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?


5 Answers 5


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.


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.

  • 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
  • Thanks for doing that. I'm a little confused as you begin by saying the phrase is a parable, but then you treat it as an idiom. Are there examples of the phrase being used as an idiom in other (extra-Biblical) texts?
    – Soldarnal
    Oct 4, 2011 at 21:59
  • Bah. Yeah, you're right. It would be "idiom". nice catch.
    – Richard
    Oct 4, 2011 at 22:00
  • 3
    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

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.

  • Is he using the phrase in a different manner in Luke's account then?
    – Soldarnal
    Oct 4, 2011 at 20:11
  • 1
    @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
  • 2
    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
  • 1
    @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
  • 1
    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

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.

  • 1
    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
  • 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

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 ptoma 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 wordly expectations and earthly hopes. .


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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