Jesus spoke of a coming “abomination of desolation” in the Olivet Discourse as He referenced a future event mentioned in Daniel 9:27. In Matthew 24:15–16, Jesus says, “So when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place . . . then those in Judea must flee to the mountains” (CSB).
An abomination is “something that causes disgust or hatred”; and desolation is “a state of complete emptiness or destruction.” Jesus warned that something (or someone) that people detested would stand in the temple someday. When that horror occurred, residents of Judea should seek cover without delay. Other translations speak of “the abomination that causes desolation” (NIV), “the sacrilegious object that causes desecration” (NLT), and “that ‘Horrible Thing’” (CEV). The Amplified Bible adds the note that the abomination of desolation is “the appalling sacrilege that astonishes and makes desolate.”
Jesus referenced Daniel in His words in the Olivet Discourse. The prophet Daniel mentioned the abomination of desolation in three places:
“He will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator” (Daniel 9:27, CSB).
“Forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation” (Daniel 11:31, NKJV).
“From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days” (Daniel 12:11, NASB).
The wording in the above translations indicates that the abomination of desolation is an object; in some other translations, the abomination appears to be a person: “On the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate” (Daniel 9:27, ESV).
Regardless of whether the abomination of desolation is a person or a thing, Daniel predicted the following:
1. A future ruler will make a treaty with the people of Israel.
2. The terms of this treaty will be for a “week”—which we take to be a period of seven years.
3. Midway through this time, the ruler will gather his troops and put an end to the sacrifices and offerings in the temple.
4. At that time the ruler will desecrate the temple, setting up some type of sacrilegious object.
5. The desecration of the temple will continue until the judgment of God is finally meted out on the ruler and his followers, 1,290 days (3½ years and 1 month) later.
Daniel’s prophecies about the abomination of desolation seemed to have at least a partial fulfillment in 167 BC when a Greek ruler by the name of Antiochus IV desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. Antiochus called himself “Epiphanies” (“illustrious one” or “god manifest”). He set up an altar to Zeus over the altar of burnt offering, and he sacrificed a pig on the altar. Antiochus went even further in his atrocities, slaughtering a great number of the Jews and selling others into slavery. And he issued decrees forbidding circumcision and requiring Jews to sacrifice to pagan gods and eat pig meat.
What Antiochus did certainly qualifies as an abomination, but it was not a complete fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. Antiochus Epiphanies did not enter a covenant with Israel for seven years, for example. And in Matthew 24 Jesus, speaking some 200 years after Antiochus’s evil actions, spoke of Daniel’s prophecy as having a still future fulfillment.
The question then becomes, when, after Jesus’ day, was the abomination of desolation prophecy fulfilled? Or are we still waiting for a fulfillment? The preterist view is that Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:15 concerned events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In this view, the abomination of desolation probably occurred during the Roman occupation of Jerusalem when the Roman army brought their heathen images and standards into the temple courts.
We take the futurist view, which sees the abomination of desolation prophecy as still future. In our view, Jesus was referring to the Antichrist who, in the end times, will establish a covenant with Israel for seven years and then break it by doing something similar to what Antiochus Epiphanies did in the temple. The sacrilegious object Jesus called “the abomination of desolation” could be the “image of the beast” that the Antichrist’s right-hand man, the false prophet, will order to be set up and worshiped (Revelation 13:14). Of course, for Matthew 24:15 to be yet future, the temple in Jerusalem will have to be rebuilt before the tribulation begins.
Those who are alive during the tribulation should be watchful and recognize that the breaking of the covenant with Israel and the abomination of desolation will herald the beginning of the worst 3½ years in history (see Matthew 24:21). “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).