Difficult Passages

Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37 – "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together"

March 19, 2022

In Matthew 24 and its parallel passage Luke 17, Christ tells his disciples some of the greatest details of his return and the signs of his coming. The entire chapters have been subject to an endless variety of interpretations, but the parallel verses of Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37 are perhaps the most puzzling. What do these verses mean? A Scriptural answer has finally been discovered! The verses read essentially the same, but since the placement of the verse is most difficult in Luke 17, we will start with it:

Luke 17:34-37“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they (Christ’s disciples) answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.”

The disciples were asking Christ where the saints would be “taken” once gathered by the angelic host. His answer has perplexed students of the Word for so long that neither we nor any of our elder brethren have heard an explanation that can stand up to all scrutiny. There are many questions that have proven difficult to answer. What does Christ mean by the eagles? What is this “body” (called a “carcase” in Matthew 24:28) that the eagles gather to? Is this referring to the future gathering of the saints, or is it referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 as many have supposed?

We strongly suggest that all read the entirety of Matthew 24 and Luke 17 to gain context. After doing so, it will be clearly seen that the context of this verse in both chapters regards the gathering of the saints. If time is short, consider

Matthew 24:31,40-42“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… Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”

Now that we know when this is referring to, we can begin to understand what exactly Christ meant in his answer, “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Luke 17:37).

The Body

One question we need to ask is, Why would Jesus answer his disciples like this? What in the disciples’ question warranted an answer about eagles and a body? This seemingly odd response begins to make sense once we understand that Christ, as he so often did, was quoting from the Old Testament:

Job 39:27-30 - "Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she." It is this last phrase that Jesus quotes. By comparing this passage with Christ’s words, it is readily apparent that "the slain" directly corresponds to "the body" as mentioned in Luke 17:37.

Luke 17:37 - "...Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together."

Job 39:30 - "...where the slain are, there is she."

Yet, we still question, why quote this passage to explain where the saints will be taken? The word "slain" here is Strong’s H2491 - "From H2490; pierced (especially to death); figuratively polluted: - kill, profane, slain (man), X slew, (deadly) wounded."

Do we know anyone who was slain? Can we think of anyone who was pierced? Three verses should make the answer clear:

Revelation 5:12 - "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing."

Revelation 13:8 - "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

Now, note carefully this third passage:

John 19:34-38 - "But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced. And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body (G4983) of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body (G4983) of Jesus."

This last passage is incredibly valuable to us in this study, for the word “body” here used in relation to Christ is the same word for "body" in Luke 17:

Luke 17:37 - "And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body (G4983) is, thither will the eagles be gathered together."

Christ is the lamb that was slain. Christ was pierced. Christ is “the body” of Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37.

What, then, is the meaning of Christ's answer to his disciples? WHERE are the saints to be taken? They will be taken TO HIM, wherever he might be (which, though irrelevant to our topic, we believe will be Mount Sinai). We know from the rest of Scripture that Christ’s first order of business upon his return will be to gather his saints - dead and living - for judgment and to afterward celebrate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Note carefully the sequence of events in the following testimonies:

Psalms 50:4-5 - "He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice."

2 Timothy 4:1 - "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;"

The saints will be taken from their everyday lives – whether at work, on vacation, etc. - and be brought to stand before their Lord for judgment.

The Eagles

If Christ is “the body”, then it naturally follows that “the eagles” are the saints. Some Bible translations use the word “vulture” instead of eagle, though we have found no evidence for it to be so interpreted. Either way, the mention of the animal has added greatly to the confusion surrounding these passages. The problem arises from trying to relate the saints, who are to be holy and blameless, to birds of prey. Why would the saints be represented as eagles or vultures? There are two reasons:

1. Consider the imagery of the verse. Eagles and other birds of prey do not all approach the slain from the same direction. They come from every which way - north, south, east, and west - all converging upon the same "body." This is precisely how Christ, in the same chapter, speaks of how the saints will be gathered to him:

Matthew 24:31 - "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."

It is a perfect illustration. The eagles are referred to for their gathering habits. We can understand Christ’s answer as reading, “As you see the eagles/vultures all converge upon the body from every direction, so shall the saints be gathered to the body."

Though a logical answer, there still remains the apparent incongruity of likening a Brother or Sister of Christ to an unclean bird of prey. The saints are those who“have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). And again, “such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Can such persons be represented as an eagle/vulture? Yes, they can.

2. Since the saints at the time of their gathering by the angels have not yet been immortalized, they are still "unclean" and imperfect by the sin that dwells in them and their mortal bodies. Consider how Paul refers to the saints before and after immortalization:

1 Corinthians 15:53-55 - "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

Christ’s purpose, then, in referring to the saints as unclean birds of prey is not to illustrate the voracious and scavenging character of the animal, but to the unclean state of it. Just as the bird cannot help whether it is clean or unclean, neither can we help the fact that we are imperfect, sinful mortals. It is, in part, for this purpose that the saints are to be gathered to him who wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9). For those of us who are judged worthy, Christ will remove that sin from our members and change us “unclean” beings into clean, pure, perfect beings. “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

Another Beautiful Detail!

Though we now have a clear answer to the meaning of Christ’s words, there remains yet more detail to be discovered! If we ask WHERE we are going, as the disciples did, it is natural to also ask WHAT we will be doing. Though the disciples did not ask this question, it appears even this is discernable from Job 39, the passage Christ was quoting from:

Job 39:30 - "Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she."

The eagles are said to drink up the blood of the body. Once Christ has his righteous, immortalized multitude with him, what do we know will happen next?

Matthew 26:28-29 - "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

We will drink the memorial cup of wine with our Lord and Master! Even now, we “drink his blood” as commanded every Sunday, and we do so looking forward to the time when we will drink it with him in our very midst!

Conclusion

In short, Christ's answer to his disciples was this: In the “hour” when he returns, the saints, unclean as to their nature, will be gathered from every corner of the earth, converging upon “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). There, once all have been judged and the faithful immortalized, they will “drink his blood” – sharing the memorial cup of wine anew with him in his Kingdom.

This, Brethren, is the only interpretation that fits in with the rest of the context of both Matthew 24 and Luke 17 and has Scriptural, logical, and contextual support, and how unspeakably beautiful it is!

Yet too, what an insight into the mind of Christ! For him to quote this passage from Job 39 - a passage which the carnal mind would not even consider in this light - in such a way as to encapsulate these finite details of the gathering of the saints so exquisitely shows his supreme wisdom and cunning! How well Isaiah prophesied of him, “the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2-3).