Before reading this brief study, please read the previous article in this series, The Abomination Of Desolation – Part 1
Matthew 24:15 — “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand)”
Mark 13:14 — “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Luke 21:20 — “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.
FLEE TO THE MOUNTAINS
According to Jesus, the disciple’s only way out was to flee when they saw the armies surround Jerusalem. Imagine their shock as the disciples realized that they were living in the last days. Their generation would be the last generation of the Old Covenant era.
Thomas Newton in his ‘dissertation,’
“Whatever difficulty there is in these words [in Matthew 24:15-16], it may be cleared up by the parallel place in St. Luke, ‘And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains,’-xxi – 20, 21. So that ‘the abomination of desolation’ is the Roman army, and ‘the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place’ is the Roman army besieging Jerusalem. This, saith our Saviour, is ‘the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet,’ in the ninth and eleventh chapters; and so let every one who readeth those prophecies, understand them. The Roman army is called ‘the abomination,’ for its ensigns and images, which were so to the Jews.” [Newton, dissertation on “The Prophecy of Matthew 24” in 1753]
“When the sacrilege takes place, then it is time to flee the City, for its destruction is imminent. This advice is in fact the opposite of usual Jewish and ancient Near Eastern advice, which thought of safety within the City walls, not least because Jews often thought that God would not allow his dwelling place to be destroyed.” [Witherington, The gospel of Mark, 346]
“When that time came, Jerusalem would be a place to flee rather than to enter for shelter. All the people of Judea—not just the City—should flee to the hills to hide from the enemy. Those who were inside the City should go out and seek safety. Those who were outside the City should not go in to seek shelter or possessions.
History indicates that when the Romans approached, the Jews generally took the very opposite action. Those inside the City stayed. Those out in the country thought they would be safer within the walls. The result was murder on an almost inconceivable scale. A large company of the Christians fled Jerusalem as the war developed and established a new center at Pella, east of the Jordan.” [Summers, Commentary on Luke, 258]
“Jesus goes on to underline the urgency of flight in that trying time. He speaks of anyone who is on the housetop, a place that was important in family life in first-century Palestine. Houses had flat roofs, and these were used as part of the living quarters of a house.
While doubtless, they would be uncomfortable during the hottest hours of the day, they would form a cool living room on hot evenings. If a man was taking his ease on his housetop and there received the signal that the dangerous time had come and that he should lose no time in escaping, it would be natural for him to think of some of his valued and easily portable possessions and to go down into the interior of his house to fetch them. Jesus tells them not to do it. The danger he prophesies is great; the need for flight is urgent. No time should be lost. Better to lose one’s portable possessions than one’s life.” [Morris, The gospel According to Matthew, 604]
“This portion of our Saviour’s words appears to relate solely to the destruction of Jerusalem. As soon as Christ’s disciples saw ‘the abomination of desolation’, that is, the Roman ensigns, with their idolatrous emblems, ‘stand in the holy place’, they knew that the time for them to escape had arrived, and they did ‘flee to the mountains.’ The Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns and villages, ‘in Judea’, availed themselves of the first opportunity for eluding the Roman armies, and fled to the mountain City of Pella, in Perea, where they were preserved from the general destruction which overthrew the Jews.” [C. H. Spurgeon, Popular Exposition of Matthew]
“The day on which Titus encompassed Jerusalem, was the feast of the Passover; and it is deserving of the very particular attention of the reader, that this was the anniversary of that memorable period in which the Jews crucified their Messiah! At this season multitudes came up from all the surrounding country, and from distant parts, to keep the festival. How suitable and how kind, then, was the prophetic admonition of our LORD, and how clearly he saw into futurity when he said, “Let not them that are in the countries enter into Jerusalem” (Luke 21:21).
Nevertheless, the City was at this time crowded with Jewish strangers, and foreigners from all parts, so that the whole nation may be considered as having been shut up in one prison, preparatory to the execution of the Divine vengeance; and, according to Josephus this event took place suddenly; thus, not only fulfilling the predictions of our LORD, that these calamities should come, like the swiftdarting lightning “that cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the West,” and “ as a snare on all of them (the Jews) who dwelt upon the face of the whole earth “ (Matthew 24:27, and Luke 21:35) but justifying, also, his friendly direction, that those who fled from the place should use the utmost possible [speed].”
“Pilate, at that time Roman Procurator, sent from Caesarea, the seaport of that country on the Mediterranean Sea, a legion of Roman soldiers and had them secretly introduced into the City and sheltered in the tower of Antonio overlooking the Temple, and these soldiers brought with them their ensigns.
The Roman sign was a straight staff, capped with a metallic eagle, and right under the eagle was a graven image of Caesar. Caesar claimed to be divine. Caesar exacted divine worship, and every evening when those standards were placed, the Roman legion got down and worshiped the image of Caesar thereof, and every morning at the roll call a part of the parade was for the whole legion to prostrate themselves before that graven image and worship it.
The Jews were so horrified when they saw that image and the consequent worship, they went to Pilate, who was at that time living in Caesarea, and prostrated themselves before him and said, ‘Kill us, if you will, but take that abomination of desolation out of our Holy City and from the neighborhood of our holy Temple’” [B.H. Carroll, “An Introduction of the English Bible”]
IMPENETRABLE TEMPLE WALLS
As the Roman army advanced towards Jerusalem, the Jews did not want to depart from the City because they believed that the Temple walls were secure and would keep them safe. The so-called “Letter of Aristeas” is a Hellenistic work of 2nd century B.C. and a part of the ‘Pseudepigrapha’ and it describes the seemingly invincible nature of the Temple,
“It is situated in a very lofty spot, and is fortified with many towers, which have been built up to the very top of immense stones, with the object, as we were informed, of guarding the Temple precincts, so that if there were an attack, or an insurrection or an onslaught of the enemy, no one would be able to force an entrance within the walls that surround the Temple.” [Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Aristeas, 100–101]
But after the siege, a famine hit the City, and there were Jews who tried to escape the City, and the ones who were caught escaping were first whipped, then tortured and finally crucified near the walls of the City.
“This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more; yet did it not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way; and to set a guard over so many, he saw would be to make such as guarded them useless to him. The main reason why he did not forbid that cruelty was this, that he hoped the Jews might perhaps yield at that sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment. So the soldiers out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest; when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.” [Josephus, Wars, 5:450–451]
WARNING TO MOTHERS
Jesus warned those pregnant and nursing mothers of the difficulties facing them,
Matthew 24:19 — And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!”
The reason for this warning is obvious. Jesus was emphasizing the physical difficulties Christians would face while fleeing the City when traveling in haste on foot or a donkey in the late terms of pregnancy or with a small child is extremely difficult.
The life on the run would be difficult in the summer, but in the winter the roads in Palestine were almost blocked with mud,
“Winter restricted conditions for travel, immobilizing even most armies. In the winter, the otherwise dry creek beds (wadis) were flooded with water and became difficult to cross. Some fugitives from Jerusalem did try to escape the Roman siege in winter and, delayed by these flooded creek beds, were slaughtered. Jewish law prohibited riding horses, mules and other means of transportation on the sabbath; even one’s walking distance was regulated. Transportation and passage would thus be difficult to obtain on the sabbath, especially if residents of Jerusalem wished to flee secretly without being challenged by the patriotic Zealots. The sabbath could be violated to save life, but those who did not recognize the situation’s urgency would not cooperate.” [ Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: new testament, n.p.]
THE SABBATH CONCERN
The City gates would be shut and provisions unobtainable on a Sabbath day, so this would make traveling out to the mountains from Judea, almost impossible.
“Jewish tradition limited travel on the Sabbath day to a distance of seven furlongs. The early training of many Christians led them to have scruples about breaking the Sabbath. It is possible that Jesus had these scruples in view, but by no means conclusive, for in fleeing they would need the support and friendship of their Jewish brethren, who would be apt, not only to hinder, but even in those troublous and turbulent days, to show violence to any who openly disregarded the Sabbath. For it must be remembered that the Jews, not being guided by the admonitions of Christ, would regard the sudden flight of the Christians as unnecessarily hasty.” [McGarvey and Pendleton, The Fourfold gospel, n.p.]
ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE
“Matthew alone included the phrase ‘on the Sabbath’ because he was writing to Jews, who were forbidden to travel more than about .75 miles (.81 km) on the Sabbath.” [Archaeological Study Bible, n.p.]
“Nor is it lawful for us to journey, either on the Sabbath day, or on a festival day.” [Josephus, Antiquities, 13.8.4]
VESPASIAN BESIEGED JERUSALEM
Vespasian surrounded Jerusalem; however, after Emperors Nero committed suicide and Galba died, the civil war intensified in Rome, so the attack on Jerusalem was postponed. Many Christians who recalled Jesus’ prophecy seized this delay to flee from Judea.
Josephus writes about Vespasian,
“And now Vespasian had fortified all the places round about Jerusalem, and erected citadels at Jericho and Adida, and placed garrisons in them both, partly out of his own Romans, partly out of the body of his auxiliaries. … And now the war having gone through all the mountainous country, and all the plain country also, those that were at Jerusalem were deprived of the liberty of going out of the City; for as to such as had a mind to desert, they were watched by the zealots; and as to such as were not yet on the side of the Romans, their army kept them in, by encompassing the City round about on all sides. Now as Vespasian was returned to Caesarea, and was getting ready, with all his army to march directly to Jerusalem, he was informed that Nero was dead … Wherefore Vespasian put off at first his expedition against Jerusalem, and stood waiting whither the empire would be transferred after the death of Nero.” [ Josephus, Wars, 4:486]
THE SIEGE CAUSED A MASSIVE FAMINE
After the City was surrounded and escape was impossible, a famine of unimaginable proportions descended upon the holy City.
“Children and youth, swollen with the famine, wandered about the marketplaces like shadows, and fell down wherever the death agony overtook them. The sick were not strong enough to bury even their own relatives, and those who had the strength hesitated because of the multitude of the dead and the uncertainty as to their own fate. Many, indeed, died while they were burying others, and many betook themselves to their graves before death came upon them.” [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.6.14]
JOSEPHUS – THE TERRIBLE FAMINE
“So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the City. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the City were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the marketplaces like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them.
As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it; and those that were hearty and well were deterred from doing it by the great multitude of those dead bodies, and by the uncertainty there was how soon they should die themselves, for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their coffins before that fatal hour was come! Nor was there any lamentation made under these calamities, nor were heard any mournful complaints; but the famine confounded all natural passions; for those who were just going to die, looked upon those that were gone to their rest before them with dry eyes and open mouths.
A deep silence also, a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the City; while yet the robbers were still more terrible than these miseries were themselves; for they brake open those houses which were no other than graves of dead bodies, and plundered them of what they had; and carrying off the coverings of their bodies, went out laughing, and tried the points of their swords on their dead bodies; and, in order to prove what mettle they were made of, they thrust some of those through that still lay alive upon the ground; but for those that entreated them to lend them their right hand, and their sword to dispatch them, they were too proud to grant their requests, and left them to be consumed by the famine.
Now every one of these died with their eyes fixed upon the Temple, and left the seditious alive behind them. Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath.” [Josephus, Wars, 5.12.3 ]
TITUS BUILDS A WALL AROUND JERUSALEM
After the siege and the arrival of Titus, a stone wall was erected around Jerusalem. Jesus had prophesied about this,
Luke 19:43 – 44 — “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
JOSEPHUS WRITES OF TITUS
“These arguments prevailed with the commanders. So Titus gave orders that the army should be distributed to their several shares of this work; and indeed there now came upon the soldiers a certain divine fury, so that they did not only part the whole wall that was to be built among them, nor did only one legion strive with another, but the lesser divisions of the army did the same; insomuch that each soldier was ambitious to please his decurion, each decurion his centurion, each centurion his tribune, and the ambition of the tribunes was to please their superior commanders, while Caesar himself took notice of and rewarded the like contention in those commanders; for he went round about the works many times every day, and took a view of what was done.
Titus began the wall from the camp of the Assyrians, where his own camp was pitched, and drew it down to the lower parts of Cenopolis; thence it went along the valley of Cedron, to the Mount of Olives; it then bent towards the south, and encompassed the mountain as far as the rock called Peristereon, and that other hill which lies next it, and is over the valley which reaches to Siloam; whence it bended again to the west, and went down to the valley of the Fountain, beyond which it went up again at the monument of Ananus the high priest, and encompassing that mountain where Pompey had formerly pitched his camp, it returned back to the north side of the City, and was carried on as far as a certain village called ―The House of the Erebinthi; after which it encompassed Herod’s monument, and there, on the east, was joined to Titus’s own camp, where it began.
Now the length of this wall was forty furlongs, one only abated. Now at this wall without were erected thirteen places to keep garrison in, whose circumferences, put together, amounted to ten furlongs; the whole was completed in three days; so that what would naturally have required some months 20 was done in so short an interval as is incredible.
When Titus had therefore encompassed the City with this wall, and put garrisons into proper places, be went round the wall, at the first watch of the night, and observed how the guard was kept; the second watch he allotted to Alexander; the commanders of legions took the third watch. They also cast lots among themselves who should be upon the watch in the night time, and who should go all night and level you” [Josephus, Wars, 5.12.2]
THE WALLS FLATTENED
“NOW as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done,) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire City and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the City on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of City it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a City otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.” [Josephus, Wars, 5.7.1]
As we examine scripture in context, we easily see that the Abomination of Desolation does not speak of an Antichrist coming in the future, nor is it related to something happening in the future in Jerusalem or in a rebuilt Temple. The prophecy spoke of the past which is concluded in AD 70.