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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?

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    Note: this is very similar to: Where is the dead body in Luke 17? over at Christianity SE. The currently highest answer is also similar to the accepted answer there. Oct 14, 2011 at 6:21
  • Jesus is using corpses and vultures as an example. The corpse is the false prophets and the vultures are those that follow them. Vultures can also be referred to types of people.
    – user671
    Jul 13, 2012 at 10:34
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    @RobertoPezzinFilho - This doesn't tell us, predominantly English speaking people, anything. What is the supposed translation of these particular Hebrew words, as shown in the manuscript of Matityah, and which specific word are you singling out. Feb 12, 2023 at 14:52
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    @RobertoPezzinFilho - I'm sorry I even asked. Feb 13, 2023 at 1:28

8 Answers 8

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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."


Long answer:

Luke 17:31-37
31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” 37 “Where, Lord?” they asked.
He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”

Where, Lord?
In Luke, the question that Jesus is responding to is also a bit confusing (particularly given our modern understanding of the rapture). However, the question of "Where, Lord?" seems to be addressing the last thing Jesus says. He just finished saying that the "Son of Man" will come and gather his people. The disciples' question seems to ask "Where will they be gathered to."

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".

Jesus replies
His reply to the question of "Where, Lord?" is a parable. He's basically saying, "Where there's smoke, there's fire." The meaning behind this is:

"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 reason that the answer is obvious is because, he's already answered that question. Just previously in Luke 17:20-21 the passage begins Jesus' speech with "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed."

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
Just to illustrate this purpose, here is the text from Matthew that shows the same usage of the phrase:

Matthew 24:23-38 (NASB)
23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. 27 For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

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.

Summary

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.

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  • How would you explain the use in Matthew, though?
    – Soldarnal
    Oct 4, 2011 at 21:36
  • Exactly the same... I'll include the Matthew text to illustrate that.
    – Richard
    Oct 4, 2011 at 21:40
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    In these verses, Jesus just got done telling them about Noah and the flood and Lot and Sodom, both events in which a person was left and the other was taken (or destroyed); events of God's wrath. Perhaps another way to interpret these verses is not about rapture, but about God's wrath being poured out, and one being taken, or destroyed, by it, and one being left. May 10, 2012 at 22:47
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    You: "The answer is obvious" Me: "yeah! it is!" You: "Heaven!" Me: "Wait...what?" The irony is that you say "its obvious" and then get it wrong. The obvious part is he just said (in Matthew) "the coming of the Son of Man" Where is the Son of Man coming to? He is already in heaven, why are we being gathered to him up there if he is coming down here? The answer is Jerusalem! Your answer is right on everything else until you try to reconcile this with your idealistic theological preconceptions.
    – Joshua
    Aug 5, 2016 at 2:23
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    I thought "rapture" implied that some are taken and some are left behind for some period of time. This verse refers to the 2nd coming of Christ. How do you understand 'this very much is a reference to what we call the "rapture"'? That would imply that there is scant support for any interpretation that does not include a "rapture", but I don't see that being the case here.
    – user15733
    Aug 23, 2016 at 13:59
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From The Message:

Matthew 24:23-28:

The Arrival of the Son of Man
23-25"If anyone tries to flag you down, calling out, 'Here's the Messiah!' or points, 'There he is!' don't fall for it. Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere. Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool over the eyes of even those who ought to know better. But I've given you fair warning.

26-28"So if they say, 'Run to the country and see him arrive!' or, 'Quick, get downtown, see him come!' don't give them the time of day. The Arrival of the Son of Man isn't something you go to see. He comes like swift lightning to you! Whenever you see crowds gathering, think of carrion vultures circling, moving in, hovering over a rotting carcass. You can be quite sure that it's not the living Son of Man pulling in those crowds.

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.

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  • Is he using the phrase in a different manner in Luke's account then?
    – Soldarnal
    Oct 4, 2011 at 20:11
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    @Soldarnal No, because both passages refer to the same conversation Jesus was having with his disciples... After all, both Matthew and Luke are part of the Gospels, which all tell the same story...The Gospels overlap in some areas and fill in others.
    – studiohack
    Oct 4, 2011 at 20:16
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    I agree they are probably the same conversation. However, in Luke's account, he makes that statement in response to the question, "Where, Lord?" It doesn't seem like an analogy works in that case. "It will happen very quickly" seems like a non-sequitor answer to a question of location.
    – Soldarnal
    Oct 4, 2011 at 20:27
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    @Soldarnal Another thing to consider is that when Jesus comes back, He will be everywhere. Everyone all over the earth will see him at the same time, so his presence will be all over the earth, simultaneously. Added to answer...
    – studiohack
    Oct 4, 2011 at 20:29
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    The Hebrew word for eagles contains the word lift up and forgive. The question preceding Jesus's answer is where the gathering or the rapture will be. Jesus has to come as a thief in the night to gather us separately and come and rapture us simultaneously. The only way that things which happen separately can happen simultaneously is by removing time. We can all die at different times, be transported to timeless eternity and arrive simultaneously. We are gathered at death. Where the carcass is we will be forgiven and lifted uo. We will all see the rapture as we are harvested individually.
    – Bob Jones
    Oct 22, 2011 at 4:34
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Meaning of "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."

Seeing as my last answer, on this site, was bordering on being extremely long, and all I got out of it was an anonymous, and therefore cowardly, downvote, I'm going to try and keep this short, or at least keep it shorter.

I have long wondered about the verses in question, which I no longer think constitute a parable, or an idiom, but are more than likely literal, i.e. Matt, 24:28 and Luke 17:37. Further understanding having come to me only recently, due to a better reckoning of Matt, 24:40-41, but more on this later.

Vultures, or Eagles? Corpse, carcass, or body?

It doesn't really matter. The idea being conveyed, is that of birds of prey feasting on carrion, including human flesh. Nor should we worry about the fact that Matt,24:28 comes much earlier in Jesus' discourse than the subject matter does when regarding Luke 17:37. They both would seem to refer to the same event, which I feel is borne out further when one takes into account the following scene, an unmistakable reference to Armageddon:-

And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the "birds" which fly in midheaven, "Come, assemble for the great supper of God; in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great." Rev, 19:17-18, NASB

Taken, or destroyed?

Contrary to popular opinion, which depends on one's view on the so called Rapture, I feel that those (people) to be taken in Matt, 24:40-41, are not being raptured but rather destroyed, as at least implied in the preceding verse, where ...took them all away ... is in context with same - see also Luke 17:27 regarding same event, where destroyed (apolesen) is actually used - who then become the carrion for the vultures/eagles. The "left behind", on earth, then are those left to witness the ensuing hell, but no doubt are comforted by the knowledge, then abundantly evident, that they, themselves, have not been marked for death.

I could go into a whole spiel here, about my beliefs concerning those marked for heavenly existence - by way of the so called Rapture, the 144,000 in other words, which admittedly may, or may not be, with regard to an exact number - and those to yet be marked for the "new" earthly existence, but it would contribute more than what is required here. Suffice it to say: Immortality, will be achieved by all righteous believers in the RANSOM SACRIFICE, if not above, then yet below.

Great Tribulation

Suffice it also to say, that I am not a "Dispensationalist". The "70th Week", from my studies, happened in the "First Cent' AD", which I have written about extensively on this site. The Tribulation that is yet to come, most notably the Bowl judgements, to encompass the whole world, and not just a 4th, or a 3rd, as per the Seals and Trumpets may well be short, as indeed it has to be, lest all life will be doomed. See Matt, 24:22

"And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the "elect" those days shall be cut short.

These ultimate "Wrath of God" judgements, along with Armageddon, will be those witnessed by those of the "elect", as it were, left behind, but not by those "elect", that were lifted up to ... meet the Lord in the air... subsequent to that heavenly shared existence with namely THE KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

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  • Good pairing of the statements in Matt/Luke with Revelation 19, upvoted +1 Mar 11, 2023 at 3:36
  • +1 for the thoughtful answer, @Olde English, and I agree on the cowardly down votes. However, consider the possibility that there are actually two rapture/seizing events (harpazo). The first would be the removal of the Bride before the Great Tribulation and the second would be of those giving offense occurring before the Millennium. After all, the Messiah comes twice, as well--Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David to put it into Jewish eschatological terms.
    – Dieter
    Mar 1 at 21:48
  • @Dieter - Thank you for the unexpected upvote. Always nice to be appreciated, especially long after one's contribution. Wasn't quite sure what to make of your last sentence however. Had to google the two Messiah's in order to get enlightened. Mar 2 at 0:24
  • @Olde English, Thank you. While I don't agree with some of your interpretations, you've done a lot of research on the subject. It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle. One should keep trying to fit pieces together but not forcing them when they don't quite fit. Considering the prophecies in the Tanakh of the first coming of the Messiah as an indicator of the style of fulfilled prophecies, there's a lot that's poetic and not readily apparent! The same seems to be true for the prophecies yet left to be fulfilled. Anyway, consider the double vision of the suffering servant versus the conquering king.
    – Dieter
    Mar 2 at 5:47
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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.

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    Strongs does support aetos <105> meaning eagle in some contexts. The NET Bible notes make a case for vulture because of the imagery of the verse. I lean toward the preterist interpretation of this passage, but I'm not convinced of using "eagle" here. Dec 2, 2011 at 1:15
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    Good point. (I've been thinking about bird species lately. ;-) It's also possible the author chose a deliberately ambiguous word so that the image worked both ways. Moving some of your comment into the body of the answer (and even the link from my comment) could help make this an even better response. +1 Dec 2, 2011 at 19:57
  • What was the downvote for, whoever did that?
    – Kazark
    Jul 13, 2012 at 19:53
  • Looks like somebody really liked Richard's answer and downvoted everyone else. Not sure why and we may never know. C'est la vie. :-( Jul 16, 2012 at 19:33
  • @JonEricson (and Kazark) Note that in Matthew 24:28, the word for "body" is carcass or dead body, unlike in Luke 17:37. This makes the use of "eagles" very difficult to uphold.
    – Andrew
    Aug 25, 2019 at 4:53
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It is very possible that, with those words, the Lord Jesus is quoting Job 39:30b

27 Does the eagle (נָשֶׁר nasher is probably the Griffon vulture) mount up at your command, And make its nest on high? 28 On the rock it dwells and resides, On the crag of the rock and the stronghold. 29 From there it spies out the prey; Its eyes observe from afar. 30 Its young ones suck up blood; And where the slain (חָלַל chalal quite agrees with πτῶμα ptō̃ma of Matt 24:28) are, there it is.”

Reading as meaningful the reference to an animal gifted with a special longsighted eye (they can spot a carcass from a distance 6 km) - btw given in Job 39:27 as an example of bird obeying God's command - may perhaps help us understand the message contained in Matt 24:28 concerning the conditions in which the Son of Man wants us to be found when he comes with His angels, that is like carcasses "dead to this world" as well as to our own worldly expectations and earthly hopes. The word ptō̃ma in the NT appears only 5 more times (Mat 14:12, Mar 6:29, Mar 15:45, Rev 11:8, Rev 11:9) and is always connected with the body of saints (Jesus himself, John the Baptists, the Two Witnesses).

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Meaning of "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."

Luke 17:32-37 KJV 32 Remember Lot's wife. 33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.34 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.35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.37 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

Matthew 24:24-28KJV

24 For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.25 Behold, I have told you before.26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.28 For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

The elect or chosen ones.

The elect or chosen ones refer to the anointed brothers of Christ the partakers of the heavenly calling, Paul wrote. " Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession: Jesus." Hebrews 3:1 NASB.

Conclusion:

In the verses above,Jesus is forwarning his apostles that in expectation of his presence, false prophets will arise that will possibly even mislead the chosen ones [elect]. And continues to say. 34" 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". But who is taken and where they are taken? The elect are compared to the far-sighted eagles and are taken to the body which is Jesus who provides them with spiritual food.

Jesus is now in heaven and the elect are taken to heaven to be with Him. Whilst on earth Jesus promised his apostles. " In My Father’s house are many [a]rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you". John 14:2 NASB

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Believers leave their flesh on earth in the Luke 17:22-37 event and related verses in Matthew 24. It is a pre-trib event because there is eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building and getting married activities. At the second coming there is famine, drought, hyperinflation and the mark, violent earthquakes and storms, and love has grown cold. Those in heaven today don't need to come back to earth, get a body, and then go back to heaven. They already have a heavenly body (1 Cor 15:40, 2 Cor 5:1-6).

1 Thes 4:13-17 is the second coming with a resurrection. There is only one resurrection (John 6:34-54, 11:24, Rev 20:4-6) for the righteous. It is on the last day and the last trump, singular, not plural (days, trumps). The resurrection is for those in heaven and those still alive on earth to get a glorified, immortal body for the millennium.

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    Jun 9, 2022 at 22:31
  • Welcome to Hermeneutics! You have some interesting ideas. Could you please organize them into paragraphs by Bible verse so they are more readable? And, please explain the process of how you reach these conclusions.
    – Jesse
    Jun 12, 2022 at 13:40
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The methods of Pardes are used within Sensus Plenior. This is a demonstration of that methodology and hermeneuticv method:

The ISV translated 'vulture' as 'eagle'.

Ge 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved**[flutters]** upon the face of the waters.

De 32:11 As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:

Mt 24:28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

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':

Mt 24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Mr 13:32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

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