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Therefore 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)


Jesus 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.

Matthew 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 meaning.


The Abomination of Desolation


Jesus 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 70 Weeks.

Daniel 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.

To 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.


Adam Clarke expands this explanation a little for us and provides us with a quotation from Josephus, who was there during the destruction of Jerusalem.


The 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.


The 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.


So, 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?


Jesus 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)

Jesus 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.

1. Those in Judea are to flee to the mountains. Luke includes this instruction.

2. Leave immediately and don’t stop to get your belongings whether you are at home our out at work.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.”

6. 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 tells them.

7. 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 without warning.


The Times Of The Gentiles


Luke 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.


Jerusalem 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.

The 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 is meant.


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


Jesus 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:


And 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.


Daniel 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.

We 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.


We 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)