How can I understand the prophesies of the Olivet Discourse (Part 5)

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Jesus next refers to something that will happen during the tribulation period called the Abomination of Desolation.  We are going to spend today's article on just that.

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—" (Matthew 24:15 NIV)

The ESV, KJV, and CSB translations say the "Abomination of Desolation."  The NIV's translation here helps us appreciate more of what is going on.  The NLT also helps when it translates this as:

“The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) (Matthew 24:15 NLT)

John MacArthur in his New Testament Commentary gives us a helpful overview of what this is referring to.  In this case, I am going to rely on his description.

The prophet Daniel referred to the abomination of desolation three times (9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Virtually every Bible scholar, no matter what his views on eschatology, identifies that abomination as the sacrilege committed by Antiochus IV, the Syrian king who ruled Palestine from 175–165 b.c. as a surrogate of the Greek empire. He took to himself the title Theos Epiphanes, which means “manifest god,” but his enemies nicknamed him Epimanes, which means “madman” or “the insane one.” Ironically, when he died in 163, he was totally insane, outraged to the point of madness because of his military defeats by the Jewish rebel Judas Maccabaeus. The text of Daniel 11:21–35 perfectly describes the rule of Antiochus, who gained his throne “by intrigue” (v. 21), made numerous excursions into Egypt (vv. 24–27), broke his covenant with Israel (v. 28), and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem (v. 31).
The apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees vividly portray the time of Antiochus and the Jews’ zealous resistance to his brutal and sacrilegious tyranny. He slaughtered countless thousands of Jewish men, sold many of their wives and children into slavery, and tried to completely obliterate the Jewish religion. He desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig, the most ceremonially unclean of all animals, on the altar and forcing the priests to eat its flesh. He then set up in the Temple an idol of Zeus, the pagan deity he fancied himself as manifesting. That horrible defilement by Antiochus was a preview of the even greater abomination of desolation to be committed by the Antichrist in the end time. [1]

The Timing of the Abomination of Desolation

Although this article series is not thoroughly covering the Tribulation period, we have to dip into some of its details to understand what Jesus is teaching in the Olivet Discourse.  When Jesus refers to the Abomination of Desolation, this also refers to a specific time in the tribulation as well as a hinge point in the tribulation.  This event will happen half way through the tribulation and it will set off what is called the "Great Tribulation."  This seems to be why Jesus says at the end of Matthew 24:15 , "Let the reader understand."  This is a warning to those who will be alive in the tribulation that they need to flee!  That is why the verses after Matthew 24:15 tell these people to run!

Multiple Fulfillments of Prophesy

There are multiple examples of the Scriptures of what is a near fulfillment (or partial fulfillment) of a prophecy and then an ultimate and complete fulfillment of prophecy.  We see this in the Abomination of Desolation with Antiochus IV and the Anti-Christ in the tribulation.  As Bible Interpreters explain this they can get very technical with the language they use to explain what is happening.  My goal is to be pastoral here and say that God uses the near fulfillments for his purposes for his people just as he does with the ultimate fulfillments.  I am not going to dig deeper into this today.  I just don't want you to get confused by what seems to be a multiple fulfillment of a prophesy.  If you want to look at a couple other examples, you can study how Peter used the prophesy from the Old Testament book of Joel in Acts 2.  You can also study the prophesy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7.  


[1] John F. MacArthur Jr., Matthew, vol. 4, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 34.