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The Abomination of Desolation, a Past or a Future Event?

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones (Conexiones Church) in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership. Author.

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem

David Roberts, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

David Roberts, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Views on The Abomination of Desolation

In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), there are two passages in which the Lord Jesus Christ foretells an abomination of desolation. One passage is Matthew 24, and the other passage is Mark 13. The gospel of Luke has a parallel passage to these two passages (Luke 21), but the Lord does not mention an abomination of desolation in it. Moreover, Luke 17 is also a relevant passage that appears to be parallel (though much shorter) to these other three passages (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21).

The abomination of desolation in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 is important to our understanding of eschatology (the biblical doctrine about the end times). Futurists understand the abomination of desolation to be a future event that is identical to what befell the Jerusalem temple in 168 BC: Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the temple by sacrificing pigs and erecting in it an altar to Zeus.

Preterists, on the other hand, understand the abomination of desolation to be a past event that is similar to what Antiochus Epiphanes did: around the time of the Lord's birth, the Romans erected an eagle at the gate of the temple; then, in the year 70 AD, general Titus descrated the temple by entering it before his men destroyed it (it is also possible that Titus erected a pillar with an egle were after the temple was destroyed).

Both views of the abomination of desolation are plausible. However, logic dictates that either one view is right and the other wrong, both views are wrong, or both views are right (yes, both views could be right if one event forshadowed the other). So, which one is it? To find the answer, we will need to examine the passages mentioned above.

Matthew 24

There are several temporal marks (words that indicate timing) throughout Matthew 24. After Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple (Matthew 23:36, 38, 24:2), the disciples asked him when this destruction would take place and what would be the sing of his coming (Matthew 24:3). In their minds, the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Lord were related to each other—however, the Lord would eventually tell them that no one, except the Father, knows the day and the hour (Matthew 24:36).

The Beginning of Birth Pains

The Lord first warned the disciples about false messiahs, wars, and rumors of wars—then he clarified that this was not the end (Matthew 24:4-6) for there woud also be more wars, famines, earthquakes (Matthew 24:7). According to the Lord, these were only the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 27:8). Think about what that means—the beginning of birth pains: not the moment of birth, not the duration of time throughout which the woman endures several pains, but the first pains of the many more pains that will follow.

After that, a period of tribulation would follow. The disciples would be hated and put to death, many would fall away and betray each other, false prophets would arise, lawlessness would icrease, and the love of many would grow cold (Matthew 24:91-3).

Finally, the Lord added: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14, ESV). The end, the moment of birth, comes after the gospel is proclaimed throughout the whole world.

The Abomination of Desolation (The End)

According to the question posed by the disciples, the end is the time when Jerusalem is destroyed and when the Lord comes. Remember: the disciples were asking the Lord about two related events—eventually, the Lord is going to talk about the end.

The end has three phases: (1) The abomination of desolation, (2) cataclysm, and (2) the coming of the Son of Man.

During the phase of the abomination of desolation, an abomination that cuases desolation is to stand in the holy place (compare holy place with Acts 6:13 and Hebrews 9:2). The word in can mean by and at. In doesn't necessarily mean inside: therefore, it could refer to an eagle outside the holy place or to an idol inside the holy place (like the idol/image in Revelation 13:15). Also, the Lord says that this abomination of desolation was spoken of by Daniel the Prophet (see Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).

Moreover, during the phase of the abomination of desolation, there are also a great tribulation unlike any tribulation in the past or the future (Matthew 24:21) and false prophets that perform great signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24).

It is important to note that an abomination of desolation had already taken place in 168 BC, so Jesus was saying that Daniel foretold an additional abomination of desolation—was he speaking of 70 AD or the much more distant future? In context, Daniel 9:27 appears to be speaking of 70 AD, but Daniel 12:11 appears to be speaking of an event that still has not taken palce since people are resurrected in Daniel 12:2. Nevertheless, futurists argue that Daniel 9:27 is speaking of an event still in the future, and preterists argue that Daniel 12:11 is speaking of 70 AD.

The "Cataclysm"

According to the Lord, immediately after the phase of the abominatin of desolation, the sun is darkened, the moon does not give light, the stars fall from heaven (compare with Revelation 6:13, 8:12, and 12:4), and the powers of the heavens are shaken.

Futurists interpret this event as a literal cataclysm, but preterists interpret this event figuratively, indicating judgment (compare with Joel 2:10, 2:31, 3:15, Isaiah 13:10, 24:23, and Ezekiel 32:7... in these verses, these events are sometimes figurative).

The main point here, however, is that this event takes place immediately after the great tribulation (the phase of the abomination of desolation).

The Coming of The Son of Man

Following the "cataclysm," the sign of the Son of Man appears in heaven, all the tribes of the earth (or land) mourn, and everyone sees the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13)—that's Jesus the Messiah—coming on cloud, with power, and with great glory. He then sends his angels to gather his elect from from one end of heaven to the other (the whole world).

Futurists see this event as a literal event (Exodus 19:18, Deuteronomy 4:11), but preterists interpret this event figuratively to mean judgment (2 Smauel 22:12, Psalm 18:11, 97:2, 104:3, Jeremiah 4:13, Joel 2:2, Nahum 1:3, Zephaniah 1:15).

It is my understanding that preterists even interpret the gathering of the elect as a figurative event, not a literal event.

Statement about The Generation

In verse 34, the Lord makes the following statment:

"Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." (Matthew 24:34, ESV)

Preterists understand "this generation" to mean the people alive at the time of Jesus. Consequently, they believe that all of the Lord's eschatological discourse is symbolic, and that it wa all spiritually fulfilled in 70 AD.

Futurists, on the other hand, usually interpert "this generation" as a reference to Israel, and therefore they believe that the Lord means the Jewish people will continue to exist until he returns.

Mark 13

In Mark 13, the disciples are once again concerned about when the destruction of the temple will take place, and what the signs will be (Mark 13:4). Once again, in their minds, the destruction of the temple and the Lord's coming are related to each other.

The Beginning of Birth Pains

Although the Lord will eventually tell his disciples that only the Father knows the day and the hour (v.32), he begins answering by telling them that many will claim to be him (v.6), that there will be wars and rumors of wars (v.7), that the end is not yet, that there will be wars between the nations, earthquakes, and tfamines (v.8). According to the Lord, all these things are the beginning of birth pains.

In verses 9-13, the Lord tells the disciples that they will be persecuted: they will be deiivered to councils, beaten in synagogues, and brought before governors and kings (v.9). Moreover, the Lord tells them that family members will betray each other (v.12), and that they (the disciples) will be hated by everyone else (v.13). However, in verse 10, the Lord states that the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.

The Abomination of Desolation

In the verses that follow, the Lord tells the disciples that the abomination of desolation will stand in the place where it ought not to be (v.14), that there will be a tribulation unlike any other (v.19), and that there will be false christs and prophets who will perform signs and wonders, leading many astray (v.22).

The 'Cataclysm'

The Lord then tells his disciples that in the days after the tribulation (the phase of the abomination of desolation), "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken" (Mark 13:24-25, ESV).

The Coming of The Son of Man

Following this cataclysm, people will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and he will send his angels to gather his elect from everywhere on Earth (v.24-27).

Statement about The Generation

As in Matthew 24:34, here in Mark the Lord says that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Mark 13:30).

Luke 17

Although the Lord's eschatological discourse in Mark is similar to his discourse in Matthew, his discourse in Luke is different. First, there are actually two such discouraes in Luke, the one in Luke 17 being significantly shorter than the one in Luke 21, and under different circumstances. Second, the abomination of desolation is not mentioned by Luke, and no reference is made to Daniel. There are also other differences.

The Already Present Kingdom

In Luke 17:20, we are told that the Pharisees asked the Lord when God's kingdom would come. The Lord tells them that God's kingdom is not coming in a visible way, because God's kingdom is already in their midst (Luke 17:21).

The Absence of The Son of Man

In Luke 17:22, the Lord says to his disciples that the days were coming when they would desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but they would not see it. In other words, in the near future, the disciples would wish to see the Lord, but they would not be able to see him. In those days, people would tell the disciples to look here and there for the Lord, but he tells them not to follow them (v.23). Obviously, all this means that the Lord would no longer be present on Earth.

However, according to Jesus, the Son of Man first needed to suffer many things and be rejected by that generation (most likely, a reference to the Pharisees who previously asked him about the coming God's kingdom).

The Coming of The Son of Man

The Lord Jesus warned his disciples that, in those days (the days of his absence) people would tell them to look here and there for the him, but they should not follow them (v.23) because he (the Son of Man) will be like lightning in his day (v.24): lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other. In other words when Jesus returns, he will be visible to the whole world, and there will be no need for anyone to point out where he is, It is for this reason, because he will be seen by all, that Jesus said he will be reveal on that day (v.30-31).

Luke 21

In Luke 21, after the Lord tells the disciples about the impeding destruction of the temple (v.5-6), they ask him when this will take place and what will be the sign before it takes place (v.7). Although their concern here is similar to their concern in Mark and Matthew, and although the Lord's answer also speaks about his coming, their concern here is focused specifically on the temple. When will the temple be destroyed? What is the sign that the temple will be destroyed?

Things that Happen First

The Lord begins answering by warning them of the things that must take place first: people who claim to be him, people claiming that his coming is near, wars, and tumults. However, he clarifies to them that the is not at once (v.8-9).

The Lord tells them that wars between nations and kingdoms will follow, and that there will be earthquakes, famines, and pestilences. He also adds terrors and great signs from heaven (v.10-11).

The Lord also tells his disciples that they will be persecuted—delivered to prisons and synagogues, betrayed by family and friends, hated by all, and even put to death (v.12, 16-17).

The Desolation of Jerusalem

In verse 20, the Lord tells his disciples that when Jerusalem is surrouded by armies, its desolation will have come near. In those days, there will be vengeance to fulfill all that is written (v. 22), and there will be great distress upon the earth (probably, land) and wrath against the people of Israel (v.23). The Israelites will fall by the edge of the sword, and they will be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the gentiles until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled (v.24).

The 'Cataclysm'

Moreover, there will be signs in the Sun, the moon, and the stars. The people will be distressed, and the nations (this will be global event) will be in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint with fear and with forboding becuase of what is coming on the world. The powers of the heavens will be shaken.

The Coming of The Son of Man

Accoridng to the Lord, people would then see the Son of Man (the Messiah, Jesus) coming in a cloud, with power, and with great glory. In other words, his coming would be visible.

Statement about The Generation

The Lord then said to his disciples that when they would see these things take place, they would know that the kingdom of God was near. He also added, "this generation will not pass away until all has taken place" (Luke 21:32, ESV).asdf

Putting It All Together

The Composite Timeline

As we combine all this information, the following timeline is logical.

  1. The kingdom was invisibly present through the Lord's ministry on Earth (Luke 17:21).
  2. The Son of Man would be rejected by the Pharisees and suffer (Luke 17:25)
  3. A period of absence by the Son of Man would follow until his visible return (Luke 17:22)
  4. The beginning of birth pains in Matthew and Mark would follow. This beginning of birth pains coincides with the first things in Luke 21.
  5. Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies and trampled under feet by gentiles (Luke 21:20).
  6. The gospel would be preached unto all nations (Matthew 24:14, Mark 13:10), and the times of the gentiles would be fulfilled (Luke 21:24).
  7. The end would begin with the phase of the abomination of desolation would begin.
  8. Immediately, after the phase of the abomination of desolation, there would be a 'cataclysm.'
  9. After the 'cataclysm,' the Son of Man would come in a visible way, like lightning, and be seen by all the Earth.

Rationale

There are several reasons why this timeline is correct, but these are the key elements.

First, it is clear that the Lord taught that the coming of the Son of Man would be visible as lightning. He himself would be visible to all. This point, in itself, completely dismantles any argument for an invislbe return of the Lord in the year 70. Judgment did befall Israel in the year 70, for such were the days of vengeance and fulfillment—but the Lord's words lead us to believe that the coming of the Son of Man is visible.

Second, both Matthew and Mark record that the coming of the Son of Man occurs immediately after the great tribulation, which includes the abomination of desolation. Also, the Son of Man always comes after the cataclysm (which may be literal or figurative).

Third, Luke 21 tells us that the gentiles will trample Jerusalem (from 70 AD) until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled. This can suggest a lengthy lapse of time.

Fourth, Matthew and Mark tell us that the gospel must be preached to all nations before the abomination of desolation takes place. This too can suggest a lengthy lapse of time.a

The preaching of the gosopel to all nations and the fulfillment of the times of the gentiles are both indefinite periods of time that are probably lengthy and simultaneous—and it is likely that we are living within them as they are being developed.

Had the gospel been preached to all nations already, we would either be waiting for the abomination of desolation to occur, or experiencing the abomination of desolation, since the Lord has not yet come visibly to Earth, and since the abomination of desolation occurs after the gospel is preached to the whole world.

Had the times of the gentiles been fulfilled already, we would be at least waiting for the cataclysm, or we would be experiencing the cataclysm (whether literally or figuratively, that is a point for another time) and waiting for the Lord to return, since the cataclysm and the Lord's return occur after the times of the gentiles are fulfilled.

It is likely, however, that we are not experiencing the abomination of desolation or the cataclysm, that the gospel still has not been preached to all the nations, and that the times of the gentiles have not been fulfilled. Moreover, it is certain that the Lord has not returned visibly to the Earth (otherwise, we would all have seen him already).

What about the Lord's Statement about The Generation

Although there isn't an agreement about what the Lord mean with "this generation," I believe that it can be demonstrated that, within context, "this generation" can legitimately refer specifically to the kind of people the religious leaders of Israel were. This kind of people actually continues to exist in the world up to this day.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe I have demonstrated that there are strong reasons to believe that the abomination of desolation in Matthew and Mark is a future event, even though Luke focuses on the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD.

This makes sense because each of the four gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) was written by different writers, addressed to different audiences, and composed to make different points (though related and complementary points) about Jesus Christ and his ministry.

What do you think?

© 2021 Marcelo Carcach

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