“I lift my eyes up to the mountains; from where does my help come?” – Psalm 121:1
“Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go? If I go, there will be trouble. If I stay, there will be double.” – The Clash
Be careful, Little Feet, where you go. Be careful, Little Feet, where you go. For the Father up above is looking down … _______________ ( …in love? …to judge? ), so be careful, Little Feet, where you go.
Your geographical whereabouts can help you or harm you, spare you or sink you. That can be an undeniable, stubborn fact. Yet as it stands, it is not a particularly profound statement. The reason why it is not particularly profound is because it is not always true. Sometimes your geographical whereabouts are simply incidental to whatever happens there. Sometimes serves as the controlling word in the previous sentence. The locale and the events thereof can be unrelated — can be. Yes, a bad thing or a good thing may have happened right here, but it might as well have happened over there. There’s no particular connection to be made between this location and the event that happened here. Should an accident or incident occur here, the location ought to be considered akin to an innocent bystander. “I had nothing to do with it. I just happened to be standing here,” said the unsuspecting house where the dastardly deed was done.
But certain locations are more likely than others to have incidents and accidents. Oftentimes we are well aware of that fact. Still, we choose to go there all the same and nonetheless. Sometimes our chosen whereabouts are not incidental at all. We go where we go (or don’t go) premeditatedly, knowing in advance that we may suffer the serious consequences of going there (or not). The premeditated part is what matters. We were able to weigh our options in advance. We weighed. We chose. We went or we didn’t. And we will reap what we have sown. Did we choose well? Time will tell: Be assured of that.
Heavy stuff to consider, isn’t it? Lest this be too heavy, it ought to be said that most of our daily whereabout decisions are not do-or-die, life-or-death-hanging-in-the-balance in nature. Unless you drive a car — then they are. But I should not negate myself from one sentence to the next.
Anyway, this is not a meditation on driving safety, but on an event known ominously as the Abomination of Desolation. Yes, another light and whimsical topic is our intended focus here. Sarcasm intended: This is neither light nor whimsical. But I should not negate myself from one sentence to the next.
The Abomination of Desolation: What is that? And why would anyone write about it?
The Abomination of Desolation is a dramatic, ominous event that occurred at a particular geographical location in the past. More precisely, it is a dramatic, ominous event that occurred at the very same geographical location at least twice in the past. And it is a dramatic, ominous event that will occur at a similar spiritual location in the future.
Brakes squeal here. We yield here. A lot of knowledgable Bible readers (and friends) will hit pause at this point and begin to argue with me about the final sentence of the last paragraph. They will take issue with the words similar spiritual location and insist I say same geographical location. But I said what I meant and meant what I said. If this confuses any of my readers or listeners, I will eventually explain what I mean in the paragraphs to come. For now, just realize that I believe the future Abomination of Desolation, the ultimate Abomination of Desolation to come, will be similar in its character to the previous two occurrences, but not identical in its location. This is a necessary and important distinction, lest we miss it when it occurs. If you look for it in the wrong place, you will likely miss it.
The term Abomination of Desolation originally comes from the Prophecy of Daniel (see Daniel 9:27 and 12:11). Historically, the first Abomination of Desolation occurred when a frustrated Greek despot known as Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Judea and desecrated the Temple in 167 BC/BCE. Among other sordid doings, evil Antiochus the Fourth desecrated the Temple by setting up an image of Zeus there, and by sacrificing forbidden animals, such as filthy swine, upon the blood-consecrated altar there. To say that this desecration was a shocking sacrilege is a massive understatement. It resulted in a violent reactionary uprising and a regional war. In the intervening period, God’s chosen people were unable to worship God as prescribed by the Torah — not until their sanctuary was liberated, cleansed, and rededicated. The Hanukkah holiday is an annual commemoration of that Jewish uprising and the rededication of their sanctuary, the Jerusalem Temple. For our purposes here, please do note why this occurred. It all began when evil Antiochus interrupted and perverted the prescribed worship of God in the Temple by trampling its precincts and imposing his own preferred form of idolatry.
Significantly, Antiochus IV Epiphanes went even further afield with his sacrilege and idolatry. Antiochus also insisted that he himself was to be regarded as the human embodiment of a god. The name Epiphanes means manifest — as in god manifest. Antiochus had ego issues.
We have here the beginnings and makings of a working definition, then: The Abomination of Desolation might be identified as an idolatrous political imposition that both interrupts and perverts the prescribed worship of God in his Temple. And the one doing the imposition often — perhaps invariably — make blasphemous grand claims about himself, even divine claims (regarding this, see Paul’s discussion of the Man of Lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
Another oh-so-close Abomination of Desolation occasion occurred when Emperor Gaius Caligula attempted to once again re-purpose the Sanctuary in Jerusalem into a pagan temple. Sometime in 40AD/CE Caligula determined that a statue of himself, a statue fashioned in the likeness of the Roman god Jupiter, ought to be placed in the inner sanctum of Jerusalem’s Temple, a gilded inner room known as the Holy of Holies. This rightly worried one Herod Agrippa, who was both a royal dignitary from the region and a childhood friend of Caligula’s. Herod Agrippa did what he could to dissuade Caligula from his statue-installation scheme. Moreover and more effectively, even one of Caligula’s own political appointees resisted the scheme. The appointed Imperial Governor of Syria, Publius Petronius, very courageously delayed the implementation of Caligula’s orders. By means of his deliberate delays, Petronius ultimately succeeded in thwarting Emperor Caligula, whose assassination meant the end of the whole crisis. But the Temple’s second Abomination of Desolation was only temporarily stalled.
The actual second Abomination of Desolation occurred 30 years later when Roman legions under the command of the future Emperor Titus overran Jerusalem, killing or enslaving all its inhabitants, and demolishing its Temple in 70AD/CE. This destruction of Jerusalem came in fulfillment of an anguished prophecy that Jesus spoke against the city, because most of its inhabitants had rejected him as their promised Messiah. Within one generation of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the Temple was reduced to ruins; and biblically-prescribed worship there ceased (and to this day has never resumed). The City of Jerusalem and its Temple were left both desecrated and desolate, just as Jesus had foretold (see Matthew 23:37-39).
Jerusalem’s destruction came under the command of a Roman general named Titus Flavius. Titus thereafter followed his father Vespasian as emperor, and was succeeded by his brother Domitian. All three of these Flavian emperors practiced pagan idolatry. Titus had his troops carry the Temple’s furnishings to Rome as spoils, where they were presented as trophies before the gods of the Roman pantheon. Thus Titus took what was dedicated to God and belonged to God and offered it instead to his own gods. Titus’s brother Domitian would later encourage his subjects to worship his late father, his late brother, and even himself, and even while he was still alive. Sacrilege and blasphemy ran in the Flavian family line, it seems.
All of this is helpful and necessary background information, because someday a foretold third Abomination of Desolation will transpire. Indeed, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 Paul says that the Day of the Lord will not occur until a rebellion or apostasy occurs, and someone known ominously as the Man of Lawlessness is revealed. The Man of Lawlessness will “oppose and exalt himself against every so-called god and object of worship.” Furthermore, the Man of Lawlessness will “take his seat in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”
If the Day of the Lord confuses you, just know that it serves as Paul’s shorthand for the return of Jesus Christ. Paul is saying that Jesus Christ will not return for the Church until some sort of rebellion or apostasy occurs, and the Man of Lawlessness presents himself as an alternative god, the one everyone ought to worship. This, I propose, is the third and final Abomination of Desolation. Paul presents precisely this scenario to the Christians in the Græco-Roman city of Thessalonica as the tell-tale sign that Jesus is about to return. Paul’s whole purpose in writing his second letter to the Thessalonians was to reassure them that they had not missed the Day of the Lord. Rather, they could know that the Day of the Lord was at hand if and when the Man of Lawlessness was revealed by his Desolation of Abomination deed.
On basis of this passage in Second Thessalonians and on basis of passages like Revelation 11:1-3 and 13:5-10, a lot of Bible interpreters expect a future world leader will someday set up an image of himself in a rebuilt Temple in the City of Jerusalem. While it is an understandable interpretation, if it is wrong, it could cause us to look the wrong direction.
This is an extremely important point, simply because Paul told Christians to look out for the event. In Matthew 24:15-16 Jesus likewise instructs his disciples with these words: “So when you see the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by the Prophet Daniel, standing in the Holy Place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
A lot of interpreters will immediately react to my last point by insisting that Jesus was talking about the second Abomination of Desolation, the desolation that occurred back in 70AD, when Titus’s Roman legions razed Jerusalem and demolished the Temple. And that is undoubtedly partially right. But “let the reader understand,” including latter readers. I contend that Jesus also means for us to understand he is talking about the third and final Abomination of Desolation, the same event that Paul describes in Second Thessalonians. If so, we are supposed to catch the parallels and the manifest differences between the previous two Abominations and the future third Abomination.
One manifest difference is that no Old Testament-prescribed Temple currently stands in Jerusalem. Yes, Temple furnishings have been made. And yes, there are some who would eagerly rebuild such a Temple, if only they had the opportunity. Nevertheless, there is no such Temple currently in Jerusalem. However, a New Testament-prescribed Temple does exists. It is not in one particular geographical location. Instead it is made of a particular people. According to the New Testament, the global Christian Church is now the Temple of God.
If the global Christian Church is the Temple of God now, how might the Man of Lawlessness take his seat in it, and proclaim himself to be God in the Church? Perhaps a Man of Lawlessness will somehow have the power to insist that Christians bow to him instead of the Triune God.
And if the Church is the Jerusalem of God, what might it mean for Christians to flee to the mountains when we see the Abomination of Desolation standing in the Holy Place? Perhaps Jesus meant that we should not knowingly associate with a potential Man of Lawlessness or cooperate with his attempts to co-opt the Church and pervert its worship. Instead, we are to distance ourselves from any such personality and eventuality. However we can, we are to withdraw.
Jesus made it very clear that his return will catch most people unaware and unsuspecting. I wonder if that is because many of us will be looking for events — or for a particular event — that might never occur. I suggest it would be entirely too obvious if the grand debut of the Man of Lawlessness occurs in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. If instead, the Man of Lawlessness is revealed by what he does to or in the Church (which is both the spiritual Temple and the new Jerusalem, by the New Testament’s reckoning) then far fewer people will notice it when it occurs. Indeed, we have already witnessed instances where various political leaders have insisted that resident Christians give their primary allegiance (that is, their worship) to a designated Head of State, instead of to God.
Jesus is Lord and God, not Caesar nor any other claimant. So when we see pretenders and usurpers insist on total devotion and ultimate allegiance, it is time to pay attention, and may well be time to be contrarian and withdraw. Be careful Little Feet where you go, for the Father up above is looking down in love (and to judge); so be careful Little Feet where you go. And if at all possible, go attend a Christ-centered church, since that is where you are most likely to find help and encouragement “even more as we see the Day approach” (see Hebrews 10:25).