There are two great world-changing events that show up all throughout the scriptures. The first event was the promise of the scattering of the house of Israel, which was fulfilled as a result of Israel’s rejection of their God. This theme runs all through the Old Testament. It was used as a punishment for Israel, because they no longer wanted their Lord’s protection. But it was also the means to fulfill the oath made to Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The promise was that his descendents would be gathered back into the covenant relationship at some point in the future. The second event was known as the latter-day gathering, or just the gathering of Israel.
Abraham’s covenant was a family covenant. The Lord blessed Abraham and his family because of Abraham’s righteousness. That covenant was promised to bless any of his descendents who would honor the terms of the covenant. When his descendents were scattered among all the nations of the earth, his bloodline also passed on to the inhabitants of many nations.
The Lord has tried over and over again to make covenants with his children, but each time it has ended in rebellion and the killing of His prophets. Apostasy would take its toll and once again the Lord would have to call another prophet and start over again. Even in the meridian of time when the Savior set up His church it was polluted by apostasy. The covenants were either abandoned or changed, and the doctrine was modified beyond recognition in some cases. This is why a complete restoration was required. The original church that Christ established had been broken beyond repair.
All the prophets who prophesied of the scattering or the gathering knew that in the last days of the earth prior to the Savior’s second coming His gospel would be restored once again in its purity. Unlike all other dispensations when the gospel was on the earth, this dispensation would be different in a couple of important ways. All other dispensations centered around the family of Abraham (house of Israel). They didn’t actively do proselyting, so the covenant was pretty much a mystery to those who didn’t know of the ways of Israel. The covenant was confined to whatever location the children of Abraham lived in. So the covenant was restricted to a small piece of geography.
The other difference between dispensations of the past and that of today is that all other dispensations ended in apostasy. This dispensation has been promised to last right up to the day the Savior returns to rule personally on the earth. That is why this is considered to be the last dispensation of time. Once the Savior returns we will not be living in time as we now know it. The earth will return to its paradisiacal state. So past dispensations were always limited in number of years.
There is one additional twist to this dispensation. The Lord scattered the rebellious descendants of Abraham to the four quarters of the earth. There, over the course of thousands of years, they have been passing on the blood of Abraham to their descendents. Now the Lord is setting forth to call those members of Abraham’s family out from among the nations of the earth where they have remained hidden all this time.
The gathering at first
Like most parts of the restoration, the truths sent from heaven came in stages. As the Church was prepared for new truths they came through the prophet. In the beginning there was no center to the Church. The saints were scattered in small congregations, making it difficult to answer doctrinal questions, collect tithes, and disseminate information from the prophet. So the Lord told Joseph Smith to summon all the saints to a gathering place. With most of the Church in one location they had strength of numbers and moral support. They could see the growing numbers of converts as they moved in and became neighbors.
A large body of saints brought with it certain challenges as well as blessings. Now their neighbors could see just how many members of the church had moved into their communities, and this didn’t set well with many of them. Persecution increased, and large groups were mobilized against the Church members. But despite the persecution, the membership continued to grow in numbers. There was emotional and spiritual strength in numbers. In Doctrine and Covenants 29:8 the Savior told Joseph Smith the following:
8 Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked.
Today we no longer gather in one body. The prophets have told us to gather in our local areas. The promise of the verse that gathering will prepare our hearts and help us be prepared in all things against the time when “tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked” still holds true. The only difference is that now we gather in congregations of saints in countries all around the world. Zion has gone from being just one location to being wherever there are congregations of the Lord’s covenant people.
Participate in the gathering
Those the missionaries talk to who hear the gospel message and are converted are brought back into the covenant relationship found only in the family of Abraham. If they are blood descendants of Abraham they are welcomed back into the family. If they are not born from the blood of Israel they are adopted into the family of Abraham. Either way after baptism they are a descendent of Abraham. But what about those who died before the gospel could be preached to them?
When the Lord promised to gather all things into one in the last days, that includes the spirit world as well as the mortal world. In the last days we also assist in the gathering of Israel by doing family history work that results in ordinance work in the temples. As we attend the temple and perform these ordinances we are helping to bring the ordinances of salvation to those who have already passed beyond the veil.
Missionary work for the living and missionary work for the dead is what it is all about. This is the day and time when the Lord is gathering all who will listen. He is restoring his place among his covenant people. We are privileged to be members of the Lord’s church in this day and time. It is our responsibility and our honor to assist God in bringing His gospel to the nations of the earth, both on the earth and beyond the veil.
I recommend this Conference talk given by Russell M. Nelson in the October 2006 General Conference.