This good news of the kingdom
will be preached throughout the whole world
as a testimony to all the nations,
and then the end [of the age] will come.
Witnessing to All Nations
…But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination of desolation,’ described by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand),…
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all the nations.
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census should be taken of the whole empire.
Then the devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted through the Spirit that a great famine would sweep across the whole world. (This happened under Claudius.)
But when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting, "These men who have turned the world upside down have now come here,
For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead."
1. Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple;
3. what and how great calamities shall be before it;
29. the signs of his coming to judgment.
36. And because that day and hour are unknown,
42. we ought to watch like good servants, expecting our Master's coming.
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world
for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature…
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? …
Thus saith the Lord GOD; An evil, an only evil, behold, is come…
What does Matthew 24:15 mean?
Christ's disciples responded to His prediction that the temple would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1–2) by asking a two-part question. First, they asked when that would happen. Second, they asked what signs they should expect to see prior to His return (Matthew 24:3). In the prior passage, Jesus addressed the second question, explaining the state of the world during the end times
Here, Jesus continues to speak on that subject. He points to a moment that will mark the onset of the worst possible calamities. This instance is the same one referred to by the prophet Daniel as the "abomination of desolation." Daniel speaks of this several times (Daniel 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). It's interesting that Matthew adds a footnote here directly encouraging "the reader" to understand that reference. Mark, as well, includes the same advice when describing Jesus' words (Mark 13:14).
Some Jewish scholars felt this prophecy had already been fulfilled in 167 BC. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king of Seleucid, constructed an altar to the Greek god Zeus in the temple and ordered that unclean animals, such as pigs, be sacrificed there. This was a catastrophic, intense violation of the Jewish people. However, Jesus speaks as though Daniel's prophecy had not been fulfilled,
at least not fully.
One interpretation is that the events of AD 66—70 partially fulfilled Jesus' prophecy here. The temple was "desecrated" by an act of sacrilege in AD 66 when Jewish Zealots killed priests and spilled their blood in the temple. "Desolation" followed in AD 70 when Rome burned the temple and tore it down. They set up their own standards of the Roman emperor Caesar, whom they worshiped as a god, defiling the temple yet again.
Another interpretation is that the rebuilt temple will be violated by the figure known as the antichrist (Revelation 13:1–4). This will mark the transition from a time of tribulation to one of "great tribulation" (Matthew 24:21). This more easily fits with the context of Jesus' remarks, which to this point have focused on the very end of history (Matthew 24:14). It also makes more sense of the idea that this abomination triggers an era so ferociously dangerous that it would destroy the entire world if not cut short (Matthew 24:22).
Jesus' warning for those who see this moment of abomination is to immediately run away from Jerusalem to escape the judgment to follow.
If a group of Christians sat down to list perplexing passages,
it wouldn’t take long for someone to mention
“So when you see standing in the holy place
‘the abomination that causes desolation,’
spoken of through the prophet Daniel--
let the reader understand--
then let those who are in Judea
flee to the mountains.”
The reasons for uncertainty are easy to list. What is an abomination? What abomination does Jesus have in mind? One that belongs to his generation, or one from the last days? What is the connection between the prophecies of Daniel and Jesus? Who is “the reader,” and what should he or she understand? In what sense should readers “flee to the mountains”? Should they obey literally or metaphorically?
As always, the first step is to read the text in literary, cultural, historical, and canonical contexts. Then we analyze the structure of the passage and do the necessary lexical and grammatical work. We begin with the key phrase, “abomination of desolation.”
The term “abomination” (Hebrew toevah and siqqus) appears more than 100 times in the Old Testament and just a few times in the New Testament. An abomination is normally a great sin, commonly worthy of death. Readers immersed in current debates about sexual ethics may first think an abomination is a sexual sin. Indeed, Scripture calls sexual sins like adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality abominations (e.g., Leviticus 18:22, 29-30). But more often throughout the Bible “abomination” refers to major covenant violations, especially idolatry (in Deuteronomy alone, see 7:25, 13:6-16, 17:2-5, 18:9-12, 27:15, 32:16). In the historical books, “abomination” always describes idolatry, often with child sacrifice (1 Kings 11:7, 2 Kings 23:13). Abomination also refers to idolatry in the prophets, including Daniel 9 and 11.
(Daniel uses siqqus, a term that always appears in connection with idolatry.)
The interpretation of Daniel 9-11 is difficult and disputed, but it does have some fixed points, and the nature of the abomination that causes desolation is one of them. Daniel 9:26-27 refers to a prince who will destroy the city (Jerusalem) along with its temple and sacrifices, “and on the wings of abominations shall come one who makes desolate.” Two chapters later there is another reference to an “abomination” in connection to the temple: “forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate” (11:31).
Scholars generally agree that the first reference of these prophecies is the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who ruled Palestine from 175-64 B.C. Antiochus treated Israel with such violence and contempt that they rebelled against him.
When he came to suppress the rebellion, his forces entered the temple, stopped the regular sacrifices, set up an idol of or altar for Zeus, and apparently
there as a sacrifice.
This is an abomination because it is idolatry, and it
brings desolation because it
defiles the holy place at the heart of Israel.
This act was the abomination “of” desolation, the abomination “causing” desolation.
Having surveyed the original meaning of “abomination of desolation” in Daniel, we now to turn Matthew 24:15-16, first looking at the larger structure of Matthew 24. These verses come in the context of the Olivet Discourse, which begins with Jesus telling his disciples that the temple will be destroyed (24:1-2). The disciples then asked Jesus to explain: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (24:3).
The disciples probably thought they were asking one question. The fall of Jerusalem, Jesus’ return, and the end of the age were one complex event in their minds. It may seem to us that they asked three questions:
- When will the temple fall?
- What is the sign of Jesus’ return?
- What is the sign of the close of this age?
But a close reading shows that Jesus heard and answered two questions. Evangelical scholars will disagree about how much of this passage is devoted to each question, but they generally agree that 24:3-35 mostly refers to events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. The segment ends with Jesus promising “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (24:35). A generation normally lasts 40 years in Scripture, and Jerusalem and its temple did fall within 40 years, as Jesus said. So his core prediction was fulfilled by AD 70. (Space forbids that I address double and partial fulfillments of elements of 24:3-35. The interested reader may consult orthodox commentaries.) Then, in 24:36, Jesus starts to speak exclusively about “that day”—that is, the last day.
In 24:4-14, the, Jesus is preparing his disciples for events—most of them extremely difficult—that will take place in their lifetime. These troubles are not signs of the end; the disciples must be ready to “stand firm” through them (24:4-8, 13). Then he says, “When you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation . . . ‘—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
This prophecy makes sense only with reference to the fall of Jerusalem. It cannot possibly apply to Jesus’ return. When he comes it will be pointless for an unbeliever to try to flee. And a believer will not want to flee. For the same reason, the following command not to go back to get a cloak and the woe for nursing mothers who must flee cannot refer to Jesus’ return. But they make perfect sense if Jesus predicts that another abomination of desolation, like Antiochus Epiphanes of Daniel, is coming. Indeed that abomination did come in Roman form in AD 70. The Roman armies were always an abomination because they carried with them idolatrous images of the emperor, whom they worshiped. And those armies brought desolation because their commander leveled the city and entered the holy of holies, defiling it.
The line “let the reader understand” (24:15) means that those who read Matthew—which would have been written before AD 70—must be ready to flee when they see Roman armies besieging Jerusalem.
Indeed, the parallel account in Luke 21 makes this point explicit: “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies . . . flee to the mountains” (Luke 21:10-24). In fact, many Christians did flee, sparing their lives, when they saw Rome’s armies coming. Eusebius, the first great historian of the church, says that when the Romans fell upon Jerusalem, “the church at Jerusalem . . . left the city, and moved to a town called Pella.” So Jesus, ever the Good Shepherd, told the first Christians how to survive those most harrowing years of the church’s infancy.
A wise preacher dealing with this passage may find particular value in focusing on this point. When Jesus gives instruction concerning future events, his purpose is not to satiate our curiosity or answer all or our speculative questions. Instead, his purpose is to protect and guide and instruct his people. Jesus gave relatively little attention to the question “When?” and much toward the question “How shall we live faithfully?” Preaching on such texts today should be shaped by Jesus’ concern for the welfare and endurance of his church.