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Note: this is not a duplicate of this question because it focuses on placement and context and asks about the difference between Matthew and Luke's understanding of the saying.

In Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37, Jesus uses the phrase "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." But in Matthew this saying comes at the end of Jesus' teaching about false messiahs and the whereabouts of the true Christ. In Luke it comes at the end of the teaching on watchfulness.

Luke 17

34 I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. 35 And there will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken, the other left.” ...37 They said to him in reply, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.”

Matthew 24

So if they say to you, ‘He is in the desert,’ do not go out there; if they say, ‘He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Why do the two authors place the saying in different contexts, and what do the different contexts imply about the meaning of this enigmatic saying?

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Distinct Outlines

It is a notable feature of Matthew vs. Luke comparisons, that Matthew groups teachings together (often by topic) into large sermons and Luke, when recording the same teachings, tends to spread them out.

The Gospel of Matthew is organized around 5 major sermons (Sermon on the Mount, Commissioning the 12, Parabolic Discourse, Discourse on the Church, and Olivet Discourse). A large portion of this content is also found in Luke, but separated into smaller doses.

An itinerant preacher like Jesus would have used the same teaching material more than once, in different contexts (e.g. the parable of the pounds to a tax collector in Jericho v. the highly similar parable of the talents after His triumphal entry in Jerusalem would not be unusual or surprising). Neither Matthew nor Luke are particularly keen on presenting all of their information chronologically -- Matthew's Gospel is largely organized by topic (like an encyclopedia); a decent portion of Luke's Gospel is organized by geography (like an atlas). A comparison of their pericope order is found in my post here. Although modern readers like to ask which is the correct order?, this is the incorrect question--it's asking for information the authors didn't intend to give us.

Matthew records this specific teaching as a response to a question from the disciples, as part of the Olivet Discourse, in conjunction with other end-times prophecies. Luke records this teaching as a response to a question from the Pharisees, prior to the triumphal entry, also in conjunction with end-times prophecy. Luke's account gives the impression that the Pharisees -- many of whom believe the Messiah will deliver them from Rome -- are asking Jesus when that political liberation will come.

Although we cannot know for certain why each author chose to include this teaching in the given context, an educated guess is possible:

  • Matthew, writing to Jews, is focused on the fate of Jews' holy city and their temple. Almost all of his end-times material is built around this theme.
  • Luke, writing to Gentiles, has an interest in quelling notions that Jews/Christians are just waiting for their moment to try to overthrow Roman rule. The Pharisees' question certainly appears politically loaded ("when is the rebellion?!?") -- the response diffuses it ("the kingdom of God is within you", "ye shall not see it", and the rejection of secret gatherings in verses 21 & 23). Declining to give a specific gathering place even when asked directly (Luke 17:37) fits well with this "my kingdom is not of this world" type theme.

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Common Message

Although Matthew is more explicit (see Matt. 24:31), both Matthew & Luke speak of the gathering of the Lord's people (Lot & family gathered out from the wicked in Sodom, Noah & family gathered out from the wicked before the flood). The general message in both Gospels is the same -- there will be those reporting that Christ's return has occurred and He is to be sought in secret or obscure places, and they shouldn't be believed. When Christ does come in glory, His elect will be gathered, and just as scavengers make it very obvious where a carcass is, there will be no doubt for God's people where they are supposed to be.

Matthew's teaching is co-located with quotations from Daniel and could be used to dissuade someone from...say...joining the zealots. Luke's audience would be less familiar with Daniel so he excludes this material and instead provides a teaching that could be used to dissuade someone from believing that Christianity in general is on a path to rebellion against Rome. Either way, if someone is using the coming of the Messiah to try to get you to join a secret plot to overthrow the government, don't believe it. There will be no secret plot, but occurrences as plain and as obvious as lightning (Matt. 24:27, Luke 17:24) or birds of prey in the sky (both of which can be seen for miles in every direction).

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Synoptic Problem

Passages like these, where Matthew has woven teachings into a sermon like threads into a great tapestry, versus Luke who has placed them in more isolated contexts, are one of the arguments that if there is a direct literary relationship between Matthew & Luke, the direction of dependence is much more likely to be Matthew->Luke than to be Luke->Matthew.

It is much simpler to explain an author taking pieces of sermons and using them in a variety of discrete settings (Luke using Matthew), than to explain an author just happening to find exactly the right pieces of teaching scattered throughout his source to compose an intricate, connected sermon (Matthew using Luke).

This thought is explored in greater detail in my video on The Parable of the Stained Glass Window found here.

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  • You start by contending that Jesus may well have said the same think multiple times, which would then permit Matthew and Luke to be selective in when to include such (I concur)--without necessarily violating chronological order, even if included in different contexts. But from there you jump to the bold assertion that: "Neither Matthew nor Luke are particularly keen on presenting all of their information chronologically." What is the basis for making this sweeping claim? I recognize that they can't both be chronologically correct with some of the pericopes, but one could yet be.
    – Dan Moore
    Commented Jun 6 at 7:44
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    The OP starts out by making the point that he is not duplicating a question that I answered on Matt 24:28 and Luke17:37 and which you kindly acknowledged, which endeavored to get to the "nitty gritty" of "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures/eagles will gather." This being the "crux" of the matter IMO. Your answer here however, on the difference between Matthew's and Luke's understanding/presentation of the facts, is nevertheless quite compelling. Truly comprehensive and enlightening. It's another upvote from me. I'm also going to upvote your "Interest" answer too. Commented Jun 6 at 13:39
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“Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.”

This figurative statement occurs in both Luke and Matthew during an event where Jesus responds to His disciples' inquiry about the signs of the End Times. While there are variations between Luke and Matthew's accounts, one notable difference is that Matthew records it with himself as 1st person, while Luke relies on 3rd person witnesses. The figurative statement essentially conveys the idea that one can anticipate events by observing certain phenomena, likening it to recognizing the presence of a body by the presence of vultures.

In Mark's account (Mark 13:14-23),he concludes with a different statement in Mark 13:23

So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. (NIV)

Therefore if someone remains vigilant, and can anticipate events by observing phenomena, they can foresee things in advance. This aligns seamlessly with the subsequent narrative in Mark - the parable of the fig tree (Mark 13:28-37, Matthew 24:32-44), which emphasize the importance of watchfulness.

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At the Luke passage the disciples desired to know where this separation would take place. That is from vs34, "two men will be in one bed; one will be taken, and the other will be left." Jesus responded with a common proverb; "Wheresoever the body is thither will the eagles be gathered together.

Matthew's parallel connects the proverb with Christ's coming, (Matthew 24; 27,28). Matthew uses the word "carcass" (Greek, ptoma) while Luke uses the word "body" (Greek, soma). The "eagles" are the vultures which eat the flesh of those destroyed in the judgment God will send.

The context makes it clear that the Lord is speaking of a judgment which takes place at His second coming revelation. The point of all this is best understood to simply mean that where men are ripe for judgment, judgment will be executed.

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