11. The Abomination of Desolation

When the city of Jerusalem is attacked and conquered, the foreign occupying power will begin what the Bible calls the “abomination of desolation.” What is that? Jesus Christ describes this abomination of desolation in Matthew 24:15–20. Start with verse 15: “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation’ [a loathsome contamination], spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… then let those who are in Judea [today known as the modern state of Israel] flee to the mountains.” The people in Judea are instructed, when they see this terrible abomination of desolation, to flee to the mountains.

Prophecy foretells that Jerusalem is again to be surrounded by armies (Zechariah 12:2), and an idol will be set up in a holy place. Jesus warns those who are faithful to escape quickly when this desecration takes place. “Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes” (Matthew 24:17–18). In other words, you are to get out immediately when you see this happening, because if you wait, it will be too late to escape safely. “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those with nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath [God’s people will be keeping the Sabbath]” (vv. 19–20).

There is a historical parallel to this end-time overthrow of Jerusalem and the erection of an idolatrous object on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, some 160 years before the First Coming of Christ, the pagan Seleucid Greeks sacrificed pigs as offerings upon the altar of God. A statue of Zeus, the chief Greek god, was set up. Something similar will occur once again. We are living during a time that is like the calm before a menacing, destructive storm. If you had been a Jew in Germany in 1935, would you have been alert to your people’s future destiny? Would you have taken appropriate action to save the lives of your family members? You need to be paying attention to what is happening in world events! The cost of ignorance, laxness or a dilatory attitude will be extremely high.

Remarkably, an important implication of Matthew 24:15 is that there will once again be animal sacrifices on an altar at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount dedicated to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel! Another scripture confirming this states: “And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up…” (Daniel 12:11).

Since there is prophesied to be a place of sacrifice, many wonder if there will be a great temple raised up in Jerusalem. An alternative idea would be that there will be merely an altar set up, as happened when the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon (Ezra 3:2). Watch for this in your world news. Prophecy clearly shows that the Jews will once again be sacrificing at Jerusalem. Whether in a temple or at a simple altar is not yet clear. The Jewish people—remember the Six Day War—move swiftly and courageously when they are urgent about something.

From the time that the daily sacrifices to God are stopped by a foreign aggressor (possibly by the coming “king of the North”) and the abomination of desolation is set up—“there shall be 1290 days” (Daniel 12:11). This scripture discusses a certain period of time after the abomination of desolation until the end of this present civilization when Christ returns to this earth as King of kings to usher in a genuinely new world order, the Kingdom of God.

“Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the 1335 days. But you,” God told Daniel to “go your way, till the end; for you shall rest” (Daniel 12:12–13). In other words, Daniel would not himself see the fulfillment of the prophecies God inspired through him. Daniel was to live out his days and die, never having understood the prophecy he was inspired to write down. But today, we can read Daniel’s words and understand, if we begin to walk with God and study these things thoroughly. We need to realize that we are living in momentous times when all these things are about to occur. Let that motivate us to really study the Bible. And most importantly of all, let us obey our God in all things!