Abomination of Desolation ≠ AntiChrist! [Earthquakes…Signs of the Times, 5 (Mark 13)]

This is the fifth post in a series titled: Earthquakes… Signs of the Times?  I invite you to read the rest of the series here to catch up (the first post would be extremely helpful)…


A popular phrase in the Christian subculture is “Antichrist” who is often identified as the “Abomination of Desolation” or the “Beast” who will brand sinners with his mark of “666.”  For instance, in the popular book series/ movie “Left Behind,” this figure is known as Nicolae Carpathia (see image).  This has been so embedded in our theologies that to raise any questions about our interpretation of these things often frustrates many of the faithful.  If this is you… I apologize in advance but would ask you to lay aside your presuppositions and follow my logic and interpretive scheme to see if it holds up.

The phrase that deserves some investigation is what the TNIV designates: “the abomination that causes desolation” (v. 14).  Comparatively, the NRSV renders this as “desolating sacrilege” and the NLT as “the sacrilegious object that causes desecration.”  Now, for the purposes of biblical interpretation, a question must be asked: Is this referring to a person or to an object? In many popular futurist theologies (rapture–> tribulation –> millennial reign –> eternity in brand new heavenly world as opposed to this one), it is assumed that this phrase refers to the so-called ‘Antichrist’ who will step into the holy place of the (rebuilt?) Temple; but based on Jewish history it seems more likely that this was indeed some kind of pagan altar or object.[1] It should be noted that the best rendering of this verse will indicate that it was primarily an object and not a person who desecrated the Temple.  So, with this in mind, we need a translation of the passage that indicates this the most clearly.  The worst of the aforementioned translations is the NLT who leaves this verse in ambiguous tension.  For although it clearly explains that the abomination is an object, the phrase that follows is: “…standing where he should not be.”  This barely makes logical sense in English and seems to impose a futurist eschatological perspective (again, “Left Behind”).  Simply put, I want to explore the possibility that this passage should be seen as regarding an object rather than a person (especially a future Antichrist).[2]

Last post we observed that when the “abomination” takes place that this is when the disciples are instructed by Jesus to “flee” (v. 14).  The reason that an object makes more sense than a person is that this phrase has both a biblical and historical back-story.  The language is developed from the book of Daniel which states:

His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the Temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice.  Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation…  Daniel ll.31

This was a prophecy that seems to have found fulfillment in history during the Jewish struggle under Antiochus Epiphanes.  The story is told in 1 Maccabees 1.54ff where it states that “on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering” (NRSV).  These are the historical and biblical links from which Jesus speaks.[3] When the “desolating sacrilege” or the “abomination that causes desolation” disgraced the Temple in the past, it was not primarily a person but a pagan altar that was set up on the altar of God.  There is some evidence to suggest that the Jews used this language directly referring to Zeus.  In fact, it probably was an altar that had on it an image of the pagan god.[4] Therefore it follows that Jesus, having this story in his mind, was referring to an object that would be set up to disgrace the Temple once again at the time when it was nearing its destruction.  The belief that this refers to a future “anti-Christ” figure cannot be found in our text; and when it is read to claim such, it is an importation of popular futurists views.  No, when this object is set up where it does not belong, the faithful disciples who have chosen to endure the various tribulations will now have warrant to “flee to the mountains” (v. 14).  This I suggest was completely a first century reality.

So, what is the point?  Well, I again want to raise a fundamental question about how we promote the Christian message: Is the Christian Church called to be a broker of hope in our world or fear?  Are we called to scare the hell out of people, or to invite others into a movement of the living God who is “gathering up all things in Christ (heaven and earth)?”  Should our message be: Beware of the coming Antichrist who will take over the world after the rapture… do you want to be left behind? OR: Do you want to become part of God’s mission of grace, love, and hope that can only be found in the reconciliation of Jesus? I think you get my point…

PS – Obama is not the Antichrist or setting us up to be on the wrong side of the tribulation as a nation 🙂  Those who worry about or claim such are casting judgment that is unbiblcial and simply put, SIN.  Even if you don’t like him, the text doesn’t allow us to go there… ha!

[1]. “Abomination of Desolation,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, 5th ed. 1(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 74-75.


[2] Although I must admit that the use of “he” rather than “it” is not completely out of the question based on the Greek.

[3].  David E. Garland, Mark, ed. Terry Muck, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 495.

[4]. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 74-75.

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  • Nice, I like to add something! I tend to think the abomination of desolation was the Roman army on the gates of Jerusalem. Mark was written first, before the first temple was destroyed. Look what he was about the abomination of desolation below in Mark 13:14. And since Luke took mark as a source, and in the exact SAME PARALLEL passage, he replaces “the abomination of desolation” with, ” Jerusalem surrounded by armies”. This is, as solid a case, for denying that the Antichrist will set up a future abomination of desolution, in a future 3rd temple. And it is a case for saying that the Abomination is the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem in the Jewish war.

    Matthew 24:15-26 (ESV) “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.”

    Mark 13:14 (ESV) “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”

    Luke 21.20-21 (ESV) “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…”

    • U bring an intersting thought to the table. Great! Something for me to ponder!

      Sent from my iPhone

  • Hey Kurt- thanks for posting. So, I don’t run in the same kinds of spheres as you do. I am curious- what prompted you to write this? Do you have many folks around you who are speculating that President Obama is the antichrist? Please know- I don’t mean that question to be in any way disparaging to anyone; I am sincerely looking for more information about something outside my own experience.

    That being said, most of the authors I have read have connected to your point about Antiochus. The phrase “abomination of desolation” or however one would translate it, first appeared in Jewish literature in response to his conquest in the intertestamental period. However, I have generally heard people ascribe the term to that event, rather than a person or object. The occasion of Antiochus sacrificing a pig to Zeus in the temple in Jerusalem so as to rededicate the temple to him. Of course, the author of Revelation is not simply pointing backward to that event. He is evoking a shared cultural memory and using the image of it to speak prophetically to the churches of the present. When the subject of the antichrist comes up, I always find the following, often overlooked passage helpful.

    1 John 2:18-22
    Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son.

    Here, John uses the word “antichrist” not only in the immediate present, but in the plural. The term describes the spirit of that which works against the redeeming action of Christ in the world, especially when that spirit is clothed in religion.

    So I dont know pretend to know what the “end times” will look like, or how the Christ will fulfill his victory over that spirit which is abomination of desolation. But as I have said before, I believe our vocation as Christians is rooted firmly in the present, not in an unknown future. We follow Christ into life, love, hope, and peace for ourselves and our communities, while resisting and remaining vigilant to the many manifestations of hollow religion that lure us away from joining in the work of Christ.

    • On this text we have a similar approach but nuance it differently. Tim Geddertt and obviously you, leave the door open for a future “end times.” I am not willing to go there, especially not in the gospels. But, the way you do it is much more hopeful than most, so in this regard I like your approach. 🙂

      As far as you description of the historical side of this account. The event of a pagan altar and sacrifice could also (by my reading) be the “abonination” as well. However, based on my reading, I am convinced that this is the object/altar itself.

      As far as you comments on the “spirit of the antichrist” I find myself in agreement. Anything that goes against the move of Jesus is antichrist! But, I want to be careful to distinguish that nothing in scripture supports a future “Antichrist” (a final world leader who will go to war against the elect) as has been interpreted by various sects in the Christian movement at various times throughout history… especially the last 150 years.

      As far as your Obama question… ha, we do run in different circles… although we are fairly similar theologically. Well, in the back of many hyper conservative Christian minds is the thought that the move towards so-called socialism is a move towards the apocalyptic government that will go to war against the lamb. I had one person this week in reference to our president say: …I don’t want to end up on the wrong side of Revelation. (refering to his policies) It becomes really easy to take our political views and use poor theology to support such. I am trying to expose the presuppositions of such as false, and of a poor attempt to justify one’s politic.

      • Michelle

        I agree. Why has it happen that anyone on the political stage who tries to do anything good for all people and seems globally minded becomes a possible candidate for the so-called “Antichrist” and therefore to be opposed. Opposed so much so that a “Christian” would pray for someones death (facebook group praying for Obama’s death). This is what I mean by not being able to distinguish what is good and what is evil. I pray for some way to show the truth to those who are mislead by this theology.

  • Michelle

    Fear oppresses, love liberates. Isn’t that the good news? I have personal experience with both messages. I never grew spiritually until the fear based theology was taken away and replaced by love. Fear keeps Christians in constant need of spiritual milk. They will never mature into the confidence and wisdom that comes from love. They will never be able to distinguish good and evil. They are stuck. Basically, fear based theology creates a bunch of babies that never grow up and contribute, and mature Christians have to clean up after them. The apostle Paul could relate, I think.
    Romans 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

  • Greetings Kurt,

    (Dan 9:27) And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

    (Mar 13:14) But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:

    For years these scriptures were interpreted as being the Beast (Antichrist) breaking his covenant of peace between Israel and her enemies. Sometime in the middle of the week an image of the now resurrected Beast is set up in the holiest of holies (Temple altar) and considered to be the infamous “abomination of desolation”, the warning to flee to the mountains immediately follows.

    First of all, regarding Antiochus Epiphanes: his pig sacrifice in the holiest of holies at a time when sacrifice and oblations were required [Old Covenant] was considered as an abomination of desolation.

    With that being said let’s revert to the two quoted scriptures (Dan 9:27 / Mk 13:14). We begin with the term “confirm the covenant”, this is not a new covenant it’s an existing covenant that is confirmed or reached its completion. The confirmation is done by the Messiah since the Antichrist (Beast) does not have any authority to do such. This may sound out there but bear in mind that Christ was the final sacrifice thus fulfilling all the requirements of the covenant that required daily sacrifices and oblations, to do these acts in a rebuilt Temple is in itself an abomination because it makes Christ’s death meaningless which we can agree that it was certainly not.

    When Christ gave up His spirit the Temple veil was immediately rent or torn in half (Mk 15:37,38), this was not coincidence or symbolic, it was confirmation to the Jews that the final sacrifice had been made and there is no need for them to continue with the daily sacrifice and oblations. But the Jews, never having accepted Jesus as the Messiah; could not discern this and that is why even today that they are eager to rebuild the Temple and recommence these unnecessary practices since the new covenant is by the way of grace. {the reference to Jews are Non Messianic Jews}

    The warning to flee holds true for the last generation when we see Temple sacrifices and oblations restart we know there will be 42 months of great tribulations.

    In Revelations 13 details are given about the slain Beast being resurrected and “speaking” blasphemies about God’s tabernacle, this tabernacle is with men or men indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Saints). It is not a physical structure. The second beast gives instructions to construct an image of the now resurrected first beast (Antichrist) but scriptures does not say that the image is placed in the Temple.

    Christ said that He will return only when the nation of Israel cries out for Him, (Mat 23:39) For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. The renewal of Temple sacrifices and oblations are not preconditions for Christ’s return, it is an abomination that was made desolate when Christ died and the veil of the Temple was rent, and it would be an abomination when future sacrifices and oblations are reinstated.

    • I understand where you are coming from, but do not interpret this stuff as future any longer. I think you may be a bit too quick to read revelation in the Mark. blessings!

      • Blessings Kurt,

        I appreciate your comments and as a fellow Christian and student of the word I am obliged to share with you and others what I believe Christ wants for His chosen.

        From all your blogs in this series so far you have contended that the things to take place have taken place already, and if I were an unenlightened person I would probably prop up what you have written about the timing of these things. But I’m not and I am compelled to humbly tell you and others who share this view; the gospel is two-fold in nature – there are prophesies that transcend the time of disciples and you should not be too quick not to read revelation in the Mark 🙂

        I know when a person adopts a position as you have it is tremendously difficult to convince otherwise but scriptures stand as all the evidence needed in the revelation of God’s truth. It is for you to pray fervently for God to open your heart and spiritual eyes and if it His will you would see what I have been shown.

        Over the years I too have been exposed to the dispensational, preterist, gnostic and other interpretations of scriptures. It was a very confusing time and I was not growing spiritually in knowledge until I started to view scriptures minus outside influences. Let scriptures define scriptures that’s all you need to do.

        In His Grace

        • I appreciate your humility and grace… even in disagreement. Many who hold to the dispensationalist perpsective have not been so kind. Blessings.

        • I was not growing spiritually in knowledge until I started to view scriptures minus outside influences. Let scriptures define scriptures that’s all you need to do.

          Can you honestly say this, wabd? I think ALL of us have some outside influences going on. From my view, the perspective that takes the disparate apocalyptic language from Daniel, Revelation, and passages such as this one, and tries to weave it into a complex end-of-days narrative, is one of the MOST heavily influenced by “outside influences,” specifically the world-enders.

  • Nadia

    Obama is not the Antichrist.For the identity of the antichrist,Click on this Link


  • Thanks for another excellent article in your series on Mark 13. While I do (as you know) believe that Revelation refers to the same thing as the Olivet prophecy, I recognize that they’re both referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and the complete end of the ‘Old Covenant’ economy. I find it impossible to see it otherwise based on the clear ‘time statements’ of Jesus (and John), as well as the way Jesus’ listening disciples are addressed and warned directly – as being those who would personally witness the events, persecutions, apostasy of many, etc.

    By the way, I finished reading Brian McLaren’s first book in the series on a new kind of Christian, and as you said, I really did like it. I find most everything in the book to be right on the mark (even though he doesn’t exactly embrace the ‘universalist’ position to which I adhere). Now I’ll just have to find a way to get my hands on the other books in that series!

  • Daniel

    “Should our message be: Beware of the coming Antichrist who will take over the world after the rapture… do you want to be left behind? OR: Do you want to become part of God’s mission of grace, love, and hope that can only be found in the reconciliation of Jesus?

    I’m not sure I see why those two questions must be seen as being mutually exclusive…

    If the Antichrist is the puppet of Satan, then he will certainly not be a part of God’s mission of grace, love and hope… (although he most certainly will claim to be…)

    To me, the saddest and most tragic result of the “Left Behind” series and all the accompanying hype, is that it has made the whole idea of things like the Antichrist into a joke. Every depiction I’ve seen of the Antichrist in a “Christian” film always portrays him as these evil-looking, stoic dictator. But in reality, he will be someone who will be viewed as a benevolant savior of mankind. He will be the ultimate false-messiah, who will “deceive even the elect”, who “masquerades as an angel of light”…

    This is one major reason why the idea of a 70 AD fulfillment doesn’t hold up. While a pig was sacrificed on the altar, neither the Christians, nor the Jews, were deceived into worshipping Antiochus.

    The other sad misconception of the “Left Behind” books, is the whole idea that the Antichrist will come after the Tribulation, because the scriptures clearly tell us that this is not the case…

    Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
    Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
    2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

  • @Daniel, what do you have to say about 1 John 2:18?

    18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

    Seems to me John had contemporary times very much in view, and also dismisses the notion that “The Antichrist” is a solitary and pivotal figure.

  • But a vital comment at the end of it all, is this: What, after all, is this interpretation doing to (1) lead others to Christ, or (2) make better disciples out of those who are in Christ?

    Given (and I realize not everyone agrees with me) that Jesus never once modeled an evangelism of fear, the notion of a scary picture of the end is NOT a biblical means to win disciples. For the second point, what you believe about how it will end does not impact what we are commanded to do now, except for the important point N.T. Wright makes, that if it’s NOT all going to burn, but rather be redeemed, what we do now for the Kingdom matters.

    Conversely, I have seen a great deal of anti-Kingdom animosity generated over fights about the nature of end times. Thankfully, this thread has avoided that highly un-Christlike attitude, and kudos to all of you for that. But we do need to step back a pace, I think, and ask whether the interpretation of prophecy (if prophecy it is) is the best use of our discipleship and biblical study efforts. DOES IT MAKE DISCIPLES? That, and only that, is the bottom line.