Recently I have been in a dialogue online with a group of people who are espousing, in my mind, some very strange and interesting interpretations of the abomination of desolation of Daniel's 70th week. I tried to understand their viewpoint and reasoning, but quite honestly it was so lacking in coherence and logic that I found it difficult to follow. Basically they held to a spiritualized interpretation of the event, which in and of itself can lead to some very strange conclusions. What I managed to gather that they believe is, first they do not expect a real literal temple to be built. They believe that all references to the temple in the New Testament must refer to the Christian's body. Now this is not a totally uncommon theory, so I was not completely surprised at this since they took a spiritualized rather than literal approach to Scripture. Second, they feel that the first half of the 70th week was Christ's ministry and that his crucifixion was the abomination of desolation or rather the first in a list of abominations that somehow they fit into this mid-point (which according to this theory continues for the last 2000 years) of the 70th week. This is followed by another literal three and a half year period beginning with a spiritualized abomination of desolation initiated by the antichrist. Quite honestly I found it very difficult to follow the ideas, as not only were they a little obscure, but the manner in which the information was delivered was very disjunct, peppered with oblique spiritual comments that interrupted the flow of information, and a lack of reference points for many comments to enable the reader to know the point being discussed. I decided that even though I have written a very detailed Bible study on Daniel in my endtimes blog, I needed to write something on this subject alone, just out of a need to purge my pure frustration, in that when I tried to discuss taking a literal approach to these Scriptures with them, they could not see any logic to what I was saying. Quite frankly this puzzled me, as I merely took the verses at face value and in order, as I believe God wants us to take them. So for my own benefit and hopefully the reader's, I would like to look at the Scriptures surrounding the temple and the abomination of desolation to see if they are literal things or just ideas which have no material substance, as this group insisted.
I think a good place to start is with the New Testament references to anything having to do with the temple or abomination of desolation, as Daniel was sealed until the end of the age, while the New Testament Scriptures were not, so we need to see how we should understand the temple and abomination in the New Testament first, then reference back to Daniel as Christ told us to do.
Matthew 24:15-21 “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains. Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
Mark 13:14-19 “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains. And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.”
Luke 21:20-23 “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. ”
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”
Revelation 11:1-2 “ And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”
What do all of these verses say? First in Matthew we are told there will be an (singular) abomination of desolation. It is the abomination of desolation, not a list of abominations as some might believe. Second we are told that this abomination is referenced in Daniel, so when we go to Daniel we should expect to find some reference to a particular abomination. Now this is important to remember, for there are references in Daniel to abominations as in plural events, but this is one specific event which stands out from the rest. The Greek word for “abomination” is “bdelugma” meaning a detestable thing of idolatry. The Greek word for “desolation” is “eremosis” which is derived from a word which means “to lay waste.” Next we are told that we will see this abomination. Christ is talking to His disciples who were believers. Therefore we must understand that 1) since He was talking to His followers, by extension He is talking to us, and 2) since only Christians study the New Testament, the information in this passage does apply to Christians, as the gospels were written for believers. Then it must also follow that as in this passage He is speaking to those who live in Judea (now the West Bank), He must also be speaking about unbelieving Jews as well. Therefore the conclusion must be that this passage is not meant strictly for Jews or Christians, but for the entire world, Jews and Gentiles alike. Antichrist's blasphemous act will affect the entire world. However only Christians who study this will have foreknowledge of the event. Which then brings us to the conclusion that if Jews should know to flee, if this information was also for them, there must be something other than the New Testament which clues them in. Christ gave us the answer to that problem when He referenced Daniel, which Jews would know and therefore recognize this event as something from their history.
Next we are told that we will see this event. That seems fairly straightforward and understandable as is, but there are those who actually reinterpret this word to mean something other than “to see,” so we need to study what is meant by the word “see.” The Greek word for “see” is “eido” which means “to see literally, or to know about or be aware of.” The entire world will either see or be made aware that this event has transpired. This abomination will stand in a holy place. The Greek word for “stand” is “histemi” which means “to stand” as in being established. It can be meant either literally, as something is set up, or it can be meant figuratively as in something will be established (such as a rule that must be obeyed). Then we are told that this detestable thing of idolatry will be established in a holy place. The word for “holy” is “hagios” meaning sacred and the word for “place” is “topos” meaning spot or location, but in the sense of a very limited space or place, not in a general area. In other words, a very particular spot in a place such as a room or street corner, that sort of idea. So to recap, we are told that when we (everyone in the world) literally see and become aware of a detestable object of idolatry which will lay waste and desecrate the sacred spot (think a location as in the size of a room or so and the only sacred spot of God is found on the temple mount), those in Judea should flee to the mountains as quickly as possible from wherever they are without even returning home to grab their things, for then there will be great tribulation such as the world has never seen before. He tells those of us who study the gospels (whoso readeth) that we should look to the book of Daniel to reference this event (let him understand) and realize in advance what will happen.
Now Christ makes a very deliberate point of saying that the reader needs to understand this, and that he will understand it through the reference in Daniel, so that we will know exactly what to look for. As we will recognize the repeat of the abomination of idolatry that has already happened once before in the book of Daniel, we will recognize it as the precursor to the Great Tribulation. Specifically when it is seen, the people in Judea are to flee for their lives to the mountains without a moment's hesitation, as even Hitler's holocaust will seem tame by comparison to what is about to happen. So it appears that it will be something that everyone will see at the same time. This will be a very visible event, not some spiritual happening in the hearts of men which can neither be seen literally by the world nor pinpointed as being a single event. This must of necessity be something physical that occurs and occurs at one time in one place. So let us again recap what Christ said. He said that when we (everyone) either literally see or are made aware of a detestable form or object of idolatry, which will lay waste and desecrate the sacred spot (this is a limited location at God's only sacred spot – on the temple mount), set up or established in that spot, those who are in the land of Judea (today that is the West Bank) should run for their lives to the mountains without stopping to grab anything from home. We (the readers of the gospels) [Christ must have foreseen that Christians would not read the O.T. as a rule, so sent us there so that we would understand this event more thoroughly] should have already looked to the book of Daniel to reference this event, which has been foreshadowed there. And the Jews, by already knowing the book of Daniel, will also recognize this event as having occurred before. This is a straightforward literal reading of what Christ said.
This event is described again in Mark in the same way, with the addition of the fact that this abomination is standing where it ought not to be. In other words, it is totally forbidden for it to be there. It is also referenced more obliquely in Luke. In Luke we are merely told that when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies, then we should know that desolation is about to occur. Now one of the arguments used against believing that the abomination is by necessity a physical event, as there has to be a signal to people that they have to flee, is that because Luke tells us that armies will surround Jerusalem, that is what tells the people to flee to the mountains, so the abomination need not be a physical event for people to see. The problem with this reasoning is, two of the three writers of the gospels do not mention the armies – at all. In other words, it is the abomination that is the event that signals people to run. In Luke we are told that the armies signal to us that the abomination is about to occur, so those who have studied these passages will realize what is about to occur and can warn people to leave earlier, making their escape a more sure thing, but it is the abomination that is the key. It is that event which all those in Judea (meaning Jews, not Christians), those who have not studied these passages of Scripture, will suddenly recognize as something that has occurred before.
From all these verses one can gather that there will be something that is easily recognizable (from referencing the same situation in Daniel) as an idol or an event that creates a situation for idolatry to be carried on. It will be set up (if an idol) or established (if a situation) on a specific spot in a place that is considered sacred. (the temple mount). This can only be a literal event of some kind. I don't know how the reader perceives it, but it is extremely difficult to see how this passage can be spiritualized to mean a spiritual invisible happening within a Christian's body or heart. And if we were to establish an idol in our hearts (bodies) would that not mean we have forsaken Christ? If the Christian's body is the temple of God, and a Christian rejects antichrist as God, he would then not sit in the temple of God. To sit in the temple of God, temple meaning a Christian's body or heart, declaring himself God, it would mean that they have put him there replacing Christ.
The problem with this spiritualized interpretation then becomes, how would everyone in Judea be aware of this invisible event happening in the hearts of Christians that tells them they should flee to the mountains? One cannot simply reference Luke and say the armies would do this. Matthew and Mark say that Christ said the abomination would be the key to their fleeing. They do not even mention the armies. And why should Jews flee to the mountains because Christians have adopted an idol in their hearts? What difference would it make to a Jew in whom a Christian believes? And as the ones in Judea are Jews, not Christians, and have no idea what the New Testament says about this event, how will they recognize a situation that telegraphs to them that something is terribly wrong, even if there are armies surrounding the city? The clue is in what Christ told us to reference in Daniel. Jews are aware of the events in the book of Daniel that are historic and therefore we must now realize that what happens is something that was described in the book of Daniel that Jews will recognize as being a repeat of an abomination that has already occurred.
Now at this point, I should mention that some people think this abomination refers to the Romans destroying the temple in 70 AD, (they get this from Daniel as we will shortly see) as that event made people flee Jerusalem when armies surrounded the city, and it was yet a future event when Christ spoke on the Mount of Olives. But that is impossible, as Christ tells us that when this event occurs there will be great tribulation such as the world has never seen before. That has not occurred. This is exactly why armies surrounding the city cannot be said to be the sign before the Great Tribulation that will signal people that the abomination has happened. Armies have surrounded the city before and will again. It is not the sign to which Christ was referring when He said that when they see it they should flee. Not that they should not flee any time they see armies surrounding the city. It would be a good idea, even if it does not signal the start of the Great Tribulation, but still it is not the sign to which Christ referred. It will be the abomination, not the armies that is the crucial sign that the Great Tribulation is beginning. Further, when the temple was destroyed, there was not a detestable idolatrous thing set up. Instead the temple of God was torn down. So this event in the gospels could not be speaking of the Roman armies destroying the temple and city as the abomination.
Before going to the book of Daniel to see what the event was that Christ was referencing, we need to look at the rest of the verses in the New Testament. In Thessalonians Paul tells us that the man of sin, the son of perdition, more commonly known as the antichrist (or in Revelation, the beast), will exalt himself above all that is called God and sit in the temple of God declaring himself to be God. So what is the temple of God? It is this passage more than any other that people, who believe the abomination has to do with the body or heart, use to expound upon their theory on this issue. And it is this very verse when one looks at that way of interpreting it makes a completely illogical statement. We already know that something will “stand” in a place that is holy to God on earth, and here we see something that fits that description perfectly. And this place is one specific small location, not an accumulation of many small (the heart) locations, which is what the temple in this passage would have to be if it were referring to the hearts of Christians. There is only one specific location geographically that is holy to God and that is the temple mount. But even that is larger than is implied in Matthew when the word “place” is used. The implication is that it is a single spot. The holy place can be the two roomed temple proper, and it can go as far as to include the area around the temple where the altar and sacrifices occurred, but the implication with the verses is that even that is a little bigger than the area that this abomination occurs. This man of perdition sitting (establishing himself - “standing”) in the temple (the most holy place where the ark should sit and where he should not be sitting) demanding worship would certainly fit the bill of a detestable act of idolatry establishing itself in a place where it has no business being, as described in the gospels. And again, the idea that he sits in a temple of Christian's hearts is simply unfathomable, as if he did that, would not all Christians then no longer be Christians having forsaken God to replace Him with Satan in their heart? This interpretation is quite illogical to the grammar of the sentence.
One of the questions that must be asked of those who hold to the spiritualized view of the temple being the Christian's body is this. If (and I believe He is) God is trying to indicate a real physical temple on the temple mount, how else is He to refer to this in the Scriptures so that we understand that this is what He means? Would He not call it the temple of God? The word temple is the word used to describe the temple building. There simply is no other word to describe that building. Just because the word temple is also used in some places in the New Testament to refer to our body does not mean that it must always refer to it. In fact when looking at the Scriptures in context where it does refer to the body, the surrounding text makes it very clear that it is the body of the Christian that is being spoken about. That is not the case in these verses where the temple having to do with the abomination and 70th week is referenced. In these cases it becomes clear from looking at all of these verses together that it must be referring to a building. The fact that Christ refers us back to Daniel and an incident that happened at the second temple should clue us in that He is speaking of a physical temple. That was partly why He did reference Daniel, to make the point that He is not speaking of the Christian in these passages, (and at this time, people were not referred to as being the temple of God, because the Holy Spirit had not been given yet), but of a building that will be built on the temple mount (and which is the only way that the disciples would have understood the word temple).
Now having addressed the passage in Thessalonians, it is of interest to read the passage in Revelation 13 about the beast. Verses 11-15 “And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” Clearly this is an abomination of idolatry. Is this also part of the abomination that lays waste the holy place?
We have seen the mention of a holy place and a temple in the verses covered so far. In all cases it seems that it is speaking of a literal place, specifically located on the temple mount. Now in Revelation 11:1-2 we see that John is given some instructions. He is given a reed like a rod. This reed is a measuring tool. It comes from a plant and is like a wooden stick or wand. In ancient times this was used to measure objects, and measuring something is exactly what John is told to do. Specifically he is told to measure the temple of God, and the altar. Clearly this is referring to a literal temple, as only a literal object can be measured with a measuring stick. And we are told that there is an altar. The Christian's body may be referred to as a temple in some of the Scriptures, but we are never called an altar. The altar always refers to a literal altar. So this is referring to a literal temple and a literal altar. He is also told to not include in his measuring the court which is outside of the temple, for it will not be a part of the temple complex. Clearly now we have a definitive description of a literal temple complex, as there is nothing about us that could be called a courtyard symbolically. This is a confirmation of the literal manner of interpreting the verses in the gospels and Thessalonians. This is a temple with an altar and a courtyard, which is being trampled by the Gentiles. We surmised from the Greek terms that the holy place that is abominated is a small location, probably only the temple proper itself. And here we are told that the court that is outside the temple is indeed not a part of the working temple. It is being trodden down by the Gentiles, something which is not allowed in the regulation temple complex. The Gentile court was the outermost part of the temple. They could not get anywhere near the actual temple itself. So this tells us that the tribulation temple that goes up will only be the temple itself with an altar, not an entire complex on the temple mount.
So all of these verses seem to confirm that indeed there will be a literal temple, one that will not be a full blown temple in the sense of having all the courtyards, but merely the temple proper itself and an altar at best. And in this temple the man of sin will take a seat establishing himself as a god, thinking himself above God, demanding worship for himself. Further the false prophet will create an image of him that is given the power to speak which people will be forced to choose between worshiping or dying.
It would appear from putting this all together that this man of sin's actions constitute the detestable thing or act of idolatry in the holy place that lays waste to the place. It is the abomination of desolation. Now we need to go to Daniel to see if we can confirm this interpretation by finding an event that occurred at the temple, where an act of idolatry and something detestable occurred which laid waste to the temple. And this event is something that the Jews, without ever having read the New Testament would immediately reference in their minds to know that something horrible was happening, so that they should get out of town as fast as possible, as this would be a repeat of something that has occurred before.
We find a reference to an event like this in Daniel 11:21,29-31 “And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries......At the time appointed he shall return, and come toward the south; but it shall not be as the former, or as the latter. For the ships of Chittim shall come against him: therefore he shall be grieved, and return, and have indignation against the holy covenant: so shall he do; he shall even return, and have intelligence with them that forsake the holy covenant. And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.”
This event where a vile man polluted the sanctuary (temple) and took away the daily sacrifice, and placed an abomination that desolated the place is a well-known event. It is especially well-known to the Jews. This passage is describing the historical actions of Antiochus Epiphanes, who came to Jerusalem, slaughtered a pig on the altar, and set up a statue of Zeus in the temple. He also killed many Jews. The story is found in the books of the Maccabees. It was the Maccabee brothers who finally cleansed the temple and lit the menorah which burned for eight days on the oil of only one day's worth. This event is celebrated every year at Hanukkah. It is this event to which Christ was referring in Matthew 24 when he spoke of the abomination of desolation that occurred in Daniel that the reader should understand. It is also a prophetic passage that foreshadows the antichrist. Antiochus Epiphanes was the dress rehearsal, so to speak, for what antichrist will do. Now look at the similarity of the event we have seen described in the New Testament to this abomination. A man of sin comes to the temple, and commits an unspeakable act of blasphemy and idolatry in God's holy place. This is followed by terrible bloodshed of people. To which event do I refer? Hard to say, isn't it? Antiochus stops the daily sacrifice. Does the antichrist? One assumes that if the temple is in service again, and there is an altar (John is told to measure it), there will be sacrifices. Is there any indication that this stopping of the sacrifices as Antiochus did happens again? Christ said that the event in Daniel is a picture for us to reference in regard to the event that will happen before He returns. If that is so, we should find something that references a stopping of the sacrifices at the temple that will again be built besides this passage, which in foreshadowing antichrist indicates there will be sacrifices which will be stopped. And we do.
Daniel 12:11 “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.”
This passage in Daniel 12 is the conclusion of the vision that God gave Daniel about the end of the age. Particularly this chapter speaks of the events of the last half of the 70th week (which we have yet to address). Verses in Revelation and elsewhere in Daniel tell us that the last half of the 70th week has three endings. The 1260th day is the end of the antichrist's reign. The 1290th day is the end of God's wrath, and the 1335th day (also mentioned in this chapter) is when the temple is most likely restored and consecrated and the millennium begun. Here in the above verse we are told that from the time the abomination is set up and the daily sacrifice is stopped there will be 1290 days. So here we see that when the abomination occurs, there have been sacrifices going on. This clearly indicates a physical temple, and it now makes the event of antichrist match up completely to the act of Antiochus. So indeed, this is the reference to which Christ was referring in Matthew and Mark. Now we have another passage in Daniel that tells us more of this event.
Daniel 9:24-27 “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
In these verses we are told that seventy weeks were determined upon Israel to finish up God's dealings with their sins, to bring them back to Him, and to finish up all these prophecies and this age. We are then told that the first sixty-nine of those weeks (which are seven year weeks) will bring us up to Christ's death. He is killed after the sixty-ninth week finishes up its seven year period. Then we are told the temple will be destroyed. (70 AD) It is this passage which those who would make the abomination in the gospels the destruction of the temple in 70 AD point to, to try to justify their theory. But this destruction is not put at the middle of the 70th week, and as we see in the verse above, the abomination occurs in the midst or middle of that last week. The destruction of the second temple is mentioned as happening between the 69th and the 70th week. At some point in the future (Christians have been waiting 2000 years for this last week) a covenant will be confirmed for one week or one seven year period. In the middle of that seven year period or 3 ½ years into it, there will be an abomination of desolation set up and the daily sacrifices will be stopped. This goes along completely with what we learned in the New Testament passages, with more details added in. Now if the temple was destroyed between the 69th and 70th week, and the sacrifices are caused to cease in the middle of the 70th week, it necessitates that an altar (and temple) be restored so that they can be abominated. So we now see that this abomination which occurs in the gospels and Thessalonians will occur in the middle of a seven year period known as Daniel's 70th week. And we are also told that sacrifices will cease to be made. Again the point is made that sacrifices cannot be made without an altar and temple. The very ones that John was told to measure. The very one that Paul said the man of perdition would sit in declaring himself God. All of these passages work together very well like puzzle pieces to paint a picture. And we have only had to take all of it quite literally. No spiritualized symbolic interpretation needed.
If a more detailed explanation of the 70th week of Daniel is desired, my end times studies blog at http://endtimesstudies.blogspot.com/ can provide more information. The archives on the right side of the page list the Scripture verses for ease of finding the passage wanted. The book of Daniel is found in June 2009.
So in taking God's Word at face value, and when all of the passages which speak to this issue are taken together, we see that they all point to one thing. There will be a literal temple building (albeit probably quite small) with an altar upon which sacrifices are made, which will be stopped when an abomination reminiscent of the event by Antiochus Epiphanes that led to the holiday of Hanukkah occurs. The reader is free to believe what they want, but I think it is quite clear what God has said on this issue.