As we have noted, the subject of the re-gathering of Israel is one that garners a great deal of interest and debate in evangelical circles. Zionists tell us that the re-gathering to the literal land of Israel began in 1948, and that event was in fact the “Super Sign of The End” (Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, Charting the End Times, Harvest House, Eugene, Ore., ). In fact, however, the events of 1948 and following have nothing to do with the fulfillment of prophecy. See my Israel 1948: Countdown to No Where, available here, for a full discussion of this.
In three previous articles we have examined some of the OT prophecies of the re-gathering in light of the New Testament interpretation of those prophecies. What becomes abundantly clear when we allow the New Testament, Spirit inspired writers, to speak, is we soon discover that they understood that those Old Covenant promises were being fulfilled spiritually in Christ. In this installment, we will examine one of my favorite texts, Isaiah 49:6ff
“And now the LORD says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, So that Israel is gathered (sunagagein) to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, And My God shall be My strength), And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. 7 Thus saith the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee. 8 Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages.”
Volumes could be written on this one marvelous prophecy! Take note of some of the salient points, however:
The servant of YHVH would re-gather (sunagagein) Israel. The referent to the tribes of Jacob and the preserved of Israel lets us know that the re-gathering of the 12 tribes is in view here. This is not just the promise to restore / re-gather the ten tribes, or to restore Judah. This is the last days restoration of the twelve tribes under Messiah!
The re-gathering / restoration of Israel, however, would be too small a work for him. Messiah would also shine on the Gentiles manifesting the glory of YHVH to them. (It is truly sad that there are some, teaching what is a truly horrible doctrine, that God made no promise to save or bless non-Israelites. If this is true, however, then the statement “It is too small a thing” for the Redeemer to save Israel becomes a statement that the very thing that God said was too small a task for Messiah was in fact the only thing he was to do! This is patently false– not to mention abominable. Be sure to read my longer article on Isaiah 49 here).
Messiah would make– he would be– God’s covenant for the people (v. 6).
This promised restoration / re-gathering of Israel, and the bringing in of the Gentiles, would be, “In an acceptable time, and in a day of salvation” (v. 8).
Notice that Israel’s restoration and the restoration of the “earth” (Hebrew- eretz), would be when the New Covenant was made for the people. Hebrews tells us that Jesus was, when Hebrews was written, “the surety (egguous, meaning guarantee) of a new covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). Now since Messiah was to make the New Covenant, when Israel was restored / re-gathered, and since Christ was, when Hebrews was written, revealing and guaranteeing the New Covenant, then it follows, inexorably, that the promised re-gathering / restoration was taking place! Let’s take a closer look now at Jesus’ ministry and the promise of Isaiah.
As we have seen, Isaiah foretold that the Servant of YHVH would gather (sunagago) the tribes of Jacob (49:5).
The NT bears witness that Jesus came to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15), and to “gather together (sunagage), the children of God scattered abroad” (John 11:52).
Jesus himself said that he came to gather (episunagagee) Israel (Matthew 23:37). Israel rejected that offer, however. See my extended discussion of episunagogee in my Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory. This is a very important word in the study of eschatology.
As a result of that rejection, the Old Temple, the old gathering place, would be left desolate (Matthew 23:38), and the gospel would then be preached into all the world (Matthew 24:14). At the end of the age– the end of the age represented by the Old Temple– Christ would come:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together (episunagagee) his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Christ was going to gather the elect (the righteous remnant) in spite of the rejection by the many! And, just as Isaiah 40 depicts the gathering at the judgment coming of the Messiah, Jesus posits the gathering at the time of the judgment against the old “sunagagee” (assembly). And he said it would occur in his generation (Matthew 24:34).
Before we delve any deeper into Isaiah 49 and the NT commentary on it, we will take a look at another key OT prophecy of the restoration of Israel– in our next installment. We will then tie Isaiah 49 and this prophecy together.