Summary: Matthew's prediction of the Abomination of Desolation is compared to Luke's account of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Rightly diving this portion of the Olivet Discourse is crucial to understanding end-time prophecy. The focus of this message is Matthew 24:15-31.
Last week we examined the first part of Jesus’s Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:1-14. In that portion of the prophecy Jesus told us the conditions that would exist during this current age: deception, wars, pestilence, earthquakes, persecution, etc. In verse 8 He uses the metaphor of labor pains which probably indicates these signs will progressively intensify as we move toward the end, just as the frequency and intensity of labor pains increase as mother transitions toward birth.
We found these same signs in Revelation 6. I have provided a simple chart so you can visualize the parallel. In that passage the restraint is lifted (2 Thess. 2:6) and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are released. That immensely increases the severity of these signs as they unfold during the tribulation period, so much so that one fourth of the world’s population is killed (Rev. 6:8). Can you imagine almost two billion people dying within a few years?i Between 70 and 85 million people died during World War II. That includes deaths by disease, famine, and other civilian casualties as well as military personnel. It was the deadliest military conflict in human history.ii But in comparison to the devastation caused by the Antichrist, World War II was a minor skirmish. The World War II deaths are only 4% of what will be killed in Revelation 6.
ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION
In Matthew 24:15 Jesus prophesied the abomination of desolation: “‘Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’ (whoever reads, let him understand).” That is an end-time pivotal event. It is the height of human arrogance and rebellion against God. It triggers an outpouring of God’s wrath like this world has never seen.
We know from our study of Daniel 9:27 that this event happens in the middle of the seven-year tribulation period.iii “Then he [Antichrist] shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week [three and a half years into the tribulation period] He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate.” This is the abomination of desolation that Daniel prophesied.iv
When Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel and desecrates the sanctuary, he will unleash an unprecedented attack on the Jews. His betrayal will be sudden and unforeseen by the Jews. They will be unprepared for the assault, and the only thing they can do is run. And that’s exactly what Jesus tells them to do in verses 16-21: “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
The language here is very similar to that used by Luke in his instructions for responding to the first century crisis. This is one reason interpreters get the events confused. Both Matthew and Luke are quoting from Jesus’s Olivet Discourse. But Luke is focused on the first-century destruction of the temple, and Matthew is focused on the abomination of desolation that occurs during the tribulation period.v As we have said, the first century event is a portend of the end-time event. For that reason, there are many similarities. And in both cases, those in Judea will be unprepared for its coming. Therefore, in both cases a speedy exit is the only means of survival.
In His discourse Jesus spoke in terms that His immediate audience would understand. Coming down off the housetop, for example, was directly applicable to the first century setting in Judea.vi Everything Jesus says here makes sense to those who are listening to His discourse. But the message is this: make a hasty exit because the persecution will unfold rapidly. You won’t have time to gather your things. Just get out as quickly as you can. That advice is applicable to the first century Jews who fled Jerusalem in the first century, and it is applicable to those in Judea when Antichrist breaks his treaty during the tribulation period.vii
This is an example of how redaction criticism is necessary in interpreting this discourse.viii We must understand that Luke is using portions of the Olivet Discourse to communicate his message, and Matthew is using quotes of Jesus’s prophecy to communicate the message God is giving through his gospel. If we just view the gospel writers as mere historians, we will have difficulty sorting this out. Why do we have three synoptic gospels instead of only one? God is giving us revelation in different ways through Matthew, Mark, and Luke. If that were not the case, He could have just given it in one gospel. What are the implications of this? It means Luke is not giving exactly the same message as Matthew. Each one is giving truth that the Holy Spirit directs for that author. Redaction criticism is valid because we recognize that the gospel writers were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the selection of how they would present their message.ix