Thursday, October 3, 2013

What is the Abomination of Desolation?

Abomination of Desolation
Christians have long sought to understand what the "abomination of desolation" is that Jesus references in Matt 24:15 and Mark 13:14, which in turn cross-references back to Dan 11:31 and Dan 12:11. At least for the last 40 years in American "Left-Behindism", we have been told that the Abomination of Desolation is a time in the future when a "revived Roman Empire" is created and that the Devil or Antichrist is worshiped in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. But what has most of historic Christianity thought of these passages? Let's first look at Dan 11:31 and Dan 12:11 For instance, the Matthew Henry Commentary has this to say:
"The remainder of this prophecy is very difficult, and commentators differ much respecting it." -- source
From the Geneva Notes we see:
"A great faction of the wicked Jews will join with Antiochus. So called because the power of God was not at all diminished, even though this tyrant set up in the temple the image of Jupiter Olympius, and so began to corrupt the pure service of God." -- source
Note specifically that the Dan 11:31/Dan 12:11 is equated to Antiochus. From John Gill's commentary we read:
"...this holy place, sacred to his worship and service, the commanders and soldiers of Antiochus defiled by entering into it, who were men unholy and unclean; by making it a place of luxury and rioting, of whoredom, and all manner of uncleanness; by bringing things into it which were not lawful, and filling the altar with what was abominable" -- source
Even John Calvin interpreted Dan 11:31 and Dan 12:11 in the same way as these other commentaries, that it was a prophecy of when Antiochus IV Epiphanes set up idols in the Temple (year 167-66BC) source. However, since we know that would have been in the past to Jesus' prophecy in Matt 24:15 and Mark 13:14 how do we reconcile this? We can either believe that all of those commentaries are wrong or that the abomination of desolation has dual fulfillment in the same way that many of the Messianic prophecies were both about David/Solomon and also about Jesus. So, we turn to the commentaries on Matt 24:15 and Mark 13:14. The Matthew Henry commentary interprets:
"Herod did set up an eagle over the temple-gate; and, some say, the statue of Titus was set up in the temple. (2.) Others choose to expound it by the parallel place (Lk 21:20), when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies. Jerusalem was the holy city, Canaan the holy land, the Mount Moriah, which lay about Jerusalem, for its nearness to the temple was, they thought in a particular manner holy ground; on the country lying round about Jerusalem the Roman army was encamped, that was the abomination that made desolate...Reference being here had to a prophecy, which is commonly dark and obscure, Christ inserts this memorandum, "Whoso readeth, let him understand; whoso readeth the prophecy of Daniel, let him understand that it is to have its accomplishment now shortly in the desolations of Jerusalem."" -- source
Following along, the Geneva notes say:
"The abomination of desolation, that is to say, the one who all men detest and cannot abide, because of the foul and shameful filthiness of it: and he speaks of the idols that were set up in the temple, or as others think, he meant the marring of the doctrine in the Church." -- source
So the Geneva notes give two possibilities on Matt 24:15; either idols WERE set up in the then standing Temple, or some veiled reference to the marring of the doctrine of the Church -- neither speaks of some revived Roman Empire as imagined by "Left-Behindism". The Geneva notes say about Mark 13:14:
"When the heathen and profane people shall not only enter into the temple, and defile both it and the city, but also completely destroy it." -- source
This is said in light the entire context of the commentary about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD70. Continuing on with John Gill, and quoting from him a larger block of text on Matt 24:15:
"Christ proceeds to the immediate cause of the destruction of Jerusalem; which was, "the abomination of desolation," or the desolating abomination; or that abominable thing, which threatened and brought desolation upon the city, temple, and nation: by which is meant, not any statue placed in the temple by the Romans, or their order; not the golden eagle which Herod set upon the temple gate, for that was before Christ said these words; nor the image of Tiberius Caesar, which Pilate is said to bring into the temple; for this, if true, must be about this time; whereas Christ cannot be thought to refer to anything so near at hand; much less the statue of Adrian, set in the most holy place, which was an hundred and thirty years and upwards, after the destruction of the city and temple; nor the statue of Titus, who destroyed both, which does not appear: ever to be set up, or attempted; nor of Caligula, which, though ordered, was prevented being placed there: but the Roman army is designed; see Luke 21:20 which was the, "the wing," or "army of abominations making desolate," Daniel 9:27. Armies are called wings, Isaiah 8:8 and the Roman armies were desolating ones to the Jews, and to whom they were an abomination; not only because they consisted of Heathen men, and uncircumcised persons, but chiefly because of the images of their gods, which were upon their ensigns" -- source
Gill rules out many other possibilities as being the abomination of desolation and specifically designates the Roman army, with its Gentiles and its "winged" eagle standards/ensigns. Gill repeats this interpretation but perhaps more concisely in his interpretation of Mark 13:14:
"The Roman army encompassing Jerusalem, which was an abomination to the Jews, and an "impure sign" of their destruction, as the Syriac and Persic versions render it; and a desolating one to their nation, city, and temple" -- source
Lastly in our examination we look at Calvin's interpretation of these NT texts:
"Now Christ selects only what suited his purpose, namely, that the termination of sacrifices was at hand, and that the abomination, which was the sign of the final desolation, would be placed in the temple. But as the Jews were too strongly attached to their present condition, and therefore paid little attention to the prophecies which foretold the abolition of it, Christ, as if endeavoring to gain their ear, bids them read attentively that passage, where they would learn that what appeared to them difficult to be believed was plainly declared by the Prophets. Abomination means profanation; for this word denotes uncleanness, which corrupts or overturns the pure worship of God. It is called desolation, because it drew along with it the destruction of the temple and of the government...It is a mistake to suppose that this expression denotes the siege of Jerusalem, and the mistake receives no countenance from the words of Luke, who did not intend to say the same thing, but something quite different. For that city having been formerly delivered, when it appeared to be in the midst of destruction, lest believers should expect something of the same kind in future, Christ declares that, as soon as it would be surrounded by armies, it was utterly ruined, because it was wholly deprived of divine assistance. The meaning therefore is, that the issue of the war will not be doubtful, because that city is devoted to destruction, which it will not be able to escape any more than to rescind a decree of heaven. Accordingly, Luke shortly afterwards adds, that Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, a mode of expression which denotes utter ruin." -- source
So, here too we see Calvin agreeing with the other commentaries, only disagreeing that Luke is a parallel, since Calvin sees the utter destruction as the desolation than merely a siege. What then do we conclude? We have seen that a goodly amount of the historic Christian commentaries ascribe the abomination of desolation firstly to Antiochus IV Epiphanes but in dual fulfillment to the utter defilement and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD70. We see that this makes the "Left-Behindism" interpretation as a novel or new interpretation outside of the united pattern. Obviously this doesn't immediately make the "Left-Behindism" interpretation wrong, however it does make it outside so many other long-standing and unified Christian interpretations. Do we then conclude a "preterist" or worse yet, a "hyperpreterist" interpretation where we think even Christ's second coming, the general resurrection of the believers, the judgment of the wicked and righteous, the end of sin is also all past? Nay, there is no reason to conclude such since among all these united interpretations of the abomination of desolation as being about that event in AD70, none of these commentaries supposed anything like hyperpreterism. Instead, the hyperpreterists are like the Arians and the Nestorians who suffered and contorted trying to figure out how Christ is fully man and fully God. But we, along with these historic Christian commentaries can and do rightly see the abomination of desolation as being fulfilled in the past yet those other elements of eschatological events yet in our future - just as all of historic Christianity has believed. Thus, the hyperpreterist conclusion that everything is fulfilled is as foreign to historic Christianity as is Mormonism or Islam which like hyperpreterism claims to be re-interpreting the long-standing beliefs of the Christian Faith. I stand with the community of saints in understanding the abomination of desolation, whatever it may have specifically been, as having been at the time that the "Holy Place" (the Temple and its evirons) was still standing. There is no such place today nor shall ever be since the coming and manifestation of Christ; God no longer dwells nor will ever again dwell in houses of stone made with hands. (John 4:20-24, Acts 7:24)

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