Abomination of Desolation
As we continue to look at the most perplexing passages in scripture, we come to another perplexing passage. Before we look at this passage, we need to be reminded of what has gone before. Mainly Jesus’ disciples’ questions are found in verse 4, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” Two questions relating to ‘these things’ which is a reference to verse two when Jesus explains that the stones of the temple will not stand on top of one another. Jesus is talking to his disciples specifically, and as I have pointed out, believe speaks of the early church before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But we also have pointed out that although people might have a different interpretation of this passage, the application remains the same, for the most part. Later, we might look at these various views in more detail.
I. The abomination of Desolation (vs 14)
We have here a term, abomination of desolation, which has caused a lot of ink to be placed on paper. This creates a plethora of questions. What is the abomination of desolation? Who is he? Where should this person standing, then we might know where he should not be standing. This is responding to the disciples’ second part of the question, what will be the signs? Jesus begins by explaining when you see… This is one of the signs that you know the destruction of the temple is near. Now, we have the advantage of knowing what has happened in history. But before we get to history let us try and understand this passage from the disciple’s perspective. Now, Mark’s version is somewhat ambiguous, and what I mean by that is that he writes the comment, to let the reader understand, but what is the reader to understand? We will get to the ambiguousness of Mark. But first, we need to understand what he is saying. For that, we can look at Matthew and Luke.
Matthew writes, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (Matt 24:15). We find out two helpful things from Matthew’s account, that the abomination of desolation is spoken about by Daniel, and he will be standing in the holy place. Now, we don’t have time to delve into the book of Daniel at this point. However, this reference is found in Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. Daniel 9:27 explains, “And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” Now many Jews believed this was fulfilled in 168 BC when Antiochus IV Epiphanes (A Greek ruler) invaded and captured Jerusalem. After taking control of the city Antiochus marched into the Jewish temple, erected a statue of the Greek god Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on the altar of incense. This was one of the events we explained at the beginning of Mark 11, with the Maccabean revolt, led by Judah Maccabee. However, Jesus explains in the gospel account of Matthew that this had not happened yet; the alternative view is that Daniel was speaking about 168 BC but this would be fresh in the minds of the hearers that this would come to mind years later in about 70 AD.
Luke on the other hand, who is not written to a Jewish audience who would have not understood or known the book of Daniel or Jewish history very well, does not use the term ‘abomination of desolation.’ Luke 21:20 says, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Luke specifically mentioned that this event specifically means that Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies, and further down in verse 24 explains that Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. Although Luke and Mark are written to a majority gentile audience, Mark is written to a majority Roman audience. Hence, why Mark leaves his ambiguity in his account because it would be the Romans, who are the gentiles that Luke is referring to.
I believe Jesus’ words would be clear to the Christians during the 1st century, especially those in Jerusalem and Judea which is who would benefit from this warning. All the verses in Mark, Matthew, and Luke begin and end in the same way, “but when you see… then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” That the application of Jesus’ warning must be clear to those reading because they must take evasive action, they are run to the hills. Normally, you would flee to a city. Yet, Jesus instructs them to go to the mountains. Now some people understand this to be speaking of the man of Lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians, but my question is what is the application of those in Judea fleeing to the mountains? Now, everybody who reads this passage has to be able to answer questions like this, I do not ask the question to claim to know everything, but we must be able to ask questions of this passage to help us understand what Jesus is talking about.
So, this creates a question for us to answer. If this is written as a warning for those in the 1st Century, why is it in our bibles today? I think this is a great question and a common objection to those who believe this is speaking of the destruction of the temple. Without spending too much time I will give two reasons why I believe this is in our Bible. The first is that I believe Mark (Matthew and Luke) was written before the destruction of the temple. I also believe that Mark was written around the middle of the 1st century. If this is the case, the Gospel of Mark would have been circulating through the churches before the destruction of the temple. Therefore, many scholars have commented that when Titus besieged Jerusalem many Christians left and fled the city. But the second is that we have many prophecies in the Bible that have been fulfilled that are still included in the Bible. We have them because they show us God’s faithfulness to fulfill his word. The Book of Jeremiah is still God’s word.
II. Runaway (15-18)
Jesus had told his disciples that when they see the abomination of desolation they are to flee to the mountains. He then expands in what manner they are to flee once they see the sign when these things (vs 3) are about to be accomplished (vs 4). They are to flee as fast as they can, he emphasizes the point that they are to leave straight away. They were not to be like Lot who lingered (Gen 19:16). They were to not even go home to get a coat, or even if they were walking past the door to their house, they should not enter their house. He shows his compassion for the women who are pregnant and nursing mothers, for they would be slowed down (any person who has traveled with a young child knows exactly what this means). They are to flee and to do so in haste. Jesus tells them to pray that it will not happen in winter (again if this has yet to come, are we praying this?) Luke’s account explains that those who ‘dilly-dally’ will fall by the edge of the sword (Luke 21:24).
III. Tribulation and false teachers (19-23)
In those days, Jesus explains, that there will be such tribulation. This is where Matthew’s account can help us out again. Matthew 24:9, speaking of the early church and their persecution, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” The word is used in Mark’s Gospel in the parable of the seed, the seed that falls on the rocky ground and springs up quickly, but then tribulation or persecution arises on account of Jesus’ word and then withers and dies (Mark 4:17). If this passage is indeed speaking of the destruction of the temple, it is great tribulation indeed. Josephus explains the siege that happened before Titus came into Jerusalem.
“So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the marketplaces like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them.” (Wars 5.12.2)
Jesus explains that The Lord had cut these days short. And if he did not no human being would be saved. He did this for the sake of the elect. This shows the difficult persecution that would have risen during this time, particularly if you see a connection between Mark 4 and Mark 13, that some would fall away on account of the word. That during this time there will also be false christs and false prophets that will appear. Jesus has given this warning before and repeats this to his disciples these are the signs that will occur before the destruction of the temple (vs 2). However, they will try to lead people astray. This is why Jesus told these things to his disciples beforehand.
IV. Why does this matter?
Now, the great objection is why does this matter to us. If, as I have presented, this passage speaks of the destruction of the temple, what application does this mean for us today? I think this is a valid point and have sought to explain this prior that this was not just written to those who loved after 70 AD but I believe was written and circulated before 70 AD. Second, Jesus was the great prophet who spoke of the destruction of the temple. Jesus had given his judgment and also his warning to be heard. But more specifically, what then does this mean for us. I do believe there are applications that believers can make of prophecies that have been fulfilled. I will briefly explain three points.
1. God fulfills his promises
The Bible is filled with prophecies that have been fulfilled, are being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled. These promises show God’s sovereign hand over all of history. We see three things from these promises; Firstly, God has faithfully done what he said he would do. We can see that God has fulfilled his promises in the past. We should remember his faithfulness and praise Him for His faithfulness. Secondly, God is faithfully working to do what he said he would do. God is still working today. Some promises are “under construction.” Such as Jesus stating that he would build his church. Jesus is still building his church. What a glorious promise that continues to this day, that for a couple of thousand years Jesus has been building his church. Thirdly, God will faithfully complete what he said he would do. Some promises in the Bible speak of the future. We can see God’s track record and know that God is faithful and will do what he said he would do. Mark 13 shows the historical reality of these truths. That we see promises become reality.
2. We can apply principles to us today
This passage still has application for us today. We might not have a specific application, such as fleeing to the mountain. But broadly speaking, those who knew Scripture and applied Christ’s word to their life were ready when the siege of Jerusalem was taking place. We too might not have a specific application from this passage, but we can apply the principles of this passage to our lives. Here are four principles we can apply from this passage. 1) Christ’s words are true we should listen and obey them. 2) False teachers will seek to lead us astray; we should be on our guard. 3) Persecution and tribulation still occur today; we should pray for those who suffer. We should also pray we will be able to endure it. 4) Nothing catches God off guard, what a glorious truth that rings true for all generations.
3. Even in passages of difference like this, we can find common agreement
Lastly, in this passage, many people draw lines in the sand. I think being able to understand how to interpret this passage is important. We should then draw lines in the sand. But we should not then call people heretics or false teachers. Now some scholars or teachers read this passage and claim that Jesus cannot be God (eg Bertrand Russel), and others might claim that there is no second physical coming of Christ. We can reject those false claims as heretical. However, most of these views do not seem from a wrong interpretation of this one passage but the whole Bible, they deny the supernatural work of God, they deny the inspiration of the Bible and the deity of Christ. Their main issue is not about 70 AD and the destruction of the temple. We can have various interpretations of this passage and I do believe if we were to have two columns of areas of agreement and disagreement, we would fill up the column of agreement, and we would have a few points of disagreement. This is the reality of living on this side of heaven. Let us understand our differences but not let our differences separate us. Let us respectfully discuss how we have read Scripture and come to our position.
This is not the end of this perplexing chapter. We will continue to look at this passage because we still have some difficult verses ahead of us.