Daniel, Jesus and the Abomination of Desolation

We previously talked about how Jesus’ mention of the abomination of desolation in Matthew and Mark is synonymous with Luke’s characterization of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies and her ensuing desolation. We talked about how all three gospel writers talked of either great tribulation (Matthew), tribulation (Mark), or great distress (Luke), as well as a time of distress (Daniel). We also talked about how all three gospel writers said that all those things would fall upon that generation. And finally, we talked about context vs pretext.

We must take note of the fact that in mentioning the abomination of desolation, Jesus was implying that His hearers would recognize what that actually was. He drove the point home by His use of the ending parenthetical phrase, “let the reader understand” (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14). Why would the reader understand? Why would they recognize the abomination of desolation? How could they possibly know what that could mean? Can we honestly say that we, 2000 years after the fact, do? Do you? So how could they?

Well, it had already happened twice before, the first time when the Babylonians did it in 586BC during Daniel’s prophetic ministry (he was taken into captivity along with the other Israelites), and it was the reason why he was praying for the people and the city in the first place (Daniel 9:1-19). The second time was when Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid general and later king during the Greek Empire did it, in ~167BC. He burned the city to the ground and desecrated the Temple (although he didn’t destroy it) by sacrificing swine (a pig) on the altar. So, this was not something new to God’s people, that was why they would recognize it, and thus Jesus’ exhortation, “let the reader understand.”

Now, it is not difficult to see the similarities and almost like-mindedness in what Daniel and Jesus talked of (we will see more of this in the days and weeks to come). Taking what they both said regarding the abomination of desolation, we find that, aside from the two gospel instances already mentioned (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14), Daniel also makes reference in 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11.

Taking 9:27 first, let us look at the context. Daniel had just finished his prayer for the people, who were still in captivity; the city, which had been burned to the ground and overrun by strangers (the definition of desolation); and the Temple, which had been destroyed. This was all within the seventy-weeks prophecy of Jeremiah 25:8-12; 29:10-14), and Daniel was searching “the books,” reading what Jeremiah said (Daniel 9:2).

The angel Gabriel appeared to him in answer to his prayer and said to him: “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications, the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision” (Daniel 9:23). Who would give that command to the angel, if not God Himself?

That was an incredible message to Daniel by the angel for he said, “I have come forth to give you insight and understanding.” Then, in the end, he said, “so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.” This is pretty specific: insight, understanding, then understanding again. So, looking at this objectively, there is really no reason for much of the irrational speculation of what the seventy-weeks are. And in saying to him, “At the beginning of your supplications (prayer)…,” there can be no doubt that he was not talking about something else, as some are prone to suggest. “The command was issued…I have come to tell you…you are highly esteemed.” There can be no wonder why Jesus elevated him to His status in one of His loftiest orations recorded – the Olivet Discourse.

What followed was the famous (or infamous) “seventy weeks” (9:24-27).  That is the context in which that prophecy was given. It is supernatural because it was given to Daniel by an angel, but it is not for us to give it an unnatural meaning. There is no reason, based on the context, to look past the coming of Messiah, which is the message of the entire Bible, into our future, and literally create a scenario that is rooted in speculation.

The prophecy uttered by Gabriel was the explanation to Daniel’s grief-stricken prayer and his lament for Jerusalem “…for under the whole heaven,” he cried, “there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem” (9:12). This entire narrative is about Jerusalem – what happened to it, and what was going to happen to it. We spent considerable time in the earlier posts talking about Jerusalem, how God led His people there, that it was His city, and we emphasized its importance.

Now, harken back to what Jesus told His followers (24:15), that when they saw the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place (let the reader understand) – to flee. Here, we see Gabriel essentially telling Daniel that what had happened to Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar – was, in fact going to happen again! And he actually gave him a timeline of when it would happen, and, from Daniel’s point of reference, it did happen two more times, as we have already noted.

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