The Abomination of Desolation
Don K. Preston D. Div
The Abomination of Desolation is one of the most feared– yet, paradoxically– anticipated prophetic events! It is feared because its appearance is part of the projected Great Tribulation period. It is anticipated because, while a horrible event, it is posited by Jesus as one of the definitive signs of the end of the age (Matthew 24:15f).
While volumes have been written about the Abomination (hereafter AoD) this article will focus on correcting some of the more popular misconceptions about that horrific event, and to demonstrate that the AoD occurred in the first century during the Jewish War of AD 66-70. We will do this by focusing on who was to “set up” or to express it differently, who was to commit, or perpetrate the AoD. This latter thought may seem perplexing to many, and that is because of the error being taught about the AoD. We hope to demonstrate that the popular definition and understanding of the Abomination is in fact wrong, based on mis-guided interpretation of the critical texts.
The Abomination of Desolation is widely outlined in dispensational scheme in the following:
After the rapture of the church, the Man of Sin appears, and in what seems an almost miraculous set of circumstances, convinces Israel to sign a peace treaty with him and their enemies.
The temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt and, “Judaism is revived, and traditional sacrifices and ceremonies are re-instituted in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem” (Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, Prophecy Watch, (Eugene, Ore., Harvest House, 1998)60).
At the middle of the seven year period of time known generally as the Tribulation period, the Man of Sin breaks the peace treaty with Israel: “Antichrist will not only break his own covenant with Israel, but he will also set himself up as God to be worshiped in the rebuilt Jewish temple at the mid-point of the tribulation. This defiling of the third temple is called ‘the abomination of desolation.’ This will be a sign for the Jews to flee Jerusalem.” (Watch, 1998, 166).
As you can see, in the dispensational scenario, the AoD is set up in the temple by a pagan, non-Jewish figure, the Man of Sin. Also, it is critical to note that in the millennial schema Israel is virtually the “innocent victim” in the end times drama, as she is betrayed by the man of sin, and then persecuted by him in the Great Tribulation. However, the Bible knows nothing of Israel’s “innocence” in the last days, and knows nothing of her “innocence in regard to the Abomination or the Great Tribulation!
I want to state something right here that may come as a shock to those who see Israel as the “innocent victim” in the end times scenario as presented by the dispensational world. The Abomination of Desolation and the Great Tribulation are, Biblically speaking, expressions of Covenant Wrath on Israel. The Abomination and Tribulation were proof positive that Old Covenant Israel was being judged by YHVH for their rejection of Messiah. Israel in this scenario is not the “innocent victim” but rather the focus of God’s covenant wrath!
I want to present two proposals for the AoD:
First, the Abomination was something done by Israel herself, something so despicable, so abhorrently evil that it led to her desolation and destruction. (Our purpose here is not to specifically identify what it was that Israel did, but to simply posit Israel as the party guilty of committing “the abomination that leads to desolation.”)
It must be understood that according to the scholars the term Abomination of Desolation actually means “the abomination that causes desolation.” Gray says: “‘Desolating sacrilege’ literally means ‘the sacrilege that causes desolation.’. It causes desolation.” It cause desolation because the profanation of the temple incurs God’s judgment which ultimately leads to the destruction of the temple.” (Timothy Gray, The Temple In The Gospel of Mark, (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008, 141). Gibbs agrees that the concept of defilement leading to destruction is at stake in the term abomination of desolation (Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Jerusalem and Parousia, (St. Louis, MO, Concordia Academic Press, 2000)230, n. 112). Pitre adds: The profanation of the Temple, “brings about the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:27). It is such an egregious sacrilege that it calls down divine wrath and destruction on both the temple and the city.”(Brant Pitre, Jesus, The Tribulation and the End of the Exile, (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2005).
So, the point is that Biblically speaking sin is the cause of the abomination. Catch the power of that!
This is a well documented concept in scripture and even in Israel’s thought. For instance, Elliott shows that the siege of Jerusalem in BC 63 by Ptolemy was considered a covenantal curse by Israel. He cites the Psalms of Solomon 17-19, that in turn cites Deuteronomy 11:16-17 for what had happened: “Take heed lest… he shut up the heavens. so that there be no rain.’ or 1 Kings 8:35– “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against thee.” Elliott goes ahead to say that there is clear evidence that in Israel there was the understanding that covenantal violation would bring covenant curse, i.e. desolation. And this is based on scripture.
In 2 Chronicles 6:24 Solomon said, “If your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against you…”
David said in Psalms 41:11– “By this I know that you are well pleased with me, when my enemy does not triumph over me.”
God even promised in Exodus 34:23 that if Israel was faithful in her observance of the feast days, that He would ensure that no one invaded them at those sacred times. (See my book Israel 1948 Countdown to No Where, for an examination of this powerful concept. Israel was invaded and destroyed in AD 70 and that siege, lasting five months, spanned the entirety of Israel’s festal calendar! Thus, on the principle of Exodus 34, this served as prima facie demonstration that AD 70 was the outpouring of Mosaic Covenant wrath. The book is available from this website).
So, if, as the dispensationalists say, the AoD would be a pagan setting up an idol in the Jerusalem temple, this would prove beyond any doubt that Israel was in rebellion against God, in violation of Torah and was under covenant curse! All of this demands that the AoD and ensuing tribulation must be seen as a covenantal curse / covenantal judgment on Israel for violation of Torah– thus proving that Torah was still valid. This hardly comports with the dispensational paradigm, to say the very least.
All of this is admitted– inadvertently of course- by Thomas Ice, in his comments on Luke 21:22: “Those first century days are called the ‘days of vengeance for Jerusalem is under the divine judgment of covenantal sanctions recorded in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Luke notes that God’s vengeance on His elect nation ‘is in order that all things that are written may be fulfilled.’ Jesus is telling the nation that God will fulfill all the curses of the Mosaic Covenant because of Israel’s disobedience. He will not relent and merely bring to pass a partial fulfillment of His vengeance. Some of the passages that Jesus says will be fulfilled include the following: Leviticus 26:27-33; Deuteronomy 28:49-63; Deuteronomy 32: 19-27; 1 Kings 9:1-9; Jeremiah 6:1-6; 26:1-9; Daniel 9:26; Hosea 8:1-10:15; Micah 3:12; Zechariah 11:6″ Thomas Ice, The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? A written debate with Kenneth Gentry, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1999) 98).
Take note that Ice posits AD 70 as the full expression of Mosaic Covenant wrath. Of course, this contradicts his other writings in which he affirms that the Mosaic Law was removed at the cross, but, that is another story. The fact is that Ice recognizes that the destruction of Jerusalem was the direct result
of Israel’s sin, her violation of Torah!
How then, in light of the dispensational view of the Abomination and the Great Tribulation, can it be affirmed that Israel is the “innocent victim” during the seven year Tribulation? How can Ice, for instance, claim that what happens to Israel during that time will not be a judgment from God?
Ice claims that the attacks from the man of sin, resulting in the Great Tribulation: “Israel is not under judgment from God in the tribulation, but under threat from Gentiles, rescued by God.” (Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, End Times Controversy, (Eugene, Or. Harvest House, 2003)168). So, according to Ice and LaHaye, the AD 70 cataclysm was an expression of Covenant Wrath from God. However, in the tribulation period Israel is not under judgment from God, but from Gentiles and God delivers Israel from that Gentile attack.
This is specious and patently false. It is a rejection of the scriptures given above. It is also a rejection of one of the most fundamental of all of dispensationalism, and that is that Israel remains God’s covenant people!
If Israel remains God’s covenant people, what covenant are they under that would (will) result in such a horrible thing as the Great Tribulation for her violation of that covenant? Now, it will do no good to simply affirm, as Ice does, that Israel is not under judgment in the Tribulation. Proof is demanded for such claims. If Israel remains as God’s covenant people, then what happens to Israel must be viewed as inseparably linked to and flowing from that covenant. So, what covenant is Israel under in the Tribulation that will result in the horrors of the Abomination of Desolation and the Great Tribulation? The choices are very limited.
It cannot be the Abrahamic Covenant, for that covenant contained no provisions for the horrors such as the Great Tribulation.
It cannot be the Davidic Covenant, for the same is true of that covenant. The Davidic covenant has no provisions for covenant wrath on the temple, the city and the nation.
The only covenant that YHVH had with Israel that contained provisions for the kind of wrath described as the Great Tribulation was the Mosaic Covenant. And as we shall see just below, it is the Mosaic Covenant to which millennialists appeal for predictions of the Great Tribulation. They never appeal to the Abrahamic or Davidic Covenants.
A “Google” search of “The Abomination of Desolation” or “The Great Tribulation” quickly reveals that dispensationalists believe that the Abomination and the Tribulation are indeed predicted in the Mosaic Covenant.
Thomas Ice says, “As significant as Deuteronomy 4 is in establishing the Tribulation and its purpose, an expanded narrative of Israel’s future history is provided in Deuteronomy 28-32. The last seven chapters of Deuteronomy (28-34),’ says David Larsen, ‘ are really the matrix out of which the great prophecies of the Old Testament regarding Israel emerge.” He then gives Leviticus 26 as parallel to the Blessings and Cursings of Deuteronomy 28-32.” (Tribulation Debate, p. 75, 76). So what is the problem?
The problem is that on the one hand the dispensationalists say that the Mosaic Covenant was abrogated in the first century (at the cross), but, on the other hand, they then appeal to the Mosaic Covenant for proof of a yet future Abomination of Desolation and Great Tribulation?
Ice says of the Mosaic Covenant: “The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 20-23; the book of Deuteronomy, my emp. dkp), which contains the law of Moses for Israel was given to Israel’s people after they were delivered from the land of Egypt to show them how they could please God as His redeemed people. This was a conditional covenant. (his emp) The New Testament makes it very clear that the Mosaic Covenant was temporary until Christ would come. Many passages teach that the law was done away with in Christ.” (Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, Fast Facts on Bible Prophecy, (Eugene, Ore., Harvest House, 1997)135)
Okay, so, how could the AoD and Tribulation prophecies found in the Mosaic Covenant still be valid if in fact the Mosaic Covenant is no longer valid? This is a huge problem.
The second proposal for the source of the AoD is that it is a pagan figure that sits up an idol in the Jerusalem temple. This idol is seen as the Abomination. Of course, this is the dispensational view. Demy and Ice say: “The newly proclaimed world dictator desecrates the temple in Jerusalem and begins a period of intense persecution of Jews.” (Prophecy Watch, 1998, 60). However, this scenario offers a strong confirmation of the point made earlier. If the AoD is perpetrated by a pagan leader, in the Jewish temple at Jerusalem, it confirms the fact that Israel at that juncture is out of covenant relationship with YHVH and that Mosaic Covenant Wrath is being applied to Israel! It completely falsifies Ice’s claim that Israel is not under judgment from God, but simply being persecuted by the Gentiles.
We must reiterate this critical and yet ignored fact: the only way God ever allowed pagans to desecrate and destroy the temple was because of Israel’s violation of the Mosaic Covenant.
So, in reality, it matters not whether one says that the AoD would be perpetrated by Israel leading to her destruction, or if one demands that the AoD be committed by a pagan figure. The bottom line is that if the temple is still posited as “the holy place” (Matthew 24:15) then its desecration through the committing of some heinous sin is what leads to Covenantal Wrath, i.e. the desolation and destruction of the temple.
There is therefore simply no way, Biblically or logically, to divorce the topic of the AoD from the fundamental fact of Israel’s violation of the Mosaic Covenant. And since even the millennialists insist that the Mosaic Covenant is no longer valid, and, they likewise say that the Mosaic Covenant will never be restored, then this demands that the Abomination and the Tribulation had to have occurred at a time when the Mosaic Covenant was still in force. This demands a first century fulfillment of the Abomination and Great Tribulation, and that is precisely what we find.
When Hebrews was written, the Mosaic Covenant was “obsolete and ready (engus) to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). The time of its fulfillment, its complete fulfillment, was to be at the fall of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24-27; Luke 21:22). Remember that Ice posits the complete not partial fulfillment of covenant wrath at that juncture as well.
Notice finally, a few thoughts in regard to the Great Tribulation and its first century fulfillment. The following is an edited except from my Who Is This Babylon book.:
Notice what is said of the 144,000 in Revelation 14:4, “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” Did you catch the power of what is said? The 144,000 were the first fruits of those redeemed by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
Notice that these were Christians. But, these are not just Christians, they are Christian “Jews.” They are out of the 12 tribes of Israel, and they are followers of the Messiah. Further, these are not just Jewish Christians, they are the first generation of Jewish Christians. The significance of the first fruits must not be missed, or dismissed, for it places the book of Revelation in an early context.
You and I are living 50 generations beyond the time of the first fruit of Christians. Furthermore, the longer time marches on, the farther removed we are from the generation of the first fruits redeemed from among men.
James wrote early in the first century generation, and wrote, “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (James 1:1). What did he have to say about the first fruit concept? Hear him, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of His mouth, that we might be a kind of first fruit (aparche
) of His creatures” (James 1:18). Likewise, the writer of Hebrews said, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an unnumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22).
There can be no doubt as to the meaning of “first fruits.” When Paul wrote to the saints in Rome, he gave greetings to Epaenetus, “who was the first (aparche) convert to Christ in the province of Asia” (Romans 16:5 NIV). Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 16:15, the same apostle sent greetings to the household of Stephanas that was “the first (aparche) converts in Achaia.” Paul was referring to the very first converts.
John did not say that the 144,000 were the first fruit of some far distant time. He did not say that they were to be the first fruit of a different preaching of a different gospel message. The idea of the term “first fruit” has a temporal significance that cannot be mitigated. The 144,000 were the first generation of Jewish Christians and this has profound implications for not only the dating of the Apocalypse, but for many of today’s eschatological paradigms.
John saw that the 144,000 were to come out of the Great Tribulation (7:14). If the 144,000 were the first Christians, and if they were to endure the Great Tribulation, then if follows undeniably, that the Great Tribulation was to occur in the first century generation. Of course, this is precisely what Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:15-34) in spite of the dispensational objections. You cannot divorce the 144,000 from the Great Tribulation. No other generation can ever be “the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4), than that first century generation. Patently, the Great Tribulation was in the first century. (See my book Who Is This Babylon for a further discussion of the topic. The book is available from this website.)
Notice that every point we have made agrees perfectly with the Biblical evidence. It is in fact drawn from the texts, not imposed on them.
It is Israel that would (did) commit the heinous crimes that brought about the temple’s destruction.
It was Israel’s sin that brought the presence of the Romans into the temple, totally destroying it and putting an end to the temple cultus.
Jesus said all of those things would occur in the first century (Matthew 24:34), and without manipulating the text that is the normal and natural application of Jesus’ words. And of course, Israel did sin (heinously). Israel did sin, in the temple. Israel’s sin did lead to her destruction and the out-pouring of Mosaic Covenant Wrath in AD 70.
Israel was under the Mosaic Covenant curse for her sins, and AD 70 was the consummative and climactic out pouring of that Wrath. In that judgment “all things that are written must be fulfilled” and thus, Torah passed away. There is no further application of Mosaic Covenant Wrath beyond that point.
The dispensational application of Deuteronomy to a proposed Abomination of Desolation and Great Tribulation is self contradictory, for on the one hand they say that the Mosaic Covenant was abrogated at the cross. Then they say that the Mosaic Covenant Wrath was completely fulfilled (not just partially) in AD 70. Then they try to apply the Mosaic Covenant provisions of covenant wrath to a yet future time. To say the least, this is inconsistent, self-contradictory and unscriptural.
The Abomination of Desolation and the Great Tribulation were the final expressions and out-pouring of Mosaic Covenant Wrath. That ended in AD 70 with the final, consummative destruction of the Old Covenant world.