The Olivet Discourse – The Abomination of Desolation Part 1

14Jun11

With this post we begin a lengthy study on the Abomination of Desolation. During this discussion we will make a detour from the study of the Olivet Discourse and transfer our attention to the use of the term in the book of Daniel as quoted by Jesus, primarily focusing on the famous 70 Weeks Prophecy of Daniel 9.

Before doing so, though, we will look at how the term is used in Matthew’s Gospel as well as the parallel passages found in Mark and Luke for a clearer understanding of the text. This will also shed some light on some “interpretive biases” that often creep into some translations.

Matt 24:15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

There are so many question raised on this single passage alone that one post will not suffice to address all of the potential issues. But getting a full picture of the context and a look at the parallel passages may prove fruitful.

Matt 24:15″So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.

The first thing to remember, and I know I am beginning to sound like a broker record (records were these plastic/vinyl discs used to play musical recordings way back before the ’90’s that used to get easily scratched and would skip or repeat the same line over and over), but we cannot forget that the timeline exclusivity of “all these things” is found in “this generation.”

Secondly as shown in the bolded reference points above Jesus reiterates that His immediate audience is “you” as in the Disciples. If Jesus had meant this warning to be fore a much later designated generation He could have just as easily said, “When THEY see the…” but He did not and continues the warning precautions previously discussed by continuing to use the term “you.”

Next, and again this very important and nearly always overlooked, note that Jesus is addressing this warning to those who are “in Judea.” Those who are in Judea will be able to identify what this abomination is and will have time to react and leave, though limited at best. These events to unfold are not world wide calamities, but rather isolated tribulations in the Judean area. And even note that one who is “in the field” will be able to recognize this warning sign and will be able to react. So, whatever the abomination is it will be visible to all, whether in the city (on housetops) or in the field.

The issue of the housetops is interesting as well. In Jesus’ time houses were built right up against one another and you could walk from rooftop to rooftop. One could even walk from roof to roof and exit the city as the housing would butt up right against the city wall. Some accounts of attacks against the city list soldiers breaching a wall and hopping from house to house on the roofs. The same cannot be generally said for today.

Why would the warning concerning being pregnant or nursing be concern in a 21st century world. Take a train, ride a bus, fly a plane, hijack a car…even peddle a bike. Travel would not be cumbersome during the today’s mobile society. But what if this is the first century and walking was the only option and Jesus warned you to make it out into a mountainous wilderness? That would be a distinctly different story.

And speaking of fleeing to the mountains, what good would that do today with modern warfare capabilities? Satellites, tanks, Humvees, etc would have no trouble following an escaping throng who are on foot.

Finally, one seemingly insignificant detail is mentioned. And that is the Jewish Sabbath restrictions. The strict Sabbath restriction of limited travel on the sabbath are not enforced, especially in Israels current pluralist society.

All these warnings ring hollow in a modern setting and, combined with what we already know about the time restriction of “this generation,” make considerable more sense in the first century. And as we examine the historical evidence we will find that this matches perfectly the Christian community escape from the city of Jerusalem during the siege of pre-70AD.

To finish this first post let’s look quickly at the parallel passages found in Luke and Mark. The Mark passage (based on the recollections of Peter it is believed) is also a more “Jewish” Gospel and the terminology is very similar. You may have noticed that I primarily use the ESV translation, but I want to list several translations to show how “interpretive bias” can rear it’s ugly head at times when interpreters bring their preconceived notions into the arena of translation.

NIV

Mark 13:14″When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong-let the reader understand-then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

NAS

14″But when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.

NKJV

14 “So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

NEW LIVING

14 “The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills.

ESV

14″But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains

Note hoe the NIV, NAS and NKJV are almost identical in stating the “abomination” is standing (located) where it should not be while the New Living Translation and the ESV (my favorite despite this poor decision) state that this abomination is a “he” when there is no warrant for this adjustment. Even more strange is the New Living’s use of calling an “object” a “he” in the same sentence. Odd at best and intensely biased and unjustified at worst. These are “interpretations” and not “translations.” Young “literal” translation which can be confusing and choppy because of it’s tendency to be almost too literal states…

Mark 13:14 `And when ye may see the abomination of the desolation, that was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (whoever is reading let him understand), then those in Judea, let them flee to the mountains

The most literal translation is similar to the formerly discussed ones. The abomination is an “it” and it is “standing” or “located” in a place where it should not be. We will discuss the term “holy place” later as this also causes much confusion and has many options attached to it.

But for simplicity I will finish this post with a look at how Luke uses the same passage. remember as we discussed before that while Matthew and Mark for the most part are writing for a Jewish audience, Luke is writing for a Greek or Gentile audience. This leads Luke to, on more than one occasion, translate the passage out of Old Testament terminology and interpret it into a more Greek or Gentile format.

Luke 21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.

All of the major translations say basically the same thing. Luke makes no pretense that the armies surrounding the city signals the soon coming desolation. The question of whether the army surrounding the city is the “abomination” or not will be discussed in the next post. Luke may simply have avoided the subject all together or he may have interpreted the words of Christ to mean that the armies surrounding the city was an abomination. Either way, what this does show is that the events described, whether they be the city surrounded by armies or the “abomination” (whatever that may have meant) were fulfilled in the first century with the destruction of the city and the Temple.

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One Response to “The Olivet Discourse – The Abomination of Desolation Part 1”

  1. 1 Yehoshuamyking

    This is excellent teaching…From the scriptures

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


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