The “abomination of desolation.”

by K.W. Leslie, 23 October 2022

Mk 13.14, Mt 24.15-16, Lk 21.20-21.

Up to now in his Olivet Discourse, Jesus only spoke of the events leading up to the Roman-Jewish War in the year 70. The first Christians would get persecuted, but the gospel would spread all over the Roman Empire. And then these events would happen—the events his students first asked him about; the events where not one of the temple’s impressive stones would be on top of another. Mk 13.2, Mt 24.2, Lk 21.6 The events which’d happen during 37 years later, within lifetime of the very first Christians… though James, Simon Peter, and Andrew wouldn’t live to see them.

Jesus starts by mentioning the βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως/vdélygma erimóseos, “disgusting spoiler”—not in the sense of ruining the ending of a movie, but ruining whatever you place it upon. It’s a term from Daniel, which was actually fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes in 141BC, but Jesus brings it up again ’cause history is about to repeat itself.

Mark 13.14 KWL
“When you see ‘the disgusting spoiler’
placed where it mustn’t be” (understand, reader?)
“then those in Judea: Flee to the hills!”
Matthew 24.15-16 KWL
15 “So then when you see ‘the disgusting spoiler’
as said to the prophet Daniel,
put in the holy place” (understand, reader?)
16 then those in Judea: Flee to the hills!
Luke 21.20-21 KWL
20 “When you see Jerusalem encircled by army units,
then know this: Its spoil has come near.
21 Then those in Judea: Flee to the hills!
And those in the middle of it: Leave!
And those in the fields: Don’t enter the city!

If you’re alive to see these things—and you might be—get out. Don’t even go back to get your stuff. Mk 13.15-16 It’s gonna be awful. The worst.

Jesus is speaking of the Roman-Jewish War, but a number of Darbyist “prophecy scholars” are absolutely sure he’s not. Or not entirely; some will confess he’s speaking of the Roman-Jewish War too. But they insist he’s primarily speaking of a future disgusting spoiler, an End Times “abomination of desolation” to be committed by the Beast in the temple.

What temple? Well I’ll get to that.

Back to Daniel for a bit.

Let’s put a pin in Jesus’s teaching and jump back 589 years to Babylon, Iraq, which at the time was the center of the neo-Babylonian Empire; to one of the Babylonian king’s scribes named 𒊩𒆪𒈗𒋀/Beltu-šar-uṣur (KJV “Belteshazzar”), who was actually an exiled member of the Israeli royal family named דָּניִֵּאל/Daniyél (KJV “Daniel”). The scribe had been pressed into the service of King Nabû-kudurri-uṣur 2 after he conquered Jerusalem in 587BC. Jews don’t consider Daniel a prophet, but Christians most certainly do: Not only did the LORD give him supernatural discernment, including the ability to interpret dreams and visions like Joseph ben Israel; there’s also those apocalyptic visions in the back half of the book, nearly all of which have since come true. (Well, unless you’re Darbyist, and insist many of them have yet to come.)

What triggered the visions was Daniel being bummed. It was the third year of Kūruš 2 of Persia, Da 11.1 meaning it was 557BC, meaning it was the 30th anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem. Daniel’d been in Babylon three decades, it was time for Yom Kippur but there was no longer a temple of the LORD to celebrate God’s atonement in, and Daniel was in his mid-40s and likely having a midlife crisis: Was he ever gonna see Judah again? Was he gonna die in this pagan land? Were the people of Israel gonna assimilate into the larger Babylon culture and cease to exist? Was there any hope for the future?

So Daniel was “fasting”—not enjoying his food, anyway; and praying. The LORD sent an angel to encourage Daniel by telling him the future. The Israelis would return to Israel; the temple would be rebuilt. And some other stuff would happen; the angel actually foretold the next several centuries.

Included in the angel’s description of the future is this:

Daniel 11.30-35 GNT
30B “Then he [the king of Syria] will turn back in a rage and try to destroy the religion of God's people. He will follow the advice of those who have abandoned that religion. 31 Some of his soldiers will make the Temple ritually unclean. They will stop the daily sacrifices and set up The Awful Horror. 32 By deceit the king will win the support of those who have already abandoned their religion, but those who follow God will fight back. 33 Wise leaders of the people will share their wisdom with many others. But for a while some of them will be killed in battle or be burned to death, and some will be robbed and made prisoners. 34 While the killing is going on, God's people will receive a little help, even though many who join them will do so for selfish reasons. 35 Some of those wise leaders will be killed, but as a result of this the people will be purified. This will continue until the end comes, the time that God has set.

“The Awful Horror” in verse 31 translates הַשִּׁקּ֥וּץ מְשׁוֹמֵֽם/haš-šiqqúč mišomém (KJV “the abomination which maketh desolate”), which I would likewise translate “the disgusting spoiler.” The Septuagint turns it into βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως/vdélygma erimóseos, “disgusting spoiler”—the very same words Jesus uses in the Olivet Discourse.

Thing is, what the Romans eventually did to Jerusalem… is not as the angel described it to Daniel. They did destroy some of the branches of the Jewish religion, but Pharisees were allowed to relocate to the Galilee, and keep going… and evolve into rabbinic Judaism, the forebear of today’s Jewish denominations. They didn’t make the temple ritually unclean so much as destroy it altogether—and in so doing, they definitely stopped the daily sacrifices. The Jews who tried to fight back agains the Romans were wholly wiped out; either crucified by the Romans, or killed themselves before the Romans could get at them.

So this is why Darbyists insist the angel’s prophecy in Daniel has yet to happen. “The disgusting spoiler” wasn’t part of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and therefore must be an End Times thing. Something the Beast does to the temple.

Again, what temple? Well, Darbyists insist there’s gonna be a temple by then. Some massive upheaval in west Asian politics which somehow (supernaturally?) appeases the Muslims, is gonna make it possible to rebuild it. Some absolute overhaul of Orthodox Jewish belief, which has to date insisted a temple can’t be rebuilt unless the Dome of the Rock is first demolished, is gonna have to (supernaturally?) happen. Somehow this’ll all take place without World War 3 breaking out… and then the Beast will do something nasty on the temple’s altar.

What your average Darbyist doesn’t realize (or has heard, but doesn’t really believe), is the angel’s prophecy was fulfilled in the second century BC. It’s part of the Hanukkah story.

Next, to 1 Maccabees.

Among the books of the apocrypha are four books of Maccabees, two of which are part of Roman Catholic bibles. Jews don’t consider them bible, and therefore most Protestants don’t either. But Jews do consider the stories in ’em historical, and every Hanukkah they read the bits of 1 Maccabees which tell of the Maccabeean Revolt.

It took place in Judea 145 years after Alexander of Macedon took Judea from the Persian Empire. Alexander’s massive Greek Empire broke apart immediately after he died, and his Greek generals took portions of his empire as their own mini-empires. For the next century, the Ptolemaic Empire (based in Egypt) and Seleucid Empire (based in Syria) fought over Judea, and by 143BC the Seleucids held power. King Antiochus Epiphanes then decided to suppress all the native behaviors in his empire, and make everyone conform to Greek culture. It’s a lot like how American nationalists want all our ethnic groups to act “American” (by which they mean white). These events happen two years later, in 141BC.

1 Maccabees 1.41-58 GNT
41-42 Antiochus now issued a decree that all nations in his empire should abandon their own customs and become one people. All the Gentiles 43 and even many of the Israelites submitted to this decree. They adopted the official pagan religion, offered sacrifices to idols, and no longer observed the Sabbath.
44 The king also sent messengers with a decree to Jerusalem and all the towns of Judea, ordering the people to follow customs that were foreign to the country. 45 He ordered them not to offer burnt offerings, grain offerings, or wine offerings in the Temple, and commanded them to treat Sabbaths and festivals as ordinary work days. 46 They were even ordered to defile the Temple and the holy things in it. 47 They were commanded to build pagan altars, temples, and shrines, and to sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals there. 48 They were forbidden to circumcise their sons and were required to make themselves ritually unclean in every way they could, 49 so that they would forget the Law which the Lord had given through Moses and would disobey all its commands. 50 The penalty for disobeying the king's decree was death.
51 The king not only issued the same decree throughout his whole empire, but he also appointed officials to supervise the people and commanded each town in Judea to offer pagan sacrifices. 52 Many of the Jews were ready to forsake the Law and to obey these officials. They defiled the land with their evil, 53 and their conduct forced all true Israelites to hide wherever they could.
54 On the fifteenth day of the month of Kislev in the year 145 [of the Greek Empire; our 167BC] King Antiochus set up The Awful Horror on the altar of the Temple, and pagan altars were built in the towns throughout Judea. 55 Pagan sacrifices were offered in front of houses and in the streets. 56 Any books of the Law which were found were torn up and burned, 57 and anyone who was caught with a copy of the sacred books or who obeyed the Law was put to death by order of the king. 58 Month after month these wicked people used their power against the Israelites caught in the towns.

Yep, what the Good News Translation calls “The Awful Horror” in verse 54 is that vdélygma erimóseos, the disgusting spoiler. The author of Maccabees didn’t say exactly what it is; most Jews assume Antiochus simply had a pig sacrificed on the temple’s altar. Whatever it was, it made the altar ritually unclean, and therefore impossible to use to worship the LORD.

That, among other things, triggered Judas Maccabee and his family (who later became the Hasmonean kings and head priests) to fight for Judea’s independence. It wasn’t merely the threat of cultural extinction, but religious extinction. Antiochus wanted ’em to worship Zeus instead of the LORD, and the Maccabees weren’t having it. And against overwhelming odds… the Maccabees won.

Driving the Seleucids out, then re-purifying and rededicating the temple, is what Hanukkah celebrates. The reason Jews keep and read 1 Maccabees, even though it’s not in their bible, is to remember this story.

Evangelical Christians loosely know this story… but only by cultural osmosis; we’ve overheard Jews telling the story at Hanukkah. Even if 1 Maccabees were in our bibles, we don’t read ’em anyway! So it stands to reason most Darbyists are unaware this prophecy in Daniel was wholly fulfilled by the second century BC—and think it’s yet to come.

And even if they are aware, they’re gonna still insist it’s yet to come. Because Jesus said, “When you see ‘the disgusting spoiler’” two centuries after Antiochus defiled the altar—so, they argue, Antiochus’s act can’t have been the abomination of desolation. Because Jesus said it’s yet to come. Plus 1 Maccabees isn’t bible, so it’s hardly qualified to declare what is or isn’t this particular abomination.

Okay. If we apply their reasoning to everything Jesus stated, then the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament isn’t the real Elijah; John the baptist is.

Matthew 11.13-15 GNT
13 “Until the time of John all the prophets and the Law of Moses spoke about the Kingdom; 14 and if you are willing to believe their message, John is Elijah, whose coming was predicted. 15 Listen, then, if you have ears!”

Of course you realize Jesus when Jesus ended his statement with “Listen then, if you have ears!” it meant he was speaking in parables again. And if you were paying attention to the Olivet Discourse, you might notice when both Mark and Matthew speak of “the disgusting spoiler,” both authors interrupt Jesus’s teachings to state, ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω/o anayinóskon noeíto, “Reader, deduce [what you’re reading]!” Jesus doesn’t mean it literally. He’s talking about something as bad as the disgusting spoiler of 1 Maccabees—and when you see that taking place, run for it!

Luke, y’notice, doesn’t even bother with the reference to Daniel and 1 Maccabees. (He wrote his gospel to gentiles who likely wouldn’t have recognized the references anyway.) He has Jesus say, “When you see Jerusalem encircled by army units”—don’t even wait for them to do something filthy to the temple; when they’re obviously about to lay siege to the city, get out!

Consequently when the Romans came to invade Jerusalem, the Christians who remembered Jesus’s Olivet Discourse did get out of there, and survived. The rest? Crucified with the rest of Jerusalem.

Will it happen again?

History repeats itself all the time. So it’d be profoundly stupid to claim a disaster of the level of the destruction of Jerusalem would and could never happen again. It has happened again. More than once.

Most of us are quite aware Nazi Germany tried to wipe out all the Jews in Europe less than a century ago. Most of us are less aware the Russians tried to do it too… and the Spanish, and the Italians, and the French, and every European monarch who decided to give Christian nationalism a whirl. Nationalists in the United States might claim they have no such plans for our homeland’s Jews, but let’s not be idiots: Some of them absolutely do. Yet another reason they must never, ever be granted power.

But must a literal spoiling of the temple altar take place again before Jesus can return? Nope. Nothing need happen first. None of the events of the Darbyist seven-year tribulation timeline have to take place. Jesus can return whenever the Father so chooses.

I’ve read ridiculous Darbyist descriptions of how “the abomination of desolation” is gonna happen. Somehow the temple’s gonna be rebuilt; somehow the Beast is gonna be granted access to it; somehow he’s gonna defile it. Some Darbyists imagine the Beast riding a pig into Jerusalem, mocking how Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and get it to the altar and defile it thataway. Others imagine he’s gonna desecrate the temple by putting a throne in the Holiest Place, sitting down in it, and declaring himself God instead of the LORD—no pig necessary. Darbyists describe it all sorts of ways—mostly describing things that’d offend them personally, or things they think would outrage Jews.

In so doing… they tend to offend Jews. Because Darbyists have a bad habit of being awfully condescending towards Jews. I’m quite sure most of ’em don’t mean to be! A big part of their End Times views include the salvation of the Jews. But in reading Darbyist End Times views, you very quickly pick up the sense of “Of course you know the Jews are wrong and we Christians are right, but relax; they’ll all become Christian in the end.” This attitude doesn’t win the Jews over any. (After all, would it win you over if Muslims believed all us Christians were destined to become Muslim before the second coming? Heck no; you’d think they were just as wrong as ever.)

As you can see, Darbyist End Times theories are in no way based on the historical context of the scriptures, nor in what Jesus is saying. The disaster which befell Jerusalem in the year 70, was far worse than what befell it in 141BC; was more comparable to when the Babylonians destroyed it in 587BC; was as bad as the Holocaust. Darbyists diminish this profound tragedy with their demented fantasies of the Beast being blasphemous and disgusting, and claiming that’s what Jesus really meant. No he didn’t. History doesn’t support their idea whatsoever.