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No. 26: The Abomination of Desolation
Part 3: An Overview of the Pattern

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 26
June, 1991
Copyright 1991, Biblical Horizons

What I intend to do in this series of studies is this: First, in the present essay we shall survey the occurrences of the Abomination of Desolation in the Bible in a cursory way, in order to get the fundamental pattern before us. Next time, we shall look at the Hebrew words underlying the English word "abomination," and we shall find that the "abomination of desolation" is a technical phrase indicating a sin that only God’s peculiar people can commit. Then we shall go back and look at the particular historical occurrences in more detail.

The Abomination of Desolation pattern is an extension of the basic Fall pattern seen repeatedly in the Bible. The Fall pattern is this: God gives His people a kingdom, and then immediately they fall into sin and lose the kingdom, but God is gracious and restores them. At certain climactic times, though, when their sin is extremely great, prolonged, high-handed, and performed right in front of His face, God brings His wrath upon them. God withdraws His presence from them, leaving them desolate, because their sins have become abominable. Once God departs, He brings in an enemy army to destroy His ruined house and His ruined city. The result is that His people are driven into exile, just as they drove Him into exile: eye for eye and tooth for tooth.

There are four occurrences of the Abomination of Desolation pattern in the Old Testament, and two preliminary occurrences. They are:

1. The Flood of Noah.

2. The Apostasy of Eli’s Sons.

3. The Apostasy of the priesthood in Ezekiel’s day.

4. The Apostasy of the priesthood in the days of the Maccabees.

The final and climactic occurrence of the pattern comes in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The pattern stands as a warning to every Church in every time. If we commit pronounced and prolonged sins of apostasy, God will do to us as He did to them (Rev. 2-3).

Let us now survey the occurrences of the pattern. First, let us consider the Fall of Man. Because the Fall of the first man was a unique event, we cannot expect to see the pattern in all its details, but we can see it in its essence. When Adam sinned in the Garden, he did so on the sabbath, in the sanctuary, right at the center where the two trees were located. Adam was a priest, and his sin performed right before God’s face was a desolating sacrilege. Instead of leaving the Garden, God drove Adam out of it. Essentially the pattern is present, however, because Adam’s expulsion separated him from God’s blessing and protection. God brought in an enemy to throw Adam out: the cherubim.

Yet, in the Fall we do not see the climax of sacrilege that leads to God’s destroying His house. That comes at the Flood, when wickedness has matured. At the Flood, God does depart from the Garden of Eden, and brings in an enemy (the Flood, which becomes a symbol for the enemy later in the Bible) to destroy it and to destroy all the people. A remnant joins Him in exile, in the Ark, and then is returned to start a new covenant.

Second, the Golden Calf. Notice that the people committed a religious crime (idolatry) accompanied by gross sexual sin (sat down to eat, rose up to "play") right in front of God’s face, for they were in the sacred area at the foot of Sinai. They got the High Priest, Aaron, to lead them in this. God’s response was to withdraw from the camp and pitch His tent far outside of it. This exposed the camp to destruction. Moses was able to persuade God to return, however, and so the full pattern of destruction was averted (Exodus 32-34).

Yet, in the Golden Calf we do not see the climax of sacrilege that leads to God’s destroying His house. That comes after many years of maturing evil, described in Judges, climaxing in the apostasy of Eli’s Sons. Again we are in the sanctuary, and again it is the priests who, reflecting the sins of the people, take a lead in committing sacrilegious abominations. They stole God’s sacrifices and committed ritual fornication (1 Sam. 3:12-17; 22). Eli refused to stop them. As a result, God desolated the sanctuary and went into exile. The priests were killed and a permanent curse put on Eli’s house (1 Sam. 3-4). God brought in the Philistines to conquer and punish Israel. But God was gracious. While in Philistine exile, God defeated the gods of the Philistines and returned to Israel with much spoil (1 Sam. 5-6). Then the covenant was renewed (1 Sam. 7).

Third, the apostasy of the priesthood in Ezekiel’s day. The kingdom had been given to David, and 1 Chronicles describes how David as a new Moses set up the priesthood. David fell into sin right away, but God restored him through much trauma (2 Sam. 7; 11-19). The full climax and maturation of evil comes in the years immediately preceding the exile. Ezekiel 8-11 describes in fullest detail the detestable acts that cause God to desolate His Temple. The people committed every kind of idolatry right before God’s face in the Temple, and the priests were the leaders in it. Ezekiel sees God pack up and move out of the Temple, leaving it desolate. Soon God sent in Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the Temple and the city — and remember that Daniel was Nebuchadnezzar’s right-hand man at this time. The people joined God in exile, receiving a punishment equal to what they had done to Him. Again, however, God was gracious, for in Babylon God went to war with the false gods (Dan. 4-5). Eventually the people returned to Israel, with God, and the covenant was renewed.

Fourth, the apostasy in the days of the Maccabees. The kingdom of God had been restored in the days of Ezra, and then the people had immediately fallen into sin (Ezr. 9-10; Neh. 13; Malachi). God had restored them, however. Their sinfulness continued, though, and climaxed in the days of the Maccabees. This is prophesied in Daniel 11, and recorded in Josephus and in 1 & 2 Maccabees. The people rejected the Lord, and the High Priests self-consciously adopted Greek religion. They did this in the Temple, right in God’s face. For political reasons, they asked Antiochus Epiphanes to come to the city and set them up in power. As a result, God desolated the Temple and city, and caused the people to anger Antiochus, who returned to the city and instituted a reign of terror. Antiochus defiled the Temple, but this is only the aftermath of what the Jews had already done. Antiochus could not really defile the Temple, because he was not one of God’s peculiar people and he had no legal access to it. His defiling the temple is not the abomination of desolation, therefore.

Finally, the fulfillment of this pattern is seen in the events leading down to A.D. 70, as predicted in Daniel 9, Matthew 24 and parallel passages, many places in the epistles, and the book of Revelation. The Jews continued to do sacrifices in the Temple, right in front of God’s face, after the final sacrifice had been made. They then compounded their sin by persecuting the Christians. They were eventually joined in this by apostate Christians, the Judaizers. The apostasy of the Judaizers is the "fall" of the new kingdom, but as before, God did not destroy them when they fell. He gave them opportunities to repent, but they only got worse and worse. We see in the book of Acts that it was the Jews and Judaizers who kept asking the Romans to persecute the Christians, as the High Priests in the days of the Maccabees asked Antiochus to do. The persecution of Paul by the Judaizers encapsulates the events leading to A.D. 70. In A.D. 62, they slew the Apostle James. As A.D. 70 approached, they massacred many Christian Jews. The final abominating event was the invitation by the Zealot Jews to the Idumeans (Edomites) to invade the Temple and kill anyone not favorable to the Zealot cause. This massacre of righteous people in the holy place, I believe, was the event to which Jesus pointed in Matthew 24:15-25. (See Josephus, Jewish War 4:3-6.)

At this point, God stopped giving the Jews a second chance, which He had been doing ever since Pentecost. They had committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, by rejecting this second chance. They had committed a desolating sacrilege by attacking His bride. So, He finally abandoned them. Then He brought in an army, the Romans, to destroy the Temple and the city.

But God was gracious. He went with His new people, the Church, into the Roman world, and made war on the gods of Rome, defeating them. He offers His Church to anyone, including those who think of themselves as Jews, who wants to enter her.

This is the Abomination of Desolation pattern. In our next study, we shall look at the laws of Leviticus, and we shall find two different Hebrew words, indicating that an "abomination" is any gross moral sin committed in the land, while a "detestable act" is immorality mixed with idolatry committed in God’s sanctuary. We shall see that a better translation of the phrase Abomination of Desolation would be "detestable act causing desolation," for it is the Hebrew word for "detestable" that is used in the phrase we render in English "abomination of desolation." This study will prove that it is God’s people and not gentiles (Antiochus; Titus) who commit the sin known as the Abomination of Desolation.