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God’s Word for You

Luke 17:37 the vultures will gather

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, November 30, 2018

37 “Where, Lord?” they asked. He said to them, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”

The aetoi (ἀετοί) could either be eagles or vultures. Both kinds of birds gather where there is a dead body (we would say ‘road kill’ today), so it’s not really vital to distinguish which kind of bird is meant. Some commentators seem to thrive on insisting about things like this, but it really isn’t necessary.

There are some interesting attempts to understand this verse. There will be no harm in looking at them, since seeing them in print will expose their faults.

a, The aetoi must be eagles, perhaps the Roman eagles or emblems of the various Roman legions that fell upon Palestine and destroyed it.

b, The eagles or vultures are destroying angels (cp. 1 Chronicles 21:15?) and the dead bodies are unbelievers.

c, The eagles or vultures are the enemies of Christ who surrounded the cross and hurled insults at him as he died.

d, Both eagles and vultures are unclean animals (see Leviticus 11), and so for them to feed on bodies was a desecration, and so it will be with unbelievers.

However, none of these explain the answer to the question. We should carefully note that the question the disciples asked Jesus was not “When?” (he did not answer the Pharisees when they asked that in verse 20), but “Where?” This really leads us into the simple answer: As a scavenging bird knows where to find a carcass, so also my Lord will know where to find me when Judgment Day comes. The “where” doesn’t matter at all. It’s simply wherever I am. The Lord says about his angels: “They will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:31). Whether a man died in the sea, in a battle, in the woods, in the sky, far away in outer space, or at home in his bed like Luther, the Lord’s angels will gather him on the Last Day at the sound of the last trumpet, and we will rise from the dead, every single one of us, to stand before God Almighty in all his glory. Those who have faith in Christ will be called home to everlasting life. Those who rejected him will be sent to hell and torment forever.

We should praise God that he gives us this comfort while withholding from us the answer to “when?” If anyone knew when the end would come, his old Adam would seize hold of him and hurl him into the most foul and profane sins, imagining that he knew precisely how much time was left for the world and for him. But a man’s life is not the same as the lifespan of the world. Our days are not infinite, and for many, they do not even amount to the “seventy years, or eighty, if we have the strength” that Moses promised (Psalm 90:10), and we fall victim to sword, famine, and plague, and to other things less noble. So we put our trust in Jesus, and we know that whenever he comes, it will be at just the right moment. He will find us—for the “where” is wherever we will be—and he will bring us home to the peace and joy of heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



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