An Abomination in the Temple

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” (v. 14).

- Mark 13:14–20

In 168 BC, the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem and captured the city. He marched into the Jewish temple, erected a statue of the Greek god Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on the altar of incense. This provoked a revolt in Judea as the Jews fought to remove Antiochus’ sacrilege from the temple. Under the leadership of the Maccabees, the Jews drove Antiochus and his army out, and the Jews gained control of their land for about one hundred years until Pompey, an acclaimed Roman general, captured the Holy Land and brought it under Roman rule.

Many ancient Jews viewed the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes as the fulfillment of Daniel 9:27, which says, “On the wing of abomina tions shall come one who makes desolate.” However, the time frame in verses 24–27 begins with the decree of Cyrus that sent the Jews back to their land after the exile (Ezra 1). This makes it impossible that Daniel’s prophecy refers to Antiochus Epiphanes. The year 186 BC was far too early to fit the prophecy—but the year AD 70 was not. In that year, the Roman general Titus invaded Jerusalem to crush a Jewish revolt, entered the temple, had the building destroyed, and carried off the lampstand and other temple artifacts to Rome.

It seems incontrovertible that Titus’ actions were the specific fulfillment of Jesus’ warning in Mark 13:14 about the “abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be.” After all, the parallel verse in Matthew 24:15 says that the abomination would stand in “the holy place,” a clear reference to the temple. Christ told the disciples that when they saw the abomination, they were to flee the city. They were not to return from the field for their possessions if they were out working the crops. If they were on the roof of their home, they were not to enter the home before eeing; rather, they were to scurry down the outdoor staircases (most houses in Judea had flat roofs that people accessed via an outdoor staircase) and flee. The flight would be so perilous that winter travel would be dificult and pregnant women would find it hard to keep up (Mark 13:14–20).

Josephus, the Jewish historian who gives us the clearest first hand account of Jerusalem’s fall, reports that the Jewish Christians in Judea heeded Jesus’ warning. When the city and temple fell, more than one million Jews died. But Jewish Christians, by and large, were not among them, for they had already fled the city when they saw the Romans coming.

Coram Deo

The temple in Jerusalem may no longer be standing, but that does not mean that desecrating holy things is now impossible. Throughout history, heretics have sometimes attained leadership or other positions of influence in Christ’s church, corrupting people with their abominable doctrines. Let us be on guard that these wolves do not slip in undiscovered.

Passages for Further Study

Matthew 24:15–22
Luke 21:20–24

For permissions, please see our Copyright Policy.