The first year of the new millennium began like nothing out of the ordinary ... just the familiar din of intifada in the Israel news. Then the Manhattan Massacre happened on September 11th, and President Bush announced our world had changed forever. Immediately, Islamic Jihad was declared against the U.S., and global alliances were forged. Meanwhile, Fundamentalist Jews threaten to build a new temple in place of Islam's great shrine on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. They promise it will bring Armageddon. The events in this two-part series would sound like a Tom Clancy novel with fanatical prophecy overtones, except they're pulled from mainline news sources. They also have striking connections to what may be the most important sign of the end times in Bible prophecy. (This first article gives the historic background of the Temple Mount and its prophecy.)
As I write this article, it's just a little over a year ago that intifada was declared against Israel because the yet-to-be prime minister, Ariel Sharon, walked with armed guards onto Mount Zion, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He walked up to the Islamic shrine known as the Dome of the Rock, which now stands on what is arguably the most revered holy place in the world. He boldly proclaimed the right of all Jews to stand in that place. Immediately, the peace talks between Prime Minister Barak and Yasser Arafat collapsed, as such talks have failed so many times in the past.
There can be little doubt that a military hawk like Sharon knew he was striking a spark in a tinder box. Concerned that Prime Minister Barak was giving away the farm, he did what he knew would bring the peace talks to an end. It worked. Shortly thereafter, Sharon was elected as prime minister. More peace talks were proposed by intervening parties, but never came to pass because both sides now gave the other side justification for more violence.
* "Peace, peace," they say, "when there is no peace."
And all of this happened on the exact ground where Jesus stood 2,000 years ago when he predicted the end of ancient Israel. Now, am I suggesting that all of this means another end is soon upon us? Well, not necessarily, but all of the potential is there, most of it resting against a hair trigger - a small group of Jewish Fundamentalists who threaten the existence of the mosque and shrine that stand on the Temple Mount. They've said they fully expect their actions to bring on the equivalent of Armageddon, and they're ready to bring it on. They don't care because their understanding of prophecy leads them to believe their actions will force the Messiah to come and bring world peace under Israeli rule - not unlike those Islamic Fundamentalists who don't mind dying because they believe their actions will bring them assured eternal peace in heaven.
It's easy to look at the sweeping events of the last quarter of the first year of this new millennium and read such things as signs of the end - if you're so inclined - nation rising against nation, advances toward greater globalism, and religious extremists talking about Armageddon or Crusades or Jihads. And one may be right to do so, for we all know World War III is a real possibility; and Jesus did list such things as signs of "the end," didn't he?
Maybe we should look at his exact words:
* "And Jesus began to say to them, 'Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, "I am he!" and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs." (Mark 13:5-8, RSV)
Some have taken this to mean that such things as famines, wars, rumors of war, and earthquakes are precursors to the end, but I take it to mean that things like famines and earthquakes and wars are all going to happen, but they don't mean the end is here. The end of this age may be made up of such things - a dark period of transition, a long and bitter night before the world's new dawn - but these things are not reliable as signs of the end because they are the kinds of events that happen throughout human history. That's why Jesus says, "Do not be alarmed. These things must take place, but the end is not yet."
If these are uncertain signs, is there any sign of the end that is more certain? The end we're talking about, by the way, is not end of the entire earth, but the end of wars and rumors of wars and famines - the end of aggressive human empires, the end of a period of history during which famines and wars and earthquakes have plagued mankind. The end makes way for the beginning of a period in which earth will finally have its sabbath rest. Unfortunately, according to biblical prophecy, the evil in this world will not simply give up and walk away. Evil makes its last stand in a grand hurrah. It blows itself out and takes as many with it as it can. But beyond this long history of evil that earth has known is a time of promised goodness. That's our hope.
Many would like to know when all of that is going to happen or, at least, know when it has begun - if it has begun. Is there any sign, then, given by Jesus, that could not be confused with the violence that nature and mankind have dished out over the past 2,000 years - perhaps a unique event that would tie his departure from this earth to the time of his eventual return, bridging across those 2,000+ years?
The Abomination of Desolation
I think there is. Just one. He calls it "the Abomination of Desolation," or more specifically "the abomination that causes desolation":
* "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . . For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, no-one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened." (Matthew 24:15,21,22, NIV)
Jesus spoke about all the signs described in this article after predicting the destruction of the Jewish temple that stood on the exact site where Ariel Sharon walked with his armed guard, igniting the intifada that plagued Israel in 2001. Jesus had just rejected the leadership of Israel for their failure to recognize him as their Messiah and had walked out of the temple warning,
* "Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth. . . . For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Matthew 23:35,39, NIV)
That's when the following conversation took place:
* "Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 'Do you see all these things?' he asked. 'I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.' As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. 'Tell us,' they said, 'when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'" (Matthew 24:1-3, NIV)
There are actually two questions here, being asked by his disciples because they mistakenly assumed that the destruction of this enormously fortified temple had to be the end of the age described by the Old Testament. They just assumed something that big would happen in conjunction with the time in which Jesus would "come" to power as they had hoped. Since they were not aware he was going to be killed, they couldn't have known he was going to be leaving this earth. So, when they asked, "What will be the sign of your coming" they probably meant the sign of his coming into power, and they assumed all of this would happen when the temple was destroyed.
Jesus walked off of the Temple Mount and over to the hill just across from it where he sat down and answered their two questions, but he didn't unthread their questions for them. Instead, he answered both questions by keeping the events linked together, perhaps because the temple's destruction and the events connected with his return are, in deed, linked across time, as I think you'll see in this article and the one to follow.
First, Jesus told them about wars and rumors of war and earthquakes and famines and told them not to worry about such things because they did not mean the end was here ("but the end is not yet"). They were the kinds of things that had to happen in times to come. He also told them (in a few verses not quoted here) that they would soon face persecution in their synagogues for their beliefs.
Having said all of that, he makes this statement about the "Abomination that causes Desolation" and speaks of a time when events would be more horrifying than anything the world had ever seen or ever would see again. Suddenly, it appears his words have moved into a different time than the days when the temple would be destroyed. While those were horrifying days for people living in Israel, they were no worse than many a siege that had been laid against many a city for days immemorial, and they were not as bad as the holocaust of the 20th century. Terrible, yes, but not the worst days the "world" would ever see.
He goes on to give several other signs, but the one to really focus on is this one that he calls "the Abomination that causes Desolation." He offers no indication of what the abomination may be, and one might wonder why he wasn't more clear, especially if this was the key sign of his return.
* ". . .when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel..."
That's all he says about it. Typically, prophecy gurus have said this implies some desecrating object like an idol will be set up in the temple - the holy place that Jesus had just exited. That's because Jesus was alluding to a verse in Daniel that seems to describe the Antichrist and says,
* ".... And on a wing [of the temple or of the holy place] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (Dan. 9:27, NIV)
Mention of the temple, however, was added by Bible translators because the verse is so ambiguous the translators wanted to clarify what "holy place" the prophecy was talking about. But the temple that stood in Jesus' time was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Obviously, an abomination cannot be erected in a temple that no longer exists. So, those who take Jesus' warning of an abomination as a sign that will precede his return naturally believe the temple must be rebuilt on the Temple Mount.
There's actually no reason the "Abomination of Desolation" has to be fulfilled at all for the prophecy to be true because it was perfectly fulfilled shortly after the life of Jesus. In A.D. 70, when the temple was destroyed, its altar was desecrated by Jews. A group of insurrectionists against Rome holed up in the temple, which had huge walls around its courts, and used it for a military fortress. That, in itself, would have been considered an abomination by any Jew who cared about his religion, but it got much worse than that. As armaments of various kinds were hurled over the walls by the Romans and people inside died, these insurrectionists piled the corpses on the temple altar.
According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the dripping bodies filled the gutters around the sacrificial altar with human blood. Now, that was an abomination! The religious laws that God had given to Moses made it clear that no human blood was ever to be shed inside his temple. In fact, the rule was so strict that a woman in her period was not allowed into the temple because she might drip blood onto its pavement stones. Neither could anyone with an open wound enter the temple. God gave that command in order to put an absolute end to the pagan practice of human sacrifice. Now, here was the altar itself piled with bodies and dripping with human blood that overflowed the gutters and collected in puddles in the temple court.
The desecrated temple was destroyed by the Romans and so was the entire city of Jerusalem and most of Israel around it, so the desolation was great. These events happened forty years after the death of Christ, forty being a highly significant number to numerologists who lived in Jesus' time. Forty was the number of days for the embalming ritual of the Egyptians when the Jews lived in Egypt. It was the number of days for mourning the dead. It was the number of years the Children of Israel had wandered the wildnerness because they were too faithless to enter the promised land. Now it was the number of years between the death of Christ and the death of Israel as the promised land.
Wouldn't such a complete cataclysm after the abomination of the temple mean the sign of the end given by Jesus was finished? Well, yes and no. Parts of Jesus' prophecy in its full context certainly fit the time of the temple's destruction, but Jesus obviously didn't return when the temple was destroyed, and his return was unwittingly implied by the second half of the disciples' question. His full answer in Matthew 24 says a lot about his return, too. It could be that he chose this vague prophecy about the abomination as the key sign to watch for because a similar "abomination that causes desolation" would be the precursor for his return, a kind of event that would link his exit and his return.
Certainly the abomination that desecrated the temple and its altar in A.D. 70 brought the end of the entire period recorded in the Old Testament. The end of the temple meant the end of Jewish sacrifices, so it brought the end of the old Jewish religion, leading to a reformed Judaism. The destruction of Israel that went along with it, caused the remaining Jewish people to be dispersed into the surrounding nations, so it brought the end of Israel as a nation and the beginning of the Diaspora. Those were certainly end times for Jesus' disciples. Something like 1.2 million Jews were killed in the rebellion against Rome, yet this is a small number compared to more than 6 million killed in the holocaust of the twentieth century that brought an end to the Diaspora. So, the destruction of Israel and the end of the Old Testament sacrificial religion was not the worst thing the world had ever seen or ever would see, and obviously Jesus did not return. All the same, it was the end of a period that had been building in the Bible for centuries.
But the end was also the beginning. With the dispersion of people from Jerusalem, Christianity also spread into the world. It no longer had Jerusalem as its center. This new religion was the first reformed Judaism, and it flourished. Eventually many of the lands of the Diaspora became predominantly Christian, and Judaism learned to survive under Christians who were mostly no longer Jews. The tables were entirely turned from when those disciples were persecuted in the synagogues. The end of Israel was, in essence the beginning of a new era in religious history, but was it the end time when Jesus predicted,
"... there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again...."
Jesus predicted one particular sign that will stand as the beginning of the end times, meaning the time just before his return to earth: "When you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' ... then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains... For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now and never to be equalled again." This exposure divulges an abomination already plotted and in motion for Israel's Temple Mount today. (For historic background about the Temple Mount and its prophecy see PART ONE of this series.)
The verse Jesus is alluding to here from the prophet Daniel is translated in the Jewish Bible as,
* "At the corner will be an appalling abomination until the decreed destruction will be poured down...." (Daniel 9:27, The Tanakh)
I have a different hypothesis than the prophecy gurus, who have claimed the temple must be rebuilt so that the mysterious abomination can be erected within it. I think the "holy place" Jesus mentions is the Temple Mount, not the temple, which no longer exists. In fact, I think the very effort to rebuild the temple on the holy site of the Temple Mount (the place where Abraham heard from God, where Christ denounced the Jewish leaders of his day, where he is predicted to return, and where the prophet Mohammed is believed by Muslims to have ascended to heaven--a place holy to three of the world's major religions).... the effort to rebuild the Jewish temple in that place where it originally stood will be the abomination to which Jesus was referring. I even suspect the first stones placed on that holy site will be "the abomination that causes desolation."
The language of the prophecy is deliberately ambiguous so that it can fit the events of more than one time. I think Jesus intentionally avoided mentioning the temple because he had just predicted it would be destroyed. Therefore, he knew it wouldn't be standing on that site when the events of his return took place. Thus, he used the phrase "holy place" because it can refer to both the temple and the holy site on which the temple was built. That kind of ambiguity is why the verse in Daniel has been one of the hardest ones in the Bible to translate. The openness of the language allowed the prophecy to fit the abomination that occurred when the last temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, and it allows it to fit the events that will be related to Christ's return.
So I think Jesus had two times of "abomination" in mind that bracket the period of history between his exit and his return, known from the Jewish perspective as "the diaspora." The desecration of the temple in A.D. 70 and its destruction established the ultimate sign that God had utterly abandoned Israel after the Messiah left the earth, rejected by the majority of his people. I suspect the attempt to raise the temple at the other end of history will be the ultimate sign that the Messiah is about to return. Here's why:
The Abomination That Causes Desolation
The destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 brought the end of animal sacrifice. Even Reformed Jews today believe God was moving his people away from those ancient rites and that animal sacrifice should never be re-established. Yet, there is a small group of Fundamentalist Jews today that intends to rebuild the temple in order to resurrect the old religion with all of its sacrifices. The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin referred to Fundamentalist Jews as "errant seed" that had nothing to do with Judaism - certainly not with Judaism as it is widely practiced today. He called them this because of their desire to create the end times. The kind of Fundamentalism that would include animal sacrifices is seen by a majority of Jews as an abomination.
Early Christians believed that God allowed the temple to be destroyed by the Romans in order to put an end to sacrifices because Jesus was the final sacrifice God would accept. From the perspective of Jesus' early followers, what could be a more overt rejection of Christ's death and resurrection than the attempt to re-initiate animal sacrifices in actual hope that such a thing would please God? The attempt to raise a new sacrificial temple is a reckless effort to resurrect a sacrificial religion that hasn't been practiced since the advent of Christianity.
The New Testament teaches that God no longer dwells in temples made of stone. His Spirit now dwells in temples made of flesh; that is to say, in human hearts. The God of the Old Testament rejected and abandoned the temple when he allowed it to be destroyed by Titus. Most Jews have accepted that as the permanent end to sacrifices of atonement, even though they don't accept the Christian slant on the event. So, to either Christians or Reformed Jews, for slightly different reasons, the establishment of a new temple that includes the reinstitution of animal sacrifices would be seen as an abomination of the highest order. It would take the world of religion backward 2,000 years. To Muslims, it would be an equally great affront because it requires destroying one of their oldest and most sacred shrines. And what could be better described as "the holy place" than the only site in the world that is holy to three major religions and that is believed to be the site of the Messiah's or Jesus' coming in the end times?
Understanding "the abomination that causes desolation in the holy place" as a reference to reconstruction of the temple on the holy site of the old temple breathes a uniquely meaningful twist into this prophecy. Jesus mentioned the abomination almost with the same breath he used to predict the former temple's demise after his departure. He was clearly anticipating the abominaton that happened in A.D. 70 and the temple's immediate destruction and the desolation of Israel. Understanding the abomination as also being a reference to the temple's reconstruction at the time of his return intrinsically his departure with his return; The desecration and destruction of the temple would be the sign that would follow his departure as proof that God had abandoned Israel as a nation, and the attempt to rebuild that same temple would be the sign that would precede his return - two related events on the same site connected across time by one prophecy. And it's a site which three of the world's major religions associate with the end times. Whether that temple is completed or not may be irrelevant. If just one stone is laid, it's an abomination because of its effrontery toward Christianity, Reformed Judaism and Islam.
This is intensely interesting at this particular time because it was at this exact site on the Temple Mount that the present intifada began last fall when Ariel Sharon walked with his armed guard up to the Muslim shrine known as The Dome of the Rock.
It's hard to imagine any single religious abomination more apt to bring the desolation of World War III than the attempt to reconstruct that Jewish temple on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock. Look at what happened when a Jew merely walked up to that site with an armed guard. The Muslim shrine was supposedly built over the exact place where Abraham heard God. That makes it impossible for the Jewish temple to occupy the proper holy ground without destroying the Dome of the Rock and perhaps its neighboring Al Aqsa Mosque. Even a move in that direction, at a time when tensions and hatred are fierce, could bring desolation to Jerusalem and all of Israel, just as happened in A.D. 70. If there is any event that would be likely to unite all Arab nations in open conflict against Israel it would be their felt need to protect the site where it is believed Muhammad ascended into heaven and where they believe Jesus will return to destroy a Jewish false Messiah (in Christian terms, "antichrist"). The Muslim shrine is not sitting on the apex of the Temple Mount solely for religious significance either. It's also a potent political statement that Muslims retain the heart of this holy city. Anything that threatens it will be seen as a political threat to Islam.
The Temple Mount Faithful
So, here we are, in the first year of a new millennium, when you'd think all these ancient concerns would have been long laid to rest, and yet a small group of Fundamentalist Jews, known as The Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful, have actually carved out and anointed cornerstones for the new temple. They plan to carry these stones on a flatbed truck up to the Temple Mount. In fact, they already tried earlier this year and last year, but were turned back by Israeli police. What will happen if next time they make it through because distractions prevent the police from stopping them?
This group has already gone further than attempting to rebuild the temple, in spite of the presence of the Dome of the Rock. If you thought ritualistic animal sacrifices were far removed from modern times, except in the case of bizarre occult practices, then you might want to take a look at this group of Jewish Fundamentalists. Under the leadership of a man named Gershon Salomon, they have already begun sacrificing animals to God. Their web site shows an actual sacrifice being carried out....
As you think about their determination to truck the cornerstones of a new sacrificial temple up to the holy place on the Temple Mount, remember the specific wording of the Daniel prophecy as it's translated in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible):
*"At the corner will be an appalling abomination until the decreed destruction will be poured down. . . ." (Daniel 9:27, The Tanakh)
One Arab leader has been quoted by WorldNetDaily as warning,
*"This effort to go and actually attack the mosque is a very, very grave provocation. . . . Israel will be solely responsible for . . . any consequences."
A related article by an Arab news site quoted the head of Arafat's terrorist organization on this matter, showing how seriously they take it:
* "Marwan Barghouti, head of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank, said, 'It's a declaration of war . . . this will lead to a reaction not only in the region but around the world.'"
So, the mere attempt to bring the stone to the mountain is already referred to as an "attack" and a "declaration of war."
Here's one more peculiar twist: a few small groups of Christian Fundamentalists in the U.S. have actually cheered on these kinds of provocations because they want to see the end come quickly... Their attitude is, "If it's going to happen, let it be in our lifetime." They don't worry about the cataclysm that will result from their actions because they believe they will be raptured before the big events occur. But would Christ have wanted his followers to try to speed up the day of his return by encouraging religious abomination and likely armageddon? The prophet Amos warned:
* "Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light." (Amos 5:18, NIV)
Anyone should be able to see the kind of destruction these cornerstones might bring, so the efforts of some Christian Fundamentalists to encourage this small group of Jewish Fundamentalists to incite the rage of Islamic Fundamentalists is a case of millennial zeal run amuck. (Anything to hurry on the day of the Lord so that they might see it come.) And, if the world goes to war because of it, who cares? Like Islamic Fundamentalists who strap bombs to their chests, they don't care; they'll be raptured.
The Cornerstone Prophecy
Consider the significance of the temple cornerstone that the Temple Mount Faithful is trying to haul to the summit of Jerusalem's Temple Mount in light of the following famous prophecy (also quoted by Jesus when he was explaining his role in the world to the Jewish leaders of his day):
* "Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [the leaders of the Jewish temple] and given to a nation producing the fruits of it." (Matthew 21:42,43, NIV)
Jesus was speaking figuratively and saying that he was the cornerstone that the builders of the Jewish temple rejected in favor of a calcified religion. In other words, the very stone they threw out in building their religion was the one they most needed - the perfect cornerstone of religion. What they chose instead were literal physical cornerstones for a sacrificial religion that would become as dead as stone in A.D. 70.
Perhaps Jesus also had a literal set of boulder builders in mind who would come one day and epitomize the Jewish rejection of the Messiah by the temple leaders. They would also be temple leaders - Temple Mount Faithful - who would doggedly try to resurrect the physical cornerstones of the old Jewish religion (the rock they continue to lift up over the Messiah) at all costs. It's a strange world in which they do so with the help of Fundamentalist Christians.
In their own words, the Temple Mount Faithful hope for worldwide holocaust as a result of their efforts - to hurry the coming of the Messiah. But such determined ignorance about the one who claimed to be the true cornerstone of Israel is a blatant rejection of Jesus as Messiah. That some Christians are helping them in order to speed return of the Messiah in whom Christians believe - the Christ (Greek for "Messiah") - goes almost beyond belief. It's an expression of determination by ignorant humans to do things their own way, instead of God's way and to try to change the set times of prophesied events to arrive in their own lifetimes if possible so that they might see the Day of the Lord.
The prophet Zechariah predicted:
* "On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her [Jerusalem], I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves." (Zechariah 12:3 )
And, so, the metaphor of stone is repeated in connection with Jerusalem and the end times.
We live in a time of strained tension and upheaval, and Jerusalem has become more the center of earth's most problematic and unresolvable conflict than it ever was. As if that were not extraordinary enough as an entrance into the new millennium, Mount Zion, the predicted place of Christ's return, the holy place where the builders raised the original cornerstones for the first two temples and where the temple leaders rejected God's chosen cornerstone . . . the very site where Christ said, "You shall not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'" . . . it's all ground zero of today's conflict.
Two-thousand years after Christ's prediction - as we end the first year of the new millennium - the Temple Mount and its cornerstones are as hot and central to world politics as they have ever been. And the world's wars - even in the secular press - are suddenly all imbued with sharp religious overtones by those three major religions that center their end time predictions on Jerusalem's holy mountain.
Daniel, who wrote the Bible prophecy about the "abomination that causes desolation" also used the metaphor of a stone that was "cut out of a mountain but not by human hands," a quarried stone that was hurled against all the kingdoms of the earth and destroyed them. (See Daniel 2:44,45) Keep your eyes on the Temple Mount. Whatever stone comes down upon that mountain is likely to shake the world.
David Haggith, Copyright: December, 2001.