "times and seasons"? These words can mean nothing in this context except the times and the seasons for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
Jesus' reply to this question is equivalent to an affirmation by Him that at some time He will restore the kingdom to Israel but that it was not for them to know the date. Instead of focusing all of their attention upon that glorious event, they were to concern themselves with giving forth a clear, ringing testimony to the Gospel message. Of course, they were to await the coming of the Holy Spirit who would endue them with power and enable them to deliver the message infallibly to the people. The program of world evangelization is thus set forth in verse 8.
We are told in a very brief manner that the Lord was taken up to glory from the apostles (vss. 9,10). As He ascended, a cloud received Him out of their sight. While they were standing gazing into Heaven two angels appeared at their sides and said: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven" (vs. 11). This promise assures us that the Lord, at His second coming, will return with the clouds of Heaven to this earth. When this promise is studied in the light of other predictions, we see that it refers to the visible coming of our Lord at the conclusion of the Tribulation Period.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the same visible, mighty coming of the Lord Jesus:
... It is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and [to give] to you that are afflicted rest [relief] with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day (2 Thess. 1:6-10).
This quotation from Paul is an echo of that made by the Prophet Isaiah:
For, behold, Jehovah will come with fire, and his chariots shall be like the whirlwind; to render his anger with fierceness, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will Jehovah execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh; and the slain of Jehovah shall be many. They that sanctify themselves and purify themselves to go unto the gardens, behind one in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, they shall come to an end together, saith Jehovah (Isa. 66:15-17).
When we examine Isa. 66 we see that he was speaking of conditions and events which occur at the end of the Tribulation Period. This coming described in the quotation above is the visible return of the Lord in vengeance to rid the world of all the wicked and to regather Israel, as is seen in the paragraph which follows (vss. 18-21). Then in vss. 22-24 we get a very brief glimpse of the great Millennial kingdom.
In Rev. 1:7 we find a wonderful reference to the coming of the Lord in glory:
"Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen." Many other passages could be given, but these show what the Lord had in mind in the quotation under consideration.
The Regathering of Israel
And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24:31)
This passage must be viewed from the proper perspective--that is, from the Old Testament point of view. In fact, it is a condensed statement of Isa. 66:15-21, abridged by our Lord.
There is some discussion as to the significance of "elect" in this passage. This word, when used by the apostles after the Church was established, refers to the Christians or the Church of Jesus Christ. But when our Lord uttered His prediction, what was its significance? Since it was used in Jewish theology at the time to refer to the Chosen People, we must accept this connotation as its significance unless there is positive evidence to the contrary. We will seek in vain for such testimony; therefore the probability is that here, as in the literature of the day, it refers to the Jewish people. Hence the regathering mentioned in vs. 31 is but the restoration of Israel foretold by the prophets and the establishment of the kingdom to Israel which increases until it encircles the globe.
That the throne of David will be established, that the Messiah will be seated upon it and that His government will increase until it includes all nations, is evident from Isa. 9:6,7: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder" (vs. 6a). Note especially the words of vs. 7: "Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever." This teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ who is called "Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" in vs. 6 will reestablish the throne of David and will take the government of Judah into His own hands. Then it will increase until it encircles the globe. Since, however, this subject will be taken up under the examination of Matt. 25:31-46, we will skip over it at this time.
Isaiah 11: The only point to be considered in this connection is the regathering of Israel. By all scholars who believe the Bible to be the Word of God, Isa. 11 is recognized as a pure Messianic oracle. In vss. 6-10 the prophet describes the glorious conditions which will exist when Messiah is reigning upon the throne of David. Verses 11, 12 foretell the regathering of the outcasts of Israel at that time of which he is speaking:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, that shall remain, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (11,12)
Note here the statement "that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people." The mention of a second restoration implies a first. What of these two restorations? when do they occur?
According to Biblical history, the first took place when the Lord permitted those Jews in captivity who longed for their homeland to return under Zerubbabel after the seventy years of Babylonian exile.
Some have tried to see in this passage a reference to Israel coming out of the land of Egypt. Miraculous as it was, that could not be called a "restoration." One cannot be restored to a place he has never occupied. When Israel left Egypt for Canaan she had never been a nation there, only a family under father Jacob: hence in no sense could the deliverance from Egypt be called a restoration. The only thing that could possibly be called the first return was that which occurred under Zerubbabel after the Babylonian captivity.
The second regathering of Israel here foretold is spoken of in connection with our Lord's judgment of the world and the purging of the wicked. This prophecy is yet to be fulfilled. When it is, the Lord will gather His people from the four corners of the earth.
The restoration under Governor Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest was typical of the final regathering of all Israel in the end time. Because of the typical relationship which the restoration under Zerubbabel holds to the final one, the description of the two blends in such passages as Jer. 29:10-14.
One must read these verses carefully to see where the one ends and the other begins. It is like a picture thrown upon the screen which, as the audience gazes upon it, begins to fade. At the same time the dim outlines of another picture begin to appear and by the time the first has disappeared the second is in full view. Such perfectly illustrates the verses mentioned here.
Jeremiah 23:5-8 gives a vivid picture of King Messiah's reign over the houses of Judah and Israel and of the final glorious restoration of the nation to its own land:
Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that they shall no more say, As Jehovah liveth, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, As Jehovah liveth, who brought up and who led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I had driven them. And they shall dwell in their own land.
This prediction of Israel's return to the homeland has never been fulfilled. Since God will redeem every promise, we may be certain that He will make this one good. Under Zerubbabel approximately fifty thousand of the Jews who had a longing for the native land returned. There were no miraculous interventions and supernatural wonders performed that did eclipse in glory the divine interposition performed at the time of the Exodus; hence we may be certain that the restoration under Zerubbabel was not the one Jeremiah foretold. The exodus from Egypt will pale off into insignificance in comparison to this final regathering. There are many prophecies of this glorious event, but these suffice to show its literalness.