Although the average Christian wouldn’t know an "abomination of desolation" even if it came up and bit them in the rear, Jesus gave important end time survival instructions for "when you see the abomination." This cryptic phrase describes the key event that immediately precedes the Great Tribulation and is the last chance to flee to safety from the Antichrist. Nevertheless, people continue to disagree on what the abomination of desolation is or even whether it is past or future! Find out why it’s not the Dome of the Rock or any past event, and what exactly Revelation says it will be.
Abomination of Desolation?
Daniel's "abomination of desolation" is a very familiar term to most Christians thanks to Jesus' reference to it in the Gospels. At the same time, it is easily the least understood major prophetic term compared to say the great tribulation, the mark of the beast or even the 70th week. Most Christians have no clue what it is because the terms "abomination" and "desolation" do not have the same significance to a modern Western reader as they did to ancient Torah-savvy/Jewish audiences.
This opacity can leave the modern reader troubled when they read what it says about the abomination of desolation:
Matthew 24:15-16 (ESV) — 'So when you see the abomination of desolation ... then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.'
These urgent survival instructions Jesus gave for end time believers are of course difficult to follow when you have no concept of what you're supposed to be watching for!
Naturally, this ignorance makes it easy for Christians to entertain very diverse theories for what the abomination is; based in either the past or future. For example, one historical theory is that the abomination of desolation is the Dome of the Rock finished on the Temple Mount in 691 AD. Preterists believe the abomination happened when the Roman general Pompey conquered the city and entered the Holy of Holies (where only the Aaronic high priest was allowed) before they destroyed the temple in 70 AD. Others think Antiochus IV Epiphanes completely fulfilled the abomination after he violated the temple in 167 BC in the time of the Maccabees. Of course, there is also the "futurist" perspective that the abomination relates to the work of the end time Beast or "Antichrist."
Fortunately, there are several clues in Scripture about the abomination of desolation. When you look at them all together, it becomes possible to identify the one interpretation that they all fit. Here are seven clues from simple, plainly read Scripture that will help us do that.
Clue #1: Location
The first clue is about where the abomination happens:
Matthew 24:15-16 (ESV) — 'So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place,...then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.'
The usage of the term "holy place" in other New Testament passages corroborate that it refers to the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 6:13; 21:28). If it was not already obvious by the term "abomination" that, whatever it is, it does not belong in God's temple, Mark confirms this:
Mark 13:14 (ESV) — But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
As mentioned above, there are rules specified in Moses' Law about what is allowed in the temple. Unless something is a holy object (like the ark of the covenant) or a holy person (like a priest), it "ought not be" in the temple.
Theories Contradicts: This clue rules out any interpretation that does not take place at the standing temple in Jerusalem, such as the Dome of the Rock theory.
Clue #2: Visible, Standing Nature
The next clue found in the same above verses from the Gospels is that whatever the abomination is, it is something that is visible or something people will "see" and also something that can be said to be "standing." Since seeing it is a sign, the implication is that the abomination becomes visible suddenly.
This clue could fit the abomination being a person, a statue or perhaps even a building (except buildings do not suddenly become visible but are in a state of incompletion while being built).
Theories Contradicted: This clue rules out any interpretations that presents the abomination as something you cannot see or does not stand up, such as saying it is some heretical religion or the destruction of Jerusalem itself (as Joseph Smith interpreted the event).
Clue #3: Who Does It?
Daniel's "70 weeks" prophecy is the source of the abomination of desolation prophecy that Jesus quoted:
Daniel 9:26-27 (HCSB) — 26 ... The people of the coming prince will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come with a flood, and until the end there will be war; desolations are decreed. 27 He [=the prince, Antichrist ] will make a firm covenant with many for one week [the 70th week], but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple, until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator."
The one behind the abomination is the "prince" who shall come from the people who destroyed the temple. Some people think that Christ was the one mentioned here about cutting off the sacrifices. If you check the next reference in Daniel to the abomination, you will find more details to test that theory against:
Daniel 11:31-32 (HCSB) 31 His forces will rise up and desecrate the temple fortress. They will abolish the daily sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation. 32 With flattery he will corrupt those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will be strong and take action.
The ones behind the abomination are not holy, but described as corrupting people against God's covenant and pitted against people who know their God.
Theories Contradicted: Since the person doing the abomination (and cutting off the sacrifices—see below) is evil, theories about Jesus Christ doing or being the abomination (and as we'll see below, cutting off the sacrifices) do not work.
Clue #4: Sacrifices Stopped Concurrently
You may have noticed in the above two verses from Daniel that there is always something else tied to the abomination: the abolition of animal sacrifices. The daily oblation sacrifices were commanded in the Law of Moses to be done in the morning and evening as part of the temple worship. Several prophecies even talk about them returning in the future despite them ending long ago with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (Eze 40-48).
Yet, it may not be fully evident from the above verses that the abolition of sacrifices is directly tied to the abomination being set up. In the third and final reference to the abomination in Daniel, this is made evident:
Daniel 12:11 (HCSB) — From the time the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.
We will see exactly what the 1,290 days refers to later, but for now it's clear that these two connected events happen on the very same day, 1,290 days from something else.
Theories Contradicted: Any explanation of the abomination that does not happen when sacrifices are ongoing and does not then end those sacrifices on the same day would be contradicted, such as the Dome of the Rock theory, and most others.
Clue #5: Events Before and After – Revelation Parallel
The abomination of desolation is not some isolated event but is preceded and followed by key events. Luke's Gospel and a parallel prophecy we will connect in Revelation make this plain. Luke has a slightly different take on the abomination from the other Gospels. While it tells us that the desolation is followed by people having to flee (like Matthew and Mark did above), it also tells us what precedes the abomination:
Luke 21:20-21, 24 (HCSB) — 20 "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near. 21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains!...
Not surprisingly armies surround and take control of Jerusalem right before her desolation . Also not surprisingly, they do not move on but continue their desolation by "trampling" Jerusalem for a certain period of time called the "times of the Gentiles:"
Luke 21:23-24 (HCSB) — Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for there will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
That last part is key to find a parallel prophecy needed to break open the abomination mystery. Thankfully, Revelation also talks about a trampling of the place of the temple by the Gentiles. Note that some versions say nations there and some say Gentiles simply because Gentiles literally means "nations."
Revelation 11:1-2 (ESV) — 1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, "Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.
Thus, what plainly follows the abomination and end of altar sacrifices is a trampling of Jerusalem by armies for 42 months.
Theories Contradicted: It's difficult to imagine finding any historical theory for the abomination that includes exactly 42 months of trampling of Jerusalem by the armies that surround the city right before the abomination.
Clue #6: Great Tribulation Tie-in
Whose armies could these be? If that 42 months number above sounded familiar, it's because that is the same period of time that the Beast or Antichrist is to be ruling. It is no accident that this is also the length of the ministry of the Two Witnesses who speak against the Beast:
Revelation 13:4-5 (HCSB) — 4 ...And they worshiped the beast... 5 A mouth was given to him to speak boasts and blasphemies. He was also given authority to act, for 42 months.
Revelation 11:3 (HCSB) — I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.
By the way, if you had ever wondered what Luke's "times of the Gentiles" referred to, now you can see it's talking about the ruling of Jerusalem by the Antichrist armies during the Great Tribulation. The times last 42 months.
There are other tie-ins to the Great Tribulation. We have already seen earlier that the abomination happens in the middle of the final or 70th week of Daniel. If you have already proven the Futurist perspective is correct, then you know that the second half of the 70th week is called the Great Tribulation. In six different verses that period is referred to as either 3½ years, 42 months or 1260 days (Dan 9:27; Dan 7:25; Rev 12:14; Rev 11:2; Rev 13:5; Rev 11:3). (The 1290 days end at the same point as the 1260 days/Great Tribulation but begin 30 days earlier.)
Theories Contradicted: Any theory that says the abomination was completely fulfilled in the past.
Clue #7: "Abomination" Defined by the Bible
Although we still do not know what the abomination of desolation is, after all the clues above, it is pretty clear that it will be an unprecedented event. To help with that, let us find out what does "abomination" mean anyway? By leaving the Christian New Testament comfort zone and studying the Old Testament and especially the Torah, we can find out what it meant to the audiences of Daniel and Jesus who heard the term.
The word translated 'abomination' in Hebrew is shiqqus. It is heavily associated with idolatrous practices as the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament explains:
shiqqus. Detestable thing, idol. This noun is always used in connection with idolatrous practices, either referring to the idols themselves as being abhorrent and detestable in God's sight, or to something associated with the idolatrous ritual. Idols generally are referred to as an abomination (Jeremiah 16:18; Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 7:20; 2 Chron. 15:8, etc). Not only are the idols an abomination, but they that worship them 'become detestable like that which they love' (Hosea 9:10), for they identify themselves with the idols.
The 'abominable filth' of Nahum 3:6 is shiqqus. It seems likely that, since shiqqus is everywhere else clearly related to idolatrous worship, the same would be true here.
It is important to recognize that by the use of such a strong word as shiqqus God wants his people to recognize the extreme seriousness and wickedness of this sin, however attractive and popular it might be. God's own people need to view sin from God's perspective (Deut. 7:26). — TWOT
Remember from all the passages above that the verbs associated with the abomination require it be something that can be 'set up' to 'stand.' In other words, an idol.
Theories Contradicted: People and buildings are not idols, but statues can be. If people worship an idol in a building like the Dome of the Rock there, then the idol would be the abomination, not the building.
The First Abomination Fulfillment
As covered above, Daniel contains three verses that talk about the abomination of desolation. One of them (Dan 9:27) refers to the 70th week which is yet unfulfilled. However, the second mention (Dan 11:31) is different from that. It does not fit the end times but rather past times:
Daniel 11:31-35 (HCSB) — 31 His forces will rise up and desecrate the temple fortress. They will abolish the daily sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation. 32 With flattery he will corrupt those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will be strong and take action. 33 Those who are wise among the people will give understanding to many, yet they will die by sword and flame, and be captured and plundered for a time. 34 When defeated, they will be helped by some, but many others will join them insincerely. 35 Some of the wise will fall so that they may be refined, purified, and cleansed until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
Notice how the passage ends with an allusion to the fact that the defeat and purification of the wise will continue until the time of the end. This means that what is happening up until verse 33 is before the end times. As such, it is widely accepted that the passage above refers to Antichus IV Epiphanes' re-dedication of the Temple to Zeus in 167 BC and subsequent revolt by the Maccabeans as described in the book of First Maccabees. As the same passage from Theological Workbook of the Old Testament says explains:
Antiochus Epiphanes, as prophesied in Daniel 11:31, and who is typical of Antichrist, set up an altar to, and image of, Zeus in the temple. This is called the 'abomination that causes desolation,' a desecration of the altar which destroys its true purpose. Just so will Antichrist establish an abomination in the sanctuary, a demonic counterfeit worship (Daniel 9:27; Daniel 12:11).— TWOT
This means that there are two separate abominations of desolation predicted in Daniel 9 and 11: one for the end times and one for a past time, respectively. (Daniel 12:11, like Daniel 9 speaks of the end times abomination near the Great Tribulation, or 30 days before to be exact since the Great Tribulation is 1260 days and the abomination does not happen 30 days into the Millennium!)
The Second and Next Abomination of Desolation
Everything above points to a second, final abomination of desolation fulfillment being "stood up" in the future by the Antichrist. If the first one, a statue of Zeus, was a idolatrous worship statue (fitting the Torah definition of abomination), then we would expect the next one done by the Antichrist to be the same. What will it be?
We do not have to speculate or wonder any longer. As it happens, there is an idol of worship featured prominently in Revelation in connection with the Antichrist. However, you may not have ever recognized it as such due to the slightly different terminology used:
Revelation 13:14-15 (HCSB) — 14 He [the "False Prophet"] deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast [the "Antichrist"], telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who had the sword wound and yet lived.
An image is a likeness or representation of something. When it comes to false gods like Zeus or the Antichrist, it typically refers to a statue. But this is more than a statue. The "image" of the Antichrist made by the False Prophet for all to worship has a "spirit" with or in it that enables it to speak!:
Revelation 13:15 (HCSB) — He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
This speaking is no parlor trick of smoke and mirrors, voice projection or holograms. This is a demon or fallen angel inhabiting the Antichrist image to animate it in big ways. Apparently part of its speaking is tattling on those who do not worship because it directly causes people to be killed for this violation. Although this level of supernatural power is not "permitted" today (or all the skeptics offering big dollar bounties for proof of the supernatural would be broke), God will permit it in the end times for the "strong delusion" that the Antichrist is God and worthy of worship (2Th 2:11, 4). The setting up of the Antichrist image in the temple will desolate the temple mount by commanding the statue to be set up for worship at the same time that he halts another form of worship to the real God: the daily oblation sacrifices (Daniel 12:11).
Why the Abomination Cannot Happen Yet
The idea of an Antichrist and a False Prophet coming with signs, and wonders to delude practically the entire world into worship of a man as God is scary. Thankfully, we are a long ways away from that as long as the following conditions in the world continue:
As already explained by the clues above, a few things are missing before the abomination of desolation can happen.
1. No Temple — Since the abomination is "stood" up in the temple of God (Mt 24:15) and the Antichrist must be able to "sit" in the temple of God in Jerusalem (2Th 2:4= Dan 11:45) and there is no temple today, obviously a temple must be built first.
2. No Sacrifices — Similarly, just as sacrifices must be abolished at the same time as the abomination is set up and there are no daily sacrifices in Jerusalem going today, obviously sacrifices must be started first.
3. Muslims Control the Temple Mount — There is no sign of the above two events being ready to happen and for good reason. The Temple Mount is in control of the Islamic Wakf. (The Waqf are the Islamic guardians of Muslim holy sites. They watch and make sure they are being properly managed.) Because of this foreign force in control, the Israeli government maintains a peace-keeping ban on Jewish worship on the Temple Mount (even prayer!). Until the Psalm 83 war happens, this situation is likely to stay the same.
But even after those three obstacles are removed, there will be no cause for panic. Other prophecies indicate that by that time God will have sent a prophet to warn us and instruct us on the coming abomination and the mark of the beast that comes soon in its wake.
There are two separate abominations of desolation predicted by Daniel. The first abomination, the statue of Zeus that Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected in the temple, holds the key to the second. Just as with the previous abomination, the final abomination of desolation will be an image of a false God "stood" up in the coming Third Temple for all to "see" (and worship). This supernatural "image of the beast/Antichrist" desolating the temple will help convince (and enforce) the world to worship the Antichrist.
Although Jesus said that you need to flee if you are still around to see the abomination when it is set up, it need not be dreaded or looked for under every rock today. The temple and sacrifices must come first. But even after they do, the wise who listen to the end time prophet of God will be walking by faith not sight. They will hear the warnings that must be given for the whole biblically illiterate world and they will leave without needing to see the abomination of desolation (for details read this article about the 144,000 and the Woman).