Some years ago vast crowds gathered together from every part of Canada to honour a Princess. It was the Princess, widely loved in the dominions, that attracted the people––they were gathered together to her. She was the attraction. Most of the people had known her from the time she was a little child, and had watched her grow up. So when Canada was honoured by a visit from her, many were gathered together to her. We read of similar gatherings almost every day. People gather together to help some cause they love and admire. They gather together to a cause, to a doctrine, to a purpose. Yet how different a gathering where people are gathered together to a living person in their midst whom they love!
The Greek for gathering together unto is episunagoge, the second and third parts of which, if put together, make a well–known Bible word: synagogue. As you may guess, this means a gathering together, and in this way it is often used in the Septuagint. By NT times it had generally come to mean the actual place in which the gathering took place, and even today Jews gather together in synagogues to hear the law read and to pray. However, while this is a gathering together it is not a gathering together to a person. All over the world we hear of religious meetings of one kind or another which for the most part are gatherings together––but they are not gatherings together to one they love. As Christians, it is the living Person we love and to whom we gather that makes all the difference.
This word episunagoge, a gathering together unto, is used only twice as a noun in the Greek NT, but the verb occurs six times. We find it first in Matthew 23: 37 in which verse it occurs twice: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [the city] that kills the prophets and stones those that are sent unto her, how often would I have gathered thy children as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Its usage here beautifully illustrates its meaning. We have all heard the mother hen giving that special little cluck that calls the little chicks––but where is she calling them? She calls them to herself. That is just the thought in this lovely word. Look up the other places where we find it as a verb: Matt. 24: 31; Mark 1: 33; 13: 27; Luke 12: 1; 13: 34. If you examine these Scriptures I think you will find that all of them refer to gathering together unto the Lord. Christ and Christ alone must be the object and centre of our gathering. May the Lord help us to bear this in mind when we come together to remember Him as the One who has been into death. It is not only a gathering together (the synagogue was that) but a gathering together unto the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Many today gather together unto a doctrine such as baptism. Others gather together unto a great leader such as Luther or Wesley. Others to a form of worship or church government. Such gatherings have no right to claim they are gathered together unto Christ and Christ alone.
Let us now look at the two Scriptures (and the only two) where we find episunagoge as a noun. The first is in 2 Thess. 2: 1: “Now we beg you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, nor troubled”. Here the word tells us of that great gathering in the air, described in 1 Thess. 4: 13–18 and in 1 Cor. 15: 51–57, when all the true believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, whether living or dead, shall be caught up to meet their Lord in the air. What a gathering together that will be––and all unto Him! Not one saint, from the thief on the Cross to the last one brought to the Saviour before He comes again, will be missing. All will be gathered together to their Lord, and He will be the centre, the only centre, of that vast throng. The archangel will be there, and will utter his voice, but he is not the centre or object, the one to whom that vast throng is gathered. No, it is “to him”, the Lord Himself, the Lord alone. He is the centre of all. “The Lord himself, with an assembling shout ... shall descend from heaven” (1 Thess. 4: 16). Who would be willing to miss that meeting in the air, with the Lord Himself in the midst? Who then at that moment will want any other centre, any other object than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? So why have any other centre, any other object, now? Searching question!
The only other place where we find episunagoge is in Hebrews 10: 25: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom [is] with some”. This tells us of our gathering together to the Lord down here on earth, in the present day––just as the other occasion on which this word was used told us of that mighty gathering together to Him in that coming day in the air. How amazingly sweet that the Spirit of God should choose exactly the same word for both of these gatherings! Thus the Lord tells us that this gathering together “unto my name” on earth (Matt. 18: 20 uses almost the same words as Heb. 10: 25) is in His sight the same as that wonderful gathering together in the air. In both these gatherings He promises to be there. In the one “the Lord himself, with an assembling shout ... shall descend from heaven” and in the other “there am I in the midst of them”. It is the presence of the living Lord we love that makes all the difference––the one down here, the other in the air––but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself present in each case. His presence makes these meetings different to all other meetings that can be arranged by men.
Today it is very likely that the gathering to His name is held down some back street––or in a private house as in NT days. It may be that there are only two or three there present––but do not scorn it, for in the sight of God it is just as truly a gathering together to the Lord Jesus as that glorious meeting in the air! Is it not amazing that the Holy Spirit chooses exactly the same word for each of these gatherings? It tells us that the Lord Himself is just as truly present in some bare upper room with the despised handful, as He is visibly present in that glorious gathering to which we all look forward with hope and joy.
Just one word more. The Holy Spirit adds this admonition: “and by so much the more as ye see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10: 25). Beloved, do we not see the day approaching? Never was the day so near as in our day! May you and I love that blessed place where the Lord Jesus is in the midst and love and treasure it the more as we see the day approaching. May other gatherings together lose their attraction as we find an irresistible attraction in that gathering together unto Him!