What is the "Body" and Who are the "Eagles"?

A Discussion of Luke 17:20-24, 31-37 and Matthew 24:23-28

A Question Regarding When the Kingdom Would Come

Luke 17:20-24, 30-37 takes place some days before that account in Matthew 24:3-28. What the Nazarene is to teach is in response first to the Pharisees and their interest regarding "when the Kingdom of God would come." The account in Matthew 24:23-28 may be viewed by some as a parallel account on the same subject but worded and constructed differently. It would seem fair to conclude that the "coming of the Kingdom of God" is in Luke is the "Presence of the Son of Man." Consider the account in Luke: [The inserted letters a-k are guides to notes below.]

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation [Greek = paratereseos = RSV: signs to be observed; WMS: visible display; WEY: does not come watch closely for it], nor will people say, `Here it is,' or `There it is,' because the kingdom of God has entered among you." Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, " `There he is!' or `Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. ... It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed " [Greek = apocalyptetai]. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be takenj [Greek = para-lemphthesetai] and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken [Greek = para-lemphthesetai] and the other left. "Where, Lord?" they asked. He replied, "Where there is a dead body [Greek = soma], there the vultures [Greek = aestoi = KJV: eagles; MOF, WEY: vultures] will gather."l (NIV)

When the kingdom of God would come: The question is the coming [Greek = erchetai] or arrival of the Kingdom. This subject is to be raised again a sort time later, but still before the Olivet discourse. Note Luke 19:11, 12, "Because Jesus was approaching Jerusalem (a mixed group at Zacchaeus' home) were thinking that the Kingdom of The God would appear instantly. So, Jesus told them, 'A person of noble birth departed to a distant land to receive to himself a kingdom and then return.'" It would seem clear from this that the Nazarene's answer to the imminent appearance of the Kingdom of God would only occur after the nobleman (Jesus Christ) had departed and later returned to judge his household.

Matthew 25:19 is a repetition of this parable a few days later. There Jesus adds the phrase that the Lord "arrives [Greek = erchetai] after a long time." Combining the two accounts the nobleman leaves his household to travel to a distant land to receive a kingdom and then after a long time to return. That this period of absence would not be just a few decades is revealed in a study of Daniel chapter 7 where it is shown that Rome must be divided in two and then fragment into ten with an eleventh small power to rise and at some moment in history humiliate three of the original fragments by putting them down. Some would argue this process still continues to our own day.

Because the kingdom of God has entered among you: Jesus possibly discerns that the Pharisees have an inaccurate understanding because now the Nazarene says the "kingdom" is already present among them. Some believe Jesus means two things:

  1. the King of Israel is walking among them; and,
  2. the opportunity of entering the realm of profession (the domain over which the King will reign) is already a possibility.

You will not see it: Jesus now moves to an event he calls "one of the days of the Son of Man." This phrase seems to parallel that in Matthew, "the parousia of the Son of Man." What else can be learned from this other than Jesus tells his disciples and those in Zacchaeus' home that they will not live to see this parousia? This conclusion agrees with what Jesus is to say a bit later as we read in Luke 19:11, 12. The period of the Lord's absence is longer than the lifetime of those disciples.

Men will tell you: Despite these truths the disciples are warned that during this long absence -- while he rules as king (1 Corinthians 15:23-25; Daniel 7:13, 14) -- they and others will be told that the returning King is here or there. A few days later Jesus is to use this phrase: "They will say to you: 'There Christ is here!' or, 'Look, Christ is in the desert," or, 'Look, Christ is in the bed-chamber!'" (Matthew 24:23-27) In Matthew Jesus continues to use language similar to that in Luke 17:24 employing the example of lightning.

It seems to some that the context is about seeing the returning Christ. These false prophets and pseudo-anointed claim it is a private appearance either in an isolated place like a wilderness, or in a personal appearance in someone's "inner chambers." This infers that only a select few would discern this secret arrival, or an appearance invisible to most.

For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning: Jesus compares himself as the Son of Man to lightning. The context is about seeing something: whether the Son of Man will be revealed in a private and limited fashion, or in a highly visible manner seen by huge numbers of people.

That this visible revelation of the Son of Man is over a wide region -- horizon to horizon as it were -- Jesus amplifies what he means by lightning: "For just as the lightning flashes from beneath the sky and shines into another part beneath the sky, so the Son of Man will be." (Luke 17:24) Now a few days later Jesus will use the same example when discussing the parousia of the Son of Man. He changes his wording slightly (Matthew 24:27): "For as the lightning comes out of the east and shines to the west so will be at the Arrival of the Son of Man."

What may Jesus mean by "from east to west"? Some who have experience great lightning displays would understand this to mean "from horizon to horizon." Job 37:3 puts it this way, "Under the whole heavens he lets it loose, and his lightning is to the extremities of the earth." (NW) How far reaching this display of the Son of Man is later revealed to impress "all the tribes of the earth" as well affecting sky, land and sea spreading fear among mankind. (Luke 21:25, 26)

On the day the Son of Man is revealed: The context of Jesus' statement about the horizon to horizon illumination deals with the apocalypse of the Son of Man. Surely this can be understood to be a parallel to the "parousia of the Son of Man"? Paul uses similar wording in his two letters to the Thessalonian congregation: (2 Thessalonians 2:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8) "However, regarding the parousia of our Lord and our being gathered to him: ... You who are oppressed will experience relief together with us at the apocalypse of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels in a flaming fire. ... And (the Lord) will annihilate the lawless by the appearing of his parousia." (On the word "lawless" compare Matthew 7:21-23, 13:41; 24:12.)

On that day: This is the "day" of that brilliant illumination and it is no long period of years or even of some generation -- it is a day of less than 24 hours. So quick are the events that no Christian disciple is to rush back into the house to grab some item. The farmer will have no time to return to his house to gather or warn his own family.

Remember Lot's wife: Lot's salvation and his wife's disaster occurred on one "day" as Jesus himself states. (Luke 17:29)

On that night: In this context there is a night-time and day-light and yet the events occur quickly on one day. Some are sleeping and some are working. Such would be the case for at the apocalypse of Christ, like lightning from horizon to horizon, will be day on one side of the earth and night on the other. (Genesis 1:16) Indeed, the Nazarene stresses the fact that no one can know the timing of this "day and hour" (note not "year") by telling his disciples: "You do not know the appointed time ... whether (the Lord's coming) is in late afternoon, midnight, at cockcrowing, or early morning." (Mark 13:33, 35) This is less than a 24-hour period and would include both day and night. Thus the sleeping couple and the working couple.

One will be taken: The Greek cannot be overlooked here for it has a bearing on where this and related words are used: paralemphthesetai. This may help us understand what Jesus means here where one of a couple is "taken" and the other left or abandoned.

First note the word paralempsomai in John 14:3, "I am coming again and I shall take you along to myself [paralempsomai], so that where I am you also may be." This is in the context of his promised Return or parousia. A related word is used of Jesus' own ascension when it reports, "This Jesus was received up [analemphtheis] from you into heaven." In a context of the parousia in Matthew 24:39, 40 the same word is used: "So the parousia of the Son of Man will be. ... one will be taken along [paralambanetai]." It would difficult to argue that this matter of being "taken along" would not bear on that time of deliverance Luke 21:28 exhorts: "But when these things start to take place rise erect and look up because your deliverance is drawing near." Jesus seems to be talking about that "gathering" he predicts in Matthew 24:31 and Mark 13:27. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:1.)

The Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 3, page 747ff explains these related words: "lambano, originally grasp, seize [editor: compare 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and harpagesometha] ... paralambano means to draw someone to oneself. ... Forms of the word (analambano) are used of the ascension of Christ in Acts 1:11 ... analempsis, lifting up high, being taken up in Luke 9:51 is generally interpreted of Christ's ascension. paralambano to take someone with oneself, to choose out from a large number. (John 14:3; Matthew 24:40)."

Where, Lord?: The disciples now ask a question in relation to these persons being "taken along"? The question is not "when" but "where"? That is, where are such taken? It is now Jesus evidently expresses a truth in a very cryptic manner.

l Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather: The word "body" here is the Greek soma. Though some render the Greek word aetoi as "eagles" others use vultures. (NASB, WMS, BECK, NJB, NRSV) The word "gather" is a possible clue -- epi-synachthesontai. Jesus uses a related word in Matthew 24:31, " ... and the angels will gather together [epi-synaxousin] the Elect." Paul does the same a related word in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 when he responds to a misunderstanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "Regarding the parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him [epi-synagoges] ..." Judging from this the gathering eagles (or, vultures) of Luke 17:37 would be the Elect gathered to one Body (soma). The word soma is used often of the body of Jesus or the Body of his Church.

With this in mind we would understand Jesus' answer to "Where?" to mean the Elect or "chosen ones" at that moment Paul declares, "Those of us who are living and remain to the Lord's Arrival shall not go before those sleep in death, because the Lord himself will come down from the Sky with the descend from heaven in complete command with the voice of an archangel and the trump of God. Then those who are dead in Christ will be resurrected first. After that those of us who are living and remain will at the same time together with them be raptured into the clouds to meet with the Lord in the Sky." (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) In other words, the "where" of it is the Lord in the Sky where eagles and vultures fly.

There is another possibility to this understanding which is revealed in the later Olivet discourse.

A Question Regarding the Parousia of the Son of Man

Matthew 24:26-28 takes place in the context of a question from the Nazarene's four apostles regarding two or three main topics: a) the desolation of Jerusalem's Temple; and, b) the Return (or, Parousia) of Messiah. Note these:

MT24:26 Therefore, if ever they say to you: "Look! He is in the desert!" you should not follow them. Or, "Look! He is in the inner chambers!" you should not believe them. MT24:27 For as the lightning comes out of the east and shines to the west so will be the Arrival of the Son of Man. MT24:28 Where the carcass is there the eagles will gather.

DESERT. There are to be no isolated appearances of the Christ in deserted locations, or wilderness areas where some false prophets might try to gather their followers, where others in general cannot view him. There will be no Arrival only discernible by a limited few.

CHAMBERS. There are to be no private appearances of Christ to individuals in their bedrooms or elsewhere. Any who claim to have had the Christ appear in their private rooms would be false prophets. Some of the four Christian religions actually founded in America during the 1,800s make such claims.

LIGHTNING. Lightning is something visible and discernible with the naked eye from horizon to horizon by all under its illumination. Lightning can be seen even with the eyes closed. Compare Luke 17:24 where the 'revealing of the Son of Man' is compared to lightning.

ARRIVAL. For the first time the Nazarene uses the disciples' word parousia as Matthew translates the Hebrew. Jesus is to use parousia three times (Matthew 24.27, 37, 39) according to the Greek translator of Matthew's Hebrew version. The word parousia only occurs here in the Gospels. It should be kept in mind that Jesus most likely spoke in Hebrew (Acts 26:14) and the disciple Matthew recorded his original Gospel in that language. (Irenaeus, a Christian teacher of the Second Century wrote: "Matthew published a written gospel for the Hebrews in their own tongue." The History of the Church by Eusebius, page 210) So, it was a later translator, possibly Matthew himself, who put the Greek word parousia in the mouths of Jesus and his disciples.

What Hebrew word might the Nazarene have used? Since parousia is always connected with the "Son of Man" it is likely Jesus borrowed a word from Daniel 7:13 or Daniel 7:22: athah Strongs # 857, 858) which means "arrive," the same meaning of parousia. See notes on Matthew 24.3 for more details. Parousia means the arrival or visit of a king or important person. The English word "coming" has become a common noun referring to such a royal visit. Paul uses parousia in the context of the Second Coming only once outside of his Thessalonian letters. (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8)

Mark and Luke do not use parousia but choose other synonyms: erkhetai, erkhomenos, elthon which mean "come" or "arrive." Matthew does this himself. (Matthew 24:30, 42, 44, 45; Matthew 25:19) Erkhomenos happens to be the word used in the Jewish Greek Bible, the Septuagint (LXX), at Daniel 7:13 with elthen being used at Daniel 7:22. Is this enough to establish that parousia (presence) is roughly the same as erkhomenos (coming) or elthon (arrive)?

EAGLES. (Or, vultures; aetoi) This sudden cryptic is not the first time the disciples heard it. See something similar at Luke 17:27 when the disciples respond to certain ones being "taken along." The disciples ask, "Where, Lord?" The Nazarene responds in words similar to Matthew 24:28. If the "eagles" are those "taken along" (a word similar to that in John 14:3 and Luke 17:34) and these are raptured or gathered, then the "body" is the returning Christ. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:1 with Matthew 24:30) Luke uses soma (body) whereas Matthew uses to ptoma (fallen body, carcass, corpse).

This happens to be a most interesting difference. This word for corpse or carcass -- to ptoma -- occurs at Revelation 11:2, 7-12 in a context suggesting the Rapture following words paraphrased from Luke 21:24. (Revelation 11:2) Consider these:

"(The Temple courtyard) has been turned over to the Gentiles, and they will trample the Holy City (New Jerusalem) underfoot for forty-two months. ... And after the Two Prophets have given their testimony, the wild Sea Beast that ascends out of the abyss war with them, conquer them, and kill them. And their corpses [to ptoma] will be within Babylon the Great's main street ... where their Lord was also impaled [becoming a to ptoma; compare Mark 15:45] . And those of the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will observe their corpses [to ptoma] for three and a half days, and they refuse to bury their corpses [ta ptomata] in a grave. Now after the three and a half days life's Pneuma from The God enters them, and they rise up on their feet, and tremendous dread falls upon all those who had been watching their dead bodies. And the Two Prophets heard a great voice out of the Sky call to them: 'Ascend up to here!' And the Two Prophets ascended into the Sky in the cloud and all their enemies watched them."

At the very least this is an interesting coincidence when compared to Jesus' words in Matthew 24:25-28, 40, 41 and Luke 17:23, 24, 34-37 that so many factors should be interwoven: the Parousia, a corpse, a gathering, and a rapture. What could all this possibly mean?

That 'discerning reader' of the prophet Daniel (Matthew 24:15), Jesus Christ himself would have known what Daniel 7:21-25 foretold:

"I continued to watch when that Small (eleventh) Power began to war against the Saints and was victorious over them. [And that Small (eleventh) Power will blaspheme the Most High. That power will constantly oppress the Saints of the Most High. The Saints will be turned over to him for three and a half years. (Daniel 7:25)] Then the time came and the Ancient of Days arrived and judgment was given in to the Saints of the Most High. The appointed time came for the Saints to inherit the kingdom."

We may wish to assume our Lord understood that at some future time -- "after a long time" (Matthew 25:19) -- just before his Return, his living disciples would experience a "great oppression" (Revelation 7:14; 13:5-7) and be as good as dead -- like a corpse. It will be at this historic moment when the remnant of the Elect will become, as it were, a to ptoma -- dead corpse. It would be at this moment the "eagles will gather." O victory, come, Lord Jesus!

Friends of the Nazarene Publishing

Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

Back to Index to Biblical Articles