Thursday, February 7, 2013

Understanding Matthew 24: The Abomination of Desolation

I ended the last article at Matthew 24:15 because of the how difficult Christians have made this topic. Naturally, many interpretations have resulted. There are even a few different interpretations among Preterists. Therefore, I found it best to dedicate this article to this very topic, and to do it in the simplest way I possibly can. In the end, I only hope sharing my thoughts will aid you in your own studies, and perhaps offer something—anything—that you may not have considered.

There is no doubt that the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15) is something Dispensationalists are anxious about. To them, a fourth temple will be constructed just prior to Christ's return (cf. Revelation 11:1-2). When the Antichrist makes a peace treaty with Israel (the beginning of the seven-year tribulation), he will break it at the halfway point (cf. Daniel 9:27). To make most (perhaps all?) of this future to us living today, a gap of nearly two thousand years (and counting) has been placed into the text. They claim that the things pertaining to Christ were fulfilled at his first coming (though I believe most maintain the yet future fulfillment of these things), and the rest, which they claim is about the Antichrist, is reserved for future fulfillment at the end of time.

Personally, I believe the Dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 should bring shame to any who believe it. The entire interpretation is eisegetical, and the more extreme Dispensational view of the text makes everything Christ did on the cross vain.

With that said, I believe there are two interpretations worth observing. Originally, I decided to explain both of these views before moving on, but I now realize such a thing is best suited for a separate article in the future. I will only briefly mention them as to make a point. These two views are what I call the “Calvary Perspective” (or, “A.D. 30 Perspective,” alternatively) and the “A.D. 70 Perspective.” Per the former view, every “goal,” if you will, of Daniel 9:24 was fulfilled at the cross. In the latter view, the 70 weeks are taken figuratively, and were completed at Christ's parousia in A.D. 70. Personally, I subscribe to the Calvary Perspective, though I do consider the other position often. Advocates of the A.D. 70 Perspective understand that the events of the cross occurred during the 70th week, but believe the 70th week to have spanned from Christ's ministry to the parousia. At this point, I do not believe this is an accurate way to interpret the text.

There is, of course, yet another alternative, which maintains that Daniel 9 was fulfilled by the time of Antiochus Epiphanes IV. I do not believe this is accurate, either.

However, the Calvary and A.D. 70 Perspectives don't require invisible gaps to accommodate what the Dispensationalists believe to be an unplanned “Church age,” so regardless of which position one takes, both perspectives maintain a first century fulfillment, which is obviously more compatible with the text.

This is a problem for Dispensationalists, obviously.

According to the Dispensational view, this Antichrist figure becomes the primary target of God's wrath instead of Israel. As I've proven in previous two articles, this is simply incorrect! Israel was to be judged for rejecting their Messiah, and the abomination of desolation, and the tribulation, were proof of that! This was all part of the covenantal cursings that would fall upon Israel when they would not be faithful. To understand the Mosaic law of blessings and cursings, one need only read Deuteronomy 28-32. It's all there.

Yet, Dispensationalists claim the law was nullified at the cross. I am curious how this can be possible if covenantal cursings were still to befall Israel for the rejection of Jesus Christ. Jesus said:

17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17-18)

His words are pretty clear: he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. If a single jot or tittle of the law passed away at the cross, so too did heaven and earth pass. This is a predicament for those who maintain the yet future fulfillment of Revelation 21, let alone the literal passing of a literal heaven and earth! Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the law was only ready to vanish away, meaning it had not yet done so (Hebrews 8:13). In other words, there were still things left unfulfilled. Notice that “heaven and earth” pass away after the destruction of the harlot (Jerusalem), which signified the fulfillment of the terms of the old covenant.

Therefore, if the old covenant has been done away with, as Dispensationalists claim, then the abomination of desolation and tribulation can't still be future to us. Logically, we must deduce that the fulfillment of Matthew 24:15 had to be at a time in which the Mosaic law, the old covenant, was still in effect. This, of course, provides further evidence of the contemporary relevance of the Olivet Discourse to Jesus' first century audience—his own generation (cf. Matthew 24:34).

Now, how does this all tie in to Daniel 9? I'd like to observe verses 26 and 27, and share my thoughts:

26And after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one shall be destroyed, and there is no judgment in him: and he shall destroy the city and the sanctuary with the prince that is coming: they shall be cut off with a flood, and to the end of the war which is rapidly completed he shall appoint the city to desolations. 27And one week shall establish the covenant with many: and in the midst of the week my sacrifice and drink-offering shall be taken away: and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolations; and at the end of time an end shall be put to the desolation. (Daniel 9:26-27)

According to the Dispensationalists, the 70th week of this prophecy is what remains to be fulfilled (the seven-year tribulation). But notice that the “anointed one” (Christ) would be destroyed after the sixty-two weeks. Recall that seven weeks preceded the sixty-two (9:25). This means, if Christ is destroyed after the sixty-two weeks, and the seven weeks preceding this point bring a total of sixty-nine weeks, then the only thing after this is the 70th week! In other words, the text can more easily read: “And after the sixty-ninth week, the anointed one shall be destroyed...,” or, “And in the seventieth week...”

Therefore, Christ's work on the cross occurred during the 70th week. There's no way around this if one maintains any form of honesty when observing the text. However, people seem to think that the destruction of the city (Jerusalem) and the “prince that is coming” (Antichrist, as he is called by most) fall within that week. This is not necessarily the case. In fact, I don't believe the text says this at all!

Notice that verse 27 tells us that “one week” would establish the covenant with many. Dispensationalists believe this is the 70th week, and that it pertains to the Antichrist, not Jesus Christ. But the 70th week was mentioned in verse 26, which means that if this is another week in verse 27, we have a 71 weeks prophecy, not 70. Thus, these two verses are explaining the same week, the 70th week! We must understand that these verses are written in an A-B-A-B pattern. Allow me to explain:

26A) And after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one shall be destroyed, and there is no judgment in him:

26B) and he shall destroy the city and the sanctuary with the prince that is coming: they shall be cut off with a flood, and to the end of the war which is rapidly completed he shall appoint the city to desolations.

Notice A is about Christ, and B is about the desolation. This continues:

27A) And one week shall establish the covenant with many: and in the midst of the week my sacrifice and drink-offering shall be taken away:

27B) and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolations; and at the end of time an end shall be put to the desolation.

Therefore, since these two verses are referring to the same week, I currently understand this to be the most logical way to view the text. Notice that the text doesn't tell us the desolation has to occur in the 70th week, only that the anointed one shall destroy the city, and that during the 70th week its destruction would be appointed (and it was, for Jesus cursed them constantly, and warned of this destruction). Also, since the city would be destroyed with a prince that was still to come (i.e., still future to the time of the 70th week), it stands to reason that we don't need to maintain the desolation of Jerusalem as part of the 70th week.

To tie this all together, we must realize, per what was discussed in my previous articles, that Matthew 24 has an inescapable first century context. Therefore, when Jesus referenced Daniel 9 in the Olivet Discourse, he gave Daniel's prophecy a first century context, as well. The destruction of Jerusalem was covenantal judgment, which means the covenant by which they were being judged would have to have been in effect. It was, until A.D. 70 (cf. Hebrews 8:13).

Continuing from Matthew 24:15, we read Jesus tell his disciples that those living in Judaea at this time should flee to the mountains (24:16). We can note the relevance to Daniel 9 once again when we consider that Daniel 9:24-27 was a prophecy for Daniel's people (Daniel 9:24), and that Jerusalem would be appointed to desolation (9:26-27).

When we read the parallel passage in Luke's account, we can obtain a greater insight into what would occur at the time of the abomination:

20And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. (Luke 21:20)

Note that Jerusalem would be surrounded with armies, which would bring desolation. We clearly have a direct reference to Daniel 9:26-27.

21Then 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. 22For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23But woe to 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. 24And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:21-24)

So, Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies, and tribulation, or distress, would be upon them. It's at this time that the city would be trodden down of the Gentiles. We yet again have another parallel to consider:

1And 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. 2But 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. (Revelation 11:1-2)

Dispensationalists make this out to be a nearly two thousand-year event! The text, however, tells us it would only last forty-two months! At the same time, the “fullness of the Gentiles” Paul wrote of (Romans 11:25) would be completed, because there would be no need to invoke Jewish jealousy anymore, for God would have his spotless bride (cf. Revelation 21), and all Israel, the righteous remnant, would be part of that.

*Note: I will have much more to say on Romans 11:25 in the future. It is abused by Futurists and Full Preterists alike, and I believe neither are understanding it correctly.

So, we can conclude at this point that the appointed time of desolation would be the forty-two months when the Gentiles tread Jerusalem underfoot. According to Luke's account, it is after these forty-two months (the tribulation of Matthew 24:21) that the Son of man would appear (Christ's parousia). Likewise, Matthew's account tells us that this would occur “immediately” after the tribulation (Matthew 24:29; cf. 24:21). Therefore, if this tribulation was a first century event, and Christ's parousia (“coming”) was to be immediately after that, then his parousia was also a first century event! (More on this in the next article.)

To conclude, I'd like to make one last point. Daniel 12 records a time of tribulation such as had never been seen before, nor seen since (12:1). This would last for a time, times, and half a time (three and one half years, or forty-two months; cf. Revelation 11:1-2). At this time, Jerusalem would be destroyed. This is the scattering, or shattering, of the power of the holy people, at which time all these things would be finished (12:7). This has no other fulfillment than A.D. 70!

There are many gaps inserted into the text, and in various places. However, nothing in the text suggests this, and all the parallels we have observed between the previous articles and this one prove, beyond a doubt, that Matthew 24 can only pertain to the first century. Given its immediate relationship to the book of Revelation (John's Olivet Discourse, as I call it), we must also tie Revelation (all of Revelation) to the first century, as well.

In the next article, I will be picking up at Matthew 24:29, explaining the imagery, as well as drawing a few more parallels.


Jason Watt

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