Who are the “elect” gathered by Jesus Christ and his angels, at the end of the tribulation?
Here’s excerpt 14 from my book on the rapture. I’m sorry that this is a pretty long post again, so please scroll down the subtitles if you need to, to at least get the gist of it. I will, as promised, get around to the subject of the Bride of Christ very soon. Today’s post pertains to the Bride.
WHO ARE THE ELECT?
During his Olivet Discourse Jesus Christ said that in his future physical return for all the world to see, he will command angels to gather his “elect” from the “four winds”. This gathering of the elect, whoever they are, is generally recognized to be at the end of the Tribulation:
They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24: 30b-31).
THE PRE-TRIBULATION VIEW
So just who are the “elect” Jesus was speaking of? They’re being gathered at the end of the tribulation, so it’s a significant question, because if it’s the Church, then the rapture cannot be before the tribulation. Teachers who hold to the pre-tribulation rapture are adamant that the elect in this passage cannot be the Church, but instead are an elite band of Jews, chosen and anointed by God to evangelize the world during the Tribulation. Jesus was speaking to Jews at the time, they claim, and believers who were previously rapture-ready have already gone to heaven. So the “elect” Jesus referred to must be Jews, according to the prevailing view in the evangelical world. But does this assertion stand up to close scrutiny?
My Zondervan ESV Study Bible here defines “elect” as “the people of God”, and my “Strongs” Concordance (see chapter 6 note 1 of my book) states that the Greek word translated “elect” most often means “chosen” or “chosen one”. It can also mean “election”; “choice”; “selection” or “chosen”. There is no other qualifying term used by Jesus.
Given these definitions alone, apart from a single individual being specifically chosen for something, the word used in the Olivet Discourse could possibly be referring to a specific group of believers such as a remnant of Jews, but it could also be speaking of believers in general, since all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are “chosen”. So we aren’t any clearer on the matter than we were, except to say that the assertion that the “elect” spoken of in the Olivet Discourse is a Jewish remnant only, is an assumption at best. Perhaps we can gain some insight by looking at other uses of the word in the New Testament.
Paul certainly used the word “elect” to refer to a remnant of Jews, in Romans 11 verses 6 and 7. Does this confirm the pre-tribulation view? No, because there’s no indication in Romans chapter 11 that only Jews can be the “elect” or the benefactors of election: God can and does “choose” from all people groups and nations. Not only that, but the same Greek word translated “elect” is used to describe Gentile believers.
THE APOSTLE TO THE GENTILES
Paul wrote to Timothy:
I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10).
Who was Paul referring to? Who was he calling the elect? If we read the context of the letter we see no direct reference to Jewish believers or a remnant of Jews. And who was Paul “enduring” for? Was it just for Jews? Paul himself gives us the answer in another letter:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles… “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:1 and 8).
When Paul wrote to Timothy that he endured everything for the sake of the elect, he was in a Roman prison, and suffering, as he said himself, “for the sake of you Gentiles”. And we know, from the book of Acts, that Paul not only suffered as a result of how the Jews persecuted him, but how the unbelieving Gentiles treated him. In fact, when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive:
“He shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (Acts 18:5-6).
In the book of Romans Paul was addressing Gentiles in the same passage which we noted above, when speaking about a remnant of Jews:
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry (Romans 11:13).
Paul’s “enduring” message was echoed in his letter to the Colossians. This statement clarifies for us who he was enduring for:
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
PAUL-SUFFERING FOR THE ELECT
Paul is speaking of suffering for the Church. So when Paul told Timothy that he endured everything for the sake of the elect, it seem pretty clear that he was speaking of the Church, and not simply a Jewish remnant. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. While he must have suffered for the sake of Jewish believers also, he stated plainly that he was suffering for the Church. It’s clear then that when he said he was “enduring” for the sake of the elect (2 Timothy 2:10) he saw the entire Church-Gentiles and Jews and not just a Jewish remnant, as the elect. The Church was and is the body of people who would become heirs of salvation through Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. They were and are the elect.
THE CHOSEN ARE THE ELECT
Further, the Greek word translated “elect” is at times translated “chosen” by some Bible versions. For example, in Romans chapter 8, the passage frequently used by Gentile Christians as encouragement that nothing can separate us from the love of God, the NIV tells us that Paul asks:
“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33 NIV).
Most translations, such as the KJV, use the word “elect” in place of “chosen” in this verse. In this case, Paul’s encouragement which we regularly and rightly apply to ourselves, is directed to the elect. Therefore we Gentiles, along with Jewish believers; we members of Christ’s body, the Church, are the elect:
“Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (KJV).
It would be a tough job indeed to convince a majority of Christian ministers and Bible teachers that Romans chapter 8 is only addressing a remnant of Jews and not Gentile saints. Therefore, Paul is calling the Church “God’s elect”.
To the Colossians, indisputably a predominantly Gentile church (1:27; 2:13) Paul wrote the following:
“Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts…” (Colossians 3:12 ESV).
The Greek word Paul used here, translated “chosen” is the same as that translated “elect” in the Matthew 24 passage. It would be a mistake to miss the fact that the very same Greek word Jesus used to describe the angels gathering the elect from the four corners of the earth (Matthew 24:31) is used by Paul in the verse we looked at from Romans chapter 8. It’s also the same word used to describe the remnant in Romans 9:11 and 11:28, because the Jewish remnant is a part of that elect.
PETER AND THE ELECT
Peter’s first letter begins by addressing “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia Cappadocia…” and so on. It would be easy to assume that Peter, a Jew, was addressing Jews in this letter, because Jews were scattered throughout the known world even then. But there are several clues to the contrary. For example, Peter wrote:
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God (1 Peter 2:10 NIV).
The sacrifice of Jesus opened wide the door of inclusion of Gentiles into God’s kingdom. The people of God were scattered throughout the known world. Not only had these believers as Gentiles become people of God, but they had been “chosen”. Peter used the same Greek word to say this as the word Jesus used, translated “elect” in the Olivet Discourse:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious… (1 Peter 2:4 ESV);
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession (1 Peter 2:9).
There is unity of application of this word. The elect includes not only a remnant of Jews, but all benefactors of God’s salvation, including Gentile Christians.
In conclusion, the assertion that Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 24 was speaking of Jews only when he referred to the gathering of the elect at the end of the Tribulation is unfounded. It’s an assumption built on other assumptions, including the conviction that the Church will be taken to heaven even before the Tribulation begins, and that the prophecies of Matthew chapter 24 are for Jews only. This is circular reasoning. Instead, Jesus can be just as confidently said to be speaking of the entirety of the elect: both Jewish and Gentile believers, the Church.
Certainly, many of the prophecies are direct warnings to Jews, particularly in relation to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But we must ask if the tribulation is going to affect Jews only. Is it not going to affect the entire world? Yes, it is, in which case, the verse about the angels gathering God’s elect from the four winds-literally from all over the world-can certainly apply to people other than Jews only.
People will come to salvation during the Tribulation (Revelation 14:6) and they will “hold to the testimony of Jesus”. The fullness of the Gentiles will not be completely grafted into the kingdom until Jesus appears to deliver Jerusalem (see part 13). So how can we arbitrarily put an end to the Church age before that?
Thanks for reading this long post. It’s an excerpt from my book “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon. This post is actually an up-to-date edit. You’re getting a “second edition”, free, on this blog, and in time the entire book will be published here. Follow my blog to get notifications, or get the book to read the whole thing at once.