Seeing the Church and the World in Plain View
Question: (No. 2)
What did Jesus mean when He said: "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together? " (Luke 17:37)
The word "body" as used here in Luke, is termed "carcase" in (Matthew 24:28): "For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together." Obviously, they are speaking of one and the same event. The standard teaching in many Protestant churches is that these passages refer to the "secret rapture," which now because of books and movies like, "Left Behind," have become even more popular. We as Seventh-day Adventists Christians however, see it quite differently. Traditionally we have apply this event to the second return of our Lord as described (1 Thessalonians 4:14 -17, and Revelation 19:17), where, as a result of the overwhelming brightness of Jesus' coming, the wicked will be destroyed leaving the birds of carrion to feast on the carcases of the wicked.
This may sound more logical and biblical compared to the "secret rapture" idea, but perhaps we too should take a closer look at these passages. Just maybe the real meaning is very different from what even we as Adventists have thought. That is, although it is true that Christ will return again in power and great glory (Matthew 24:30,31, 1Thessalonians 4:14-17), the wicked destroyed by the brightness of Christ's coming, and birds will consume their lifeless bodies (Revelation 19:17, 18), Luke 17 and (Matthew 24:28), do not apply to that at all. Surprised? Let us explain.
The meaning of Christ words can be better understood if we consider to whom was He referring when he said, "wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.
If we go back to Luke 17 and begin with (verse 34) and read down to (verse 36), we find that our Lord prophesied that one will be "taken" and other "left." Two will be in one bed, two grinding at the mill, two in the field, and in each instance one is "taken" and the other "left." Now coming to the heart of the matter, we go to (verse 37) where the disciples who heard the prophecy asked Jesus: "Where Lord?" Where is the one taken or the one left? If we take the traditional thinking, we would answer: The one taken is the good who will be "taken" to glory, while the wicked is "left" to be consumed by the eagles or birds of carrion.
But we should ask ourselves this question, why would the disciples ask Jesus about the one "left?" We would
assume that they know that the one "left", is either in the bed, at the mill, or in the field! It is the one "taken" that they are not clear about. "Where did he or she go?" was the question that they were asking. The same can be illustrated with the normal every day occurrences of our lives. If you should go to the home of a family member or friend and notice that one of their favorite lamps or chairs is missing, wouldn't you ask them about the missing lamp or chair? Certainly you wouldn't ask them for the one still there before your eyes? So the disciples were asking, where was the one taken? Where did they go? What is the reason they are missing? Jesus' reply was in effect saying, they is dead. They were taken to destruction.
Thus the one "taken" is the unrighteous and the one "left" the righteous—the complete opposite of what we have thought. This reveals that this event could not be the second coming of Christ, because at that coming the righteous are taken to glory, while the wicked are left. But Luke 17 shows the very opposite.
Clearly, Luke is speaking of an event prior to the second coming during which the wicked will be taken in God's judgment, and the righteous live on to glory. It is the same as (Matthew 13:41), where he takes "out of His kingdom [the church]. . ." all those that "offend and them which do iniquity," while at the second coming he separates the "elect" from among the wicked in the world by taking them to heaven. (Matthew 24:31). Thus there must be two separations—one in the church and the other in the world. Of course, the one in the church is first. "judgment must begin at the house of God," says the Apostle Peter. (1 Peter 4:17). Therefore, God's destructive judgments must begin in the church first then later on in the world during the plagues and at the second coming.
Where is this judgment in the church recorded in Scripture? The pen of Inspiration gives us the clue. "Study the ninth chapter of Ezekiel. These words will be literally fulfilled.. .. 1 Here we see that the church—the Lord's sanctuary—was the first to feel the stroke of the wrath of God. . . 2 Especially in the closing work for the church. . . This is forcibly set forth by the prophet's illustration of the last work under the figure of the men each having a slaughter weapon in his hand.. . Read the ninth chapter of Ezekiel." 3
1. Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 1, p.260.
2. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church Vol. 5, p. 211
3. Ibid. Vol. 3, p. 266, 267.