Abomination of Desolation:
What Does the Bible Say?

The phrase, “abomination of desolation” seems to be shrouded in mystery.  The idea of a mystery involving some great future event is extremely intriguing as it inspires the imagination and excites the heart. 

The internet has exploded with ideas and explanations concerning the abomination of desolation linking it most commonly to the end of time.  In fact, the Bible contains a variety of mysteries in the Old Testament.  Yet all these mysteries are explained in the New Testament.  Notice what the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 3.

Ephesians 3.3,4:  “how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)”

When you read about the abomination of desolation as was prophesied in the Old Testament book of Daniel, you can come to the New Testament for an explanation.  In fact, Jesus referred to this prophecy in Matthew 24 and said, “whoever reads, let him understand”  (Matt. 24.15).  With the help of the New Testament, you can read and understand what has been viewed by many scholars as a great mystery. 

What is the Abomination of Desolation?

The phrase, “abomination of desolation” is found only four times in the Bible.  It is found twice in the book of Daniel in the form of a prophecy.  It is also found twice in the New Testament as it is explained to us by Jesus.

Those two New Testament occurrences are actually found in Mathew 24, and in the parallel account in Mark 13.  Matthew 24 and Mark 13 are records of the same event.  One account is given by Matthew and the other account is given by Mark.  When you put these two records together, you can see the big picture. 

The word “abomination” is translated from the Greek word “bdelugma.”  It is defined by Strong’s Greek Dictionary as “a detestation.”  Thayer’s dictionary defines the word as “the object of loathing.”  It is a word that carries the idea of disgust.  In the Bible, the word primarily is associated with idolatry.  God considered the erecting of and worshipping of idols to be disgusting.  He viewed it as the object of loathing.  Idolatry was to God an abomination.

The word “desolation” is translated from the Greek word “eremosis.”  W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the word as “lay waste; making quiet; making lonely.”  The idea of desolation is the idea of being abandoned.  Have you ever seen a ghost town?  It is desolate. 

Let’s put the two terms together.  A prediction is made that idols would be set up in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem that would be to God an object of loathing.  These idols that would be set up in the temple of Jerusalem would indicate something.  What would it indicate?  These idols (abomination) would indicate that the city of Jerusalem would be laid to waste, abandoned, made quiet and lonely. 

Now that we understand what the term means, let’s go to the Bible.  The phrase “abomination of desolation” is found in two prophecies in the book of Daniel.  Put simply, Daniel says that there is going to come a time when an idol will be set up in the temple of Jerusalem.  When that happens it will be an indication or a sign that the city is about to be laid to waste and left desolate. 

When we go to the New Testament, Jesus makes reference to what this event describes.  Before we look at this explanation, let’s briefly find out what this abomination of desolation does not describe.

What the Abomination of Desolation is NOT

There are many educated men and women who have spent their lives studying such things and have come to a variety of conclusions.  Who am I to disagree or even challenge the view of such experts?  My answer to that is this:  God is wiser than anyone regardless of their level of education and expertise.  I am one who will agree with God even if it contradicts the majority of views expressed by man.  Let’s see how God explains this abomination of desolation.

The Abomination of Desolation is not in Reference to Antiochus Epipanies

There are some scholars who have reached the conclusion that this prophecy is in reference to the conquests of Antiochus Epiphanes.  Without getting into a deep history lesson, we know that Antiochus Epiphanies made an attempt to conquer Egypt in 168 B.C. 

During his war rampage Antiochus had heard that Jerusalem was under attack.  He made a quick detour to Jerusalem where he took control of the city, outlawed Jewish religion and replaced it with the worship of Zeus.  In the temple of Jerusalem, Antiochus set up an altar of Zeus for worship and even sacrificed a pig on the altar. 

This is no doubt an abomination of desolation, but is it the abomination of desolation that was prophesied by Daniel and referenced by Jesus?  Let’s look at what Jesus said in Matthew 24.15…

Matthew 24.15:  “Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand)”  

Notice that there is an element of time in the words of Jesus.  The abomination of desolation set up by Antiochus had happened more than a century ago.  Jesus was referring to something that was still yet future.  Whatever event that Daniel prophesied about was still yet to come.  Therefore it cannot be the setting up of the altar of Zeus and the destruction of Jerusalem that Daniel and Jesus referenced.

The Abomination of Desolation is not in Reference to the End of Time

Some scholars hold the viewpoint that Antiochus is the predicted subject of the prophecy.  A far majority of scholars believe that the abomination of desolation is a sign that the end of time is near.  In fact, it is very common to believe that the entire chapter of Matthew 24 is in reference to the end of time.  We cannot ignore the context.  With the context in mind, it is utterly impossible to come to such a conclusion.

In Matthew 24, Jesus predicts that something is coming, and then provides a series of signs as a way of knowing that this event was about to come to pass.  You may find it of great interest that these signs come with instructions on how to survive whatever event Jesus is predicting.  This is true with all these signs including the abomination of desolation.  Notice what Jesus says in verses 15 and 16.

Matthew 24.15,16:  “’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.’"

Don’t miss what Jesus just said.  When you see an idol that is set up in the temple as an object of worship, it is an indication that the city is about to be laid waste and left desolate.  When you see that sign, along with all the others, there is something that you need to do.  “Let them who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”

If the abomination of desolation is a sign of the end of time, then why were those to whom Jesus was speaking told that if they were in Judea to flee to the mountains?  If it was the end of the world, then what would be the point of fleeing anywhere?  Where could they or anyone else hide? 

If we keep reading these verses, He continues in verse 17-22 to describe the urgency of getting out of town and leaving your possessions behind. Why?  Because when the idol, the object of loathing, is set up in the temple, the desolation of the city of Jerusalem would be soon.  There would be no time to run back to your house and get your possessions. 

Then notice what Jesus said in verse 34…

Matthew 24.34:  “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”

Whatever this event was that was prophesied by Daniel concerning the abomination of desolation, Jesus said that it would happen within the lifetime of those to whom Jesus was speaking. 

Here is the point.  The abomination of desolation, the idol that would be set up in the temple that would indicate that the city was about to be destroyed, could not be an indication of the end of time.  It would be a local event from which those who lived in the area could escape to the mountains.  Furthermore, it was an event that would happen within the lifetime of these first century Jews.  Whatever it was, it could not refer to the end of time. 

The Destruction of Jerusalem

In Daniel 11.31 as well as 12.11 you will  read the phrase, “abomination of desolation.”  However, in Daniel 9, you will read about this same thing phrased in a different way.  In Daniel 9.27, you  learn that “on the wings of abominations shall be one who makes desolate.” 

In other words, the one who would come and make the city desolate will come soon after the abominations.  What you are reading in Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks found in Daniel 9 is a time frame as to when this will occur.

Let’s get right to the point.  Daniel is told by the angel Gabriel that Jesus would come and begin His ministry at a specific time.  This specific time would be 483 years from the time the Jews are released from Babylonian captivity.  Then he says this…

Daniel 9.27:  “Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.  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.”

One week refers to seven years beginning at the time Jesus begins His ministry.  The prophecy says that in the middle of the week, or three and a half years into His ministry, He will bring an end to sacrifices and offerings.  Three and a half years after Jesus began His ministry was when He was crucified.  According to Colossians 2.14, these sacrifices were ended at His death, “having nailed it to the cross.” 

Sometime after that, this abomination of desolation would occur.  Sometime after Jesus died, someone would come into Jerusalem, set up an idol that would be an abomination to God, and it would indicate that the desolation of the city was soon to come.  

You have the timeline laid out for you.  But you cannot know from this reading to what it is referencing.  Let’s go to the New Testament and see if there is an explanation of this prophecy.    

If you were to go to the beginning of Matthew 24, you would read about Jesus and His disappointment with the city of Jerusalem.  You can even go back and read this disappointment at the end of chapter 23.  In Matthew 24.1,2, Jesus calls the attention of His disciples to the stones of the temple in Jerusalem.  He then tells them that “not one stone shall be left here upon another”  (Matt. 24.2).  Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and specifically, the temple.

After this startling revelation, the disciples asked Him a series of questions.  These questions were in reference to two events:  The destruction of the temple Jesus just mentioned, and the end of the age or the end of time. 

Matthew 24.3:  “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’”

In the rest of the chapter and into chapter 25, Jesus answers those two questions.  He first of all answers the question about the destruction of the temple.  This answer is found in verses 4-34.  He lists a series of signs that would occur that would indicate that the destruction of Jerusalem was coming.  Among those signs was the abomination of desolation. 

Matthew 24.15:  “Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand),”

When they, in that generation, in that location in Jerusalem, see an idol set up in the temple indicating that the city is about to be destroyed, they were to flee to the mountains.  They were not to flee to the mountains in reference to the end of time.  They were to flee to the mountains and make other provisions to get out of the city quickly because the Romans were coming, and they would not spare the citizens of the city. 

This is what Daniel was predicting.  This is what Jesus said was coming.  In 70 A.D. the temple and the city of Jerusalem was destroyed when Roman Emperor, Titus, marched into Jerusalem with his army.  Just prior to his arrival, a Jewish official named Agnus looked at the temple and said…

"Certainly, it had been good for me to die before I had seen the house of God full of so many abominations, or these sacred places that ought not to be trodden upon at random, filled with the feet of these bloodshedding villians"  [Josephus; The War of the Jews; 4:3:10]

The prophecy of Daniel, and the warning of Jesus had come to pass. 

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