Abomination of Desolation | Matthew 24:15-28
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 24:15–24:28
Introduction | More Fun Times with the End Times
Good Morning! We are in our series on the book of Matthew; the Gospel account of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, as the Christ, the Savior – King of God’s people. This series covering Chapters 21-25 has been titled the Rejection of the King. Over 6 weeks we will be looking at a particularly challenging section in Matthew Ch 24 and 25. These chapters are an extended period of teaching Jesus gives his disciples much of which falls into the category of Eschatology (Study of the End Times). Jesus has just been preaching in the temple. It included judgement of the Jewish religious leaders and condemnation on how they have and will treat prophets, and will kill Jesus. He gave a sentence at the end of the sermon saying “Your house has been left desolate” and finished with hope; if they trusted Jesus. He then left the temple. Disciples want clarification and Jesus gives them robust teaching on more than they ask for. Part one (Last week) is the End is coming. This week is Part two, the Abomination of Desolation. Part 3 is When is Jesus coming? Part 4,5 and 6 is all about getting ready and being ready. Last week we saw Jesus painting a dark picture of what was to come for the world and even for the church. He calls his people to not be deceived but to endure, and keep proclaiming the gospel of certain triumph for those who Trust Jesus. This week’s text is a continuation of these teachings, context matters. For Jerusalem there will be judgement.
Matthew 24:15-2815 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
While there are many distinct perspectives on the end times depending on which you hold you’ll see this text differently. Is Jesus talking about the end of the Jewish age or the end of the world? If we’re going to understand where we are in history and what Jesus is talking about we need to have some historical context. A weakness of dispensational theology is saying Jesus is talking about a future time almost immediately before the conclusion of history. This divorces the text from its proper context and forgets the scene of Jesus is sitting in the position of a teacher on the Mount of Olives with the city of Jerusalem and temple in plain view. I believe the disciples are asking what they think is one question; when it is really two.
Part one: When will these things be? Temple destroyed and desolation of the temple and Jerusalem. Part two: When will you be coming (in glory) and the end of the age.
Jesus is still giving clear teaching on answering the first question. Where he had previously told the disciples when the end (destruction of Jerusalem) is NOT, He is now going to tell them when it will be.
Verse 15 | Abomination of Desolation
You will see the Abomination of Desolation, this does not sound good because it isn’t. But what is it?
Abomination- This word is used often throughout the Old Testament and it nearly always has some implication or connection to a form of idolatry, false worship. God sets the terms of what worship of Him looks like. When what has been given is violated or perverted it is a sacrilegious offense to the creator of the Universe. There can be fervent worship, but if it is false God sees it as an abomination. Specific to this context abomination is performing acts of false worship or desecrating in the temple of Jerusalem. God sees all sin, our sin, as an abomination He will not receive it or condone it, it must be dealt with.
Desolation- The word desolate is more than mere destruction it is a total rejection and forsaking from God.
Jesus in his last sermon in the temple declared it would be desolate. The temple is desolate because God’s presence is not there. There is no value in the earthly temple if the divine presence is not there!! Jesus has given the sentence “desolation” and at some near point the sentence will be carried out. Our hearts are desolate as this temple and this city when God is not there because of our rejection. Abomination (sin) makes desolation (forsaking). When worship is redirected away from God it always leads to desolation, forsaking from God where his protection and provision are gone. We see in the storyline of the Bible; blessing in the Garden, turns to forsaking in the desert because of the abomination of sin.
Jesus gives clarity about the specific Abomination of Desolation by bringing up the prophet Daniel:
Daniel 9:24-26 24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 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, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.
An OT prophecy will be fulfilled. “70 weeks” means the number of years these things will take place. 70x7 years=490 years. By the end of this time four major things are going to be accomplished: 1. Finish the transgression, end of sin, atone for iniquity (all three are words for sin) 2. Everlasting righteousness is established, and end of prophecy, and they anointing of the most holy. This is what Jesus does! Comes to put an end to sin atoning for its punishments, gives us His righteousness, is the last prophet, and is exalted as Holy! Jesus is the holy anointed one, we saw that in his baptism. He is cut off, my God my God why have your forsaken me. The people of the prince are the Roman Empire who called Caesar the prince of peace. There is real judgement coming to Jerusalem for rejecting Jesus. So what was the abomination of desolation that should signal coming judgement and did it happen? The temple was actually desecrated numerous times during a short period of time before it’s final destruction. The first notable time after Jesus’ prophecy was in 66AD. There were rival waring political/religious parties in Jerusalem literally waring for control. The Zealots (Political Party) took over the temple, used it as a military base and actually slaughtered the temple priests (religious/political opponents.) This meant it was go time for the Christians.
Three and a half years later in 70AD Rome shows up in full military force to wage war on Jerusalem.
Luke 21:20-26 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written….. 26 and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles.
So there is little doubt about what Jesus is warning his disciples about. Jesus is warning a mostly Jewish Christian audience about what will happened in the temple leading up to a tribulation so people can get out of city which will be destroyed as surely as there was a flood over it. This is about a closing of an age. God will not use the temple any longer. The old system of sacrifices for sin as a foreshadow pointing to Jesus don’t matter any longer after Jesus has arrived. Jerusalem has become a dead carcass now the eagles are circling and it’s only a matter of time until they swoop down and start picking apart that which is already dead. In 70AD The Romans came in and erected their military standards which all had Eagles (Same word as vultures) on them and images of Caesar who was worshipped as a god. The Arch of Titus in Rome depicts the soldiers carrying out the sacred vessels from the temple. To make the desecration and desolation complete they began to sacrifice to their gods on the site.
Verse 16-19 | Head for the Hills - Local News
Jesus is a teacher, he is the great High Priest who bridges the gap between God and His people, He is the savior King of his people, and he is the perfect Prophet who speaks God’s words of warning to His people. Jesus has just told his disciples to look for a sign. When they see the sign it is time to act. You test a prophet or prophecy. False Prophets give out warnings of calamities that do not come and lead people astray from focusing on what they should. Paul Ehrlich, in 1968 wrote The Population Bomb in which he said the earth could no longer support it’s current population there would be a global food shortage in the 1970’s and 80s where hundreds of millions of people would starve to death. Since that time the world’s population has more than doubled and the average calorie intake of the world’s population has increased by 24%. He is still a Stanford professor and in 2009 said his biggest error was being too optimistic about the future.
Jesus is a perfect prophet urging his people to flee from the wrath of God on Jerusalem to come. This wasn’t made up after the fact this actually happened. He tells them to have a sense of urgency. This mirrors the account of God saving His people from the wrath that would be brought to Egypt during the Exodus. Be ready to flee quickly. Make hast to preserve life. If you don’t think a warning is urgent you will not respond to it properly. Delayed obedience in fleeing wrath is disobedience. Don’t delay, do not hesitate. Do not delay obedience to the commands of Jesus. In this case Jesus says flee quickly, not “just study the signs of the times and give yourself a gold star for seeing what it means. Understanding is useless if it does not lead to action. What has God been calling you to or calling you from that you’ve avoided obeying? If you waited until Rome showed up it was too late. In the spring of 68AD some Jewish refugees tried to escape another city only to be blocked by a flooded Jordan river and were slaughtered by the army coming behind them (no parting of the waters). Early church historian Eusebius says Christians fled at the beginning of the Jewish war in obeying Jesus commands saved the Church from certain destruction.
Obey and Pray. Pick your battles; sometimes it is time to stand and fight other times it is important to step back, regroup and live to fight another day. But if Jesus was primarily concerned with the sparing His Disciples from tribulations why didn’t Jesus simply tell them to leave now? Jesus cares about His disciples AND he has a mission for them. There was a mission for Jerusalem before judgement and it would require faithful disciples to point people to Jesus and warn of the wrath to come. Peter preached in Jerusalem and 3,000 people were added to the church in one day. Before the Abomination of Desolation the church in Jerusalem sent out missionaries and settled doctrinal and practical disputes. They met in homes AND the temple, they studied the apostles teaching, they loved one another and served the poor, the widows, the elderly, and the fatherless. Why work, preach and practice as a disciple of Jesus in a city that is destined for destruction? Because there were people in the city who needed God’s mercy and grace, disciples to baptize, and sermons to preach. Work in the time and place God has you, without worrying about what things will look like in the future, God has a purpose for the here and now. Tim Keller - If you are in a city or a community that is broken, where people are burned out or spiritually lost—stay as long as you can.
Verse 21 | Tribulation
At a certain point abomination (sin) will lead to desolation. “Behold your house is left desolate and the wings of protection will be lifted.” Jesus is giving a more vivid account of what is to take place then what he was able to give during the sermon in the temple. Without protection and the presence of God Jerusalem is dead and a foreign army is going to do the destruction/dissection of the carcass. 70AD the Roman (gentile) army did encircle the city. Titus let in Jews from all over Judea into the city to celebrate Passover (God delivering His people from death). He then sealed off the city, typically a refuge but in this case it became a place of horrific ravaging. There was great famine in the city. With people locked in some of the Zealots even began burning homes down which contained large food stores making the city unable to sustain itself with no provision. As children starved parents would take their last few bits of food when it looked like life was too late. Women actually were known to eat their children. There is a vivid description of one mother who ate half her child and saved the other half for later. She was found by others who could tell meat was cooked they came upon her she said “This is my own Son, this was my own doing. Come and eat for I have eaten it myself. Do not pretend to be more tender than a women or more compassionate than a mother.” They left trembling with fear at the horror they had witnessed. Jesus on the cross said “Daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but for yourselves and your children.” (Luke 23:28)
What happened in history is such that Jesus can say there has never been a tribulation like this AND there won’t be one like it again. “No, and never will be.” Not because it is the last tribulation but because Jesus knows how things are going to play out for the rest of time. When you consider the comprehensive nature of what took place in the period around 70AD including the religious significance (can no longer pay for sin!!!) as horrible as the Holocaust was too which we universally say “never again”, what happened in 70AD was even worse. In the city groups of Jews slaughtered and tortured each other. The holy temple had hundreds of dead bodies in the courts, many aged people actually longed for Rome to come in. Those that fled to the Romans were crucified and the outside of the city was lined with crosses. Some tried to flee with swallowed gold, and word spread out to the refugee camps in Syria, so in one night 2,000 people were killed as Syrians and Arabians cut open their bellies in search of treasure. 1million Jews were killed in the city alone during the siege, finally the Roman Army plowed over the structures in the city including the temple which Jesus said all will be torn down. Josephus says the sufferings from 66-70AD were previously unmatched in history. “That neither did any city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.” This man had no motivation to prop up the words of Jesus; yet History confirms Jesus statement of this being the greatest tribulation. This is a foretaste of future judgement for those who don’t trust in Jesus and yet there is great hope, mercy, and grace shown in the character of God that should encourage us to this day.
Verse 22-28 | Post-Tribulation Stay Faithful! Jesus will Return.
Those days is talking about the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. The tribulation is the certainty of punishment not the sign of deliverance. However, there is deliverance for the elect (Those who Trust Jesus) Titus himself said “We had God for our assistant for this war” in speaking of the quickness. If things had dragged along war would have spread throughout Judea and the church would have been crushed as well. The church that obeyed Jesus was spared, but we are not to forget where our salvation comes from. Ok you’ve been spared the biggest trial you can imagine but now you’re past the tribulation you are now out searching for something or someone else to place your hope in. There was actually an Egyptian false prophet who gathered 30k people to attack Jerusalem to retake the city from the Romans and they were routed.
If all of this took place in 70AD and is not about a future “end of the world” event, why is it recorded? And why would we study it? Because it shows us how serious God takes sin and judgement and it shows God’s merciful character for His people. Remember this is the gospel of Matthew written mostly to a Jewish audience. It was soon going to be a time for them to completely break off their attachment and their connection to the religious observances or institutions of the past and trust in Jesus Only. He cares not just about them in the future but he cares about his disciples in the here and now. The church would be in its infancy and if everyone was martyred in Jerusalem then there wouldn’t be any “preach the gospel to the whole world.” When Jesus is resurrected he tells the disciples to “Go and make disciples” Jesus gives these great warnings beforehand so we know how to react when trials and tribulations come AND so when the world around us is chaotic and perishing we can have greater certainty in our Hope of our salvation. But don’t look for a physical manifestation of God, if someone says Jesus is here they’re lying. Jesus says he will not be physically present during or after the “tribulation” Jerusalem will endure, but he tells his disciples behold I am with you always to the end of the age. That way we don’t need to feel deserted when things appear desolate. God loves His elect, Jesus say “If possible” they would be lead away but it’s not!
John 10:27-29 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
While false Christs will be announced countless opportunities will present themselves to hope is something or someone other than Jesus Christ, His return will need no introduction, explaining, or outside proof. Jesus coming will be clear, it will be certain you won’t have to hear about it on the news you’ll know it will be a flash so brilliant it will be undeniable about what it is. But your life without Jesus is as dead as road kill, there is a carcass with vultures circling overhead. Because of the Abomination of the Cross, where Jesus took our desolation (My God why have you forsaken me!), and because of His resurrection we don’t have to be sentenced to destruction but have the certain hope of life now and forever when we, Trust Jesus!