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ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION
when you see the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet,
standing in the holy place (whoever
reads, let him understand), then let those who are in
Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:15–16)
gives the signs for the impending destruction of Jerusalem in verses 15–28 of
Matthew chapter 24. The verses leading up to this cover the time between the
first persecution of the Church under the Jews beginning in about 36 a.d. until
the fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d.
and Mark have a different statement about the beginning of the siege of
Jerusalem than does Luke. Luke has Jesus saying, “But when you see Jerusalem
surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” Matthew and Mark
give a more ominous rendering of Jesus’ words, “Therefore when you see the
abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy
place, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Do we have a
contradiction between the two versions, or are all three evangelists reporting
the same thing? We shall see in just a moment that there is no contradiction,
all three are saying the same thing, but Luke does not mention anything about
Daniel the prophet; and, one reason he does not is, because his gospel is
directed to Gentiles to whom the prophesies of Daniel would have very little
The Abomination of Desolation
said the abomination of desolation would stand in the holy place; Mark says
“standing where it ought not.” Jesus makes a reference to Daniel the
prophet. Matthew and Mark both insert a parenthetic comment, “let the reader
understand,” which implies we are not to take what Jesus said in an absolute
literal sense. While Daniel did prophesy of an abomination that happened under
Antiochus Epiphanes, there is a more exact meaning that can be discerned through
looking at Daniel’s prophecies as a whole and specifically the prophecy of the
speaks of an abomination of desolation in Daniel 9:26–27; 11:31; and 12:11. In
the study of those prophecies we see Antiochus Epiphanes desecrating the temple
by bringing a statue of Jupiter Olympius into the Holy Place along with images
of other pagan gods and worshipping them there. On first impression, it appears
Jesus is saying that the sign of the imminent destruction would be something
similar to what Antiochus did; in other words, the Romans would bring an image
of a pagan god into the temple. That did happen at the end of the siege, but by
that time it was too late to be a sign for people to flee Jerusalem; Jerusalem
had been overthrown.
properly understand what Jesus was saying as recorded by Matthew and Mark, we
must think of what happened to make it possible for Antiochus, and eventually
the Romans, to be able to enter the temple and set up their gods. Jesus called
this sign the “abomination of desolation;” what does that mean? Albert
Barnes in his Notes on the New Testament explains for us.
The abomination of desolation.
This is a Hebrew expression, meaning an abominable or hateful destroyer. The
Gentiles were all held in abomination by the Jews, Acts 10:28. The abomination
of desolation means the Roman army; and is so explained by Luke 21:20. The Roman
army is farther called the abomination,
on account of the images of the emperor and the eagles, carried in front of the
legions, and regarded by the Romans with divine honours.
Clarke expands this explanation a little for us and provides us with a quotation
from Josephus, who was there during the destruction of Jerusalem.
abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel—This abomination of desolation, St. Luke, (Luke
21:20, 21), refers to the Roman army; and this abomination standing in the holy
place is the Roman army besieging Jerusalem; this, our Lord says, is what was
spoken of by Daniel the prophet, in the ninth and eleventh chapters of his
prophecy; and so let every one who reads these prophecies understand them; and
in reference to this very event they are understood by the rabbins. The Roman
army is called an abomination, for its ensigns and images, which were so to the
Jews. Josephus says, (War, b. vi. chap. 6), the Romans brought their ensigns
into the temple, and placed them over against the eastern gate, and sacrificed
to them there. The Roman army is therefore fitly called the abomination, and the
abomination which maketh desolate, as it was to desolate and lay waste
Jerusalem; and this army besieging Jerusalem is called by St. Mark, 13:14,
standing where it ought not, that is, as in the text here, the holy place; as
not only the city, but a considerable compass of ground about it, was deemed
holy, and consequently no profane persons should stand on it.
expression “standing in the holy place” at first glance does give the
appearance that this abomination would happen within the temple. But, there is a
more basic and applicable meaning to the expression as Dr. Barnes will tell us.
Stand in the holy place. Mark says, “standing where it ought not,”
meaning the same thing. All Jerusalem was esteemed holy,
Matthew 4:5. The meaning of this is, when you see the Roman armies standing in
the holy city, or encamped around the temple, or the Roman ensigns or standards
in the temple. Josephus farther relates, that when the city was taken, the
Romans brought their idols into the temple, and placed them over the eastern
gate, and sacrificed to them there. Jewish Wars, book vi., chap. 6, 1.
reading and understanding the similarities between the sieges of Jerusalem under
Antiochus and later the Romans, we find that the abomination to which Jesus
refers is the Roman army; the desolation is the desolation the Roman army would
make of Jerusalem as did the army of Antiochus several hundred years earlier;
and, the holy place, or the place where it ought not be, is the environs of the
city of Jerusalem.
When Will These Things Be?
answered the question telling the disciples that these things, the destruction
of Jerusalem and the temple, will be when Jerusalem surrounded by the Roman
army. Luke puts the following words in Jesus’ mouth that are so plain they
cannot be misunderstood: But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then
know that its desolation is near. (Luke 21:20)
gives the disciples some further warnings and instructions in the following
verses. Matthew and Mark have essentially the same rendering of what Jesus said,
which include seven things.
Those in Judea are to flee to the mountains. Luke includes this instruction.
Leave immediately and don’t stop to get your belongings whether you are at
home our out at work.
Jesus then pronounces a woe: Woe to those who are pregnant or nursing babies at
this time. Luke includes this woe. These women would not be able to travel as
quickly and as far as needed to escape the Romans.
He then adds that they should pray their flight will not be in the winter or on
a sabbath. There would be no place to take shelter and conditions would be too
severe for travel.
Matthew and Mark have Jesus saying there will be great tribulation to such a
degree that has never been seen; and, it would be worse except for the sake of
the elect. Luke shortens His comment to, “There will be great distress in the
land and wrath upon this people.”
Jesus again warns the disciples about false Christs who will produce wonders
that could deceive the elect if they are not paying attention to what Jesus now
Matthew and Mark close Jesus’ comments on the destruction of Jerusalem with a
final warning: “See, I have told you beforehand.” Matthew adds a tag to what
Jesus says letting them know this destruction will come on them suddenly and
The Times Of The Gentiles
adds something that neither Matthew nor Mark records: “And Jerusalem will be
trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Albert
Barnes offers us an explanation for these words.
Shall be trodden down by the Gentiles.
Shall be in possession of the Gentiles, or be subject to them. The expression
also implies that it would be an oppressive subjection, as when a captive in war is trodden
down under the feet of the conqueror. Anciently conquerors trod on the necks of
those who were subdued by them. The bondage of Jerusalem has been long and very
oppressive. It was for a long time under the dominion of the Romans, then of the
Saracens, and is now of the Turks, and is aptly represented by a captive
stretched on the ground whose neck is trodden by the foot of the conqueror.
and the Jewish state were in the hands of Gentile peoples until the United
Nations declared Israel to be a sovereign state in 1948. Even today, Jerusalem
and much of Israel are still occupied by Gentiles—the Palestinians.
words “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” are controversial.
Millennialists believe that the times of the Gentiles will last until the Second
Coming of Christ at which time Jesus will set up the Kingdom of God with
headquarters in Jerusalem. Perhaps Dr. Barnes can give us some insight to what
Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
This passage has been understood very differently by different expositors. Some
refer it to the time which the Romans who conquered it had dominion over it, as
signifying that they should keep possession of it until a part of the pagans
should be converted, when it should be rebuilt. Thus it was rebuilt by the
Emperor Adrian. Others suppose that it refers to the end of the world, when all
the Gentiles shall be converted, and they shall cease to be Gentiles by becoming
Christians, meaning that it should always be desolate. Others, that Christ meant
to say that in the times of the millennium, when the gospel should spread
universally, he would reign personally on the earth, and that the Jews would
return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. This is the opinion of the Jews and
of many Christians. The meaning of the passage clearly is, 1st. That Jerusalem
would be completely destroyed. 2nd. That this would be done by
Gentiles—that is, by the Roman armies. 3rd. That this desolation would
continue as long as God should judge it proper in a fit manner to express his
abhorrence of the crimes of the nation-that is, until the times allotted to them
by God for this desolation should be accomplished, without specifying how long
that would be, or what would occur to the city after that. It may
be rebuilt, and inhabited by converted Jews. Such a thing is possible, and the
Jews naturally seek that as their home; but whether this be so or not, the time
when the Gentiles, as such, shall have dominion over the city is limited. Like
all other cities on the earth, it will yet be brought under the influence of the
gospel, and will be inhabited by the true friends of God. Pagan, infidel,
anti-Christian dominion shall cease there, and it will be again a place where
God will be worshipped in sincerity—a place even then of peculiar interest
from the recollection of the events which have occurred there. How long it is to
be before this occurs is known only to Him “who hath put the times and seasons
in his own power.”
Daniel’s 70 Weeks
made reference to the prophet Daniel with the exhortation to read and
understand. While this comment does refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, such
as under Antiochus Epiphanes, there is a more telling prophecy in Daniel that
addresses the very things Jesus says about the destruction of Jerusalem. Daniel
wrote in Daniel 9:24–27:
the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the
sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war
desolations are determined. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who
makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out
on the desolate.
does not use the expression “the times of the Gentiles,” but he does tell us
in this prophecy, “He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering” (verse
27). He also says that Messiah “shall confirm a covenant with many,” which
covenant is the gospel of salvation from sin under which both Jews and Gentiles
are brought into a right relationship with God through the atonement in Christ.
Simply stated, with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 a.d., the
Israelites ceased to be the unique covenant people of God and that blessed
relationship is offered to all humanity—Jews and Gentiles.
learn from Jesus that Jerusalem and its temple are to remain trampled by the
Gentiles until the very end of time. There is no need for a millennium as
salvation is available to all who will receive it through faith.
then, as workers together with
Him also plead with you
not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: “In
an acceptable time I have heard you, And
in the day of salvation I have helped you.” [quoting Isaiah 49:8]
Behold, now is the accepted
time; behold, now is the day of
salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1–2)