The Gathering of the Elect

Finally, the result of Jerusalem's destruction will be Christ's sending forth of his "angels" to gather the elect. Isn't this the Rapture? No. The word angels simply means messengers (cf. James 2:25), regardless of whether their origin is heavenly or earthly; it is the context which determines whether these are heavenly creatures being spoken of. The word often means preachers of the gospel (see Matt. 11:10; Luke 7:24; 9:52; Rev. 1-3). In context, there is every reason to assume that Jesus is speaking of the worldwide evangelism and conversion of the nations which will follow upon the destruction of Israel.

Christ's use of the word gather is significant in this regard. The word, literally, is a verb meaning to synagogue; the meaning is that with the destruction of the Temple and of the Old Cove-

nant system, the Lord sends out His messengers to gather His elect people into His New Synagogue. Jesus is actually quoting from Moses, who had promised: "If your outcasts are at the ends of heaven, from there the Lord your God will synagogue you, and from there he will take you" (Deut. 30:4, Septuagint). Neither text has anything to do with the Rapture; both are concerned with the restoration and establishment of God's House, the organized congregation of His covenant people. This becomes even more pointed when we remember what Jesus had said just before this discourse:

o Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to synagogue your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your House is being left to you desolate! (Matt. 23:37-38).

Because Jerusalem apostatised and refused to be synagogue under Christ, her Temple would be destroyed, and a New Synagogue and Temple would be formed: the Church. The New Temple was created, of course, on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came to indwell the Church. But the fact of the new Temple's existence would only be made obvious when the scaffolding of the old Temple and the old Covenant system was taken away. The Christian congregations immediately began calling themselves "synagogues" (that is the word used in James while calling the Jewish gatherings "synagogues of Satan" (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). Yet they lived in anticipation of the Day of Judgment upon Jerusalem and the old Temple, when the Church would be revealed as the true Temple and Synagogue of God. Because the Old Covenant system was "obsolete" and "ready to disappear" (Heb.8:13), the writer to the Hebrews urged them to have hope, "not forsaking the synagoguing of ourselves together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25; cf. 2 Thess. 2:1-2).

The Old Testament promise that God would "synagogue" His people undergoes one major change in the New Testament. Instead of the simple form of the word, the term used by Jesus has the Greek preposition epi prefixed to it. This is a favorite

New Covenant expression, which intensifies the original word. What Jesus is saying, therefore, is that the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 will reveal Himself as having come with clouds to receive His Kingdom; and it will display His Church before the world as the full, the true, the super-Synagogue.

The plain fact is, as I say, that there is no longer any king or prophet nor Jerusalem nor sacrifice nor vision among them; yet the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God, and the Gentiles, forsaking atheism, are now taking refuge with the God of Abraham through the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Athanasius, On the incarnation [401

THE RISE OF ANTICHRIST

According to Jesus' words in Matthew 24, one of the increasing characteristics of the age preceding the overthrow of Israel was to be apostasy within the Christian Church. This was mentioned earlier, but a more concentrated study at this point will shed much light on a number of related issues in the New Testament - issues which have often been misunderstood.

We generally think of the apostolic period as a time of tremendously explosive evangelism and church growth, a "golden age" when astounding miracles took place every day. This common image is substantially correct, but it is flawed by one glaring omission. We tend to neglect the fact that the early Church was the scene of the most dramatic outbreak of heresy in world history.

The Great Apostasy

The Church began to be infiltrated by heresy fairly early in its development. Acts 15 records the meeting of the first Church Council, which was convened in order to render an authoritative ruling on the issue of justification by faith (some teachers had been advocating the false doctrine that one must keep the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament in order to be justified). The problem did not die down, however; years later, Paul had to deal with it again, in his letter to the churches of Galatia. As Paul told them, this doctrinal aberration was no minor matter, but affected their very salvation: it was a "different gospel," an utter distortion of the truth, and amounted to a repudiation of Jesus Christ Himself. Using some of the most severe terminology of his career, Paul pronounced damnation upon the "false brethren" who taught the heresy (see Gal. 1:6-9;2:5, 11-21; 3:1-3; 5:1-12).

Paul also foresaw that heresy would infect the churches of Asia Minor. Calling together the elders of Ephesus, he exhorted them to "be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock," because "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30). Just as Paul predicted, false doctrine became an issue of enormous proportions in these churches. By the time the Book of Revelation was written, some of them had become almost completely ruined through the progress of heretical teachings and the resulting apostasy (Rev. 2:2,6, 14-16, 20-24; 3:1-4, 15-18).

But the problem of heresy was not limited to any geographi-

or cultural area. It was widespread, and became an increasing subject of apostolic counsel and pastoral oversight as the age progressed. Some heretics taught that the final Resurrection had already taken place (2 Tim. 2:18), while others claimed that resurrection was impossible (1 Cor. 15:12); some taught strange doctrines of asceticism and angel-worship (Col. 2:8, 18-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-3), while others advocated all kinds of immorality and rebellion in the name of "liberty" (2 Pet. 2:1-3, 10-22; Jude 4, 8, 10-13, 16). Again and again the apostles found themselves issuing stern warnings against tolerating false teachers and "false apostles" (Rem. 16:17-18; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15; Phil. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 1:3-7; 2 Tim. 4:2-5), for these had been the cause of massive departures from the faith, and the extent of apostasy was increasing as the era progressed (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 2:16-18;3:1-9,13; 4:10, 14-16). One of the last letters of the New Testament, the Book of Hebrews, was written to an entire Christian community on the very brink of wholesale abandonment of Christianity. The Christian church of the first generation was not only characterized by faith and miracles; it was also characterized by increasing lawlessness, rebellion, and heresy from within the Christian community itself - just as Jesus had foretold in Matthew 24.

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