The Gathering of the Elect (Mark 13:27)

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The Gathering of the Elect
Sunday, April 28th, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA

Mark 13:24-31

24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, 25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. 26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. 28 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: 29 So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. 30 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. 31 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

Prayer

Father, we thank you for these words of Christ, which are reliable, which are trustworthy, and which are supremely authoritative. Please order our lives in accord with Your Word, for we ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

When you first professed faith in Jesus Christ, and when you were baptized into the Triune Name, what changes took place inside of you? What changes took place outside of you, in your relationships, your “network,” the people and places you frequented?

  • At conversion, many changes take place, some are visible, some are invisible, some are inside of you, some are outside of you, some are immediately noticeable, and some changes you only notice after many years. The Bible speaks of many diverse effects of God’s love and His saving power amongst His people. And while every person may experience God’s grace a little differently, there is one common effect and change that is true for ALL of God’s elect. And that is a new presence of faith, hope, and love for God that did not exist before.
    • At conversion, God infuses into our nature, He breathes into our soul, three supernatural virtues: faith, hope, and love. And it is through our use of these virtues that many other spiritual benefits are realized.
  • Paul says in Ephesians 2:1-3, that before conversion we were, “dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”
    • So prior to your conversion, you were enslaved to the world, the flesh, and the devil. But then Jesus Christ came and as it says in 1 John 3:8, “For this purpose the Son of God was made manifest, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Or as we sing in that great hymn, I Know That My Redeemer Lives, “He lives to crush the fiends of hell, glory hallelujah!”
    • And so Jesus Christ came to conquer, and he conquered by dying and rising so that you also could die and rise again with Him. But salvation does not stop there, Jesus Christ also ascended into heaven (Acts 1), he was enthroned and now reigns supreme. And why? So that you also might ascend to heaven, and sit down and reign with him.
    • This is exactly what Ephesians 2 goes on to say, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
  • Now have you ever wondered, “How exactly can that be true of me?” In what sense has God made us to sit together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus when our bodies are clearly still down here on earth?
  • Or, in what sense can Paul say to the Hebrews in Hebrews 12:22-23, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
  • In what sense is it true what Joe Stout likes to say that “on Sundays we go to heaven?”
    • The answer is found in that phrase of Ephesians 2:5, “He made us alive together with Christ.” What was made alive? It’s not referring your body, it’s referring your soul (the thing that was dead in trespasses and sins and separated from God). And what did God do to your soul to resurrect it? He breathed into your soul three supernatural gifts of faith, hope, and love. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
    • So it is by faith, hope, and love that we are able to ascend to heaven, and sit with Christ in heavenly places, and boldly approach the throne of grace and find mercy.
    • Is through these three activities of the soul that our spirit really ascends to heaven and sits and reigns with Christ. This is why Paul says in Colossians 3, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. [And how do you do that? He goes on and says…] Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
    • This is what it means to be a spiritual man (a new creation) and no longer carnal or worldly. It is when your heart, your soul, your mind, and you spirit has God as its supreme object of faith, hope, and love.
      • This is also how the promise of Jesus is true for you when he says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He is with your spiritually.
      • Or his promise in John 14:23, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” The infinite and omnipotent Triune God really comes and makes His home inside of you, when you love Him with all your being. This is something only a spiritual person can understand.
        • For as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14-13, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned…[but we receive that] “which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”
    • And so it is of the nature of faith, hope, and love to unite us to the object of our faith, hope, and love. And therefore, if Christ is in heaven, ruling and reigning, and Christ is the object of your trust, and the object of your hope, and the one you most adore, then truly it is said of you, that you are seated with Christ in heavenly places.
    • At present we are only there spiritually (by faith), and in hope we are there bodily (we look to that day of resurrection). And one day our faith and hope shall give way to the sight of our true love, and when we see Him, we shall be made like Him (1 John 3:2).
  • Now why all of this rant about faith, hope, and love, when we are in the middle of Mark 13? The reason is because our passage this morning is Jesus describing the real historical gathering of the saints to sit down and reign with Him in heaven. And it is this cosmic transfer of power from the principalities and beasts of the old world to “the Son of Man” (Christ and His people), that should increase our present faith, hope, and love towards God.
  • If you believe what Revelation 1:6 says that Christ “hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father,” and if you believe what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And if you believe that we are seated with Christ even now in heavenly places, then that would change some things.
    • It would change your prayer life, your thought life, your priorities, your worries, your hopes and fears and emotional states. Because Christ is risen, and you have died to this world. And Christ has ascended, and he lives reigns to give you life forever. Truly in Jesus the best is yet to come, and every day that passes is one day closer to the fulfillment of our hope, the wiping away of every tear, the undoing of death, the resurrection of all things and the bliss of heaven.
  • When the church believes this in faith, and longs for it in hope, and loves the God who promised it, she is made to ride upon the heavens with Christ. She is made ready to wield the scepter of her Lord. Which as Christ promises in Revelation 2:26-27, “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.”
    • The Church Triumphant is presently ruling this world with the Lord Jesus. And we the Church Militant are in union with them and with Him and together we are the Son of Man. And it is this identify that the church must recover if we would see real reformation and real revival in our day.
  • And so that is the practical application and implication of our passage this morning. With that up front, let us now turn to a very brief exposition of verse 27.
  • Let me read for us again the surrounding context starting in verse 24.

24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, 25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. 26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

Review of Verses 24-26

Last Sunday we covered verses 24-26, which we said describes a change in the celestial/spiritual powers of heaven.

  • We saw that the darkening of sun, moon, and stars, is a reference to the removal of the entire spiritual-political government of the old creation.
    • This includes the fall and binding of various demonic powers, like Satan and the ones who were influencing the beast empire of Rome and the harlot Jerusalem.
    • This includes the fall of many human rulers such as the high priesthood and priests in Jerusalem, and the emperor Nero who died in 68 AD.
    • This includes (perhaps most of all) the end of the whole sacrificial system at the temple, which was a way of keeping heavenly time on earth with its daily sacrifices, weekly sabbaths, new moons, and festival seasons.
    • The entire sun, moon, and stars of the old covenant and old creation were coming to end in the 1st century. And Jesus says that it is going to be replaced just like Daniel 7 foretold, with the coming of the Son of Man to inherit the kingdom.
  • What is the coming of the Son of Man?
    • It is not the bodily return of Christ at the end of history, it is the enthronement of the saints in Christ who then receive the kingdom.
    • So the Son of Man is not Jesus all by himself, it is Jesus together with his spiritual body, the church, the saints, who are in union with him. And we know this because when the vision of Daniel 7 is explained, the “one like the Son of Man” is identified three times as the saints. And so Jesus is THE Son of Man par excellence, and the saints are the one LIKE the Son of Man. And together they receive the kingdom and everlasting dominion.
  • We might also remind ourselves here of the timing for when the Son of Man is said to come.
    • In Daniel 7, the Son of Man comes to bring an end to the fourfold kingdom that began with Nebuchadnezzarand was then consumed by Persia, then Greece, then Rome. So God’s kingdom was promised to come in the days of what we call the Roman Empire, and what the Bible calls the “oikumene.”
    • Jesus gives an even more definitive timestamp in Mark 9:1 and Matthew 16:27-28, when he says, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
      • Notice that Jesus speaks of a coming in glory with his angels to judge mankind and that he promises that some of his disciples standing there will live to see that happen.
      • Who lived to see it? Well, the Apostle John was given a vision of it, which we call the book of Revelation, and church tradition holds that he lived beyond 70 AD when the Son of Man indeed came.
  • So that’s verses 24-26, and then here in verse 27 we read…

Verse 27

27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

Q. What is this gathering of the elect?

  • In the history of the church, there have been basically four different interpretations of this verse, and so before I explain which interpretation I think is best, let me set before you all the different options.

Option #1 – This gathering of the elect refers to the resurrection at the end of history.

  • The problem with this view is that the timing is clearly 1st century, not the final judgment.
    • Jesus says this will take place at the same time as the coming of the Son of Man and this cosmic transfer of power, and Jesus says in verse 30, “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.”
    • So we need to at least reject the timing portion of this first interpretive option.

Option #2 – This gathering of the elect refers to evangelistic efforts throughout the church age.

  • Under this interpretation, angels is sometimes translated more broadly as messengers and can refer to either human missionaries or spiritual/angelic messengers who help those missionaries.
  • This is a possible interpretation, but there are a few reasons why I am not persuaded of this view.
    • First of all, you have the timing problem again. When Jesus gives the parable of the fig tree, he says in Matthew’s parallel account, “when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (Matt. 24:33). And then Luke’s version states explicitly what is near, he says, “when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”
      • So if this gathering of the elect refers to the spread of the gospel by missionaries after the great tribulation,it is hard to see how that ongoing work, which continues even to this day, could be a sign to them in the 1st century that God’s kingdom is near.
    • A second reason I am not persuaded of this view is that in Matthew’s version of this same verse he says, “And he shall send 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).
      • Notice first that the location from which the elect are gathered is all spoken of here in strictly heavenly terms. They are taken “from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
        • Mark includes “to the uttermost part of the earth,” but in both passages the elect seem to be partially, if not exclusively, those who are already in heaven. This makes the evangelistic option of people on earth less likely since it includes at least some elect who are in heaven.
      • Secondly, Matthew also adds that this gathering is accompanied by the sound of a trumpet. When trumpets are sounded in Scripture, it most frequently refers to a specific day or moment of judgment and/or resurrection.
        • This again does not really fit if this gathering of the elect is ongoing missionary work throughout the entire church age.

Option #3 – This gathering of the elect refers the 1st century church on earth being reconstituted after the scattering of the great tribulation.

  • One of the strengths of this position it that it fits well with the promise of Deuteronomy 30:4 which says, “If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you.”
  • And then in Zechariah 2:6, it says, “Up, up! Flee from the land of the north,” says the Lord; “for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven.”
  • So in the Old Testament, when tribulation and persecution arises, God’s people are sent to the four winds to both escape judgment and also to be evangelists in those regions where they are exiled to.
    • This is actually what happens in the book of Acts right after Stephen’s martyrdom. It says in Acts 8:1, “Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
    • So remember Jesus’ words just before his ascension in Acts 1:8, “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
      • And how was that fulfilled? Well as the book of Acts goes on to record, the gospel goes forth often unintentionally (from a human perspective) because of persecution and being scattered to the four winds.
  • And so this interpretive Option #3 is saying that after the early church was scattered to the four winds, and after many of them died in the great tribulation, God is going to regather those remaining so that the gospel can continue once all these judgments and wrath on Rome and Jerusalem have been poured out.
  • Now I think this interpretation is possible, but it does seem to overlook two elements in Matthew’s parallel regarding the trumpet and the emphasis on the elect being gathered in heaven. And so let me give you Option #4 which I think is the best explanation.

Option #4 – The gathering of the elect refers to the first resurrection, which is described in Revelation 11 and Revelation 20.

  • Now this may sound strange to some of you at first, but Revelation 11 and Revelation 20 both describe a literal bodily resurrection and ascension of the saints that takes place in 70 AD.
    • Recall that in Matthew’s version this gathering of the elect is accompanied with the sound of a trumpet, and it just so happens that in Revelation 11, during the sounding of the sixth trumpet and just before the sound of the seventh trumpet blast, there are two witnesses who are martyred in Jerusalem, their dead bodies lie in the street but then it says, “And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them” (Rev. 11:11-12).
    • And then a few verses later it says in Revelation 11:15, “And the seventh angel sounded (lit. trumpeted); and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
    • Notice this is the same language as Daniel 7 which speaks of the Son of Man receiving the kingdom.
    • So just as Christ died, rose, and ascended to heaven in 30 AD, so also the saints will die (many of them as martyrs in the great tribulation), but then rise, and ascend to heaven in 70 AD to possess the kingdom.
    • If that sounds fanciful to you, consider Revelation 20 which states this even more explicitly.
  • It says in Revelation 20:4-6, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
    • Notice that those who participate in the first resurrection are those who have already died and their souls are in heaven. Part of the drama of Revelation is that the saints are waiting to be vindicated and enthroned even as Christ is enthroned.
    • We read earlier in Revelation 6:9-10 it says, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
    • So by the time we get to Revelation 20, those remaining servants of Christ have been killed (as Revelation 11 gives us a snapshot of), and they are resurrected to reign with Christ for the whole millennium/church age (1,000 years).
  • This interpretation fits together all the pieces and timing aspects that the previous 3 interpretations do not.
    • We agree with Option #1 that this ingathering of the elect is referring to a bodily resurrection and ascension of the saints. However, it is not the final resurrection in view, it is the first resurrection as Revelation 20 describes.
    • We see also that angels are involved as Revelation describes in sounding the trumpets, carrying out God’s judgments, and gathering the elect (see Rev. 14).
    • We see also that the souls of the saints are gathered from heaven even as their dead bodies on earth are resurrected and gathered from the uttermost parts of earth.Wherever their dead bodies were, God could resurrect them and cause them to ascend into heaven.
    • Finally, we see also that the first resurrection fits all of the texts that locate the timing of this ingathering as being simultaneous with the coming of the Son of Man, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the beginning of the church age (the millennium).

Conclusion

Now regardless of which interpretation you find most persuasive, one thing that everyone agrees on is that the place of regathering is no longer the temple in Jerusalem as it was in the Old Testament.

  • In times past, when God scattered his people to the four winds, he eventually gathered them back to a central physical location, which was the temple in Jerusalem.
  • But as Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
  • When God destroyed the temple in 70 AD, and gave the kingdom over to the saints, He was testifying for the rest of history, that the central place of worship, and the central place the elect are gathered to, is around Jesus Christ who is enthroned in heaven. And therefore as I read earlier from Hebrews 12, when we lift our hearts to God through faith, hope and love, we truly come to “Mount Zion, unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”
  • This is what God is gathering us for every Lord’s Day, to sit down with him in heavenly places. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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