If you’ve ever studied any of the End Times scriptures, or even heard someone talk about prophetic scriptures about the end of the world or the second coming of Christ, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “The Abomination of Desolation”. But what is it? What does it mean?
The phrase appears more than once in the scriptures. Three times in the OT book of Daniel, and three times in the NT during the “Olivet Discourse” by Jesus which is recorded in Matthew 24:15-16, Mark 13:14 and Luke 21:20.
In the three references in Daniel the reference appears to be about three different things (not about one single thing, and therefore not necessarily about the same event that Jesus is talking about in his Olivet Discourse).
First, let’s examine what Jesus calls “The Abomination of Desolation” in his Olivet Discourse which is recorded in three of the four Gospels. Each of these are nearly identical, with a few changes here and there – and this is for our benefit as it turns out.
For example, if we could lay these three passages side-by-side we would notice that all of them follow the exact same flow, except for a few sections in Matthew where he consolidates a few references from other encounters where Jesus spoke on the same topic. (This is something Matthew does often and it’s also why you shouldn’t look to that Gospel for chronological info about what Jesus did and when, but more on that in another blog).
Laying these three passages side-by-side we notice a similar flow of thought. They are, after all, the same Olivet Discourse that Jesus’ gave to His disciples regarding a prophecy about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (which would occur roughly forty years later in AD 70).
The part in the Olivet Discourse that deals with the “Abomination that causes desolation” look like this in Matthew and Mark:
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Matthew 24:15-16)
“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mark 13:14)
Notice that both use the similar phrases, but Matthew adds “spoken of through the prophet Daniel” and Mark adds “where it does not belong”. Otherwise, they are identical.
Now, look at what Luke reports in his Gospel:
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains...” (Luke 21:20-21)
Hmm…that’s fascinating, isn’t it? Whereas Matthew and Mark used the phrase from Daniel – “The abomination that causes desolation”, Luke instead simply explains exactly what it means – “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies…”
Mystery solved. Matthew and Mark quote the phrase from Daniel about the “Abomination that causes desolation”, but Luke plainly describes what that looks like for the reader who might not understand (as both Matthew and Mark suggest in their more cryptic phraseology).
Let’s look at the three Daniel references now. These are found in Daniel 9:27; 11:31; and 12:11.
First, Daniel 9:27:
"And he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one that maketh desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out upon the desolate." (Daniel 9:27)
This prophecy appears to be about Jesus Himself. Notice that it says that “he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week”. Who is “he”? Let’s back up to verse 25 where the angel Gabriel tells Daniel: “Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince…”
Who is the “Anointed one”? Well, keep in mind that “Messiah” means, “The Anointed One” and it will be clear that this is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah.
That means that in verse 27 the “He shall make a firm covenant with many for one week…” is Jesus, who made a New Covenant in the upper room with His disciples the week that we was crucified.
The following note about one who “upon the wing of abominations shall come..(and) maketh desolate…” is most likely about the Roman armies that came in AD 70 and destroyed Jerusalem and finally put a decisive end to the daily Temple sacrifices. (And these remain so more than 2,000 years later).
The second passage, Daniel 11:31, says:
"And forces shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt-offering, and they shall set up the abomination that maketh desolate."
Many scholars feel that this was fulfilled during the reign of Antiocus Epiphanes, a Greek king who, many years before the coming of the Messiah, erected an idol to Zeus and offered a pig on the altar in the Temple.
Finally, in Daniel 12:11 we read:
"And from the time that the continual burnt-offering shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand and two hundred and ninety days."
This passage appears to be a reference to something that happens after the abomination of desolation is over, but never tells us what happens, only that the time span between the abomination and the end of the daily sacrifice will be 1,290 days…and then? We don’t know exactly.
So, the references in the Bible to the “Abomination of Desolation” refer either to: A) The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, as Jesus predicted, or B) to the event where Antiocus Epiphanes profaned the temple in 167 BC.