In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus prophesied of an event that he called the Abomination of Desolation (see also Daniel’s Seventieth Week). Speaking in the gravest of terms, the Lord described in one brief passage precisely how the empire of the Beast will crumble. This is what he said:
“When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand),
“Then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains;
“Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house;
“Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes.
“And woe unto those who are with child, and to those who nurse children in those days!
“But pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day;
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”
When the followers of Christ heard these words they were probably surprised at the mention of the abomination of desolation. His listeners were certainly familiar with the term and likely understood what he was talking about even though it may seem obscure to us today. The prophecy actually has reference to something that occurred long ago in the history of Israel and almost two centuries before the time of Christ. The Lord was predicting a future event that would occur at the end of the age by referencing an event which was drawn from one of the darkest days of Israel’s past. Jesus even provides a reference to help the reader fully understand what he was describing. He specifically says that the book of Daniel would hold the key to understanding this prediction.
This highlights an important concept in the study of prophecy. None of the predictions concerning the last days and the return of Christ should be interpreted without first taking into consideration all of the other parts of the Bible that might refer to the same event or the same time period. There are many aspects of prophesy that occur in fragments in both the Old and New Testaments. A few verses here and a few verses there often make up different aspects of the same prediction. If all of these fragments are not brought together to formulate the complete picture, then it is easy to fall into the trap of taking a single prophecy out of context and reaching the wrong conclusions. This prediction by Jesus about the Abomination of Desolation is one that is particularly important to cross-reference thoroughly before we interpret it.
The First Desecration
In Daniel chapter 8 (see the section entitled Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts), we find a description of how the empire of Persia would be destroyed by the coming of Alexander the Great. In the symbolism of Daniel’s prophecy, the he-goat (Greece) had a “notable horn” (Alexander the Great) between its eyes. After the goat had destroyed the ram (Persia), the large horn was broken and four others came up in its place. As we learned from Daniel’s vision, this was a prophecy of the unexpected early death of Alexander and the taking over of his empire by his four principle generals. After the take-over, the empire was divided into four main regions, two of which became prominent: the kingdom of the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria.
Daniel’s prophecy, however, does not end at that point. It continues to predict further into his future by focusing on one part of the broken Greek empire, namely the northern Seleucid kingdom. Daniel said that out of this kingdom would arise a prominent king (referred to as the “little horn”—but in this case it is not the Antichrist) who will begin to extend his empire toward the land of Israel. Using the past tense for his description as though the events had already occurred, Daniel predicts…
“…by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down.
“And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it continued, and prospered.
“Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint who spoke, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled under foot?
“And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”
Recorded history points us directly to the person of Antiochus IV Epiphanes as the only possible fulfillment of this prophecy. Antiochus ruled Syria from 175-164 B.C., but centuries before his rise Daniel predicted a period of widespread destruction at the hands of this Seleucid king. As Antiochus fought for territory with the Ptolemies of Egypt, his forces inevitably pushed south toward the land of Israel. In time, the king subjugated the small land of the Jews without much difficulty. In defiance of their religious beliefs, Antiochus also desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by offering a pig as a sacrifice. He then set up an altar to Jupiter right in the holy place and condemned the people to eat pork, which was unclean to every Jewish believer.
This was what Jesus was referring to when he mentioned the term “abomination of desolation”. Antiochus had set up a pagan altar right in the Jewish Temple and sacrificed to his god, not to the one true God. He also outlawed the Torah, the Jewish sacrifices, and the following of any holy day observances as prescribed by Moses. This was the abomination that had made the Temple and the land desolate from a spiritual perspective. Every person listening to Jesus when he predicted that another Abomination of Desolation would occur in the last days knew immediately what he was talking about.
However, Daniel predicted that Antiochus and his idolatrous abomination within the temple would not remain there forever. He also prophesied that exactly 2,300 days after Antiochus defiled it that the holy place would be completely cleansed and restored. In fact, at precisely the predicted time, the Lord raised up a priest by the name of Mattathias Maccabee and his son Judas to lead the people out from between the yoke of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire and institute a brief period of Jewish independence, known as the Kingdom of the Maccabees or the Hasmonean dynasty.
The beginning of the Maccabean revolt was in direct response to the evil committed at the hands of Antiochus. As a result of their victory, Jewish people today still celebrate the Feast of the Dedication in remembrance of when the temple was finally cleansed in 165 B.C.
The Final Desecration
If the “abomination of desolation” had already taken place long before Christ was born, why did Jesus prophesy of it again in Matthew chapter 24? Actually, what the Lord is saying is that history is going to repeat itself at the end of the age. Remember, Paul predicts that the Antichrist would present himself as God in the temple before the end comes. Instead of setting up an idol to worship as Antiochus did, the Antichrist is going to proclaim himself as a god to be worshipped!
At the very time when the Antichrist is at the pinnacle of his power—when the entire world is following his one-world government of “peace and safety” and no one seems able to stand in his way—he will make the monumental mistake of daring to enter a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and proclaim himself to be God and savior of the world.
In another place, Daniel said in his prophecy of the Seventy Weeks that the Antichrist would “in the midst of the week (or in the middle of the final seven years)…cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (Dan. 9:27). It is important to note that this very act of stopping the sacrifices and offerings implies that there will have to be a rebuilt temple that will exist in the last days during the Antichrist’s reign. Only in the city of Jerusalem, and then only at the temple mount itself, can the Old-Testament ceremony of worship take place. Although this temple does not yet exist in our time, Jewish religious organizations already are planning for its construction and even preparing the building materials and the prescribed trappings of worship necessary to erect it quickly when the opportunity arises.
So powerful and popular will the Antichrist become during his rule that he will even think to take the place of the God of the universe in the Holy of Holies. When this event happens, Daniel says that…
“…for the overspreading of abominations he (e.g., the Lord) shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolator”
This is why Jesus strongly warned that when the abomination occurs, everyone in and around Jerusalem should run for the hills and take cover. The abomination of desolation will become a major transition point to the destruction of the last days. It is a flag post that will mark the beginning of the end for the Antichrist. At the very moment it happens, a decisive change in the course of world history will have taken place that will cause the entire earth to become a desolate wilderness. This is also why Jesus named it “the abomination of desolation”. It is an abomination of hideous idolatry that will turn the entire world into a war-torn wasteland of unimaginable and unprecedented scope.
The abomination of desolation therefore marks the beginning of the wars of the end. After that turning point, the kingdom of the Beast will be transformed into a fragmented power that will be consumed and destroyed by war unto the end (cp. Dan. 7:26). And when will this abomination occur? Daniel says that it will definitely happen sometime in the middle of the last seven years (Dan 9:27). In addition, since the book of Revelation puts a time limit on the reign of the Antichrist by stating that he will be allowed to continue for only three and a half years, the abomination must surely take place before the Beast’s kingdom begins to dissolve. Incredibly, Daniel is so accurate in his visions that he actually predicts the very day that the Antichrist will commit this act! In the last chapter of his book, Daniel asks an angel about the timing of the events of the end. This is part of what the angel tells him:
“And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.”
Since the last prophetic time period of this age will be seven years in length (each year consisting of the Jewish year of 360 days), 1,290 days is just 30 days longer than half of this total period. Daniel’s prophecy says that the abomination will occur precisely 1,290 days before the end. Therefore, the Antichrist’s presentation of himself as God must happen 30 days prior to the exact midpoint of Daniel’s 70th Week.
Suddenly, these prophecies are starting to fall into place—at least well enough to understand some of the chronology of the last seven years. According to the Bible, God gives the Antichrist only three and a half years to work his evil. Therefore, when he declares himself to be God it is almost at the end of his allotted reign. In fact, only 30 days after the abomination occurs, his undisputed rule will be terminated and his kingdom will begin to fall.
The closeness of these events is not just coincidental. When the Antichrist exalts himself to the point of deity, the righteousness of God will simply not permit his empire to continue. The Lord himself will initiate a series of devastating events which will collapse the very foundations of the Antichrist’s kingdom. This means that while the first 3-1/2 years of Daniel’s 70th Week may be characterized by the iron rule of a ruthless but popular empire, the last 3 1/2 years will be transformed into a battleground of world-wide destruction.
When Jesus told his followers to flee to the mountains as soon as they saw the abomination, he did so because he foresaw the resulting desolation of the end. The Lord said that there would suddenly come a time of unparalleled trouble which would leave the entire world in a state of impending doom. So great would be the aftereffects of this “great tribulation”, as he called it, that all life on Earth would be threatened and held in the balance. This is not an overstatement. The wars that are going to engulf mankind at the end of this age will be so destructive that the very death of the Earth is not beyond the realm of possibility. The Lord indicates this very fact in Matthew. Jesus says that if God does not intervene to save his people just in the nick of time…”there should no flesh be saved” (Matt. 24:22). This time period will be much worse than the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. The Bible describes such a horrific time period that only World War III could be in view. From the point of the Abomination of Desolation forward, the Bible gives us a blow-by-blow account of what will occur. The prophesied events take us all the way up to the battle of Armageddon and ultimately to the very moment of the return of Christ. And it all begins just 30 days after the Antichrist makes his appearance in the temple of God.
Next: The Time of the End