This lesson is an invitation to all people everywhere to come unto Christ. This is the spiritual meaning of the “gathering of Israel.”
One very sacred aspect of the Atonement of our Savior is the gathering of Israel. The Atonement can be seen as a great “at-one-ment,” a coming together around the central figure of the Christ. The true meaning of the gathering of Israel is found in 3 Nephi 17, in that marvelous account of the families who gathered at the temple in Bountiful. These dispersed children of Israel surrounded the risen Christ, yearning for His touch. Their children, encircling the Savior, were then encircled by angels and flames of fire.
No greater depiction of the gathering of Israel has ever been written.
What are the purposes of the gathering of Israel ?
In the temples of the Lord the gathering of Israel reaches its ultimate expression. Here the gathering truly takes place on both sides of the veil, as Israel gathers to perform the saving ordinances that seal families in Christ.
The gathering of Israel is the gathering of our families to the Lord. It is the fulfillment of the great invitation to all to come unto Christ, 1 and is therefore our primary work in this world. As Elder Russell M. Nelson has said, “We share an enormous responsibility to be who the Lord wants us to be and to do what He wants us to do. We are part of a great movement—the gathering of scattered Israel.” 2
The gathering of Israel is the Lord’s greatest priority. He yearns to gather us into his arms, to encircle us in His “arms of safety.” 3 Through the Prophet Joseph he calls to each of us:
Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I Am, whose arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins; who will gather his people even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, even as many as will hearken to my voice and humble themselves before me, and call upon me in mighty prayer. 4
This tender image—the hen gathering her chicks—is an important symbol. Under His “healing wings” 5 we find not only protection but also the embrace of a loving Christ. In this one symbol is the Gospel of Christ: redeeming love and eternal security.
In the many dispensations that have come before, the Savior has grieved at the unwillingness of Israel to gather to Him. “O Jerusalem , Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” 6 Because they would not, they were scattered. As Jeremiah prophesied, “Therefore will I scatter them as the stubble that passeth away by the wind of the wilderness.” 7 Their lost, wandering, ignorant condition was symbolized by the desolate image of the wilderness.
In this last dispensation, however, a remnant of Israel will gather willingly under His wings, “even as many as will hearken unto my voice and humble themselves before me, and call upon me in mighty prayer.” How great is our privilege if we are counted among them!
How were the Saints “endowed with power” after the gathering in Ohio ?
In the 1830s, the gathering of Israel began quietly with the tiny assembly called the Church of Christ, and the scattering prophesied by Jeremiah came to an end. “I say unto you, that this church have I established and called forth out of the wilderness. And even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in me, and hearken unto my voice.” 8
The gathering has always been as much physical as spiritual, for a very important purpose. The Lord commanded the Saints to gather in Ohio for one clear reason: “For this cause I gave unto you the commandment that ye should go to the Ohio ; and there I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high.” 9
As Moses attempted to do with former-day Israel, Joseph gathered latter-day Israel so that they might come unto Christ in a very special way, receiving His presence and His “power from on high.” The former-day Israel declined that blessing (see D&C 84:23-24); the latter-day Israel, fortunately, embraced the blessing.
Joseph Smith clarified the reason for the gathering of Israel :
What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world ?..
The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.
It was the design of the councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and laws of the priesthood should be predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. Jesus did everything to gather the people, and they would not be gathered, and He therefore poured out curses upon them. Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.
It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings, etc. 10.
Therefore we learn that the purpose of the physical gathering of Israel today as in any age of the world is to build the temple.
The Kirtland Temple, built by the first gathering of Saints, was the site of a great endowment of power. The Lord Himself appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, introducing prophets of earlier dispensations who bestowed priesthood keys essential to the fulfillment of God’s plan (see D&C 110). Among those prophetic visitors was Moses of old. “Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth.” 11
Those keys were immediately used, as the Lord had commanded: “From thence [Kirtland Temple] whosoever I will shall go forth among all nations, and it shall be told them what they shall do; for I have a great work laid up in store, for Israel shall be saved.” 12 Within a few months, missionaries were on their way to Great Britain, and this was the beginning of gathering Israel from among the nations of the earth.
How does the gathering of Israel continue today?
The great gathering of latter-day Israel began, in a sense, at the Kirtland Temple, and continues today. President Brigham Young gathered more than 150,000 Saints to the western United States. He established more than 400 cities and towns. But he never lost sight of the ultimate purpose of the gathering:
We have been gathered … for the express purpose of purifying ourselves, that we may become polished stones in the temple of God.
We are here for the purpose of establishing the Kingdom of God on the earth. To be prepared for this work it has been necessary to gather us out from the nations and countries of the world [to receive] the ordinances of the holy Priesthood of the Son of God, which are necessary for the perfection of the Saints preparatory to his coming. 13
As President Young taught, the whole purpose of the gathering of Israel is to build the temple; and the whole purpose of the temple is to bring us unto Christ. Elder Russell M. Nelson observes:
The choice to come unto Christ is not a matter of physical location; it is a matter of individual commitment. People can be “brought to the knowledge of the Lord” without leaving their homelands. True, in the early days of the Church, conversion often meant emigration as well.
But now the gathering takes place in each nation. The Lord has decreed the establishment of Zion in each realm where He has given His Saints their birth and nationality. Scripture foretells that the people “shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise” [2 Ne. 9:2].
Every nation is the gathering place for its own people. The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil ; the place of gathering for Nigerian Saints is in Nigeria ; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea ; and so forth. Zion is “the pure in heart.” Zion is wherever righteous Saints are. 14
The more than 120 temples now gracing many nations make those nations “lands of promise” to the people who live there. Ultimately, the promises the Lord made about the “center place of Zion ” will be fulfilled and the Lord will govern Zion from that place (see D&C 53, 57). But on the day the gathering of Israel is completed, the whole earth will be filled with Zion. 15
What responsibilities do we have today in the “gathering of Israel”?
As noted, our primary task is the building up of Zion, which is another way to describe the gathering of Israel. How do we carry out that task? By gathering our families around us in our own homes and teaching the gospel. By gathering with the Saints to partake of the Sacrament. By gathering to perform service to one another. By going into the mission field to participate in the literal gathering of Israel. By gathering at the temple to perform the work of gathering those who are on the other side of the veil.
Ultimately, though, the gathering of Israel happens within the heart. The true spirit of gathering is expressed in the “pure love of Christ” 16 that invites others into the circle of the Saints. “Gathering implies more than just sitting next to someone in the same room. It means smiling, reaching out, belonging, sharing a part of ourselves.” 17
To become like Christ, we do the work He does: gathering within the sphere of our love, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, the many who are still scattered and disillusioned in the wilderness.
1 Moro. 10:32.
2 Russell M. Nelson, “The Gathering of Scattered Israel,” Ensign, November 2006.
3 Alma 34:16.
4 D&C 29:1-2.
5 Malachi 4:2.
6 Matt. 23:37.
7 Jer. 13:24.
8 D&C 33:5-6.
9 D&C 38:32.
10 History of the Church 5:423-424
11 D&C 110:11.
12 D&C 38:33.
13Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , p. 111.
14 Nelson, “Gathering.”
15 D&C 65:2.
16 Moro. 7:47.
17 Janet S. Scharman, “ Chosen to Witness for His Name,” BYU Women’s Conference, 2001. Accessed March 7, 2009. https://ce.byu.edu/cw/womensconference/archive/2001/scharman_jan.html