"And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:3031)
When you read that, to what other passage does your mind jump? Maybe your mind jumps to 1 Thessalonians 4:1617: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Two New Testament passages, both speak of a gathering, it's a natural connection, right? But consider the Old Testament connection:
And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12)
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:1213)
At first you may think it a far reach to go way back into the Old Testament and pick a couple obscure verses and link them to Matthew 24:31. The New Testament passage is a much closer link. But think deeper.
Put yourself into the shoes of the disciples who first heard Jesus' discourse. Where would their minds jump? Since 1 Thessalonians was not yet written, and since the Old Testament was the only Bible they had, the answer is obvious. Now which is your farther reach? Reaching to Scriptures at hand or reaching to Scriptures not yet written? The disciples had to interpret as though the New Testament didn't exist; yet some today interpret as though the Old Testament didn't exist.
Furthermore, of the four gospels, Matthew quotes most frequently from the Old Testament, 40 direct quotes plus about 60 references. So it's most natural to expect a reference to the Old Testament.
Now that you have both Testaments, compare the passages. You'll find that the Old Testament passages have more in common with Matthew 24:31. More words, more phrases, correspond. The obvious phrases are "gather together" (corresponds more closely than "caught up"), "great trumpet" (corresponds more closely than trump of God), and "four winds" or "four corners" (corresponds to nothing in 1 Thessalonians 4).
The Lord put it into my head to read again Matthew and Isaiah and write down the cross references. I thought, "Isn't this overkill?" But He seemed to say, "It's better to have too much detail than not enough detail." Do you want to see the chart? Here it is.
|1:2223||7:14||a virgin shall conceive|
|2:12||60:3||wise men come|
|3:3||40:3||the voice of one crying in the wilderness|
|4:1416||9:13||people walking in darkness have seen a great light|
|5:3435||66:1||heaven is God's throne, earth His footstool|
|8:17||53:4||He hath borne our griefs|
|11:23||14:15||brought down to hell|
|12:1721||42:14||a bruised reed shall He not break|
|13:1415||6:910||people hear but don't understand|
|15:78||29:13||hypocrites draw near with mouth, but heart is far away|
|15:14||9:16||blind leaders and followers both destroyed|
|21:13||56:7||My house called the house of prayer|
|24:29||13:10 and 34:4||sun, moon darkened, stars fall|
|24:31||11:12 and 27:1213||the gathering|
|24:35||65:17 and 66:22||heaven and earth replaced by new heaven and earth|
I learn something new every day. I was surprised, but not too surprised, to see that Matthew's first direct quotation (1:2223) comes from Isaiah. My guess is that the first generation reader bookmarked the Isaiah scroll and was only two clicks away at all times.
But that's not all I learned. I was totally surprised, almost shocked out of my skin, to discover that our Matthew 24:31 passage has Isaiah references immediately before (24:29) and after (24:35) it. We're sandwiched in by Isaiah. So is it a far reach, or is it too much a stretch of the imagination, to conclude that Matthew 24:31 refers to Isaiah?
Would you like to see the other chart? Here it is.
Some may object that 1 Thessalonians 4:15 refers directly to Matthew when Paul writes, "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord..." But read the rest of the verse: "... that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep." Matthew says nothing at all about who will precede who.
Again someone may object that 1 Thessalonians 3:13 refers to Matthew's reference to the gathering by the angels, because it says, "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints." Who are the saints? Are they the angels? The next chapter explains, "them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." (1 Thessalonians 4:14). So they are not angels, but they are those who died in the Lord. This information is not in Matthew.
So let's get back to Isaiah. Reading Matthew in light of Isaiah, we learn more about the gathering. We learn about the who and the where, and it's not into the air.