Here is verse 28 in The Amplified Bible: “Wherever there is a fallen body (a corpse), there the vultures (or eagles) will flock together.” The birds described here belong to a family known as Old World Vultures, which includes eagles, buzzards, kites, and hawks. When vultures gather to eat a carcass, it is known as a “wake.”
Vultures seldom attack healthy animals, but they have a keen sense for when one is wounded or sick, often killing an unhealthy animal rather than waiting for it to finally succumb. Their digestive systems are so acidic that they can ingest rabies, cholera, botulinum toxin, and even deadly anthrax without harm. They perform a grisly but necessary job in disposing of flesh that would otherwise encourage the spread of disease.
As Christ says, where a carcass is, a wake of vultures is imminent. This tells us little, aside from the fact that it is in response to the disciples' question about the sign of His coming and the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). Combined with the reference to lightning, it implies that His return will be highly visible.
David C. Grabbe
Where the Eagles Are Gathered
In addition to a wake of vultures being a symbol of God's judgment of shame, a gathering of vultures also indicates a diseased spiritual condition. In Revelation 18:2, Babylon the Great is described as being “a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird.”
Vultures are undoubtedly at the top of the list of unclean and hated birds! End-time Babylon is the focal point of demonic spirits, which are likened to unclean birds. Both of them prey on the sick and the injured, and they gather where death is.
Even so, our greatest threat is not the Tribulation at the end! As bad as it will be, far worse is being spiritually unprepared when Christ returns and being judged as unworthy to enter the Kingdom. This is what the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the Parable of the Wedding Feast describe. This is the substance of the warnings about Christ's return being like a thief in the night—coming when He is completely unexpected. This is why He warns us against neglecting so great a salvation and against being led astray by the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of life. Jesus warns us to keep us on the path of life, so that we do not fall to the birds of prey that stalk the spiritually dying.
We are given the charge to come out of Babylon, so we do not share in her sins or in her judgment (Revelation 18:4). If we have a discerning heart, we should have a good idea of what will attract the vultures, as it will be giving off the smell of spiritual death. God gives us that discerning heart, so we can make good choices.
Do we really believe the scriptures about the swiftness of Christ's return? It is easy to look at world events and compare them to our understanding of prophecy; we know that things are bad and getting worse—but the end still seems to be just over the horizon. Because it is not here yet, it is easy to conclude, even subconsciously, that there is no need to become serious just yet.
However, this conclusion is filled with assumptions. One is that our understanding of end-time events is correct! A second assumption is that, even if we do have correct understanding, we will never lose it through deception. A third is that our faith will remain constant until the end. A fourth is that, when we do decide to get serious, that we will have ample time to build character, take on the image of God, and complete our sanctification. A fifth is that our Creator will go along with our agenda of pushing Him off until the last minute.
These are a lot of assumptions! If we are misjudging these things, we may hear those terrible words, “I never knew you; depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23)!
If we are delaying the time to start seeking God, the vultures may be eyeing us as ones who may not spiritually survive what lies ahead. Perhaps all of us have seen this happen to people we care about. If we are spiritually sick or injured, there is no time like the present to seek our Healer and Protector to beat off the hated birds!
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the foolish ones thought they had more time. They were probably aware that their reserves of oil were not as full as they could be, but they may have assumed that they could always attend to that later. They did not count on falling asleep. They did not count on life happening, that something would prohibit them from taking care of preparations they had put off.
A lesson we can draw is that, if we are not putting everything we have into our calling right now, how much time is left does not matter. If that is the case, we may find ourselves, like the foolish virgins, suddenly awake and realizing we cannot get ready in time. What we claimed we wanted will have slipped through our grasp, one day at a time.
Judgment is coming on the world, but it is on the house of God right now (I Peter 4:17). A gathering of eagles—a wake of vultures—is a symbol of God's judgment on those who stubbornly resist coming into alignment with Him. Vultures will literally gather for those who rebel against God in the final battle (Revelation 19:17-21), and they are metaphorically already circling those who cannot tear themselves away from Babylon—those who are on such good terms with the world that they are giving off the scent of spiritual death.
The multitude of warnings and prophecies means that it is a possibility for us, because it is a certainty for some. Yet, with all that God makes available, there is no good reason for that judgment to fall on us.
David C. Grabbe
Where the Eagles Are Gathered
This is an image of battle or war. Where one sees carrion birds circling, making their final sweeps before gliding down to devour carrion lying on the ground, death has occurred. If all countless birds are gathered for their fill, one can suppose that a huge battle has taken place. This is what Jesus is alluding to, a time of utter, total warfare. It tells us that Christ's return occurs not only in a time of war but involves an aspect of war. He is coming as a conquering King, a General of armies, a Man of war.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Shock and Awe - and Speed
In verses 23-28, Jesus sounds a warning to those who are so eager for His return: Do not be snookered by those who claim that Christ has returned. He is not out in the desert or hiding in some inner room. He cautions us that “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (verse 24). We need to be discerning about the information we swallow.
We can extend this in principle to cover those who think they know when, how, or where Christ will return. These are only distractions and deceptions because He has told us Himself what to look for. His return will not be secret or sneak up on us! It will be a tremendous show, as it were, like a massive flash of lightning and a roll of thunder that encompasses the whole of the sky (verse 27). His coming will be a worldwide phenomenon that no one will be able to miss. And it will happen during a time of war (verse 28).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The End Is Not Yet
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:28: