It might surprise those who know my futurist stance on Bible prophecy to find out that I studied classical history at university (where incidentally I met Quiavideruntoculi via a mutual friend). Some might say, ‘Knowing what you do about Greek and Roman history, how can you not be a preterist?’ My answer is that my study of the history combined with my careful reading of Scripture leads me to conclude that certain events, while pointing to the coming of the Antichrist, do not quite meet the description of his reign and character as described in God’s Word.

That being said, I do believe there is something to be learned from the different schools of eschatology. Clearly there are points where they cannot all be reconciled – one has to take a position – but it is true that they each bring something to the table. The futurist runs the risk of defining Revelation by a small period of future history, forgetting that it has spoken to all generations of Christians before his time; the preterist runs the risk of being unprepared for the period of trouble and judgement immediately prior to Christ’s Return. A related issue is how these differing approaches affect our hopes and behaviour. I won’t deal with this directly here, but, if it is popularly requested, I may tackle it in a future post.

There are a number of sources and commentaries which serve as a good starting point for this subject. Among the most important are:

  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees
  • The Jewish War, by Flavius Josephus
  • Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus
  • St Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel

Catholic and Orthodox readers will probably be familiar with 1 and 2 Maccabees already, since these are classed as Deuterocanonical (secondary canon) in their Scriptural tradition. I would nonetheless recommend these books to Protestant readers since they are our earliest sources pertaining to the first ‘Abomination of Desolation’ (Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11; Matthew 24:15-16; Mark 13:14).

There are two points I would like to make on these books. The first is that each offers a slightly different account of events, and Josephus’ version differs also. The following is a paragraph from an essay I wrote on Antiochus Epiphanes:

“Chronology is a further problem in these sources. For example, can one reconcile the events found in 1 Macc. 1.29-64 and 2 Macc. 5.22-6.7?  The easiest solution is that Apollonius the ‘Mysarch’ in 2 Macc. 5.24 is either the same person as or the military support for the ‘chief collector of tribute’ (‘ἄρχοντα φορολογίας‘), who is unnamed, in 1 Macc. 1.29. Both are described as coming with a great force, using deceit to suddenly capture the city, and slaughtering many of the citizens. Dagut has argued that 2 Macc. ‘displays a striking disregard for chronological precision’, noting its failure to provide a date for the re-dedication of the Temple, and the oddity of the date for the Roman letter at 2 Macc. 11.38 – they surely wouldn’t have dated their official documents by the Seleucid Era. He has also pointed out that because of an initial error regarding documents included in chapter 11, the author has had to transfer events that preceded Antiochus’ death to the time after it. Thus, in Dagut’s view, 2 Macc. ‘does not merit serious consideration as a source of chronology’. That being said, his arguments are mostly concerning the date given for events and re-arrangement of events around the time of Antiochus’ death. One may still argue that the sequence of events leading up to and including the persecution is correct and detailed, if lacking in dates.”

The second point is that these books are not part of the main canon of Scripture – certainly Josephus isn’t. The reader must employ his own discretion and pray about anything he takes from them. Nevertheless, these books all have something in common; the basic picture they present of Antiochus’ relations with the Jews is the same. They do not shy away from the apostasy in Israel at that time, and they place Antiochus firmly in the centre of the anti-God campaign. The narrative (especially the Jewish military campaigns) can be confusing in places, so I would recommend making notes/diagrams.

To return to the main point – i.e. the reason for my futurist stance – I take as my starting point the premise that the ‘Abomination of Desolation’ is to come after Jesus’ Ascension. My reason for thinking this is Jesus’ words in His famous ‘Olivet Discourse’: ‘So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.’ (Matthew 24:15-16; Mark 13:14).

The next point is that this event is meant to serve as a sign that Jesus’ Advent is near – the Disciples triggered the Olivet Discourse by asking Jesus what would be the signs of His Coming (Matthew 24:3). The events proposed by preterists as fulfillment of the ‘Abomination of Desolation’ prophecy have the problem that Jesus did not come soon after. Jesus said that His Coming would be unmistakable (Matthew 24:29-31) – we would surely know if He had come.

My last point on this matter is that the events of the first century AD, while foreshadowing the ‘End of the Age’ do not quite fit the prophecies as they are set forth in Scripture. There are three main events of this period that are suggested as fulfillment of the ‘Abomination of Desolation’ prophecy.

The first is Caligula’s attempt to have his cult statue installed in the Jerusalem Temple, which would turn it into a site for the imperial cult (see Antiquities of the Jews 18.257-309) . Attempt is the key word in this passage: the statue was not installed and the Temple ritual carried on as usual.

The second is the cessation of sacrifices offered to God as a prayer for the Emperor’s well-being (The Jewish War 2.409) . These sacrifices were offered in the Jerusalem Temple as a sign of loyalty to the Roman Empire since the Jews could not worship the Emperor as a god in the imperial cult, which was the normal way of expressing this sentiment. The cessation of these sacrifices was effectively the Judaean declaration of war against the Roman Empire. The problem with this candidate is that it didn’t defile the Temple or Altar of Burnt Offering. The ‘Abomination of Desolation’ is described as ‘standing in the Holy Place’ (Matthew 24:15); in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes it was a pagan altar erected on top of God’s altar, on which a pig was slaughtered (1 Maccabees 1:54, 59; 2 Maccabees 6:5). Nothing like that happened here: the Jews merely ceased offering sacrifices pertaining to the Emperor’s well-being.

The third event is when the Temple was destroyed by Titus’ troops at the end of the Jewish War (The Jewish War 6.220-356). When the Temple was captured, the Legions brought their standards in, and those who were ceremonially unclean (and didn’t worship God) came into His holiest precincts. This is probably the strongest candidate for fulfillment, but it is not without its problems. Leaving aside the problem that Christ did not return soon after this event, it fails to tie in with the ’70th Week’ spoken of by Daniel. The ‘Abomination of Desolation’ is first mentioned in Daniel 9:27, where it is said to come in the middle of a ‘week’. What happened to the rest of the week? Nothing signalling the culmination of the 70 Weeks prophecy happened 3.5 days, 3.5 weeks, 3.5 months, 3.5 years or 3.5 centuries after this event. To me at least it remains unfulfilled.

This post has gotten quite long enough for the time being. As ever, I’m happy to discuss this further with interested people. As with any point of doctrine, it needs prayerful consideration.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)