Keys To Understanding Bible Prophecy!
Lesson Six (b)-The Coming "Abomination of Desolation"
Jesus Christ's Olivet prophecy, recorded for us in (Matthew 24, Mark 16 and Luke 21), is one of the Bible's most well-known prophecies. Jesus warns of a coming time of unprecedented turmoil and trouble. He instructs His Jewish followers in Judea to flee when they see the "abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet" (Matthew 24:15, emphasis added throughout).
What is the abomination of desolation? Can the Bible provide us the meaning? Is this prophecy only for the people of Daniel's or Christ's day, or is it a warning for a time yet ahead of us?
The abomination in the book of Daniel
When Jesus spoke of this abomination of desolation, He was referring to (Daniel 11:31 and 12:11). God revealed to Daniel that "there shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence" (Daniel 12:1, NRSV.). Then, in verse 12, Daniel learns that the abomination involves the cessation of daily sacrifices.
A key to understanding prophecy is the principle of duality-that some prophecies can have more than one fulfillment. This means a prophecy may be partially fulfilled but will not be completely fulfilled until a later time. To understand Christ's words we must look at three fulfillments-two historic and one future-of prophecies about the abomination of desolation.
When the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar invaded the kingdom of Judah in 606 BC., he took many of the most intelligent of the Jewish youths to Babylon to serve in his court. Daniel, who wrote the book that bears his name around 535 BC., was taken to Babylon with the first of the Jewish captives and trained to serve in Nebuchadnezzar's government.
Daniel 8 records a remarkably specific prophecy of events that would affect Jerusalem and Judea. Daniel saw a vision of a ram with power to stand against all other animals (verses 1-4). A goat with a "notable horn" would destroy the ram (verses 5-7). The goat's horn was to grow strong but would break off and be replaced by four horns (verse 8). Out of the four horns would come a small horn that would grow and invade the "Glorious Land," establishing the "transgression of desolation" (verses 9-14).
We then read that God sent the angel Gabriel to reveal to Daniel the meaning of this vision. We find that the ram represents the kingdom of Media and Persia and the goat the kingdom of Greece. The goat's large horn is the first Grecian king, who was to precede four more kings (verses 15-22).
Just as God had revealed to Daniel, the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, overthrew the Persian Empire in 331 BC. When Alexander died in 323, his empire was divided among four of his generals:
1 - Ptolemy, who ruled Egypt, part of Syria and Judea.
2 - Seleucus, who ruled the other part of Syria, Babylon and the territory east to India.
3 - Lysimachus, who ruled Asia Minor.
4 - Cassander (Antipater), who ruled Greece and Macedonia.
Historians record that the four kingdoms rising out of Alexander's empire eventually coalesced into a northern kingdom ruled by the Seleucids and a southern kingdom ruled by the Ptolemies.
According to Daniel's vision, these four kings were to be followed by a "small horn." This horn was to take away the daily sacrifices of the temple (verse 11). Of course, at the time of Daniel's prophecy no temple existed in Jerusalem and no sacrifices were being offered; the temple had been destroyed in the Babylonian invasions several decades before Daniel recorded this prophecy.
However, shortly after Daniel wrote his book his fellow refugees from Judah were allowed to return to their homeland. There they rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple and renewed the temple sacrifices.
Daniel's vision now sweeps across time some 31/2 centuries into the future, to 167 BC. At that time one of the Seleucid rulers, Antiochus IV (Antiochus Epiphanes), invaded Judah (Daniel 8:23-27).
The first partial fulfillment
The noncanonical but historical book of 1 Maccabees describes the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes. "The king then issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each nation renouncing its particular customs . . . The king also sent edicts by messenger to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah, directing them to adopt customs foreign to the country, banning burnt offerings, sacrifices and libations from the sanctuary, profaning Sabbaths and feasts, defiling the sanctuary and everything holy, building altars, shrines and temples for idols, . . . so that they should forget the Law and revoke all observance of it. Anyone not obeying the king's command was to be put to death" (1 Maccabees 1:41, 44-50, New Jerusalem Bible).
Punishment was swift and brutal. Women who had their sons circumcised were killed and their babies hung around their necks (verses 60-61). Anyone continuing in faithful obedience to God was executed (verses 62-64).
Not content merely to stop the sacrifices, Antiochus desecrated the temple. ". . . A bearded image of the pagan deity [Jupiter Olympus] . . . [was] set up upon the Temple altar. The Jews popularly spoke of this as the abomination of desolation.' Greek soldiers and their paramours performed licentious heathen rites in the very Temple courts. Swine were sacrificed on the altar" (Charles Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, 1974, p. 81).
Daniel (in Daniel 8:14) hears that these desecrations will continue for "two thousand three hundred days" or 2,300 "evenings and mornings" (NIV, NRSV, REB and other translations). The temple service included a morning and evening sacrifice. Twenty-three hundred morning and evening sacrifices amounted to 1,150 days. Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple and halted sacrifices in 167 BC. Judas Maccabeus resumed the sacrifices in 164 BC. after cleansing and rededicating the temple. These events are commemorated in the Jewish community by the Feast of Hanukkah.
Daniel 8 is a detailed prophecy of the first "abomination of desolation" affecting the temple sacrifices for 1,150 days.
Antiochus's actions partially fulfilled this prophecy.
Notice, however, that Daniel's prophecy of the abomination of desolation also has a fulfillment at "the appointed time of the end" (verse 19, NRSV).
The second partial fulfillment
In 64 AD. Jerusalem and Judea were again in an uproar. The Roman emperor Nero had begun slaughtering Christians in and around Rome. Rumors of war became reality in 66 AD. when Roman soldiers killed thousands of people in Jerusalem. The Jews revolted. The legion sent to quell the rebellion was defeated. Then, in 67 AD., Vespasian invaded Judea with a Roman army.
Jesus had warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem of a future siege and destruction: "For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side" (Luke 19:43).
Luke's version of the Olivet prophecy supplies another warning: ". . . When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you know that its desolation is near" (Luke 21:20).
Parts of Jesus' Olivet prophecy were to have two fulfillments. The first occurred in the lifetime of many of those who had rejected Jesus as Messiah. They lived to see some aspects of Christ's prophecy come to pass with the siege and fall of Jerusalem. Other parts of His prophecy, however, have yet to be fulfilled.
Just as the partial fulfillment of the abomination of desolation by Antiochus Epiphanes involved capturing Jerusalem and defiling the temple, so would the partial fulfillment of Christ's prophecy in the first century involve similar events.
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus describes the siege of Jerusalem as one of the most bloody in history. Famine and diseases wracked the weakened populace. Josephus records strange events, including people seeing visions of soldiers and chariots in the clouds. On the Feast of Pentecost the temple shook and the priests "heard the sound as of a great multitude, saying, Let us remove hence" (Wars of the Jews, Book VI, Chapter V, Section 3).
In 70 AD. Titus captured Jerusalem and erected an idol on the devastated temple altar. Josephus claims 1.1 million Jews were killed and 97,000 enslaved in the war and siege (Wars of the Jews, VI, ix, 3).
The second fulfillment of the abomination of desolation ended with the destruction of the temple at the hands of the Romans. The temple was destroyed and the priesthood and sacrifices abolished, ushering in a condition that continues to this day.
However, Christ's Olivet prophecy is primarily concerned with His second coming. After all, Jesus Christ gave this prophecy in response to the disciples' plea: ". . . What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3).
The future abomination of desolation
Paul tells us that a major religious figure will arise at the time of the end.
Notice 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4: "Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [of Christ's return] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God."
This apostate leader will be destroyed by Christ at His second coming (verses 5-8), but not before he has deceived many with "power, signs, and lying wonders" (verses 9-12).
This description fits prophecies of the second beast in Revelation 13:11-14. Echoing Paul's warning, Revelation warns us that this leader "performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven . . . And he deceives those who dwell on the earth."
Since the first two fulfillments of the abomination of desolation involved the cessation of sacrifices, it appears that sacrifices will again be instituted before Christ's return. Daniel 12:9-13 describes the abomination of desolation as occurring at "the time of the end." Apparently once again sacrifices will be initiated at or near Jerusalem; armies again will surround Jerusalem, and the sacrifices will be cut off.
In the footsteps of Antiochus
A great religious leader will play a pivotal role in end-time events. In addition to performing great miracles, he "exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4). His deceptive powers will be so great that most people will believe he is God's direct representative if not a divine being himself.
God, however, calls him "the lawless one" (verse 3, NRSV). He represents a system that opposes God's law. Antiochus Epiphanes, who engineered the original abomination of desolation, may well be the forerunner of this end-time "man of sin."
Antiochus Epiphanes tried to stamp out worship of God and ruthlessly persecuted all who remained obedient to Him. Many prophecies tell us that history will repeat itself. Many of God's faithful followers will again be persecuted and murdered at the time of the end (John 15:18-20; 16:2; Revelation 6:9-11; 17:6; 20:4).
Revelation 13 describes an end-time religious leader who will "cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed" (verse 15). Government and religious powers will be brought to bear on those who see through this deception and are faithful to God. Christ's end-time warning to true Christians-"they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake" (Matthew 24:8-9)-will be fulfilled.
A warning for today
Jesus encouraged His followers to "watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42). Understanding the first two fulfillments of the abomination of desolation, we can be alert for coming prophesied events:
1 - Moves to reintroduce daily sacrifices in Israel.
2 - The rise of the "man of lawlessness," a religious figure who claims to speak for God.
3 - Geopolitical events that will lead to armies massing around Israel and Jerusalem.
God will send His Son to earth to save mankind from self-destruction. But before Christ's final return the world will suffer a "great tribulation" like no other time in history. Christians, however, aren't left without information concerning end-time events.
Proceed to lesson seven - The Millennial Reign Of Christ!