One of the keys to understanding these prophecies is found in verse 15:“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place (whoever reads let him understand)(Matthew 24:15). Jesus links an understanding of His prophecies with the understanding of the “abomination of desolation” which is spoken of by Daniel. The “abomination of desolation” is actually mentioned in three places in Daniel, each with a different context, corresponding to the three events Jesus was addressing in Matthew 24:

  1. The abomination of desolation is mentioned within the context of the 70 weeks (490 years) of probation that was given to the Jewish nation—“Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city” (Daniel 9:24). This probationary period ended with the “Messiah, the Prince” (Jesus) who was to be “cut off, but not for Himself” (on the Cross He was “cut off” for sinful humanity). “He (the Messiah) shall confirm a covenant with many for one week;[1] But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering” (through His sacrifice Jesus brought the sacrificial system to an end). “And the people of the prince who is to come [the Romans] shall destroy the city and the sanctuary…and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates” (Daniel 9:27).[2] In these verses the abomination of desolation is linked to the destructive judgments which the Jews suffered after their rejection of Christ, particularly the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 (see Appendix 10 and Appendix 4 for more information).

  2. The second reference to the abomination of desolation is within the detailed outline of the history of the great war between the “King of the North” and the “King of the South” in Daniel 11 (see 9: Kings of the North and South and Appendix 3 for details). Briefly, the Kings of the North and South are two opposing forces, both enemies of the people of God. They appeared after the division of the Greek Empire established by Alexander the Great (Daniel 11:3,4), with the northern Seleucid kingdom (in present Syria and Turkey) and the southern Ptolemy kingdom in Egypt. As the prophecy progresses, the King of the North evolves into the Roman Empire and later the Holy Roman Empire under the control of the papacy, opposed by the southern Muslim empires during the times of the crusades. God’s true followers, first in Palestine and later primarily in Europe, were caught between these opposing forces. As the stream of history reaches the Middle Ages the angel explains, ”And forces shall be mustered by him [the King of the North], 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). The abomination of desolation mentioned here is the persecution of true Christians who would not accept the papal system, culminating in the Inquisition (see Appendix 10).

  3. The third reference is in Daniel 12. In response to the final attacks of the king of the North (Daniel 11:40-45), Michael (Christ)[3] “stands up” (finishes his work of mediation) which ushers in “a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation” (Daniel 12:1). At that time God’s “people shall be delivered” and “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” (the Second Coming and resurrection ) v. 2. Daniel “heard,” but “did not understand” and asked the angel, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things?” (v. 8). The angel informed him that “from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days.” (v. 11,12). The context here is the end of time when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” (v. 2), in other words the time just before the Second Coming of Christ.[4]

Thus “the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet” (Matthew 24:15) actually has three contexts of time, but in all three cases it was a demand to submit or die (to the Romans in 70 AD, to the medieval papacy, or to persecuting “Babylon” during the time of trouble). The three applications conform perfectly to the three questions the disciples asked: when will the temple be destroyed, what signs will mark the approach of the end of the age, and what signs will accompany the Second Coming of Christ. As we will see below, Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question was amazingly blended so that he answered the three questions together.

Continue to next section: WARNINGS

[1] This “week” (seven years in prophetic time) included the 3 ½ years of Christ’s ministry plus the 3 ½ years up to the stoning of Stephen, during which the gospel was offered exclusively to the Jews. At the end of their probationary period “a great persecution arose against the church…and those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4). The Jews had sealed their rejection of the Messiah and lost their chance to be God’s chosen people. For further explanation of the 70 week prophecy see appendix 4.

[2] New Revised Standard Version. See also the Septuagint translation, “and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolation.”

[4] Some scholars have assumed that the “days” here are prophetic days, or years. However, the context of Daniel 12 is after Michael stands up, and Daniel’s question in verse 8 has to do with the last part of the vision (again, after Michael stands up). Moreover, the fact that individuals could “wait and come to” the end of these time periods rules out hundreds of years. See Appendix 10 for a more complete explanation.