For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

Two important principles of Scriptural exegesis

Commentary on Luke 17:20-25 & Luke 17:26-37

27th Monday after Pentecost, 27th Tuesday after Pentecost



Who said to them: Wheresoever the body shall be, thither will the eagles also be gathered together. (Luke 17:37)


For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. (Matthew 24:28)



To understand this thought, one must read the scripture in context. This is a fundamental principle of Scriptural interpretation, which is the SECOND most important principle.


The FIRST PRINCIPLE is that we must be in the church AND live according to the mind of the church. Only those in the church have the grace to fully understand, but those who do not live according to this grace are like the man who buried the talent in the ground:


“Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.” (Mat 25:28)


“Arm chair” Christians will not understand the Scriptures no matter how many “study bibles” they possess. Neither will Christians who have very little interest in Holy things, and, without honorable reasons attend church rarely (perhaps on Sunday), fast very little if at all, and live distracted lives, with little effort to learn the commandments and do them.


A critical and much neglected part of the ascetical Christian life which leads to understanding of the scriptures is to pray as much as possible (and when we value something we make it possible!)  at services such as Vespers, Matins and Compline, where the theology is all on display, for those with feet to stand, and ears to hear.


From the “first principle” flows the second, since the mind of the church, expressed by its services and the Holy Fathers, constantly uses scripture to interpret scripture.


The context of these difficult verses is:


“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  (21)  Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.  (22)  And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.  (23)  And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.  (24)  For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.  (25)  But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” 


(26)  And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.  (27)  They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.  (28)  Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;  (29)  But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.  (30)  Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.  (31)  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.  (32)  Remember Lot's wife.  (33)  Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.  (34)  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.  (35)  Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  (36)  Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  (37)  And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” (Luke 17:20-37)


Perhaps this is too much “context” for some, but quoting pertinent scripture is a lot like eating potato chips! This entire selection is read the 27th Monday and Tuesday after Pentecost.  


Jesus is talking about the His final coming, and comparing it with the general sleepiness and torpid dullness regarding spiritual things of mankind throughout the ages. This dullness will make His coming very surprising to most.


 He gives two historical examples – “Noah” and “Sodom and Gomorrah”.


These examples show that people were living their lives “just as any other day”, when cataclysmic things happened suddenly and unexpectedly under their very noses. They missed these things because they were spiritually sleepy, not serious, and unaware.  This describes the overwhelming majority of how the world will meet the Second Coming and the Final Judgment, and we had best not be too arrogant to consider ourselves to not share in any similarity with this group walking on the “broad way[1]


These references also describe the moral state of mankind at the end:


“… He indicates that when the Antichrist comes shameful pleasures will be commonplace among the people, and they will become lewd sensualists, abandoning themselves to unlawful pleasures”[2]


In our day, when shameful sexual immorality is being codified into law, abortion is widespread, and many other aspects of society show little or no respect for the dignity, holiness and purpose of human life, these words appear to be being fulfilled. We must have eyes to see, and be able to discern the times. We are in dark times, because there are now Christians in name who practice wanton immorality and justify it (abortion, homosexuality and more). If we are honest with ourselves (and a Christian must be!) we must even acknowledge that there is a breakdown and immorality among our Orthodox clergy, including some bishops, even if, it appears, that our beloved church is a bit “behind the curve” in innovative immorality among Christian leaders.


Christian! We must be able to see the sky in the morning and determine that it is red![3] We must do something about this sky, and no matter what we do, we must start with personal morality and holiness. We do not need to have endless questions about


when the kingdom of God should come” (Luke 17:20),


because the Lord teaches that


“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)



Let us not think of the Kingdom of God “coming” to us, as we are to become such that the kingdom is in us. This means that the Kingdom of God is personal holiness and knowledge of God because of experience; this will not come about “by observation”, but by “violence”[4] and effort.


Our Lord goes on to give several hypothetical examples:


“(34)  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.  (35)  Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  (36)  Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.)”


All of these examples serve to show us how most people do not have “ears to hear and eyes to see[5]”, because they are not spiritual. They live earthly lives, and are unable to see spiritual things. Does this describe anything in us?


The disciples are confused by our Lord’s examples and ask Him:


“(37)  … Where, Lord? “


And our difficult verse is His answer:


(37) …And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.



In order to understand the Lord’s answer, we must reason that it must have something to do with the spiritual condition of men at the Second Coming, since this is the context of the question.


Our Lord’s answer to “where”, as are so many of his answers, has multiple levels. One the most immediate level; He is describing the event of the Second Coming.


The Fathers understand the “carcase” (body) to represent our Lord Jesus Christ and the eagles to be the Saints, who naturally would be “gathered together” near Christ.


At the Second Coming, Jesus will come in power and glory, escorted by the whole angelic host, and the Saints:


“Another sign He adds of His coming, "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." The eagles denote the company of the Angels, Martyrs, and Saints”.[6]


On a deeper level, referring our Lord referring to Himself as a carcase (dead body) alludes to His passion and death. It must be that in order to be present at His second coming, when He is very much alive, we must also participate in His death.


We can also look at this place where the Eagles are gathered, to denote a condition, which is the participation in Christ’s death and resurrection by faith, that is by living as he taught us to live. Eagles are majestic creatures who soar high in the air; this denotes their spiritual condition; they are not encumbered by things below, but focus on high, spiritual things.


The preceding examples are in couplets, where one is saved and the other is not. The external circumstances were the same – two are grinding, and in a field but the internal life of each was different. Therefore, nothing external in our life will save us, but only what we become internally.  


So this gathering will occur at a point in time (or, rather at the end of time), but it also must be occurring now, in each of our lives. St Paul is describing the same idea when he exclaims that


“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1Corintians 2:2)


The image of the carcase reminds us that we also must die:


“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Rom 6:6)


In this whole conversation about the judgment, our Lord directs his disciples away from idle questions as to where and when, and gets to the heart of the matter.


For each one of us, what we do now is all that matters regarding the judgment. Anything else is idle speculation. If we are to be gathered with the Eagles when our Lord comes again, we must live according to His death and resurrection.


Please note, that a fanciful and very false idea has been formed by those outside the church regarding these verses – the so-called “rapture”. The idea is this – there will actually be a time when people are suddenly, inexplicably raptured into heaven, no matter what they are doing at the time, then a great tribulation on earth will endure, with the earth populated exclusively with “unbelievers”. There is nothing in Holy Tradition that supports this idea, which has been the basis of many profitable books and movies. The grievous error that these commentators have made is that they did not understand that the Lord was primarily describing the attributes of the soul that would be saved, and not actual events with  His references to women grinding, two men in a field, etc.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:  (14)  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Mat 7:13-14)

[2] Blessed Theofylact, Commentary on St Luke (Luke 17:26-30), Chrysostom Press

[3] Mathew 16:2-3 KJV  He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.  (3)  And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

[4] Mat 11:12 KJV  “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” This is the Christian meaning of this verse.

[5] “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:  (15)  For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.  (16)  But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Mat 13:14-16)

[6] St John Chrysostom, quoted in the Catena Aura, commentary on Matthew 24:28


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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas