Vultures to a Carcass
© 19 November 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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Thoughts on an Matthew 24 and Luke 17.


In Matthew 24:28, we read “‍For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.‍” Most translations render this “‍vultures‍” rather than “‍eagles‍” but since I’ve seen both gather around corpses I don’t suppose it matters. The context for this passage is Christ’s response to his disciples’ questions about when the end of the world would be, in particular discussing how to avoid being deceived by false prophets and false Christs.

In Luke’s account of the same general message the order of the various passages is altered, but in 17:37 we have a nearly-identical statement “‍Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.‍” In this case, though, the statement is prefaced with a direct question; after describing what is often called “‍the rapture‍” (i.e., “‍two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left‍”) the disciples ask the sensible question “‍Where, Lord?‍” presumably meaning “‍one shall be taken where? Where are they going?‍” It is in response to this question in Luke’s account that Christ comments on carrion birds.

For many years these passages puzzled me. What am I to learn from this analogy? I’d heard the suggestion that “‍just as eagles denote a corpse, so the signs I’ve mentioned denote my coming‍” but that seems to contradict the previous verse in Matthew which clearly states that Christ’s second coming will be sudden and obvious, illuminating from horizon to horizon like lightning. I’ve heard that “‍Rome, like eagles, will flock to Jerusalem, which is now dead spiritually‍” but while a tidy analogy I really don’t see that in either context. And I’ve heard the suggestion “‍False prophets will flock to feast on the flesh of gullible Christians‍” which at least fits the negative image of carcasses but doesn’t seem particularly helpful, nor suitable to Luke’s version. And I’ve heard in Luke’s context the reading “‍Where will destruction come? Anywhere the wicked are‍”—which fits fairly well in Luke, I suppose, but doesn’t match Matthew much at all.

I wish to propose an alternate reading. It arose from a discussion in institute last week, from my mouth but not fully my ideas.

Let’s start with Luke’s version. “‍Where are the raptured saints going? Wherever Christ is.‍” It’s a simple reading, and while calling Christ a carcass isn’t my first choice he surely compared himself to worse things (an unjust judge, for example, and a cannibalistic meal). It also suggests that the eagles are good things, not bad.

Now for Matthew’s version. “‍How do you find the truth amidst deceivers? You follow the flock of those seeking the true Christ.‍” The contrapostive (bad eagles gather around false prophets) is possible too, but seems less likely to me for no reason I can readily identify. Re-wording this in more common terms “‍Avoid spiritual hobbies. Focus on what the Lord and church leaders focus on, not on fringes they mentioned once or twice. Gather with the saints even when you think you don’t need them.‍”

Is this reading correct? I don’t know, but I like it. It is a visual for a principle I do know is true, and it is more practical than any of the other readings I’ve heard, none of which suggest to me any call to action or means of judging anything. I welcome the thoughts of my readers.

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