In the Greek NT, the phrase βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως (= “abomination of desolation”) has a pivotal occurrence in both first century events and apocalyptic events that overlap. The word ἐρημώσεως (eremoseos) is from the root word ἐρήμωσις (erémósis) which BDAG defines as, the “state of being made uninhabitable, devastation, destruction, depopulation”. This word only occurs in the following places in the NT:
- Matt 24:15, “abomination of desolation which was spoken by Daniel the prophet …”
- Mark 13:14, “abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be …”
- Luke 21:20, “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.”
The “abomination of desolation” (or similar phrase) occurs elsewhere only in Daniel 8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11. The phrase might be more helpfully translated, “depopulating sacrilege”. It is also alluded to in several other places as we shall see. Let us list the characteristics of the abomination of desolation from these references.
- It causes the cessation of the “daily” (Heb: Tamid) usually understood to be the daily (or continual) sacrifice (Dan 8:13). More correctly, (See Annex), it points to the ministry of Jesus our High Priest and His continual ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.
- It occurs because of rebellion (presumably of those supposed to be God’s people. Non-Christians and non-Jews cannot rebel because they have not declared loyalty to God.) (Dan 8:13)
- It ushers in a period (“times of Gentiles” according to Luke 21:20-24) where the sanctuary and God’s people will be trampled underfoot (Dan 8:13, Rev 11:2)
- It is associated with a coming ruler (not Messiah), presumably, the antichrist (Dan 9:27); in 2 Thess 2:1-12 he is called the “man of lawlessness”, and, “son of destruction”.
- Dan 11:31 appears to equate the King of the North with the one who would abolish the “continual” (Heb: “Tamid”) and desecrate the temple fortress and thus depopulate the temple of worshipers.
- As a direct result of the above, the abomination of desolation is closely associated with the “great tribulation” in Matt 24:9, 21, 29, Mark 13:19, 24, Rev 7:14.
- There are several time periods associated with the abomination of desolation: 2300 days until its end (Dan 8:13); 1290 days from its beginning (Dan 12:11); 70 weeks (Dan 9:24-27). [There may also be a “42 months” association as well by comparing Luke 21:20-24, and Rev 11:2, but this may be a stretch.]
- The abomination of desolation is to stand in the holy place (Hebrew idiom for either the temple or Jerusalem, Matt 4:5, 27:53, 24:15, Acts 6:13, 21:28) and is where this ruler does not belong (Mark 13:14). This is the signal for those in Jerusalem to immediately flee and thus precipitate immanent depopulation of Jerusalem of Christians.
- The abomination of desolation was in Jesus’ time still future (Matt 24:15). (Therefore, this could not have been Antiochus Epiphanes.)
It is immediately obvious that Jesus applied this prophecy (at least in part) to the destruction of the temple (which occurred in 70 AD) that temporarily despoiled and depopulated Jerusalem, in his famous “Synoptic Apocalypse”. But it is also obvious that Jesus intended far more than this from the numerous references in this sermon to the end of the world. The question that prompted this sermon is a two-fold question (Matt 24:3) about both (a) the destruction of Jerusalem, and, (b) Jesus’ Second Advent. Jesus’ response was to answer both questions simultaneously by giving a dual prophecy. The advantage we have is to learn lessons from the destruction of Jerusalem and apply these to the remainder of Christian history since. Thus, while some parts of Jesus’ final sermon are clearly apocalyptic, much has a dual application as we shall soon see.
In Jesus’ time, the abomination of desolation was fulfilled when the pagan Roman government (by its army) stood in Jerusalem and soon destroyed it by desecrating the temple and temporarily depopulating the city . Apocalyptically and eschatologically, Paul tells us what would happen in 2 Thess 2:3 & 4 - Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. This uses the same language as Jesus’ sermon. The “man of lawlessness” would precipitate the abomination of desolation by blasphemously trying to usurp the rights and prerogatives of God Himself by removing Christ from the heavenly sanctuary and the continual (Heb: “Tamid”) intercession He offers for us (1 Tim 2:5, Heb 4:14-16, 7:23-28, 8:1, 2, 9:1-28, 10:1-18) as our High Priest.
Thus, we find that the little horn of Daniel 7, the (latter part) of the little horn of Daniel 8, the (latter part) of the king of the north that causes the abomination of desolation, the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2, and the sea beast of Rev 13, are all prophecies about the same medieval power that is blasphemous and sets itself against Jesus and His faithful people and persecutes Christ’s followers.
This medieval political power is different from all other political powers in that it blasphemously claims to usurp Christ and His salvation and thus is a legalistic, works based pseudo-Christian power, different from any other political or civil power. Thus, the abomination of desolation is an alternate means of salvation that takes away Christ as our mediator and high priest and replaces Him with a man-made system.
Annex: תָּמִיד (tamid)
In the book of Daniel, the word תָּמִיד (tamid), meaning continual or regular, occurs just five times, Dan 8:11, 12, 13, 11:31, 12:11 as an adverb. It is always associated with the apostate power that removed this “continual” from the sanctuary.
The same word occurs almost 100 times in the rest of the OT. It is often associated with various things in the sanctuary such as:
- The shew bread which was to be on the table continually, Ex 25:30, Lev 24:8, Num 4:7, 16, 2 Chron 2:4
- The menorah which was to burn continually, Ex 27:20, Lev 24:2-4
- The High Priests’ breast plate as a continual memorial, Ex 28:29, 30
- The High Priests’ blue ribbon attached to his turban as a continual reminder of the presence of God, Ex 28:37, 38
- The morning and evening sacrifice of a burnt offering (a lamb) on the sanctuary altar, Ex 29:41, 42, Num 28:3-6, 10, 15, 23, 24, 31, 29:6, 11, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34, 1 Chron 16:37, 40, 2 Chron 24:14, Ezra 3:5, Neh 10:33, Ps 50:8, Eze 46:15
- The burning wood in the altar of offering, continually, Ex 30:8, Lev 6:13
- Offering of fine flour was to be continual, Lev 6:20, Neh 10:33, Eze 46:14
- The continual presence of the cloud over the sanctuary, Num 9:16
- The blowing continually of trumpets, 1 Chron 16:6
- The ceremonies of the sanctuary, generally, that operated continually, 1 Chron 16:37, 23:31.
Note two important things about this survey:
- There is MUCH more than just the continual/regular (morning and evening) burnt offering of a lamb associated with the word תָּמִיד (tamid); however, that is the most common. תָּמִיד (tamid) is also associated with shew bread, the light (menorah), the High Priests’ breast plate, the blue ribbon, fire on the altar, grain offering, trumpeting, sanctuary services generally.
- All the features associated with the תָּמִיד (tamid), “continual” are taken up in the NT as symbols of the ministry of Jesus as our High Priest both here and in heaven, Heb 4:14-16, 7:23-28, 8:1, 2, 9:1-28, 10:1-18. Note the following:
- Jesus was the fulfilment of what the sanctuary/temple typified, John 2:19-21, Heb 9:1-28, 10:1-18
- Jesus represented the foundation of the temple as well, 1 Peter 2:4-8 (Compare Isa 28:16, Ps 118:22)
- Jesus was the bread of life, John 6:35, 41, 48 (compare Ex 25:23-30, Lev 24:8).
- Jesus was the light of life, John 8:12, 9:5 (compare the lampstand Ex 25:31-39, Lev 24:3, 4, Isa 53:11, Ps 56:13, etc)
- Jesus was the Passover Lamb and thus the promised Messiah, John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 12:1-14).
- Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant in fulfilment of the Levitical covenant, Heb 4:14-16, 7:23-28, because He was “pure, blameless, set apart” exactly as the Levites were. See also Heb 9:15, 12:24.
- Even the blue cord signifying the presence of God was fulfilled in and of Jesus, John 14:10, 11, etc.
- Jesus provided the blood of the new covenant of which the communion ceremony was to be a memorial, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 24:5, 8).
Now back to Daniel and his תָּמִיד (tamid). Many of the English versions add “sacrifice” after “continual” - is this valid? Yes and no! “Yes” if we understand it refers to the sanctuary ceremonies generally; “no” of we understand it refers to the sacrifices exclusively. I believe that Daniel is alluding to all that pointed to Jesus and His perfect ministry as our intercessor (1 Tim 2:5, Heb 8:6, 12:24, etc).