This article is a commentary on two very mysterious, yet Scripturally symbiotic, passages due to their symbolism and word structure found in Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37. These verses read:
“For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Matthew 24:28).
“Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Luke 17:37b).
It is very rare that I will seek out commentaries from others in my Bible study time. I really enjoy trying to figure things out myself while relying on the Holy Spirit to guide and teach. This study was no different.
Once I organized my thoughts in regard to what I believed to be a proper interpretation, I did seek out other commentaries. I found that expositors gave a very brief, rather vague statement or ignored the verses altogether.
This really didn’t surprise me, as these verses are very challenging.
The following is what I came up with after carefully analyzing the verses and context of the passages.
The Differences in the Two Accounts
In Matthew, Jesus includes it in the description of the Tribulation and His visible Second Coming, saying, “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” Carcase in the Greek is 4430 ptóma and means a fall, hence a misfortune, ruin, a carcass, corpse, dead body.
In the Lucian account, it is referenced after the Lord’s revelation of the pre-Tribulation rapture of the church (see Luke 17:34-36 for the “one shall be taken, and the other left” rapture verses). The disciples desired to know where they were taken and asked the question, “Where, Lord?” Christ replied, “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Body in the Greek is 4983 sṓma and means the physical body, body, flesh. From sozo; the body (as a sound whole), used in a very wide application, literally or figuratively — bodily, body, slave.
Context Notes on the Luke Passage
The rapture verses in the synoptic gospels are found at the end of the Olivet Discourse, respectively, in Matthew 24:36-51; Mark 13:32-37; and Luke 21:34-36.
The reason the rapture is found at the end of the Olivet Discourse is very simple: Jesus graciously answered the specific questions asked by the disciples, then proceeded to tell the seed of His church a mystery that He also touched on in John 14:1-3 and which Paul revealed in full within his epistles.
Those who insist that Christ must be limited in His answer to the specific questions of the disciples are making a grave error, in my humble opinion, and are themselves limiting the Lord to what He can and cannot do.
Please see my article Is the Rapture of the Church in the Olivet Discourse? which covers this topic.
But in relation to the verse being discussed in Luke, the passage of Scripture can be divided thus:
Luke 17:26-29 describes the condition of the world before the pouring out of God’s wrath, which will begin with the rapture of the church, also known as the “day of Christ” or the “day of Jesus Christ.”
Please see my article An Examination of the ‘Day of the Lord’ for more details on this subject.
These verses read:
“And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-29).
These comparisons of Noah and Lot can only be applied to the conditions before the rapture of the church. Life will be going on, seemingly, as it always has been (2 Peter 3:2-4). Sure, there will be problems – there always are – but the world won’t be expecting what’s about to come upon them when the trigger event, the rapture of the church, commences.
The world will in no way be operating as usual at the Lord’s Second Coming, as seven-plus years of God’s wrath on humanity and creation – as well as the wars, demonic attacks, natural disasters, pestilences, etc. – will have an absolutely devastating effect on what little life remains.
Verse 30 is a summary statement concerning the Lord’s Second Coming.
“Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” (Luke 17:30).
Thus, in four verses – Luke 17:26-30 – Jesus gives us the “bookends” of the time of God’s wrath, beginning with the pre-rapture conditions in Luke 17:26-29 and the Second Coming in Luke 17:30.
Then, in Luke 17:31-33, Jesus warns the Jews of the Abomination of Desolation (see Matthew 24:15-20 & Daniel 9:27) that will occur “in that day,” which is “the time of Jacob’s Trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7).
“In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:31-33). (Emphasis mine).
Jesus then reveals at the end of the teaching, as He does in the Olivet Discourse, some details regarding the rapture of the church in Luke 17:34-36:
“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. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Luke 17:34-36). (Emphasis mine).
The two different events seem to be distinguished by the terms “In that day” (Abomination of Desolation) and “I tell you, in that night” (the rapture). Remember, the Jewish day begins at sunset, goes into the night, and concludes with the daylight hours.
From this, it could also be surmised that the Abomination of Desolation might happen during the daytime in Israel (the Eastern Hemisphere), while the rapture might happen during the nighttime in Israel (although one shouldn’t be dogmatic).
For those who believe that Luke 17:34-36 is not speaking of the rapture but of the judgment after Christ’s Second Coming and that those taken are the wicked, I must point out a few things and conclude with a determining factor.
First, this teaching does not align with the separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. When Jesus judges the nations, all people living on earth will come to Him (whether on their own accord or by angelic insistence), and He will judge them accordingly.
Secondly, when Christ comes back, life will not be “business as usual” with commerce and labor going on as if nothing has happened. This world will be an absolute mess with very few living through it, and the entire earth will be waiting for Christ’s Second Coming.
Thirdly, and practically, there are no other verses in Scripture that I’m aware of that speaks of people being taken for any reason other than the rapture of the church. After Christ’s judgment and separation between “the sheep and the goats,” then the angels “shall cast them [the goats] into the furnace of fire,” but not during the course of everyday business, which won’t even exist at that point. The parable of the net makes this abundantly clear:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50). (Emphasis mine)
Lastly, in regard to Luke 17:26-37, Jesus is only hitting on a few different aspects of the end-times in this short passage. It isn’t meant to be a chronological and exhaustive timeline. Just as He did in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus speaks of the rapture at the end of His teaching – something the disciples of the Lord wouldn’t fully understand until Paul would expound upon this mystery in his epistles.
The Lord’s seed of the church was in front of Him, and He most certainly wouldn’t have left out this important detail from them, especially since He would be alluding to it again in John 14:1-3.
The Determining Factor
Considering John 14:1-3 – and this is extremely important – in Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-36, there is a connection that cannot be ignored.
The Greek word for “taken” – as in “one taken and the other left” – in Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-36 is 3880 paralambánō (from 3844/pará, “from close-alongside” and 2983/lambánō, “aggressively take“) and means to take (receive) by showing strong personal initiative. To receive near, i.e., Associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation); by analogy, to assume an office; figuratively, to learn — receive, take (unto, with). 1. To take to (cf. παρά, IV. 1), to take with oneself, to join to oneself: τινα, an associate, a companion. 2. To receive something transmitted. [Definitions from Biblehub.com]
This is exactly the same word Christ uses for “receive” in John 14:1-3:
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (Emphasis mine)
There can be no doubt that the “one taken and the other left” passages in Matthew and Luke are speaking of the rapture and have absolutely nothing to do with any purging or judgment for the wicked.
A Note on Rightly Dividing the Word of God
As I often point out in my articles: Yes, at times, it can be confusing, but this is why Paul urged Timothy to…
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). (Emphasis mine)
The same concept of having two different timeframes for two different events in the same passage of Scripture is found numerous times throughout the Bible, especially concerning prophecy.
An example of this is found in Isaiah 9:6:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given [first coming]: and the government shall be upon his shoulder [second coming]: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
Note both comings of our Lord, separated by 2,000 years, transpiring in just one verse.
I cover, in a little more detail, why the Scriptures deal with prophecy in this way in A Study of Zechariah14:12-21.
Returning to the Differences in the Two Passages
So, in light of this information, I believe the Lord is using similar word usage for two different events with the only modification being “carcase” (for the Second Coming in Matthew) and “body” (for the rapture in Luke).
The Matthew verse is a correlation to what we find in Revelation 19:17-18 at the Lord’s Second Coming,
“And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.” (Emphasis mine)
Thus, Jesus’ quote: “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Matthew 24:28).
The Lucian account, referring to the rapture, seems to be much more symbolic. In Scripture, birds are often symbolic (as leaven is) of evil. Whether evil in man, Satan and his minions, or just evil in general.
For example, Jesus, in the parable of the sower, said that the fowls that devoured the seed on the way side represented the “wicked one” (Satan) taking away the Word of God that was sown in his or her heart:
“Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:” (Matthew 13:3b-4).
“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side” (Matthew 13:19).
(For two other parables using birds and leaven as evil inside the church, see Matthew 13:31-33).
With that said, I believe the proper interpretation of Luke 17:37, “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together,” is that when the rapture occurs, the only “bodies” left on earth will be the unsaved along with the forces and powers of evil – i.e., the birds or “the eagles.”
So, in a roundabout way, the answer to the disciples’ question of where those people at the rapture of the church were taken, with the definition of “taken” clearly in our mind, is “to be with Him.” For all that are left on earth after the rapture of the church are those who have rejected Christ up to that point and the forces of darkness.
As far as the Matthew text, some of the bodies left on earth in Luke’s text – after the rapture of the church – will be the same “corpses” referenced upon the Lord’s Second Coming spoken of in Revelation 19:17-18, as noted above.
An additional thought on this is that those alive at the rapture will “meet the Lord in the air” where those same “eagles” – or “Satan and his minions” – were once inhabiting.
Consider these two Scriptures that note the rapture translation in the first passage and where Satan and his evil entities currently reside in the second:
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).(Emphasis mine)
“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:” (Ephesians 2:2). (Emphasis mine)
Thus, as we who “are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air,” Satan and his minions’ dominion won’t be only in “the power of the air” but will have, seemingly, unrestrained control on the earth – with the Holy Spirit’s restraint through the church now gone (2 Thessalonians 2:6) – until Christ comes back at His Second Coming.
A Side Note
For those who say that sṓma can also be defined as a “body with no soul or spirit,” I would note the following:
- Jesus could have easily referred to ptóma like He did in the Matthew account to depict a corpse – but He didn’t. There must be a reason He didn’t, and it should be obvious that He is speaking of two different events.
- The word sṓma is also translated “body” in relation to the church, as in the “body of Christ.” I think we would all agree that the body of Christ has spirit and soul and is most assuredly alive.
- If one insists on using this secondary definition, it also seems to fit perfectly with the above interpretation, in that those God-denying, Christ-rejecting people left behind on earth would necessarily have no soul or spirit for the things of God. In other words, they would be spiritually dead in their souls and spirits (just like we were before coming to Christ), yet physically alive.
So, in review and in summary, let’s look again at the two passages in context and consider the two separate events they represent.
“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. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body [sṓma] is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Luke 17:34-37). (Emphasis mine)
The Second Coming:
“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. For wheresoever the carcase [ptóma] is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:27-30). (Emphasis mine)
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, used the same allegorical statement for the beginning of God’s wrath (the rapture) and the end of God’s wrath (the Second Coming), using a different word to distinguish between the two.
Again, these are difficult verses, but I do believe this to be the proper interpretation.
Love, grace, mercy, and shalom in Messiah Yeshua, and Maranatha!