Abomination of Desolation

According to Jesus, the “Abomination of Desolation” will appear in Jerusalem - It will be a local, not a global event. And his admonition for disciples to flee is applicable to Jerusalem and the immediate vicinity. Disciples must flee to the hills to escape the imminent calamity signaled by this abominable thing or person.

When his disciples see armies surrounding the city, they are to flee without delay, otherwise, they will find themselves caught up in its “desolation” - (Matthew 24:15-16, Luke 21:20-21).

FLEE JERUSALEM


When the “Abomination of Desolation” appears, judgment will befall the Jewish nation (“wrath upon this people”), not the Roman Empire or the larger Gentile world. Any disciple living in Jerusalem must flee to escape this “wrath,” not Christians or others living in Italy, Gaul, or Egypt.

In the ancient world, the normal reaction to an invading army was to flee to the nearest walled city. Jesus told his disciples to do the opposite. To flee to the mountains.

Anyone remaining “on the housetop must not go down or enter in to get anything out of his house.” Judean homes had flat roofs accessible by an outer staircase. When the “abomination” appears, there will be no time to gather anything from the home. Immediate flight is the only way to avoid disaster. “Let not him who is in the field return home to take his clothes.”

Pray that your flight is not in the winter or on the Sabbath.” This reflects a Judean setting.  In winter, ravines that are dry in the summer often become swollen torrents. And on Sabbath days, the city gates are closed to prevent anyone from entering or leaving the city.

In his discourse, Jesus expresses concern for “them that are with child.” Under normal circumstances, a hasty flight is difficult enough for a pregnant woman. How much more so in a time of sudden calamity?

When You See It– His disciples must flee Jerusalem when they “see” the “abomination.” This describes a public event, and something not easily missed.

DESOLATION


Previously, Jesus used the term “desolate” in his pronouncement on the “scribes and Pharisees” (erémos). “All these things will come upon this generation…Behold, your house is desolate (erémos). Here, “house” is metaphorical for the Temple. This was followed by his prediction of the Temple’s destruction - (Matthew 21:13, 23:13-33, 24:1-2).

The Greek term rendered “desolate” or erémos connects that earlier warning to the prediction of the “Abomination of Desolation,” the erémōsis.

The word signifies “abandonment, desertion, to vacate or forsake.” That is, to abandon or leave the “house.” Erémos is a common adjective in the New Testament, but its noun form, erémōsis, occurs only three times, and always refers to the “Abomination of Desolation” - (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:20).

Abomination- The Greek noun belugma refers to something “foul, detestable.” It is related to the verb bdelussō, “to abhor, detest.” In Jewish writings, the term was associated with idolatry and ritual pollution - (Matthew 24:15, Luke 16:15).

Jesus referred to this detestable thing as the “Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel.” In the account in Matthew, “Abomination of Desolation” translates the Greek clause to belugma tés erémōseōs. With slight variations, the same term occurs three times in Daniel in its Septuagint version, as follows:

  • (Daniel 9:27) – “Abomination of the desolation” - (belugma tōn erémōseōs).
  • (Daniel 11:31) - “Abomination that desolates” - (belugma éphanismenon).
  • (Daniel 12:11) – “Abomination of desolation” - (belugma erémōseōs).

None is an exact match to the Greek clause in Matthew or Mark. Regardless, it refers to the same event in all three cases in Daniel; to something that desecrated the sanctuary and caused the cessation of the daily burnt offerings.

The version of the saying in Luke is more explicit. When the disciples see the city “encompassed by armies,” then its “desolation” or erémōsis is imminent - (Luke 21:20-24).

Luke links the “desolation” to a future siege of Jerusalem. He wrote previously of this same event - “Days are coming when your enemies will throw around you a rampart, and surround you and enclose you on every side…and they shall not leave in you one stone upon another, because you knew not the time of your visitation (episkopés).”

The passages in Luke borrow language from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 10:3-6, which records a judicial sentence pronounced on Israel for conspiring with Damascus to press Judah into an alliance against Assyria. That punishment was exacted when the Assyrian Empire destroyed Israel and Damascus and sent their populations into captivity - (Isaiah 17:1-6).

Luke also records a related prediction by Jesus: “Many will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” This indicates a period of some duration between the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the age.

Likewise, the destruction of the city by the Romans in A.D. 70 was not followed by the immediate return of Jesus. Instead, many Jews were slain or enslaved, while others were scattered throughout the empire.

Thus, Luke connects the city’s destruction to the “desolation” prophesied in Daniel. And this took place when Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed by a Roman army.

GREAT TRIBULATION


Jesus calls the coming destruction of the city “a great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” His words echo a passage in Daniel - There shall be a time of tribulation such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time” (Daniel 12:1).

Let the Reader Understand is another link to Daniel where the angel told the prophet that the “words are shut up and sealed till the time of the end… none of the wicked shall understand, but they that are wise shall understand” - (Daniel 12:9-11).

The admonishment by Jesus is a call for discernment; presumably, the correct understanding of events, one that will not be easily deciphered.

And to survive, his disciple must flee when they see the “Abomination…standing in the holy place”. The version in Mark reads, “standing where he ought not.” In Matthew, the pronoun is neuter (“it”) in correspondence with the neuter gender of the noun “abomination.” However, in Mark, it is masculine (“he”).

In the Greek language, the gender of the pronoun matches its associated noun. Whether Mark intends for us to understand “he” as an individual is not clear. The masculine gender cannot be pressed too far without further information. In Luke, the “desolation” is caused by an attacking army, not an individual man.

SCRIPTURAL AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


In the three synoptic gospels, Jesus uses terms from Daniel to warn his disciples how to avoid the approaching danger. His description of an abominable thing “standing” in the Temple borrows especially from the eighth chapter of Daniel - (Daniel 8:9-13).

In that vision, Daniel sees a goat with a large horn that overthrows a ram.  The horn is broken and replaced by four smaller horns, and from one of them appears the “little horn” that removes the daily burnt offerings, casts down the sanctuary and installs the “transgression that desolates” - (Daniel 7:8-11, 7:20-21, 8:7-14).

In the provided interpretation, the ram represents the Medo-Persian empire, the goat Greece, and its “great horn” Greece’s first king. The four smaller horns are four lesser kingdoms that rise after the first king’s death. When “transgressors come to the full, a king of fierce countenance will destroy the mighty ones and the saints, he will stand (stésetai) against the prince of princes” - (Daniel 8:20-25).

The triumph of Greece is described again in the eleventh chapter of Daniel, followed by a “history” of two of the four subsequent Greek kingdoms, and culminating in the story of a later tyrannical king who desecrated the Temple - (Daniel 11:1-4, 11:31):

  • And forces will stand up (anastésontai) on his part and they will profane the sanctuary, remove the daily burnt-offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate.”

Common to both visions is the pollution of the sanctuary, the cessation of the daily sacrifice, and the “standing up” of an opposing force. The Persian Empire was overthrown by Alexander the Great. His death resulted in the division of his empire into four smaller realms.  A king from one of them, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV, persecuted the Jewish nation, suppressed its religious rites, desecrated the Temple, terminated the daily burnt offering, and installed an altar to Zeus Olympias in the Temple, the “Abomination that Desolates.”

These ancient events constitute the initial fulfillment of Daniel’s vision. Jesus uses this background to portray the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

SUMMARY


Two things are clear about the “Abomination of Desolation.” First, whatever it is, it is localized in the city of Jerusalem. Second, Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed when it appears and the Jewish people find themselves under “great distress,” NOT the entire world. Those especially affected are the residents of Judea and Jerusalem.

Disciples of Jesus are warned to flee Jerusalem when they see it surrounded by hostile forces. If Christ’s return follows immediately after the “Abomination of Desolation,” why would believers need to escape to another location? And there would be little or no time remaining for the scattering of the Jewish people among the nations.

Whatever the “Abomination” is, Jesus links it to the Temple standing in his day. Luke’s account is the clearest. In view is the destruction of Jerusalem by a Roman army which occurred already in A.D. 70 well within the “generation” of Christ’s warning. Neither the “Abomination of Desolation” nor the destruction of the Temple produced the end of the age or the return of the “Son of Man on the clouds,” at least, not yet.

Thus, the “Abomination of Desolation” predicted by Jesus was fulfilled by past historical events. It remains to be seen whether there is yet a future fulfillment of this prophecy.


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