Sunday, August 25, 2019

Why I believe there’s going to be a future “abomination of desolation” in a rebuilt Jewish temple (Part Two)

The future temple and “abomination of desolation” prophesied by Christ

As argued in part one of this study, the commonly-held Christian belief that a re-instituted sacrificial system and rebuilt Jewish temple would lack divine approval (or even be an “abomination” to God) is based on a misunderstanding concerning the purpose of sacrifices performed in accord with the law given by God to Israel. Even after Christ’s death for our sins, there has never been anything inherently wrong with, or “abominable” about, Israel’s sacrificial system, or the temple associated with it (in fact, as we’ll see shortly, that which Christ considered an “abomination” will not involve the commencement of sacrifices in the temple, but rather the cessation of them). Although Israel’s temple and sacrificial system has no direct relevance to we who are in the body of Christ, it is also not something that we can simply dismiss as having no importance or significance whatsoever. It was an important part of God’s relationship with his covenant people in the past, and I believe that it will play an important role in his relationship with Israel in the future as well.

In Matthew 24:15-16, we read that Christ declared the following to his disciples while they were gathered together on the Mount of Olives: “Whenever, then, you may be perceiving the abomination of desolation, which is declared through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who is reading apprehend!); then let those in Judea flee into the mountains.”

The “holy place” in which we're told the “abomination of desolation” will be “standing” refers to the first division of the Jewish tabernacle and temple (the second division being the “most holy place”). In support of this understanding, consider 1 Kings 8:6-8 and Hebrews 9:1-3 (cf. Acts 6:12-13; 21:28):

1 Kings 8:6-8
Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day.

Hebrews 9:1-3
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place.

As noted in the last passage, it was in the holy place that the golden lampstand and the table for the bread of presence (as well as the altar of incense) were present. But what, exactly, is the “abomination of desolation” that Christ said would be “standing” in the holy place at some future time?

Notice that Christ said this “abomination” will be something that was ”declared through Daniel the prophet.” There are several verses from Daniel in which the phrase “abomination of desolation” – or some similar, related expression – is found. For example, in Daniel 11:31 we read, ”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.”

Most scholars understand this prophecy to have been fulfilled in 168 BC when the Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, put an end to the daily sacrifice in the temple and set up an altar to a Greek god (probably Zeus) in the most holy place, thereby polluting the sanctuary (see 1 Maccabees 1:48, 54). This is the view to which I hold as well. However, according to Christ’s prophecy in Matt. 24:15, there is another “abomination of desolation” that is “declared through Daniel the prophet,” and which will be “standing in the holy place” at a yet-future time. And it is this prophesied event that I believe is in view in the remaining verses from Daniel that refer to the “abomination of desolation”:

Daniel 8:13
Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot? 

Daniel 9:27
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 12:11
And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.

Notice that, in all four of the above verses, the abomination of desolation (or “transgression that makes desolate,” in the case of Dan. 8:13) is inseparably connected with the cessation of sacrifice and offering. In fact, the clear implication of each of these verses is that the setting up of the abomination of desolation is something that either coincides with (or shortly follows) the cessation of sacrifice/offering, and that both of these related events will be occurring on the same day (this is especially evident from Daniel 12:11, where it's revealed that the taking away of the regular burnt offering and the setting up of the abomination of desolation will occur 1,290 days before another related event takes place). 

This point should be kept in mind by the reader when coming to the words of Christ in Matt. 24:15, and should inform our interpretation of this important prophecy. For in light of this background information, we can conclude the following: in order for something to qualify as the prophesied “abomination of desolation” that Christ had in view in Matt. 24:15, it must be part of an event that involves (1) the cessation of sacrifice and offering and (2) the setting up of an abominable thing “in the holy place” (i.e., the first division of the temple) on the same day. Moreover, in light of the historical event involving Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC, it's reasonable to conclude that the future “abomination of desolation” will also be associated with idolatry, or the worship of some false god (which, when occurring in the temple, would be considered a terrible abomination by any devout Jew). But is there any other passage of scripture that refers to the abomination of desolation that Christ had in view in Matt. 24:15? I think so. 

In Revelation 13:14-15, we read the following concerning a certain individual who is elsewhere referred to by John as the “false prophet” (and who will be acting on behalf of another individual – i.e., the “wild beast” – and the political/religious system that this figure represents and heads up):

And it [the false prophet] is deceiving those dwelling on the earth because of the signs which were given it to do in the sight of the wild beast, saying to those dwelling on the earth to make an image to the wild beast which has the blow of the sword and lives. And it was given to it to give spirit to the image of the wild beast, that the image of the wild beast should be speaking also, and should be causing that whosoever should not be worshiping the image of the wild beast may be killed.

Now, I realize that there are many who will scoff at the idea that any detail found in the above passage should be taken literally, or that what’s being described will be fulfilled at some future time through actual, historical events that will involve the creation and worship of an “image” of some world ruler (or an image connected with the political/religious system headed up by this person). However, if there is anything referred to in the New Testament that could be understood as referring to the “abomination of desolation” that Christ said would be “standing in the holy place,” then the “image of the wild beast” is surely it.

Now, notice that, at some point after the “image of the wild beast” has been made, those who refuse to worship it will begin to be put to death. This fact is alluded to in Revelation 20:4 as well, where we read of the souls of those executed because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who do not worship the wild beast or its image…” The fact that the making of the “image of the wild beast” will lead to the execution of those who refuse to worship it ties right in with the immediate context in which we find the abomination of desolation being referred to by Christ. In Matt. 24:16-22, we read that the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the holy place will be a sign indicating that a time of “great affliction” is about to begin:

Whenever, then, you may be perceiving the abomination of desolation, which is declared through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who is reading apprehend!); then let those in Judea flee into the mountains...for then shall be great affliction, such as has not occurred from the beginning of the world till now; neither under any circumstances may be occurring. And, except those days were discounted, no flesh at all would be saved. Yet, because of the chosen, those days shall be discounted.

According to Christ’s exhortation in this passage, as soon as those dwelling in Jerusalem and the surrounding area become aware of the “abomination of desolation…standing in the holy place,” they must flee the region. No matter what they happen to be doing at the time, their safety will depend on evacuating the area as quickly as possible and “fleeing into the mountains.” For the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the holy place will mean that a time of “great affliction” is about to begin. So terrible will this time of affliction be that “no flesh at all would be saved” if it were to continue beyond the limit set by God. Moreover, when we let Rev. 13:14-15 inform our understanding of Matt. 24:15-22 (and thus interpret scripture with scripture), it’s reasonable to conclude the following: those who are being admonished to flee into the mountains will consist of believing Jews who, in defiance of the command that will go forth after the abomination of desolation has been set up, will refuse to worship “the image of the beast.”

Another passage from Revelation that I believe sheds light on the event of which Christ was prophesying in Matthew 24:15-22 is Revelation 12:6, 13-16. In these verses we read the following:

And the woman fled into the wilderness, there where she has a place made ready by God, that there they may be nourishing her a thousand two hundred sixty days…And when the dragon perceived that it was cast into the earth, it persecutes the woman who brought forth the male. And given to the woman were the two wings of a large vulture, that she may be flying into the wilderness into her place, there where she is nourished a season, and seasons, and half a season, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent casts water as a river out of its mouth after the woman, that she should be carried away by its current. And the earth helps the woman, and the earth opens its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon casts out of its mouth.

In part two of my 2017 study on Revelation 12 (”Identifying the sun-clothed woman”), I argued that the “sun-clothed woman” being referred to in this passage represents the believing Jewish remnant that will be dwelling in the land of Israel at the time when the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week is reached, and will include the 144,000 referred to in Rev. 7:2-8 (in contrast with this company of believing Israelites, I believe that those referred to in Rev. 12:17 as “the rest of her seed” will be comprised of believing Israelites who will be dwelling outside the land of Israel at this time, and who are described by John as “a vast throng which no one was able to number” in Rev. 7:9). As soon as those comprising this believing Jewish remnant perceive the abomination of desolation “standing in the holy place,” they will heed Christ’s exhortation to flee into the mountains. And in this way, the future event which John saw being symbolically represented by the sun-clothed woman fleeing into the wilderness will be fulfilled.

Here, then, is the chronological sequence of events being prophesied by Christ in Matthew 24:15-22:

1. The “abomination of desolation, declared through Daniel the prophet” will be “standing in the holy place.”
2. Those who heed Christ’s exhortation to quickly escape the city and surrounding region when this event takes place will “flee into the mountains” (where they will be protected for 1,260 days, or 3 ½ years).
3. During this time there shall be “great affliction, such as has not occurred from the beginning of the world till now.”

So what are the implications of this? Well, in light of the above considerations, we can conclude that the events of which Christ prophesied in these verses (and which are symbolically depicted in Revelation 12) have not yet occurred. For since the time that Christ uttered the words recorded in Matthew 24, there has never been an event involving the termination of sacrifice/offering and the setting up of an abominable thing in the holy place that has preceded a time of “great affliction.” There is simply no historical record of this having ever taken place, and no scripture-based reason to believe that it has taken place.

In fact, not only is there no evidence for this event having already occurred, but – in light of what was argued in part two of this study – we can know for a fact that this event is yet to be fulfilled. How so? Well, we know that those Jewish believers who will be “perceiving the abomination of desolation…standing in the holy place” will also go through the time of “great affliction” referred to in v. 21. We also know that this time of great affliction has not yet occurred (since Christ’s “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory” will take place “immediately after” this time of great affliction, and will involve the “deliverance” of the believers who will be living through it; see Luke 21:27-28). From this it logically follows that the prophecy concerning the abomination of desolation in Matt. 24:15 is just as unfulfilled as the coming of Christ itself. Thus, both the “abomination of desolation” and the “holy place” in which it will be standing belong to a yet-future time.

It’s commonly believed by preterists that the surrounding of Jerusalem by “encampments” (or “armies”) that we find referred to in Luke 21:20 should be equated with the “abomination of desolation” referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 (this view also presupposes that the “encampments” or “armies” Christ had in view belonged to the Romans, and that this event occurred sometime before the siege of Jerusalem). For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the interpretation of Luke 21:20 which sees this event as having been fulfilled in the first century (i.e., sometime before the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) is correct, and that the “encampments” or “armies” Christ had in view in Luke 21:20 belonged to the Romans. Given this assumption, is it at least possible that these “encampments” or “armies” could’ve been the fulfillment of the “abomination of desolation” referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14? No.

As argued earlier, in order for something to qualify as the prophesied “abomination of desolation” that Christ had in view in Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14, it must be part of an event that involves (1) the cessation of sacrifice and offering and (2) the setting up of an abominable thing “in the holy place” (i.e., the first division of the temple) on the same day. However, there is no evidence from history that this occurred in the first century. Even if we were to grant, for the sake of argument, that “the holy place” referred to by Christ in Matt. 24:15 could refer to something other than the first division of the Jewish temple, what we read in Mark's account is inconsistent with the abomination of desolation being a reference to the “encampments” or “armies” referred to by Christ in Luke 21:20. For in Mark 13:14, Christ clearly spoke of the abomination of desolation as a singular thing or object that would be standing in the holy place (hence the words, “...the abomination of desolation, declared by Daniel the prophet, standing where it must not...”). The term translated “encampments” (or “armies”) is, of course, plural. Thus, the “encampments” or “armies” Christ had in view cannot be the singular thing that will be “standing where it must not.”

But if (as I believe to be the case) Luke 21:20-24 is a prophecy that refers to the same future time as Matt. 24:15-22, why would Christ refer to the “abomination of desolation” in Matt. 24:15 (and Mark 13:14), and refer to “encampments” (or “armies”) surrounding Jerusalem in Luke 21:20? Answer: I believe Christ was simply providing his followers with another sign to look for that is distinct from, but related to, the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the holy place. Apparently, around the time that the abomination of desolation will come to be standing in the holy place, there will be military forces surrounding Jerusalem (perhaps in anticipation of what's about to occur in the temple, and the negative response it will inevitably provoke from the Jewish people). 

Seated in the Temple of God

In my refutation of preterism in part two, I quoted Revelation 11:1-2 to demonstrate how long the “eras” (or “seasons”) will be during which the nations will be treading Jerusalem after the abomination of desolation comes to be “standing in the holy place.” In addition to revealing this bit of information, these verses also provide us with further confirmation that the Jewish temple is going to be rebuilt before this eon concludes. Here, again, is the passage:

“And a reed like a rod was given me, and one said, “Rouse, measure the temple of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. And the court outside of the temple cast outside, and you should not be measuring it, for it was given to the nations, and the holy city will they be treading forty-two months.

One would, I think, have to perform some pretty impressive interpretive gymnastics of an allegorical nature to view the “temple of God,” the “court outside the temple,” the “altar” and the “holy city” spoken of in these verses as referring to anything other than literal structures and places (which is what a straight-forward, natural reading of the text communicates to the reader). Given the fact that the “temple of God” referred to here should be understood as a reference to a literal building located in the city of Jerusalem (in conjunction with the fact that the period of “forty-two months” during which we’re told the nations will be treading the holy city is still future), these verses provide further evidence for a rebuilt Jewish temple.

With the words of Revelation 11:1-2 kept in mind, the last passage that I want to consider in support of the view that a third Jewish temple is going to be constructed before Christ’s return is 2 Thess. 2:3-4. In these verses we find the following prophecy from Paul:

“No one should be deluding you by any method, for, should not the apostasy be coming first and the man of lawlessness be unveiled, the son of destruction, who is opposing and lifting himself up over everyone termed a god or an object of veneration, so that he is seated in the temple of God, demonstrating that he himself is God?”

As with what we read in Revelation 11:1-2, I submit that the most plain and straightforward meaning of the words “temple of God” in v. 4 is that of a building that’s intended for the worship of the one true God by his covenant people, Israel. Moreover, when we compare Paul’s words here with certain prophetic passages found in Daniel concerning a future wicked world ruler who will exalt himself, blaspheme God and oppress God’s people (e.g., Daniel 7:23-25, 8:9-12 and 11:36-39), Paul’s words harmonize with, and fit right into, this broader prophetic context. Consider, especially, Daniel 11:36-39:

“And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all.”

That Paul had this prophecy from Daniel in view when he wrote what he did concerning the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess. 2:4 seems clear. When we read Paul’s prophecy in light of Daniel’s prophecy, the most reasonable conclusion at which to arrive is that the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thess. 2:3-4 and the “willful king” of Daniel 11:36-39 are one and the same. What’s more, in Daniel’s prophecies concerning this future lawless ruler, the focus is clearly on events that will be transpiring shortly before the kingdom of God is established on the earth (which is to occur at the time of Christ’s eon-terminating return). Both Daniel and Paul also refer to the demise of the lawless ruler (Dan. 7:11, 26; 11:45; 2 Thess. 2:8). There is even compelling evidence from Daniel (especially when read in conjunction with Christ’s words in Matthew 24:15-16) that the wicked world ruler who will be persecuting the saints just prior to Christ’s return will put an end to the daily sacrifice and desecrate the temple in some way reminiscent of what Antiochus IV Epiphanes did shortly before the Maccabean revolt (Dan. 8:9-13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; cf. Matt. 24:15-16) – something which would, of course, be consistent with what we know about the character of the man of lawlessness (as well as where we’re told he’ll be sitting in 2 Thess. 2:4).

These considerations notwithstanding, one fellow believer with whom I’ve discussed this particular passage on a public forum (and to whom I’ll be referring by his initials, R.L.) expressed his disagreement with this interpretation of this passage, and suggested that our understanding of the “temple of God” referred to here should be informed by what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 and 6:19 (where Paul figuratively referred to those in the body of Christ as the “temple of God”). Here is what R.L. wrote:

From my understanding of what God calls a temple of God, my thoughts are this lawless one is indeed standing in the temple (his own body) of God. The lawless one(s) may not know they are a temple of God (some think they are God), but, according to what a temple of God is (humans) described by Paul, they are standing in a temple of God. And the lawless one(s) will continue to stand in a temple of God, calling him/herself God, until God brings him/her into a realization that he/she is in fact the temple of God.”

In contrast with what is said by R.L. in the quotation above, Paul didn’t say that the man of lawlessness will be “standing in the temple of God” (although, assuming he’ll have use of his legs at the time, he’ll probably be “standing” in the temple before he eventually takes his seat in it!). It also seems clear that, in contrast with R.L.’s use of the plural “lawless one(s)” (and the plural pronoun “they”), Paul had a single individual in view in this prophecy. This is evident from the fact that he referred to him as the “man of lawlessness,” the “son of destruction” and the “lawless one,” and used singular personal pronouns (“he” and “himself”).

A bigger problem with R.L.’s view is that, unlike in 2 Thess. 2:4, it’s clear from the context that Paul was using figurative language when he referred to those in the body of Christ as “the temple of God” in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 (cf. Eph. 2:20-22, where similar figurative language is used). Paul wasn’t, of course, redefining the expression “the temple of God” here (no more so than he was redefining the word “body” when he figuratively referred to the believers to whom he wrote as “the body of Christ”). Rather, Paul was simply using metaphorical language to express the idea that believers are like the temple of God (in that we, like the temple of God, are holy, and are indwelled by God’s spirit). Similarly, in 1 Cor. 6:19, Paul makes it clear that he’s referring to each believer’s literal body (i.e., the “organic substance” that constitutes us as human beings) as a “temple of the holy spirit.” As with Ephesians 2:20-22, there is no question that Paul was using metaphorical language in these verses to refer to something other than the literal building in Jerusalem that was, at that time, being used by the Jews to worship God.

Moreover, although R.L. seems to believe that humans, in general, can figuratively be considered a “temple of God,” this view cannot be derived from what Paul wrote in these passages. What makes the figurative “temple of God” imagery of 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 appropriate and true is that Paul had believers/saints in view, and not humans in general. Not all human beings are “holy” or have God’s holy spirit in them in the sense of which Paul wrote in these passages; rather, the “holy spirit” that Paul had in view in these verses is something that is, at present, “making its home” in believers only (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Gal. 3:2, 14; etc.). And assuming that Paul did have in view a person’s spirit-indwelled body when he referred to the “temple of God” in 2 Thess. 2:4, then what does it even mean to say that the man of lawlessness will be “seated in” his own holy spirit-indwelled body? I’m sitting down right now as I type this, but I would never think of (or refer to) myself as “sitting in my own body.” Not only would that be a highly unusual and bizarre way of speaking, it really doesn’t make any sense. Or even assuming that the “temple of God” in 2 Thess. 2:4 is a figurative (and enigmatic) reference to believers, collectively, what does it even mean to say that a certain lawless man will, at some future time, be “seated in” believers, collectively, and demonstrating that he himself is God? Again, such an interpretation not only requires that one disregard the larger prophetic context in which Paul wrote what he did in these verses, but it doesn’t even make sense.

I would be more sympathetic to R.L.’s interpretation of Paul’s words in 2 Thess. 2:3-4 here if it actually served to clarify, and make better sense of, what Paul wrote here. However, this it does not do. Rather than bringing clarity to the meaning of what Paul wrote, R.L.’s interpretation only results in head-scratching confusion. The ordinary, straightforward meaning of what Paul wrote makes perfectly good sense (and to quote David Cooper, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense”). In contrast with what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 or 6:19, no such qualification or explanation is to be found in 2 Thess. 2:4 concerning the nature of the “temple of God” that Paul had in view. There are no contextual indicators provided by Paul in 2 Thessalonians (either in the immediate or broader context of this letter) that would lead one to believe that Paul was referring to either believers collectively or to their bodies when he referred to the “temple of God” in which the “man of lawlessness” will be “seated.” And without such contextual indicators, I submit that it’s far more reasonable to understand Paul to have had in view the same sort of temple of which we read in (for example) Matthew 21:12, 23:21, Acts 2:46, 3:1, 5:42 and Revelation 11:1-2. Moreover, as already noted, the immediate context in which 2 Thessalonians 2:4 occurs clearly has far more in common with the prophetic, “eschatological” context in which the “temple of God” is referred to in Revelation 11:1-2 than it does with what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 or 6:19.

In conjunction with the above considerations, the last point I want to make is this: if the position for which I argued in part one of my study on the timing of the snatching away in relation to the 70th week of Daniel is sound, then the spirit-indwelled believers who constitute the body of Christ will not even be present on the earth when the “man of lawlessness” is unveiled. As I argued in this study, the “era” that will commence with the lawless one’s unveiling is the “day of the Lord,” and the saints in the body of Christ are going to be snatched away to meet the Lord in the air before this era of divine indignation arrives. Thus, those that Paul figuratively referred to as the “temple of God” in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 will not even be present on the earth when the man of lawlessness is unveiled, and later takes his seat “in the temple of God, demonstrating that he himself is God.”

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