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Jesus talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God in Luke 17:20-37. This passage raises four related questions for me:

  1. Is this talking about the Rapture?
  2. Where is "a dead body", that Jesus mentions at the end?
  3. Who are the vultures? Those taken?
  4. Is this talking about a world wide event? That one group is asleep and the other is awake would appear to imply this involves multiple time zones.

Here is the full text from Luke 17:20-37 (with my emphasis) (there is a similar story in Matthew 24:36-40):

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.

“Where, Lord?” they asked.

He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”

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+1 Good Question –  Jamess Sep 22 '11 at 9:46
    
This needs broken up into two questions. Items 1 and 4 are asking if this is the rapture. Items 2 and 3 are asking about this particular line sentence that Jesus spoke. Please break this up so that you won't get wildly diverging answers. (Plus it gets you more rep from more questions!) –  Richard Sep 22 '11 at 14:22
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This one line "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." is parable.

This would be the equivalent of saying, "Where there's smoke, there's fire."


Long answer:

Where, Lord?
The question that Jesus is responding to is also a bit confusing (particularly given our modern understanding of the rapture). However, the question of "Where, Lord?" seems to be addressing the last thing Jesus says. He just finished saying that the "Son of Man" will come and gather his people. The disciples' question seems to ask "Where will they be gathered to."

This very much is a reference to what we call the "rapture". This is the "gathering up" of people that Jesus will perform in the last days. Just before this he talks about how the world is turning evil and then he says that he will come back and gather his people. This is definitely what we modernly call the "rapture".

Jesus replies
His reply to the question of "Where, Lord?" is a parable. He's basically saying, "Where there's smoke, there's fire." The meaning behind this is:

"That should be pretty obvious to you."

Jesus was saying that his kingdom was coming, the world was about to end, he was about to gather his people. The disciples ask a stupid question: "Where will you gather them?" Jesus doesn't even bother giving a straight answer because the answer is obvious: He's gathering them to heaven to be with him forever.

Why use a parable?
The reason that the answer is obvious is because, he's already answered that question. Just previously in Luke 17:20-21 the passage begins Jesus' speech with "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed."

The entire speech is about the Kingdom of God. So when they ask, "Where will they be gathered." He just replies in parables, since he's already made it obvious.

Summary

This phrase about vultures and a dead body is just Jesus way of saying, "Hey, it should be obvious". He's not trying to imply anything with vultures or dead bodies. Just like the phrase "Where there's smoke there's fire" today does not imply smoke, fire, or anything related to smoke or fire.

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+1 I had always interpreted the dead body to be an antichrist, with the vultures being those led astray, after whom we are not to follow. But I think your answer is more direct. –  Robert Haraway Sep 22 '11 at 19:24
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@AmbroseH That's not an uncommon interpretation. However, if you read the passage through, the answer seems completely out of context and almost entirely random. That's why the above explanation makes so much sense. Jesus often responded using parables that seemed to not have anything to do with the topic being asked. This is just another example. –  Richard Sep 22 '11 at 19:29
    
BTW - I wouldn't call it a stupid question. If anything, the Gospel encourages us to ask questions by pointing out when the disciples did not ask but should have: Mark 9:32. –  Wikis Sep 30 '11 at 9:44
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It is a common view that this part is talking about the rapture:

"I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

In that case the ones taken would be raptured while the left ones were in troubles, or tribulation.

There are other views too. Kingdom Theology for example looks at this like this:

In Noah's time, the people that were left on the earth were the people after God's heart, while the ones taken were in fault. This teaching is started by likening the times with Jesus is talking about to the times of Noah. If we follow that analogy, to be taken has to be translated as to die (a valid translation from the Greek). According to Kingdom Theology there is no rapture, as both accepted and not accepted will live on earth until the ones that are not accepted are done away.

This view is supported by the parable of the wheat and the tares, where the tares are kept until harvest and then burned.

This interpretation can be argued pointing out that both Noah and Lot left the place of destruction, while the others stayed and died. Yet leaving and staying are active decisions on the part of the people, while being taken and being left are not.

Both views are within the local context valid interpretations and can be used to support both Rapture and Kingdom Theology.

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