In Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37, Jesus uses the phrase "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." Was Jesus speaking in a parable? Idiom? How has this phrase been interpreted?
This one line "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." is an idiom.
This would be the equivalent of saying, "Where there's smoke, there's fire."
This very much is a reference to what we call the "rapture". This is the "gathering up" of people that Jesus will perform in the last days. Just before this he talks about how the world is turning evil and then he says that he will come back and gather his people. This is definitely what we modernly call the "rapture".
"That should be pretty obvious to you."
Jesus was saying that his kingdom was coming, the world was about to end, he was about to gather his people. The disciples ask a stupid question: "Where will you gather them?" Jesus doesn't even bother giving a straight answer because the answer is obvious: He's gathering them to heaven to be with him forever.
Why use this phrase?
The entire speech is about the Kingdom of God. So when they ask, "Where will they be gathered." He just replies in parables, since he's already made it obvious.
The Matthew text
Clearly, Jesus isn't talking about literal vultures. Neither is he attempting to use vultures and corpses to explain difficult concepts. This passage (and the clear break from the earlier concepts being described) clearly show that this is a idiomatic saying.
This phrase about vultures and a dead body is just Jesus way of saying, "Hey, it should be obvious". He's not trying to imply anything with vultures or dead bodies. Just like the phrase "Where there's smoke there's fire" today does not imply smoke, fire, or anything related to smoke or fire.
From The Message:
Jesus is not speaking in a parable, but rather is using an analogy to explain to his followers that when he comes, he will show up so quickly that people won't have time to gather in crowds. People won't have time to get together and discuss it or analyze the situation; this kind of behavior can be compared to vultures who pick apart what they find...
Also, when Jesus returns, everyone, all over the earth, will see him at the same time, he won't be confined to one place or location...Jesus Christ will be seen everywhere simultaneously, thus people won't be able to pinpoint Jesus to one physical location, because if you see "vultures" circling, it is not Jesus because he won't show up in one place.
My dad told me that according to the (partial) preterists (those who emphasize that the first or primary fulfillment of many of the New Testament prophecies occurred in or before the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70.), eagle is a reference to the Romans, who had the eagle as their banner. If you compare the parallel passage in Matthew 24:28, you will see that the context of the passage there is that Jesus has prophesied the destruction of the Temple, and his disciples have asked when it will occur (verses 1-3). This would indicate that the phrase has reference to the destruction of Jerusalem.
I thought that my dad got this from Kenneth Gentry, who wrote Before Jerusalem Fell. This source says that Gentry writes about this in his book Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil, 74–75, and it quotes him on it. (Disclaimer: I have not read Gentry myself, nor that other source; I found it on Google since I thought my dad got it from Gentry.)
The linguistic concept of semantic domains may apply here. Though in a translation you have to arbitrate between the two meanings, in the exegesis you don't necessarily. In Greek there may not have been a conceptual distinction between eagle and vulture, and thus it could reference the Romans and yet be consistent with the normal interpretation of the carcass metaphor. Examples of this can be found in other languages: some, for example, do not have a word for bird, only songbird, hawk, waterbird, owl, etc—all separate words. And as Jon Ericson pointed out, the author could have used a deliberately equivocal word.
The ISV translated 'vulture' as 'eagle'.
The eagle is the Holy Ghost.
Using Remez of 'flutter' we determine that the eagle is the Spirit of God. Using it again for 'eagle', it is the Holy Spirit which took the spirit of Christ from the cross, bearing him on 'her' wings.
The Spirit is referred to as feminine not because of gender. This is the same use of the feminine as the old female donkey that led Jesus on the colt into Jerusalem. It refers to not seeing clearly. As Paul said "the woman was deceived'. The old prophets/donkey didn't see Christ clearly. the young colt, being John the Baptist knew who Jesus was. The Holy Spirit is referred to in the feminine because he did not know the 'day or hour':
protected by Jon Ericson♦ Jul 18 '12 at 19:13
Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.
Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?