"Where the eagles are gathered": The deliverance of the elect in Lukan eschatology

Steven Leonard Bridge, Marquette University


Recent studies on the end times in the Gospel of Luke have tended to concentrate on the timing of this event relative to the evangelist's own perception of history. In my dissertation, I have suggested that for Luke, the timing of the eschaton is not nearly as important as its nature. Nowhere is this nature treated more thoroughly than in Jesus' Eschatological Discourse (Luke 17:22-37). Authorities agree that the most enigmatic aspect of the Discourse is its conclusion. Jesus' description of people in the midst of their normal activities suddenly being "taken" and "left" (17:34-35) prompts the disciples to ask, "Where?" Jesus responds, "Where the body is, there the vultures/eagles will be gathered together." Because it appears in the final, climactic position, Jesus' answer sets the tone for the entire Discourse. Its precise meaning, however, remains uncertain. At least twenty different exegetical proposals are considered (chapter one). Despite this diversity, most commentators take Luke 17:37 as a grisly image of impending recompense. The purpose of my study is to challenge this perception. I have sought to demonstrate that Luke understood the saying in a completely different sense--one that portrays not the judgment of sinners but the deliverance of saints. My interpretation is based on Luke's context and the changes he makes to the saying itself (chapter two). It is also based on the ancient literary distinction between vultures and eagles. The word in this logion is typically used to denote the eagle. Furthermore, according to the ancient literature, it was the eagle's role to transport the elect to heaven (chapter three). The ubiquity of this tradition is well-attested, but the nearest parallels to Luke's Discourse occur in the Jewish literature (chapter four). My proposed reading of Luke's Discourse is compared to the eschatological material elsewhere in Luke-Acts. This material suggests the influence of the same Jewish sources and appears to corroborate Luke's expectation of an ethereal reunion (chapter five). Therefore, it is my contention that the most characteristic feature of Lukan eschatology is neither judgment nor punishment, but the deliverance of the elect.

Recommended Citation

Bridge, Steven Leonard, ""Where the eagles are gathered": The deliverance of the elect in Lukan eschatology" (2000). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9977745.