The Eagles are Coming

For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Matthew 24:28, NKJV)

This is one of the strangest prophecies in scripture. It is also one of the most interesting. It is found in the middle of Christ’s warnings about the fall of Jerusalem. Jesus is basically saying there will be a dead body (the fallen city) and birds of prey will gather around it.

But why eagles?

Because that’s what the Romans carried on their aquila or ensigns, and it was the Romans who destroyed the city and burned the temple.

But note that Jesus says eagles and not eagle. There’s more than one and this is particularly interesting once you understand the context of the temple’s history.

When Herod built his temple he stuck a golden eagle on its gate, perhaps as a nod to Roman benevolence. It was a gorgeous sculpture, but the Pharisees didn’t like it one bit.

“What blasphemy! Doesn’t Herod know we forbid the making of images?”

The religious Jews loved the new temple but they hated the eagle, so a couple of scholars pulled it down. Herod was furious and had the two men burned alive. After that he let the matter rest. Eagle come, eagle go. There was no more eagle on the temple.

All this happened at around the time Christ was born. No doubt he heard stories about the controversial eagle growing up. And this is what makes Christ’s prophecy all the more significant.

To recap, Jesus is sitting on a hill overlooking a temple that once had an eagle on it. So when Jesus points to this building, alludes to dead bodies and eagles gathering, his four listeners would have paid special attention.

Less than forty years later, an eagle showed up outside the walls of Jerusalem. This eagle was the ensign of the famous Twelfth Legion, the XII Fulminata or Thunderbolt legion originally levied by Julius Caesar.

Was this Christ’s prophecy coming to past? Nope – it was just one eagle and one eagle does not constitute a gathering of eagles.

The Twelfth Legion and its single eagle besieged Jerusalem for about a week before retreating. (Why did they leave? Nobody knows for sure, but it is possible Cestius Gallus, the legate, felt the Twelfth was under-equipped to prosecute a lengthy siege.) During its withdrawal the Twelfth Legion was attacked by Jewish forces at Bethoron. The legion lost 6,000 men, their siege weapons, and their precious aquila or eagle.

For a Roman legion to lose its eagle standard was a devastating blow. It was like losing its soul. The Romans would move heaven and earth to retrieve a lost eagle.

Less than a year after the defeat at Bethoron, the Romans returned to Israel in strength. This time they meant business.

Cestius Gallus had marched on Jerusalem with one legion, but in AD70 Titus returned with four: the Fifth, the Tenth, the Fifteenth, and a reconstituted Twelfth. It was an impressive display of strength, with 60,000 soldiers and auxiliaries in total. With such massive numbers the Romans were confident of success. They arrived at the start of Passover and locked up the city like a prison.

Four legions equals four eagles. Was Christ’s prophecy finally coming to pass?

One legion or eagle had not been sufficient to do prosecute a siege, but four eagles were more than enough. And when Jerusalem fell, an emaciated and dismembered carcass, there the eagles were gathered.

______

Extracted from chapter 12, “The eagles are coming,” from Paul Ellis’s book AD70 and the End of the World.

32 Comments on The Eagles are Coming

  1. Such an interesting piece.

  2. Thank you for this informative and contextual posting!

  3. Ed Rasmussen // March 29, 2018 at 8:19 am // Reply

    Often wondered what the eagles signified in Matt 24:28. Your take on it makes sense. Thanks.

  4. Thanks Paul, so please help me understand context groom your perspective: does verse 27, also refer to the AD.70 siege tribulation, and verse 29 (“immediately after…”) – 31 too?
    Thanks.

    • Matthew 24 can be divided into a two-part response to the disciples’ two questions. The first part pertains to the stones coming down (i.e., the destruction of the temple); the second part pertains to his return. It’s hard to unpack it all in the limited space of a comment, but the short answer to your question is yes. Jesus is speaking of things that will happen within one generation (v.34).

      • “The stones coming down” reminds me of “the handwriting of requirements that was against us being wiped out”.

  5. Ayo Martins // March 29, 2018 at 8:47 am // Reply

    Wow..
    But sir, how do you get so much insight? Thanks for being consistent with this site sir.
    More grace and strength to you sir.

    • I got this insight by reading the Bible in one hand and the works of the historian Josephus in the other. It is our ignorance of history that leaves some prophetic scriptures mysterious and opens us up to ridiculous teaching. Thanks for the comment.

      • St. Allen // April 10, 2018 at 12:15 pm //

        The Holy Spirit will open the scriptures to us, if we will surrender to Him with humble hearts and teachable spirits.

  6. Excellent explanation of a confusing prophecy! Well done. Have you read Robert Farrar Capon? While he’s admittedly obsessed with death as the instrument of resurrection, he gives a very vivid take on this prophecy, too: he says the dead are the people God can work with — those of us clinging to our lives are impossible for God to resurrect. Want to attract God? Keel over and become carrion, and then Father Son and Spirit Eagles will swoop down on you like nobody’s business. It worked for Jesus.

  7. Interesting bit of history. NIV says vultures. I always saw a link between this verse and Revelation 19 v17 ‘the great supper of God’ birds eating the left over of the armies that messed with the Lord at his Second Coming.

    • A classic example of translators trying to make sense of an obscure passage by rewriting it. “Carcass? It must be a vulture, right?” Bad translation. Let scripture interpret scripture and it’s clearly eagles. It’s the same phrase the Lord used when speaking to Job (see Job 39:27-30).

      • St. Allen // March 29, 2018 at 9:26 am //

        Roman soldiers were eagles on the outside and vultures on the inside.

      • Yes, I checked it out, definitely eagles.

      • St. Allen // March 29, 2018 at 8:11 pm //

        It is? Yeah, me thinks perhaps it is what it is, and when it is what it is, it can’t be what it isn’t. Isn’t that right? I can hear those eagles screaming, “YES”!

  8. Jerusalem will one day be the capital of the whole world. Has God cast away His people? God forbid.

  9. Paul Ellis is obviously a very gifted writer.

  10. Stella Emmanuel // March 29, 2018 at 9:56 am // Reply

    Thanks and remain blessed.

  11. Greetings!
    Awesome edification of Scripture and history, postulated eloquently. Greatly Appreciated!
    JWB

  12. Ed Rasmussen // March 29, 2018 at 11:26 am // Reply

    So it is said that Jerusalem and the temple will be utterly destroyed; not one stone will be left standing upon another. Then you’re saying Jesus’ return will happen in the same generation as those who witnessed the fall of the temple? So then to where is Jesus returning…back to the earth or back to the Father?

  13. Thanks, Paul. “So it is said that Jerusalem and the temple will be utterly destroyed; not one stone will be left standing upon another.” I have pondered over this word that I thought meant what happened in 70 AD. Yet, the Romans returned in 132-135 AD to Jerusalem where Jews and Jewish Christians were still living (??) and exiled all Jews and (apparently) destroyed the city (again?) Then they renamed it and built Roman temples etc. there – according to some historians. So were there some stones still standing on each other in 70 AD or did they rebuild it or…? Any insight on this bigger picture? LR

    • Jerusalem was destroyed twice by Roman legions (in AD70 and 136) and rebuilt twice by Roman Emperors (Hadrian in 130 and Constantine in 335). The stones-coming-down prophecy refers to the temple, and that was never rebuilt. After the destruction of the city in AD70, travelers who had visited Jerusalem were unable to recognize the place.

  14. Very insightful. God bless!

  15. Thanks for the details, Paul. And especially your archives!!

  16. Divine Dela // March 30, 2018 at 6:08 am // Reply

    Great article as usual..I bought and read the pdf of AD 70. It’s a masterpiece. Paul does a great job of explaining some scriptures that have been hard for myself and many people I know to understand. You have a beautiful and fun way of removing fear and uncertainty and increasing my heart with grace and so much love for Jesus.

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