Introduction

Two questions that many Christians and even theologians continue to ask are: what is the abomination of desolation that stands in the Holy place and brings desolation, and is this Bible prophecy relevant to those living in the end times, or has this prophecy already been fulfilled?

The abomination of desolation is definitely one of the most interesting and misunderstood prophecies found in the Bible. The element that makes this prophecy especially intriguing is that Jesus identifies it as a specific sign that the end is near. A careful study of Matthew 24 reveals that it is one of the many Bible passages that has a dual application. It speaks not only of the abomination of desolation that warns of the imminent destruction of the temple and Jerusalem but it also parallels this with the end of this world as we know it and the second coming of Jesus.

Abomination of Desolation and the templeSpeaking of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, “Jesus said unto them, see you not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.” The abomination of desolation was in answer to the disciples’ question that followed these just spoken words of Jesus, “the disciples came unto him privately, saying, tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?” Jesus now speaking of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, which also parallels the end time tribulation said, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (Whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains... for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Matthew 24:1-3, 15-21.

History shows that Titus tried to preserve the Temple ordering his soldiers not to destroy or burn it. But their anger against the Jews was so intense and maddened by the resistance they encountered, they disobeyed the order and set fire to the Temple. There were great quantities of gold stored in the Temple for safekeeping which melted and ran down between the rocks and into the cracks of the stones. In their greed to obtain this gold they pried apart the massive stones, thus quite literally, not one stone was left standing upon another just as Jesus had said. The Temple itself was totally destroyed, though the wall supporting the area upon which the Temple was built was left partially intact and a portion of it still remains called the Western Wall.

Christians of many different persuasions recognize this passage in Matthew 24 as a definite and peculiar sign concerning this Earth’s final days. But even though the majority of people can agree that the abomination of desolation is a very important sign, they can’t seem to agree on its specific nature. Even most preachers are thrown into a quagmire of confusion looking for something that no one is very sure about. It is a perfect example of the blind leading the blind.

What is the Abomination of Desolation?

Some people believe they know what the abomination of desolation is and teach that this prophecy was fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes interrupted the temple sacrifices between 168 B.C. and 165 B.C. The abomination they point to is the pig Antiochus had offered on the altar in the temple complex. Others believe that it refers to a future time when an atheistic antichrist will overthrow the temple in Jerusalem and use it as his throne. Then there are those who believe the abomination of desolation is the Roman standards which were worshipped in Jerusalem around 70 A.D. at the time of its destruction by Titus.

So just exactly what is the abomination of desolation? Is it any one of these alternatives? Is it all of them at the same time? Or could it be possible that not any of these above interpretations are correct? The answer to these questions is vitally important to those living in the end times and can only be found by careful exegesis of God’s Word and history. We really must understand the truth on this topic as Jesus clearly implies that our very lives could be at stake over this matter.

Trying to establish what this abomination is from the book of Matthew on its own could certainly lead one to speculate, but note that when we compare this passage in Matthew with Luke's account, we get much greater clarity with absolutely no need to speculate. Comparing the synoptic Gospels will often give us more insight and is a recommended practice when studying scripture. So what does Luke show to be the abomination of desolation? Carefully compare the two parallel passages below from Matthew and Luke. See also the Synoptic Gospel Parallels.

Matthew 24:15-22When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20 But pray you that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.

Luke 21:20-24And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. 22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

The reference to the book of Daniel that Matthew is referring to in Matthew 24:15 is Daniel chapter 9. Besides being the perfect Messianic prophecy proving that Jesus was the Christ, this chapter also speaks of the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem and also the final destruction of the temple in verse 27, which specifically makes reference to the abomination of desolation. See also the Daniel's 70 week and 2300 day prophecy.

Daniel 9:27 KJVAnd he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Daniel 9:27 NKJVThen 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.

Note carefully the meaning of the word translated “overspreading” in the King James Version of Daniel 9:27 from the New King James Version translation and the Strong's dictionary.

H3671 kaw-nawf' From H3670; an edge or extremity; specifically (of a bird or army) a wing, (of a garment or bed clothing) a flap, (of the earth) a quarter, (of a building) a pinnacle: - + bird, border, corner, end, feather [-ed], X flying, + (one an-) other, overspreading, X quarters, skirt, X sort, uttermost part, wing ([-ed]).

Sir Isaac Newton had a good understanding of the abomination of desolation. He explains the wing (“overspreading”) of abominations to be the Roman ensigns (eagles) brought to the east gate of the temple, and there sacrificed to by the soldiers; the war, ending in the destruction of Jerusalem, lasted from spring A.D. 67 to autumn A.D. 70. [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6.6].

It is important to note that the ensign of the Roman armies was an eagle, and the solders offered sacrifices to the banners showing the eagles in preparation for battle. Note Deuteronomy 28:49 and the Commentary by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown on this verse.

Deuteronomy 28:49-52The LORD shall bring a nation against you from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue you shall not understand; 50 A nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor show favour to the young: 51 And he shall eat the fruit of your cattle, and the fruit of your land, until you be destroyed: which also shall not leave you either corn, wine, or oil, or the increase of your kine, or flocks of your sheep, until he have destroyed you. 52 And he shall besiege you in all your gates, until your high and fenced walls come down, wherein you trustedst, throughout all your land: and he shall besiege you in all your gates throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you.

Commentary by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
Deu 28:49 The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far – the invasion of the Romans – “they came from far.” The soldiers of the invading army were taken from France, Spain, and Britain – then considered “the end of the earth.” Julius Severus, the commander, afterwards Vespasian and Hadrian, left Britain for the scene of contest. Moreover, the ensign on the standards of the Roman army was “an eagle”; and the dialects spoken by the soldiers of the different nations that composed that army were altogether unintelligible to the Jews.
Deu 28:50 A nation of fierce countenance – a just description of the Romans, who were not only bold and unyielding, but ruthless and implacable.
Deu 28:51 he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle, etc. – According to the Jewish historian, every district of the country through which they passed was strewn with the wrecks of their devastation.
Deu 28:52 he shall besiege thee … until thy high and fenced walls come down – All the fortified places to which the people betook themselves for safety were burnt or demolished, and the walls of Jerusalem itself razed to the ground.

The Jewish historian Josephus also sheds some light on the question what is the abomination of desolation. He made the following observations regarding the temple and the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman armies:

Sculpture of Roman eagle and weapons, probably from General Messalla's mausoleum...he was accused by Judas and Matthias; for the king had erected over the great gate of the temple a large eagle, of great value, and had dedicated it to the temple.” – The Antiquities Of The Jews, Book 17, Chapter 6, Section 2.

These lamented those that were put to death by Herod, because they had cut down the golden eagle that had been over the gate of the temple.” – The Wars Of The Jews, Book 2, Chapter 2, Section 5.

1. NOW, as Titus was upon his march into the enemy's country, the auxiliaries that were sent by the kings marched first, having all the other auxiliaries with them; after whom followed those that were to prepare the roads and measure out the camp; then came the commander's baggage, and after that the other soldiers, who were completely armed to support them; then came Titus himself, having with him another select body; and then came the pikemen; after whom came the horse belonging to that legion. All these came before the engines; and after these engines came the tribunes and the leaders of the cohorts, with their select bodies; after these came the ensigns, with the eagle; and before those ensigns came the trumpeters belonging to them;” – The Wars of The Jews,¬†Book V, Chapter II, Section 1.

Then came the ensigns encompassing the eagle, which is at the head of every Roman legion, the king, and the strongest of all birds, which seems to them a signal of dominion, and an omen that they shall conquer all against whom they march...” – The Wars Of The Jews, Book 3, Chapter 6, Section 2.

As you can see from the comparison of the synoptic Gospels Matthew and Luke and the other additional information given above, that we are in fact given very clear insight on what the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet is, and that the symbolic eagle of the Roman ensigns is a sign of Rome’s power and authority gathered together around Jerusalem at the fall and desolation of apostate Israel in 70 A.D., which is also symbolic imagery that repeats at the end of time with the fall of an apostate Church. See also who or what is the antichrist of Revelation. But exactly how does this all relate to us and the end time tribulation before the second coming of Christ?

Jesus tells us that to discover the answer that we should focus on the book of Daniel (Matthew 24:15). Careful study of this book reveals that the abomination of desolation can be divided into three parts. These parts are: the abomination in Daniel’s day (involving the first temple); the abomination in Jesus’ day (involving the second temple); and finally the abomination of desolation in the time of the end (involving the whole Christian Church). The issues that come into play as treated in the book of Daniel remain consistent in each of its three phases. So take careful note that they are therefore types or examples of each other.

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