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The Abomination of Desolation

Matthew 24:15 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

15 “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),

Matthew 24:13 reads, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:14 said, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:15 begins with the Greek word hotan “whenever” followed by oun “therefore, which reads in English, “Therefore when,” which connects what preceded, “the end,” and leads into what follows. Let us take a moment to investigate verse 15.

In verse 3-14, Jesus outlined the signs of “the end of the age.” Here in Mathew 24:15, Jesus begins with “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand).” If we look at the corresponding accounts in Mark and Luke, they offer us additional insights. Mark 13:14 says, “standing where it ought not to be.” Luke 21:20 adds Jesus’ words, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know[1] that its desolation has come near.” The complete picture is an “abomination” “standing in the holy place,” i.e., “where it ought not be,” namely, “Jerusalem surrounded by armies,”

This is a reference to the Roman army, which assaulted Jerusalem and its temple starting in 66 C.E., under General Cestus Gallus. The temple was the “holy place” and the abomination was the Roman army “standing where it ought not to be.” As for the “desolation,” this came in 70 C.E. when General Titus of the Roman army completely desolated Jerusalem and its temple. Specifically, what was this “abomination”? Moreover, in what sense was it “standing in the holy place”?

Jesus had urged the readers to understand. What was it that they were to understand? They were to understand that “which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet,” i.e. Daniel 9:27. Part “b” of verse 27 reads “And upon the wing of abominations shall come the one causing desolation, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one causing desolation.” – Daniel 9:26-27; see also Daniel 11:31; 12:11.

The abomination of desolation is an expression that recurs in Daniel with some variation in wording (Daniel 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11), where most scholars agree that there is a reference to the desecration perpetrated by Antiochus Epiphanes when he built an altar to Zeus in the temple and offered swine and other unclean animals on it as sacrifices (cf. 1 Macc. 1:41–61).[2]

We can have it but one of two ways, as Jesus’ words were a clear reference to the Roman armies of 66–70 C.E. It may very well be that Daniel’s prophecy points to Antiochus Epiphanes “who in 167 [B.C.E., 200-years before Jesus uttered his prophecy] plundered the temple, ordered the sacrificial system to cease, and polluted the altar of the Lord by turning it into a pagan altar, where unclean sacrifices were offered to pagan deities.”[3] This would be no different from Matthew referring to Hosea 11:1 (When Israel was a child … and out of Egypt I called my son). In that case, Matthew did not use Hosea’s intended meaning, but carried out an Inspired Sensus Plenior Application, by having a whole other meaning, an entirely different meaning for those words, making them applicable to Jesus being called back out of Egypt. It could be that Jesus used Daniel’s prophecy about Antiochus Epiphanes, and gave is an Inspired Sensus Plenior Application, by having a whole other meaning, a completely different meaning for those words, making them applicable to the Roman armies desolating Jerusalem between 66 and 70 C.E. Then, again, it could be that was what Daniel was pointing to all along, and Jesus used Daniel’s words in a grammatical-historical application. Either way, it still comes out the same.

During the days of the Maccabees this expression was used to describe the sacrilege of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who decreed that an altar to Olympian Zeus and perhaps a statue of himself were to be erected in the temple on 15 Chislev, 167 b.c.: “They erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah.” Antiochus further decreed that the Sabbath and other festal observances were to be profaned, that circumcision was to be abolished, and that swine and other unclean animals were to be sacrificed in the temple (cf. 1 Macc. 1:41–50). This was one of the lowest points of Jewish history and was considered by many the primary focus of Daniel’s prophecy. Jesus now quotes Daniel directly to clarify that the fulfillment of the “abomination that causes desolation” is yet future.[4]

When Jesus uttered those words of verse 15, the abomination of desolation was yet to appear. Jesus was clearly pointing to the Roman army of 66 C.E., with its distinctive standards, which were idols to the Romans and the empire, but an abomination to the Jews.

roman-standards_

Image 2 STANDARD OF THE 10TH ROMAN LEGION This Legion attacked and destroyed Jerusalem in the Jewish War (A.D. 70).

Judæa was under the charge of a Roman official, a subordinate of the governor of the Roman province of Syria, who held a relation to that functionary similar to that which the Governor of Bombay holds to the Governor-General at Calcutta. Roman soldiers paraded the streets of Jerusalem; Roman standards waved over the fastnesses of the country; Roman tax-gatherers sat at the gate of every town. To the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish organ of government, only a shadow of power was still conceded, its presidents, the high priests, being mere puppets of Rome, set up and put down with the utmost caprice. So low had the proud nation fallen whose ideal it had ever been to rule the world, and whose patriotism was a religious and national passion as intense and unquenchable as ever burned in any country.[5]

Matthew 24:16 (UASV)

16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

 

 

Mark 3:14b (UASV)

14 “… then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

 

 

Luke 21:21 (UASV)

21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it;

Looking at verse 20 of Luke 21, we know that it fits the fact that General Cestius Gallus had “the holy city” Jerusalem (Matt. 4:5)[6] surrounded, which had become the center of the Jewish revolt against Rome. Thirty-three years had passed since Jesus uttered his prophecy, but now the “abomination of desolation” of Rome was near. Gallus and his armies were responding to the Jewish revolt, at the time of the celebration of the festival of booths (tabernacles), October 19-25. On about November 3-4, the Roman army entered the city of Jerusalem, where they attacked the temple wall for five days, weakening it on the sixth day. However, for some unforsaken reason, he pulls away. On this attack of Cestius Gallus, Josephus’ Wars of the Jews 2.539, says that “had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.” A footnote in Flavius Josephus and William Whiston reads,

There may another very important, and very providential, reason be here assigned for this strange and foolish retreat of Cestius; which, if Josephus had been now a Christian, he might probably have taken notice of also; and that is, the affording the Jewish Christians in the city an opportunity of calling to mind the prediction and caution given them by Christ about thirty-three years and a half before, that “when they should see the abomination of desolation” [the idolatrous Roman armies, with the images of their idols in their ensigns, ready to lay Jerusalem desolate,] “stand where it ought not;” or, “in the holy place;” or, “when they should see Jerusalem encompassed with armies,” they should then “flee to the mountains.”

By complying with which those Jewish Christians fled to the mountains of Perea, and escaped this destruction. See Lit. Accompl. of Proph. pp. 69–70. Nor was there, perhaps, any one instance of a more unpolitic, but more providential conduct than this retreat of Cestius, visible during this whole siege of Jerusalem; which yet was providentially such a “great tribulation, as had not been from the beginning of the world to that time; no, nor ever should be.”—Ibid., pp. 70–71.[7]

Matthew 24:17-18 (UASV)

17 Let the man who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the man who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.

Mark 13:15-16 (UASV)

15 let the man who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out; 16 and let the man who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.

When General Gallus suddenly, for no seemingly good reason, withdrew his armies, they suffered substantial fatalities at the hands of the Jews, who were pursuing them. This would wake the Jewish and Gentile Christians to Jesus’ words, and that a great tribulation would soon be upon them. (Matt. 24:21) This gave them the opportunity to flee, and for no Christian, to return until the tribulation had passed. Eusebius of Caesarea (260/265 – 339/340 C.E.), a Christian, who was a Roman historian, writes,

But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed [promised] to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella.[8] And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3)

Josephus, first-century Jewish historian (33–100 C.E.), tells us that the Jews waited for God’s help, not realizing this was the day of the Lord, a judgment day upon them,

A false prophet[9] was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now, a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when a such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such deliverance. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6.285–87)

Dio Chrysostom expresses wonder at the level of Jewish fight that they possessed to the very end of the revolt,

The Jews resisted [Titus] with more ardor than ever, as if it were a kind of windfall [an unexpected piece of luck] to fall fighting against a foe far outnumbering them; they were not overcome until a part of the Temple had caught fire. Then some impaled themselves voluntarily on the swords of the Romans, others slew each other, others did away with themselves or leaped into the flames. They all believed, especially the last, that it was not a disaster but victory, salvation, and happiness to perish together with the Temple. (Dio Chrysostom, Orations 66.6–2–3.)

Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on Matthew 24:17 tell us, “Likewise, there will not be time to gather provisions in the home. The flat rooftops on many homes in Israel were places to find a cool breeze in the evening and were considered part of the living quarters.” (Arnold 2002, 150) In Jewish homes of those who could afford a multiform house, there was a staircase outside that led to the roof. The poor would have had a ladder in the courtyard, which led to the roof. Therefore, anyone on the housetop of their home, which was very common, could leave without having to enter their home. Moreover, many homes were built side-by-side, and it was possible to walk from one rooftop to the next. These backgrounds fit what Jesus meant by the words that he used. Whether Jesus meant his words in a hyperbolic sense of, ‘when you see these things, act immediate, do not delay,’ or literally, ‘do not even look back, get out,’ it is clear that Christians considered Jesus’ warning serious, knowing that mere materials were not worth the loss of their lives.

Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on Matthew comments on verse 18 that “The outer coat was an essential garment for traveling, often used as a blanket when sleeping outdoors, and only those in the greatest hurry would think of leaving it behind.” (Arnold 2002, 150) ZIBBC comments on Mark 13:18, saying, “Winter is the time of heavy rains in Palestine, flooding roads and wadis. Gadarene refugees during the first revolt sought shelter in Jericho but could not cross the swollen Jordan and were slain by the Romans.304 Winter travel is also hazardous if people are to traverse mountain passes.” (Arnold 2002, 283)

Matthew 24:19 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days![10]

Certainly, the modern day woman has taken on some very rigorous activities. Recently, this author saw news of a woman in her eighth months of pregnancy, running a marathon. However, in the days of the first century C.E., an extended flight over mountainous terrain on foot would be very difficult and quite dangerous. This would be especially true for any woman close to her due date. When the Romans finally desolated Jerusalem in 70 C.E., pregnant women, and those with young, were shown no mercy by the Roman troops. As the months of laying siege to the city drug on feminine prevailed, which for a pregnant woman, the baby would be robbing the woman of nourishment. For example, the baby would take the mother’s calcium for bone development, meaning the woman could lose all of her teeth. Moreover, some mother gave birth, and had to watch her child starve to death, and in some cases, the people would take the child, cook it and eat it.

Matthew 24:20 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.

This verse is self-explanatory, as we can only imagine the Christians trying to escape over mountainous terrain during the winter. Imagine, if they ignored the warning, procrastinated until the Roman troops arrived, and had to make their escape in the winter; when, they could have left earlier. Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on Matthew comments on verse 18, saying, “Flight in winter, when roads are washed out and rivers are swollen, presents, even more difficulty for those fleeing the horrors of the coming desolation. In prayer the disciples must cling to God’s presence and ever-ready help, even though they may have to disrupt even the most devoutly held religious traditions, such as the Jewish Sabbath.” (Arnold 2002, 150)

Matthew 24:21 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.

As we looking at Matthew 24:15-22 with Luke 21:20-24, the great tribulation of Jesus’ prophecy is applicable to what took place in Jerusalem. The fulfillment of these words came in 70 C.E., when General Titus and his Roman armies laid siege to the city, desolating it, killing 1,100,000 Jews, whereas 97,000 who survived were taken into captivity. (Whiston 1987, Wars of the Jews 6.420) Some might are argue that the 6,000,000 million Jews killed by Hitler during World War II was certainly a greater tribulation than 70 C.E. However, the difference is God used the Roman army as a tool to judge (“a day of the Lord”) the Jews for their 1,500 years of false worship, child sacrifice, murder, and the execution of the Son of God. After 70 C.E. Jerusalem was never again the holy city that it once was, nor were the Jews God’s chosen people. Therefore, the suffering that the Jews faced during World War II was not as a judgment of God, but rather an unexpected or unforeseen event of human imperfection, as the result of Adamic sin, no different from any other atrocity on humanity.

Matthew 24:22 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

22 And if those days had not been cut short, no flesh would have been saved: but for the chosen ones[11] sake those days shall be shortened.

Again, these words are applicable to a preliminary fulfillment in 66-70 C.E. If we recall the city was under siege by General Cestius Gallus, who had the city, were undermining the Temple wall, with many of the Jews ready to surrender, but for some unknown reason pulled away, suffering great casualties at the hands of the pursuing Jews. Had Gallus not pulled away, leaving several years before Titus would come back and finish the job, the chosen ones,[12] i.e., predominantly Jewish and some Gentile Christians would have not been saved from the desolation. Yes, they heeded Jesus words, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know[13] that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it.” (Luke 21:20-21) Thus, the Christians fled the city that was doomed to suffer destruction of 70 C.E.

Matthew 24:23-26 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

23 Then if any man says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones.[14] 25 Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.

We have discussed this aspect extensively earlier. Jesus’ prophecy about the end of the Jewish age and the end of wicked humanity, reads, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” (Matt 24:4-5) Here in our current verses, Jesus tells us who specifically is being “led astray,” “For false Christs [Gr., pseudochristoi] and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones.” Any who falsely claim to be Christ (anointed one or Messiah), or claim to be a special representative of Christ, are included in the “antichrist” [Gr., antichristos], which is mentioned five times by the apostle John. (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7) For more information on the Antichrist, see, WHO IS THE ANTICHRIST? Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith.[15]

There were false Christs and false prophets that came on the scene before 70 C.E., and the destruction of the Jewish age. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus confirms this as he writes that before the Romans ever attacked, false Messiahs prompted rebellion. To mention just a couple, there is Menahem ben Judah, who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah and is mentioned by Josephus. Then, there is Theudas, who claimed to be the Messiah a Jewish rebel of the 1st century C.E., who between 44 and 46 CE, led his followers in a short-lived revolt. However, as is self-evident, they showed themselves to be false, charlatans, as they did not deliver the Jewish people from the Roman armies. After the destruction of Jerusalem, up unto this day, the Jews[16] have put faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but have rather continued their search for a Messiah in the flesh.

Conversely, both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians have evidenced their faith in Jesus Christ, as they have continued to look at the end of Satan’s rule over the earth, the end of wicked humankind, the return of Jesus Christ and his millennial reign. There have been many notable people in the 18th to the 21st century, who have been claimed to be the reincarnation or incarnation of Jesus or the Second Coming of Christ. Either they have made these claims or their followers have made the claim. To mention just a couple, Jim Jones (1931–1978), founder of Peoples Temple, this started as a branch of a mainstream Protestant group before becoming a cult. Then, we have Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997), an American, who posted a famous message declaring, “I, Jesus, Son of God,” whose Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide on March 26, 1997. Wayne Bent (1941–), AKA Michael Travesser of the Lord Our Righteousness Church. He claimed, “I am the embodiment of God. I am divinity and humanity combined.”

If any reader does not believe that they can fall victim to charismatic persons, they are deceiving themselves. Millions of Christians have fallen victim to such ones, and they have not even had the satanic power of ‘showing great signs and wonders,’ which will be the result before humanities “great tribulation.” Then, we have Christians that pick up these end times books, going around speaking of how much truth are within them, when the author(s) has gone beyond what the Word of God says. Finally, there are Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians that number over 500 million, a quarter of the world’s two billion Christians. This author sees the religious leaders of these groups as the false Christs, antichrists, false prophets that will be the catalyst to the major false Christs, antichrists, false prophets before the great tribulation. Excessive emotionalism within Christianity brings about a blind desire for the return of Christ, opening many up to a situation in which religious leaders offer biblical passages that incorrectly match a return of Christ, e.g. signs of the times, a charismatic person, world events, bad prooftexting, and the like.

The information herein is based on the disciples coming to Jesus privately, saying, “Tell us, (1) when will these things be, and (2) what will be the sign of your coming, and (3) of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)

These questions refer to the end of an age, which was referred to in Matthew 24:1-2,

1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when[17] his disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to him. And he said to them, “Do you not see all these things? [the temple buildings] Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

Jesus is referring to the end of the Jewish age, which was to come in 66-70 C.E., with the desolation and destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. The disciples’ questions were based on a presumption the end of the temple equal the end of the age, encompassing Christ’s return, the judgment of the wicked and the setting up of his kingdom. The rest of Matthew 24 and 25 is Jesus answering their question. In his words, he does address what will lead up to the end of the Jewish age, as well as the end of wicked humankind age, and his second coming, his kingdom, and his thousand year reign. We have to understand the end of the Jewish age as well because all prophecy has an application to those who hear it, which will help us understand how it applies to the end of sinful, wicked humanity and Christ’s return.

Matthew 24:27-28 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

27 For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

The phrase “for just as,” helps us to appreciate in what sense we should expect the arrival of the Son of Man. Again, without coming across as dogmatic, we will adopt a wait and see attitude, but this author does not hold the position that Jesus is coming back here to the earth, but that rather he and his kingdom of co-rulers will be ruling over the earth from heaven. However, just as you can see lightening coming from the east, and vultures from a great distance circling over a corpse, there will be no doubt in the minds of Christians who have stayed awake, remained on the watch, of “the coming of the Son of Man,” in that he is ruling under the new millennial reign.

Review Questions

  • Who will survive?
  • How is Matthew 24:13-15 tied together?
  • What is the abomination that causes desolation, as spoken of through the prophet Daniel, which Matthew mentions?
  • How does Luke 21:20 fit the facts of General Cestius Gallus?
  • What do we learn from the first-century Jewish Historian Josephus?
  • What do we learn from Zondervan’s Bible Background Commentary?
  • How are we to understand Matthew 24:21-22?
  • How are we to understand Matthew 24:23-24?
  • How are we to understand the disciple’s questions in Matthew 24:1-2?

How are we to understand Matthew 24:27-28?

[1] Or then recognize

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 603.

[3] Larry Chouinard, Matthew, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), Mt 24:15.

[4] Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 148.

[5] James Stalker, The Life of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Henry A. Sumner and Company, 1882), 30–31.

[6] Matthew 4:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple

[7] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).

[8] Pella was a town situated beyond the Jordan, in the north of Perea, within the dominions of Herod Agrippa II. The surrounding population was chiefly Gentile. See Pliny V. I8, and Josephus, B. J. III. 3. 3, and I. 4. 8. Epiphanius (De pond. et mens. 15) also records this flight of the Christians to Pella.

[9] Reland here justly takes notice that these Jews who had despised the true Prophet, were deservedly abused and deluded by these false ones.

[10] In this connection it should be borne in mind that this tender concern for women with babies was revealed by Christ in days when women were often looked down upon. The words uttered came from the lips of the same Son of man who showed special kindness to widows (Mark 12:42, 43; Luke 7:11–17; 18:1–8; 20:47; 21:2, 3); to women who were, or had been, living in sin (Luke 7:36–50; John 4:1–30); and, at the time of his own crowning agony, to his own mother (John 19:26, 27). (Hendriksen and Kistemaker 1953–2001, p. 859)

[11] Or the elect

[12] Chapter 6 will cover explicitly who these “chosen ones” are.

[13] Or then recognize

[14] Or the elect

[15] http://www.christianpublishers.org/apps/webstore/products/show/5355019

[16] This is not to say that no individual Jewish persons have not converted to Christianity, as hundreds of thousands have in the last two millennium.

[17] Lit and