Before Joseph Smith was killed, he dispatched a Jewish apostle by the name of Orson Hyde to dedicate the land of Palestine for the return of the Jews. This concern for a homeless people and the sending of this apostle was done at a time when the Mormons themselves were virtually homeless, having been dispossessed of their lands and possessions in Missouri.
Orson Hyde left on his assignment in the fall of 1840. He arrived in Palestine in October 1841. On October 24, 1841, he ascended the Mount of Olives all alone, built an altar to the Lord, and offered a dedicatory prayer. Here are some portions of that prayer:
“Thy servant . . . has safely arrived in this place to dedicate and consecrate this land unto Thee, for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants, according to the predictions of the holy Prophets – for the building up of Jerusalem again after it has been trodden down by the Gentiles so long, and for rearing a Temple in honor of Thy name. . . .
“Let the land become abundantly fruitful when possessed by its rightful heirs; let it again flow with plenty to feed the returning prodigals. . . . Incline them to gather in upon this land according to Thy word. Let them come like clouds and like doves to their windows. [This was uttered before the airplane was invented.] . . .” (History of the Church, 4:456-57) — President Ezra Taft Benson, “A Message to Judah from Joseph,” Ensign, December 1976, p. 68
Thus, clearly, the Lord has placed the responsibility for directing the work of gathering in the hands of the leaders of the Church to whom he will reveal his will where and when such gatherings would take place in the future. It would be well – before the frightening events concerning the fulfillment of all God’s promises and predictions are upon us, that the Saints in every land prepare themselves and look forward to the instruction that shall come to them from the First Presidency of this Church as to where they shall be gathered and not be disturbed in their feelings until such instruction is given to them as it is revealed by the Lord to the proper authority. — President Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, April 1948, p. 55
What was the object of gathering . . . 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. . . . 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. — Prophet Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:423-24
In the time of Joseph Smith, the Saints were commanded to gather in the land of Missouri to build the city of Zion (see D&C 57:1-2). The Saints still look forward to the building of Zion in the originally designated spot (see D&C 101:17-18), but today the gathering is taking place in wards and stakes all over the globe. Elder Harold B. Lee explained:
The spirit of gathering has been with the Church from the days of that restoration. Those who are of the blood of Israel have a righteous desire, after they are baptized, to gather together with the body of the Saints at the designated place. The Lord has clearly placed the responsibility for directing the work of gathering in the hands of the leaders of the Church, to whom He will reveal His will where and when such gatherings would take place in the future. It would be well, before the frightening events concerning the fulfillment of all God’s promises and predictions are upon us, that the Saints in every land prepare themselves and look forward to the instruction that shall come to them from the First Presidency of this Church as to where they shall be gathered. They should not be disturbed in their feelings until such instruction is given to them as it is revealed by the Lord to the proper authority. — Elder Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Apr 1948, p. 55; Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2002, pp. 59-63
What has been the purpose of the scattering and the gathering of the House of Israel? What is the significance of sending into the world a chosen race of spirits, called upon earth the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but known to us to have been the children of God before Abraham was born? They were chosen in the heavens, before they came in the flesh, and were sent forth from the presence of God with a mission. We who call ourselves Latter-day Saints are a branch of the house of Israel, gathered out from among the Gentiles; we are a portion of that martyred nation, chosen of God and sent upon earth to suffer and endure for His sake and for the sake of all mankind; to bear the oracles of God, and be His representatives in the midst of the human race. — Elder Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, October 1905, Outdoor Meeting, p. 97