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No. 25: The Abomination of Desolation
Part 1: An Overview

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 25
May, 1991
Copyright 1991, Biblical Horizons

Here begins a series of studies in the Abomination of Desolation, or Desolating Sacrilege. This month and next I shall set out an overview of what I regard as the best interpretation of the phenomenon. Later essays will look at it in more detail.

(The original form of this introductory essay was published as an appendix in Gary DeMar, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction [Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1988]. It is slightly revised here. It builds on research available in my Studies in Food and Faith, No. 11: "The Meaning of the Mosaic Dietary Laws," available from Biblical Horizons .)

As a result of my studies in Leviticus, I have come to the conclusion that the abomination of desolation spoken of in Daniel 9 and Matthew 24 is none other than apostate Judaism, and that the Man of Sin spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2 is the apostate High Priest of Israel. In this essay I wish simply to set out the gist of my interpretation.

I am taking for granted the fundamental preterist position as set forth by Jay Adams in The Time Is at Hand and by David Chilton in Paradise Restored and Days of Vengeance. On Matthew 24, my taped lectures, available from Biblical Horizons , can be consulted for details. With this in mind, let us turn to Daniel 9:26-27.

Now we come to the statement that "on the wing of detestable things, or abominations, comes one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate" (v. 27b). In the past, I have taken the wing as a reference to the eagle, and thus jointly to Edom and Rome, both of whom are symbolized by the eagle in the Old Testament. The Romans and Idumeans together managed to destroy the Temple. The Idumeans (Edomites) invaded the Temple and filled it with human blood. The Romans sacked it. I understood the last phrases of the verse to be saying that in time the Romans would also be destroyed.

There is a problem with this view. Those who ignore the Idumean invasion of the Temple cannot deal with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24 that the abomination of desolation stood in the holy place. Luke’s parallel statement that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies (actually a reference to the Idumean-Zealot conspiracy that let the Edomites into the Temple) is not equivalent: surrounding Jerusalem is not the same as standing in the Temple. Only the Idumeans stood in the Temple.

But is this enough? The other passages in Daniel to which Jesus alludes indicate that counterfeit worship was set up in the Temple, and that this was the abomination of desolation. Prophesying of Antiochus Epiphanes, Gabriel (?) tells Daniel that "forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice, and they will set up the abomination of desolation" (Dan. 9:31; 1 Maccabees 1:41-61). At the end of Daniel, the preincarnate Christ (?) tells him that "from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1290 days." In my opinion this has to do with the same event, the 1290 days being thrice 430, but days instead of years (Ex. 12:40), while the 1335 days of the next verse go back to the 45 years between the Exodus and the Conquest of the land (Dt. 2:14; Josh. 14:6-10). The oppression of Antiochus will be worse than that of Egypt, but much shorter. Blessed is he who endures to the end and sees the land reconquered. All this is a type of the New Covenant, of course.

With this in mind, though, it certainly seems that the mere presence of wicked Edomites and Zealots in the Temple is not enough. We need to have a cessation of true sacrifices and an implementation of counterfeit ones. And of course, that is exactly what happened in the New Covenant. With the death of Christ, the sacrificial system came to an end. Any blood sacrifices offered after the cross were potential abominations.

Returning to the time of the Maccabees and Daniel 11, we need to ask who were the "forces from him" that desecrated the sanctuary and set up the desolating sacrilege? They were the reigning High Priests Jason and Menelaus, who apostatized to Greek religion, and who invited Antiochus to help them take over Jerusalem for their own purposes (Josephus, Antiquities 12:5:1). In the same way, the apostate High Priests between A.D. 30 and 70 cooperated with the Romans in order to suppress the Christian faith and in order to maintain their own Sadducean combination of Greek philosophy and apostate Judaism.

The whole of Old Testament theology points us to this. The "wing of abominations" goes back to Numbers 15:37-41, where every Israelite was commanded to wear a blue tassel, called a wing, on his garments. ("Corner" is literally "wing.") This was the "wing of holiness," to remind Israel to obey the law (v. 40). Every Israelite was a member of a heavenly people, and "flew" about the throne of God on these blue (heavenly) "wings." Naturally, an apostate Israelite would no longer have "wings of holiness" but "wings of abominations." Their leader, the High Priest, would be the preeminent example of this.

(A full study of the "wing" motif would be a large undertaking. Let me call your attention, however, to the wings of the cherubim, on which God sat enthroned. The wings on the garments of the Israelites meant that they, too, were cherubim, and were to guard God’s holiness. The High Priest, described in Ezekiel 28:11-19 as the true spiritual King of Tyre, is called a cherub. Counterfeit cherubic wings carrying a counterfeit Ark to a counterfeit Temple are pictured in Zechariah 5:5-11, and this is relevant background to the destruction of Jerusalem, because these also are wings of abomination. Notice also that apostate Jerusalem in Revelation 18:2 is said to be a "dwelling place of demons and a haunt of every unclean spirit, and a haunt of every unclean and detestable bird.")

The idea of abomination is thoroughly Levitical. Unclean food was called abominable, or literally detestable, because you were to spit it out. If they ate detestable food, they would become detestable, and God would spit them out. This is clearly set out in Leviticus 11:43, 18:28, and 20:23, and see also Revelation 3:16. This was all symbolic of sin, of course. It meant that God would spit out the people if they corrupted themselves with idolatry, since the unclean animals were associated with idols and with the idolatrous nations. (Compare Paul’s "table of demons.")

False worship is idolatrous worship. When the Jews rejected Jesus and kept offering sacrifices, they were engaged in idolatry. This was the "wing of abominations" that took place in the Temple. It is why the Temple was ultimately destroyed. The particular desecration that took place was the massacre of converted Jews that took place just before A.D. 70, as prophesied in the book of Revelation. It was the blood of those saints (Rev. 14) that Jerusalem was made to drink (Rev. 17) to her own destruction.

A full picture of this is provided in Ezekiel 8-11. I shall not expound the passage at this point, but simply direct you to it. There you will see that when the apostate Jews of Ezekiel’s day performed the sacrifices, God viewed them as an abomination. He called the holy shrine an "idol of jealousy, that provokes to jealousy" (8:3). The Jews had treated the Temple and the Ark as idols, and so God would destroy them, as He had the golden calf. Ezekiel sees God pack up and move out of the Temple, leaving it empty or "desolate." The abominations have caused the Temple to become desolate. Once God had left, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar swept in and destroyed the empty Temple. (When we remember that Ezekiel and Daniel prophesied at the time, the correlation becomes even more credible.)

This is what happened in Matthew 24. Jesus had twice inspected the Temple for signs of leprosy (Lev. 14:33-47; the two so-called cleansings of the Temple in John 2 and Matthew 21). Jesus had found that the Temple was indeed leprous, and as the True Priest He condemned it to be torn down, in accordance with the Levitical law. "And Jesus came out from the Temple [leaving it desolate; God departing] and was going away [compare Ezekiel], when His disciples came up to point out the Temple buildings to Him. And He answered and said to them, `Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another which will not be torn down’" (Matt. 24:1-2).

(Note that the counterfeit Ark is removed from Israel right after a description of house-leprosy in Zechariah 5:4. The message in Zechariah was that when God’s Temple was rebuilt, wickedness would be removed. This is a type of the New Covenant: When the Church was established, God sent leprosy into the Temple, and it became a seat of wickedness.)

With this background we can interpret Daniel 9:27b much more clearly:

Thus, verse 27 is simply an expansion of verse 26. Verse 26 says that the Messiah will be sacrificed; verse 27 explains that this ends the sacrificial system. Verse 26 says that the invasions will desolate the Temple and that it is determined. Verse 27 says that wrath will be poured out on the apostate Jews and their High Priest, whose actions desolated the Temple, and that this is decreed.

This correlates magnificently with 2 Thessalonians 2, as we shall see in the next installment in this series.

Now, just because these events were fulfilled in A.D. 70 does not mean that they are irrelevant to us. Churches can also apostatize, and Christ warned the Seven Churches that they too could be destroyed if Christ departed from them. They would be "desolate" and their worship would be "abominable" (Rev. 2-3). The destruction of the Temple and of its Jerusalem-culture, as portrayed in the remainder of Revelation, was thus a warning to the Seven Churches: If you do the same thing, God will do this to you. Thus, the principles are still in force, and serve to warn us today: If our churches depart from Christ, He will destroy both them and our society, which grew up around them.