The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Abomination of Desolation.

T. B. Baines.

Christian Friend, vol. 7, 1880, p. 177.

We lately glanced at the earlier verses of our Lord's prophecy concerning these events as recorded in Matthew and Luke, noting the variations in their reports, and tracing these variations to the different objects before the mind of the writers. The prophecy itself had, like many others, a twofold application, referring immediately to the approaching destruction of the city and temple; and remotely, but no less directly, to the events preceding the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. Matthew then speaks only of the later event; Luke is specially occupied with the earlier; while, therefore, the resemblance between the two is very close, the differences are also very striking. Thus Matthew speaks of the faithful being hated of the Gentiles, of false prophets arising and deceiving many, of the love of many waxing cold, of the salvation of those who endure to the end, and of " the gospel of the kingdom " being first preached to all the nations. This agrees with what Scripture elsewhere teaches about the last days before Christ's appearing, but is inapplicable to the Christians before the siege of Jerusalem. Luke therefore omits these parts of the prophecy, but says that "the time draweth near," speaks of a persecution arising largely from the Jews, and records a special promise of wisdom in addressing the tribunals, while he fixes the date of the persecution before the wars previously foretold; in all which he differs from Matthew, but exactly coincides with what occurred before Jerusalem was taken by the Romans.

It is in the next part of the discourse, however (Matt. 24:15-28; Luke 21:20-24), that the most marked differences appear. The prophecy, as recorded in Luke, simply foretells what occurred about forty years later. "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." (vv. 20-24.) Nothing can be simpler. The prediction is exact, and the directions given are precisely those followed by the Christians residing in the city when Titus's army approached Jerusalem. No exhortation is given to special haste, and in fact no occasion for special haste existed. Every reader knows that the Christians, forewarned by this prophecy, left the city; that the city was destroyed, and its inhabitants either killed or carried into slavery. Jerusalem then became a prey to the Gentiles, who have ruled over it and kept it in subjection ever since. This closes the earlier portion of Luke's prophecy.

Matthew, however, speaks not a word about Jerusalem being "compassed with armies," but about "the abomination of desolation" standing "in the holy place." "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand.) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!" (vv. 15-19.) Some have thought that the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place referred to the Roman standards brought into the temple. But this only took place at the end of the siege, when all chance of flight had long been cut off. For the true meaning of the phrase we must turn to the prophecies of Daniel, to which reference is here made. Daniel receives a communication concerning the time when "thy people (the Jews) shall be delivered." (Dan. 12:1.) Among the marks of this salvation approaching it is said that "from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days:" (vv. 11, 12.) Did any special blessing come to the Jews or to the Church 1336 days after the fall of Jerusalem? or, if the days be taken as years, was there, after that number of years, say at the date A.D. 1405, any event which is pointed to in this prophecy? If not, then the setting up of the abomination of desolation is clearly not the destruction of Jerusalem.

What, then, does it signify? Daniel, in another prophecy, names a period of seventy weeks, which is to end in the restoration of Jerusalem and the people of Israel. These weeks are universally understood, and obviously meant to be understood, as periods of seven years. After sixty-nine of these, Messiah is cut off without receiving the kingdom. This brings us to the death of Christ, leaving one week yet unfulfilled. The series is then interrupted for an indefinite period, during which "the city and sanctuary" are destroyed by a Gentile power, and war and desolation are appointed "unto the end." This exactly answers to the treading down of Jerusalem "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled," as foretold by Luke. But after this interval we read the history of the remaining week; that is, the last period of seven years, as yet unfulfilled before the restoration of the people and city; "and in the midst of the week," we are told, some person or power "shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate." (Dan. 9:24-27.) Now, that this is the same thing as the setting up of the abomination of desolation is clear, for in the passage already quoted that event is contemporaneous with the making of "the sacrifice and the oblation to cease." The time, if not the nature, of the event is therefore obvious. It is in the middle of the last week, or about three-and-a-half years, before the deliverance of the Jews and the restoration of Jerusalem by the setting up of the Messiah's kingdom.

Details, giving us a fuller insight into the character of this period, are supplied in the book of Revelation, where we read that "the holy city" will be trodden down of the Gentiles "forty and two months" (Rev. 11:2)  - the half of the seven years spoken of by Daniel; that the faithful remnant of God's earthly people are persecuted by a ruler who "continues forty and two months;" that this ruler receives idolatrous worship, and an image or abomination is set up to which all are required to bow down (vv. 14, 15); that the faithful then flee into the wilderness, where they are sheltered by God for the same period of three and a half years. (Rev. 12:6, 14.) This exactly corresponds with that we read in Daniel, and with the events connected with this setting up of the abomination of desolation as foretold in Matthew. There is, however, nothing in these prophecies connecting itself with the siege of Jerusalem as foretold in Luke.

Indeed the only resemblance in this part of the prophecy, as recorded by Matthew and Luke, is that in both cases the faithful are warned to flee. But even here the differences are remarkable. No doubt, even in the less hasty flight spoken of by Luke, before the Roman army reached Jerusalem, women in the condition named in the prophecy would find escape difficult or impossible. The lament over their fate is, therefore, common to both; but here the resemblance ends. In Luke the flight is not to the mountains, nor marked by extreme haste. In fact the Christians retired with no special rapidity to the city of Pella. But when the abomination of desolation is set up, not an instant must be lost, the flight must be with all speed, and even the most trifling delay will be fatal. The place of refuge, too, is not a sheltering city, but "the mountains," for the rage of the idolatrous power will pursue them, and it is only as specially shielded by God that they can escape its fury. Both the rapidity of the flight and the sojourn in the desert are typified in the Revelation, where "to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness." (Rev. 12:14.)

Of all this there is no trace in the prophecy as recorded in Luke. But if we turn to Luke 17:30-31, where the Lord is speaking of "the day when the Son of man is revealed," we find the exhortation — "In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back." Here the language of the two evangelists is almost identical; but in this case Luke is not speaking of the siege of Jerusalem, but of the revelation of the Son of man. This makes it clear, therefore, that Matthew is speaking of the same time.

Matthew's prophecy goes on, "But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath-day; for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." (vv. 20-22.) To this there is nothing answering in Luke's record. Nor could there be. We can understand the scruples of godly Jews, under the law, such as those who will be awaiting the Messiah's return, about making their flight on the Sabbath. But what hindrance would the Jewish Sabbath have been to the flight of the Christians before the siege of Jerusalem? Again, terrible as were the sufferings connected with the siege of Jerusalem, this was not the most awful crisis in the history of the people. Daniel expressly says that "there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered." (Dan. 12:1.) Our Lord was obviously alluding to this time; for not only does He quote Daniel's very words, but it is clear that there cannot be two periods of unparalleled suffering. But the time spoken of by Daniel immediately precedes the deliverance of the people. The Lord, therefore, is here speaking, not of the siege of Jerusalem, but of His own return for the salvation of Israel. How, moreover, could it be said that the sufferings connected with the fall of Jerusalem threatened the destruction of all flesh, or were shortened for the elect's sake? It is manifestly, therefore, of another period and other sufferings that our Lord is here speaking.

The rest of that part of Matthew's prophecy now before us warns against the deceptions of false Christs. "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together." (vv. 23-28.) All this is omitted in Luke. Nothing of the kind occurred before the siege of Jerusalem, and it formed no part, therefore, of the prophecy as reported by him. On the other hand it is, as we learn from other Scriptures, exactly the state of things which will prevail before Christ's appearing in power and glory for the establishment of His world-kingdom.

The remainder of the prophecy, as handed down by the two evangelists, refers to this great event. In Luke, however, this portion of the discourse begins abruptly, without note of time; for, in fact, he passes by a rapid transition from the siege of Jerusalem to the coming of Christ. But in Matthew the continuity of this last event with what has gone before is unmistakably marked, for his report goes on without break" Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (vv. 29, 30.) Thus again it is clear that while Luke, in his report, has been speaking of the siege of Jerusalem, Matthew has had before him a totally different subject; namely, the events immediately preceding the revelation and kingdom of Jesus Christ. T. B. B.