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. 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).
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. 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. 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!
. “Abomination of Desolation,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, 5th ed. 1(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 74-75.
 Although I must admit that the use of “he” rather than “it” is not completely out of the question based on the Greek.
. David E. Garland, Mark, ed. Terry Muck, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 495.
. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 74-75.