The Abomination of Desolation is described in four places in Daniel, although the phrase itself is used in only two of these.
- 11:31, 36
Considering these passages gives us some idea of what it is involved. The Antichrist:
- Stops the daily Tamid Offering (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:3-6);
- Erects an idol or similar structure;
- (Partially) destroys the sanctuary; and
- Permit gentiles to tread forbidden parts of the sanctuary.
We can get a better impression of what this means by considering: Paul’s application of 11:36 to the Abomination of Desolation in 2 Thessalonians 2; John’s possible description of it in Revelation 13; and the historical Abomination of Desolation in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. Quite what form the future Abomination will take remains to be seen, but the passages above give us sufficient elements to recognise it when it happens.
These passages are not symbolic in their language (although they are set within visions that use symbols). The Olivet Discourse and 2 Thessalonians 2 do not use symbolic language. Furthermore, the Abomination in the days of Antiochus involved a literal temple. We therefore have every expectation that the future Abomination will involve a real Temple in Israel.
In the days of Antiochus IV Epiphanes
I reproduce passages describing the Abomination under Antichus for reference.
Then builded they the city of David with a great and strong wall, and with mighty towers, and made it a strong hold for them. And they put therein a sinful nation, wicked men, and fortified themselves therein. They stored it also with armour and victuals, and when they had gathered together the spoils of Jerusalem, they laid them up there, and so they became a sore snare: for it was a place to lie in wait against the sanctuary, and an evil adversary to Israel. Thus they shed innocent blood on every side of the sanctuary, and defiled it: insomuch that the inhabitants of Jerusalem fled because of them: whereupon the city was made an habitation of strangers, and became strange to those that were born in her; and her own children left her. Her sanctuary was laid waste like a wilderness, her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into reproach her honour into contempt…For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land, and forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days…For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land, and forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days…Now the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side…
-1 Maccabees 1:33-39, 44-45, 54
For the temple was filled with riot and revelling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots, and had to do with women within the circuit of the holy places, and besides that brought in things that were not lawful. The altar also was filled with profane things, which the law forbiddeth.
-2 Maccabees 6:4-5
The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favoured Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months.
-Josephus, Wars of the Jews 1:32
Now it came to pass, after two years, in the hundred forty and fifth year, on the twenty-fifth day of that month which is by us called Chasleu, and by the Macedonians Apelleus, in the hundred and fifty-third olympiad, that the king came up to Jerusalem, and, pretending peace, he got possession of the city by treachery; at which time he spared not so much as those that admitted him into it, on account of the riches that lay in the temple; but, led by his covetous inclination, (for he saw there was in it a great deal of gold, and many ornaments that had been dedicated to it of very great value,) and in order to plunder its wealth, he ventured to break the league he had made. So he left the temple bare, and took away the golden candlesticks, and the golden altar [of incense], and table [of shew-bread], and the altar [of burnt-offering]; and did not abstain from even the veils, which were made of fine linen and scarlet. He also emptied it of its secret treasures, and left nothing at all remaining; and by this means cast the Jews into great lamentation, for he forbade them to offer those daily sacrifices which they used to offer to God, according to the law. And when he had pillaged the whole city, some of the inhabitants he slew, and some he carried captive, together with their wives and children, so that the multitude of those captives that were taken alive amounted to about ten thousand. He also burnt down the finest buildings; and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel in the lower part of the city, for the place was high, and overlooked the temple; on which account he fortified it with high walls and towers, and put into it a garrison of Macedonians. However, in that citadel dwelt the impious and wicked part of the [Jewish] multitude, from whom it proved that the citizens suffered many and sore calamities. And when the king had built an idol altar upon God’s altar, he slew swine upon it, and so offered a sacrifice neither according to the law, nor the Jewish religious worship in that country.
-Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12:5:4
And thus it came to pass that King Antiochus arose and sent his viceroy Nicanor, with a heavy host and a large multitude, and they came to the city of Judea, Jerusalem. And many did he slay, and he set up an altar in the Sanctuary, in the place where the God of Israel had spoken to his servants, the prophet saying, “There shall I cause My Presence to dwell for ever.” In that place he sacrificed a swine, and brought its blood into the hall of the Sanctuary.
–Megillat Antiochus 12-13
Studying the events of the time of Antiochus Epiphanes gives us the clearest picture of what the corresponding portion of the end times will be like. It is also worth noting that the Jewish author Josephus did not understand the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 as analogous to the days of Antiochus, contra the preterist school that would evolve later. He understood the fall of Jerusalem in his day as a recapitulation of the fall in the days of Nebuchadnezzar.
The eschatological texts in the New Testament, for the reasons I have already set out in this series and elsewhere, do not point to AD 70, except to confirm Jesus’ authority as Prophet. The Abomination of Desolation and Great Tribulation are future events. We should also note that the events in the days of Antiochus do not quite fulfil what Daniel describes (though they are similar), and Christ in the Olivet Discourse places the Abomination of Desolation as a future event; whereas if He had understood Daniel to be prophesying of Antiochus only, it would have been past, since the Abomination of Desolation in Antiochus’ reign happened in 167 BC – future to Daniel writing in the 500s BC, but past to Christ in circa AD 30.
We can thus see similarities and differences by comparing the days of Antiochus with the biblical account of the end times. Both involve:
- an invasion from a northern Gentile ruler;
- the desecration of the Temple and ceasing of sacrifices;
- persecution of God’s people;
- the death of the persecutor by non-human means (Antiochus fell to a sudden disease; Antichrist will be destroyed directly by Christ);
- the recapture of Jerusalem by God’s people (the Maccabees; Christ);
- followed by a period of Jewish rule and independence in the Holy Land (the Hasmonaean period; Christ’s Millennial rule).
There are also some differences. In Antiochus’ day, the Jews themselves were victorious, albeit they took advantage of circumstances that weakened Seleucid rule (the rise of the Roman Republic; the sudden death of Antiochus; the rise of the Parthians). In the end times, the Jews will not be able to do this, and any friendly Gentile powers will not be strong enough to dislodge the Antichrist. Christ alone will conquer him. As for the Great Tribulation, it will be directed at Christians as well as Jews.