Where the Carcass is Eagles Gather
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 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 is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” (Matthew 24:15-28)
In these verses our Lord is answering the questions his disciples asked about the destruction of the temple, his second coming, and the end of the world (v. 3). The verses that are now before us have specific application to the destruction of Jerusalem and our Lord’s second coming. But we must not make the mistake of imagining that they contain no message for us. These things, too, were written for our learning and admonition.
The Lord Jesus Christ so graciously cares for his own that he tenderly prepares them for the trials they must face in this world; and the means by which he does this is his Word. There are several things we should learn from these words of our Savior.
A Complete End
When the Lord God destroyed Jerusalem, the temple, and the nation of Israel, he made a complete end of the old, Mosaic, legal system of worship.
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (vv. 15-21)
The primary subject of these verses is the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. The horrors and miseries endured by the Jews in that horrible time of destruction exceeded anything recorded in the history of the world. Josephus, the Jewish historian, gives a graphic, detailed account of the havoc inflicted upon the Jewish nation by Titus. Not including the ones that perished in the city itself, more than a million Jews were slaughtered. About 100,000 were carried into slavery. That truly was a time of “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world.”
Those men and women who blasphemously cried, “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children,” had no idea what they were doing. But the Lord God heard their cry and answered it in the severity of his strict justice. And with the destruction of their city, he destroyed their entire system of worship.
Jerusalem and the temple in it were the heart of Old Testament worship. When that was destroyed, the whole legal system was destroyed, destroyed because it had all been fulfilled by Christ. The daily sacrifices, the yearly feasts, the mercy-seat, the holy of holies, the priesthood, the altar, the table of showbread, all were essential parts of worship during the legal dispensation. But once Christ came, the legal system ceased to have any function. God destroyed it forever. “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4; Col. 2:8-23).
We have no earthly temple because Christ is our temple. We have no material altar because Christ is our altar. We have no earthly mercy-seat because Christ is our mercy-seat. We observe no sabbath days because Christ is our sabbath. In Christ we are totally free from the yoke of legal bondage (Rom. 7:4; 10:4; Gal. 3:13-26).
A second lesson to be learned in this passage is not so trite as it might at first appear. Did you notice in verse 16 that our Lord plainly told his disciples to flee from certain death at the hands of persecuting tyrants? Sometimes, our wisest and most proper course of action is to flee. Prudence is always proper.
Many might think that fleeing from persecution is an indication of cowardice. It is not. Without question, we are to confess Christ before men, and be willing to die for him should providence demand it in the path of duty. But there are times when more grace is required to be quiet than to act rashly. Let us never walk away from known duty. Let us never deny or even be willing to compromise the gospel of Christ. But it is altogether proper for us to exercise wisdom and use good, sound judgment in all matters.
In our day, at least in Western countries, the violence of physical persecution is not an immediate threat to the followers of Christ. Yet, the Savior’s instruction is just as applicable to us as it was to those who heard him speak these words. When trouble arises, let us flee to our Refuge (Ps. 143:9; Pro. 18:10). When controversies rage among men, where the glory of God is not at stake, rather than engaging in them, we would be wise to flee from them.
God’s Constant Care
God’s elect are always the objects of his special love and tender care.
“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (vv. 22-24)
I remind you that the world is but scaffold for the building of God’s church and kingdom. The reprobate reap many of the benefits of providence. But the objects of providence are “the elect.” Those days of tribulation were shortened “for the elect’s sake.”
This will be of tremendous help if you can get hold of it. God’s care is for his elect. He hears their prayers. He keeps them by his Spirit. He orders all the affairs of the world for their good (Rom. 8:28). He allows neither men nor devils to harm them. He sacrifices men and nations for them (Isa. 43:5-7). Be wise and make your calling and election sure. Tribulation and trouble are sure to attend our lives in this world. But in the midst of our earthly woes, here are three soft pillows for your aching head: (1.) Electing Love, (2.) Our Crucified Savior, and (3.) Divine Providence. God does everything “for the elect’s sake.”
“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.” (vv. 24-26).
There are many antichrists in this world (1 John 4:1-4). I have no problem at all in stating, as our forefathers did in great faithfulness, that the pope is antichrist and the church of Rome is antichrist. I do not mean that is the way it used to be. I mean that his unholiness, the pope, is antichrist. Roman Catholicism is antichrist. That fact cannot be stated too often, or too emphatically.
However, it is a serious mistake to limit antichrist to one man, or one religious sect. Antichrist was already at work in the Apostolic age. John said many antichrists had gone out into the world. Paul had to contend with antichrists at Galatia, Colosse, Corinth, and Jerusalem. 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 3 describes antichrist as “the man of sin, the son of perdition.” Antichrist is one who opposes God, exalts himself above God, and/or sits himself up in the temple of God to be worshipped as God, showing that he is God.
That is to say, antichrist is any system of religion, any man, any preacher, any church, any denomination that makes salvation to be dependent upon or determined by the will, works, and worth of man, rather than the will, works, and worth of Christ. It does not matter whether that system of religion is conservative or liberal, a mainline Protestant Church or a wild cult, Baptist or Methodist, Pentecostal or Presbyterian. Any church, doctrine, preacher, or religious system that makes man the center-piece is antichrist.
Let me be understood. Those who teach that God’s will can be altered, hindered, or thwarted by man’s will, are, according to Colossians 2, will worshippers, not God worshippers. They are antichrists. Those who teach that the merit and efficacy of Christ’s atonement resides in man’s will, man’s decision, and man’s faith are antichrists. Those who teach that the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit may be successfully resisted by man are antichrists. Those who teach that grace can be forfeited or taken away as the result of something a man does are antichrists.
Any religion, any doctrine, any gospel that turns you away from looking to Christ alone as your Savior is antichrist. A Christ who loves but cannot save is a useless Christ, an antichrist. A Christ who redeems but does not save is a useless Christ, an antichrist. A Christ who calls but does not convert is a useless Christ, an antichrist. A Christ whose work depends upon the will or work of the sinner to make it effectual and complete is a useless Christ, an antichrist. A Christ who wills the salvation of any who are not actually saved by his power is a useless Christ, an antichrist.
Our Lord’s second coming will be a sudden, climatic, glorious event. — “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” (v. 27). Contrary to the “prophecy experts” of our day, there is no such thing as a secret rapture. When our Lord appears, his coming will be as startling and sudden as a bolt of lightening. He will be seen by all men at once (Rev. 1:7). His coming will terrify the wicked. But it will be the delight of the believer. Let us live every moment in the hope and expectation of his glorious advent (Tit. 2:14; Jude 1:21).
Where the Carcass Is
“For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (v. 28). — There are two common interpretations given to this verse by sound, orthodox men. Frankly, I do not know which is strictly correct; but since both are theologically sound, I will give them both to you.
Most of the commentators teach that the carcass here refers to empty, dead Judaism, and the eagles to the flocks of lost religious men and women who clung to it feverishly, even to the destruction of their lives and of the lives of their sons and daughters. So it is today. Find a church that is utterly dead, void of the knowledge of God, his gospel, his Word, his grace, his Son, and his glory, and you will find a church full of lost religionists. Foul, unclean birds feed upon a dead carcass. Where there is no life, people cling to rituals, ceremonies, creeds, and emotionalism.
But there is another interpretation, one that I think is better. Perhaps the carcass here refers to our Lord Jesus Christ, who was slain for our sins, and the eagles refer to chosen sinners like you and me who flee to him for salvation and life. In that case the lesson is this: — Christ crucified is the great magnet by which God draws chosen sinners to himself. Whether that is the teaching of this verse or not, I will not attempt to say; but it is the teaching of Holy Scripture (John 12:32; 1 Cor. 1:21-23). And that is clearly our Savior’s teaching in Luke 17:38, where he makes a similar statement. — “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Notice the use of the definite article. Our Lord said, “Wheresoever the body is (not wheresoever bodies are), thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Also, notice that he speaks of eagles (not buzzards) in the plural.
“The body” of the One slain is our Lord Jesus Christ. “The eagles” are God’s elect who are gathered to him in faith. This is clearly the teaching of Holy Scripture (Deut. 32:8-12; Job 9:25-26) and the teaching of our Savior here. God’s elect are spoken of in the Scriptures as eagles. His church is given “the wings of the eagle, that great eagle” (Rev. 12:14). — “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles” (Isa. 41:31).
Wherever Christ crucified is set forth in the preaching of the gospel, wherever the crucified Christ is revealed to men by the power and grace of his Spirit through the preaching of the gospel, there his elect will be gathered unto him “in the day when the Son of man is revealed.”
Christ’s eagles “gather” to him who is their food. He is the One upon whom we live. He is to us life eternal. The body of our slain Savior, Christ crucified is the meeting-point of his elect. He is the great magnet, drawing needy souls, like eagles to the carcass. He said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
God our Creator in the Book of Job says of the eagle, his creature, “She abideth upon the rock from thence she seeketh the prey; her eyes behold afar off… where the slain are, there is she.” God our Savior here tells us, “As the eagles gather round the body, so the souls of men, chosen, redeemed, and called by my grace, are gathered unto me.” Keen and swift as eagles for the prey are God’s elect for Christ crucified. These are the words of our blessed Savior. Let not one of them fall to the ground. — “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.”
The eagle is a bird of prey. In all birds of prey, we are told, there is great sense of smell. Added to its sense of smell, the eagle has a ravenous appetite. Compelled by hunger and its sense of smell, it flies quickly, at every opportunity to its feast. But the eagle is not a vulture. It does not feed on dead things, but living. And the crucified Christ, upon whom our souls feed, though once slain as our Substitute, is alive for evermore!
If Christ has given us life in himself, if he has made us alive by his grace, he gives us a continually increasing appetite and hunger for himself. Does he not? Do you not hunger for him, for his grace, for his embrace, for his face, for his righteousness, for his blood, for his presence? Hungering for him, his eagles fly to the place where he is, like famished birds hastening to the prey. They fly with eager anticipation to his house, his Word, his ordinances, and his throne of grace.
As David longed for the waters of Bethlehem when he was thirsty, O let our souls long for Christ. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks," so he longed for his God. May the same be true of you and me. Oh for grace to have our souls hungering for Christ crucified day and night! As the eagles gather together unto the prey, so should we be found feasting upon Christ crucified relentlessly. In him, in his glorious excellencies is everything our souls need. His name is our Salvation and High Tower. His blood is our atonement. His righteousness is our dress. His perfections are our delight. His promises are our meditation. His grace is our assurance. His visits are our sweet memories. His presence is our joy. His strength is our comfort. His glory is our ambition. His coming is our hope. His company forever is our heaven!
Crave him! Crave him! Like birds of prey crave their food, let us crave our Savior. If we have tasted that the Lord is gracious, let us feast upon him. May God give us an insatiable, constant, ever-increasing hunger for Christ, a hunger for everything he is, for everything he gives, for everything he has done, for everything that belongs to him, touches him, and smells of him, a hunger that graciously forces us ever to fly to him, like an eagle to the prey! Wherever Christ is, there will his people fly, as eagles to the prey and as doves to their windows (Isa. 60:8).