The Second Abomination of Desolation

In last week’s article, we learned that Daniel 8:13 prophesied about Antiochus Epiphanes causing the “transgression of desolation” in the temple at Jerusalem. This happened around 168 B.C. Later in the book of Daniel, the context moves further in time, into the days of the Roman Empire. In this section, we hear of a very similar “abomination of desolation” concerning the history of Jerusalem:

“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Daniel 9:26-27).

The above quote is the conclusion of the famous prophecy of the seventy weeks. The prophecy speaks of the anointed one, who is called the “prince” (v.25), being cut off; this rejection of the Christ will lead to judgment against the perverse house of Israel. The “people of the prince” will “destroy the city and the sanctuary”. We are certain as to the identity of this city to be destroyed, for the angel told Daniel that this prophecy was “about your people and your holy city”, Daniel’s people are the Jews and Daniel’s holy city is Jerusalem. Therefore, it is Jerusalem and its sanctuary (the temple) that would be destroyed by the people of the prince. Now, the people who destroyed the city and temple in A.D. 70 were the Roman army and allied forces, led by General Titus, a prince and son of Emperor Vespasian. However, Titus is not the prince that is discussed in this prophecy, but Christ, respecting the context. The anointed Messiah is established as the prince in the context (v.25), then, in verse 26, it follows that “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” This statement specifically names the prince as the one “who is to come”, confirming that this is the same prince in discussion as in the previous verse about the Messiah Prince. It was the Christ who was promised to come in verse 25, and now the people of the prince “who is to come” will destroy the city and the temple. In further confirmation, the next verse (v.26) remains in the flow of the discussion about the prince to come, saying that “he shall make a strong covenant” and that “he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering.” It is Messiah the Prince who made a new covenant and it is He who would do away with the physical continuation of sacrifices and offerings. The whole context is about Christ and what he would accomplish. Though Titus was a prince of Rome, he is not the prince described in this prophecy. The Olivet discourse (Matthew 24) will proceed to confirm this by Jesus talking to his apostles about his coming to judge and destroy the house of Israel: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). So, if Christ is the prince in Daniel’s prophecy, then who are “the people of the prince”? It is possible that this prophecy is speaking quite spiritually, referring to the spiritual hosts (armies) of heaven who would gather the weeds of the kingdom and throw them into a furnace of fire (Matthew 13:36-43). However, it may be more probable that the prophecy is simply referring to the people as the Roman army. They are the “people of the prince” because they have gone out against the Jews by Christ’s judgment and power; they are his utility to bring desolation upon that perverse generation. In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus certainly attributes “his troops” to the Roman army who came against Jerusalem: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (Matthew 22:7).

It is interesting that the Jewish historian, Josephus, is of the opinion that the abomination of desolation was the Roman army:

“And indeed it so came to pass, that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel’s vision; and what he wrote many years before they came to pass. In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government; and that our country should be made desolate by them.” (Josephus, Antiquities, 10.11.7).

As the abomination of desolation, i.e. the abomination that causes desolation, Titus and his army acted in like manner to Antiochus IV, causing a great many deaths and defiling the temple. Titus’ forces went much further than Antiochus by leveling the whole temple and the city (except for spots designated for Roman strongholds). However, the verse about the “abomination of desolation” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke does not speak of the destruction of the temple, only the coming of the desolator to surround the city and sanctuary. Luke’s account gives us the simplest and clearest understanding, for he does not use the term “abomination of desolation” like Matthew and Mark, but says “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near”. So, altogether, the Romans were the abomination in the opinion of the Jews, and the desolation which they caused was upon the temple, the city, and the people. The disciples within Judea could see this desolation coming before it happened, if they waited and watched until they saw the army surrounding Jerusalem, then they would “know that its desolation has come near.” Matthew’s account of the abomination “standing in the holy place”, and Mark’s account of the abomination “standing where he ought not be”, does not have specific reference to standing inside the temple itself. Titus certainly stood inside the temple literally (Josephus, Wars, 6.4.7), but that happened much later in the siege. Luke’s account demonstrates that “standing in the holy place” where “he ought not” is a reference to surrounding Jerusalem, the old city of God.

Article by Tanner Campbell