After Jesus departed the temple in Jerusalem for the last time, a disciple pointed out the remarkable temple complex. Jesus responded by predicting the destruction of the temple. When Jesus stopped on the Mount of Olives, the “inner circle” asked follow-up questions in Mark 13:4: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” The disciples asked two different questions:
- A Time Question: “When will these things be?”
- A Sign Question: “What will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
Verses 5-37 records the Lord’s answer. It is called “The Olivet Discourse.” This is the fullest answerJesus gave to any question. It emphasizes the significance of the subject. Eschatology is not an elective class. This is a core subject of Christian discipleship. It is not incidental that the Bible begins with the beginning in Genesis and ends with the end in Revelation. Verses 5-13 record the first thing Jesus told the disciples about the future: The last days will be hard days. Jesus then began to answer their questions more directly. Verse 14 says, “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.”
This statement about the “abomination of desolation” directly answers the disciples’ questions in verse 4. It is the key to the Olivet Discourse. Yet it is hard to understand. An “abomination” is something blasphemous, sacrilegious, profanatory to God and his people. It describes how abhorrent idolatry or immorality is to God. “Desolation” is a state of emptiness or barrenness. The abomination of desolation is a detestable event that leaves a holy place deserted. It is something terrible that will happen in the temple. Matthew 24:15 cites Daniel as the source of this reference. The prophet predicts this event in Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11.
Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple in 168 B.C. But it was not a complete fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. Mark 13:14 presents it as a future event. Faithful Bible teachers believe that the future event was the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. When Titus invaded Jerusalem, he desecrated the temple before his soldiers burned it down. It may seem obvious that this is what verse 14 is about. But specific details Jesus gives point to a greater event than the destruction of the temple.
I believe the abomination of desolation is yet to come. But this text is not about eschatological theories. It teaches the disciples how to be faithful to the end. What will be the sign of the end of the age? The end of the age will be marked by great tribulation.
Jesus teaches four lessons about the abomination of desolation.
A Time of Crisis
Verse 14 says, “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be.”Mark focuses on the person behind this event. It is “the man of lawlessness” predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. The Antichrist will commit the abomination of desolation. Note Mark’s parenthetical statement: “Let the reader understand.” This is the only place where Mark directly addresses his readers. Something would happen in the future that this passage will help the reader understand. It will be a time of crisis.
Jesus says, when you see it, “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” There are times when faithfulness requires you to stand your ground. This will not be one of those times. Jesus warns, “Run for your life!”
Flee your houses. Verse 15 says, “Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take out anything.” Palestinian houses had flat roofs that were used like patios, accessible through outside stairs. Jesus says when you see the abomination of desolation, get down and get out. Don’t go into the house to retrieve any belongings. Flight attendants give strange but necessary instructions: “In the case of an emergency landing, leave all personal items behind.”
Jesus gives the same advice. It is end-time instructions with real-time implications. Do not let material possessions get in the way of spiritual priorities.
Flee your fields. Verse 16 says, “And let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.” Some will be at home; others will be in the field. Jesus warns them not to stop to get their cloak. A “cloak” was an outer garment used as a coat during the day and a blanket at night.
Matthew 5:40 says, “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” That was radical retaliation; seeing a cloak was often a person’s most valuable possession. But Jesus says to the one who has removed his cloak to work the field, “Don’t go back to get it.” It would be such a time of crisis that necessities should be abandoned.
A Time of Sorrow
- Verses 14-16 reflect the wisdom of Jesus.
- Verses 17-18 reflect the compassion of Jesus.
The abomination of desolation will be a time of great sorrow. Jesus demonstrates compassion for this time of sorrow in two ways.
A Cause for Pity. Verse 17 says, “And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!” “Alas” is an interjection of grief. Jesus pities pregnant women and nursing mothers. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to travel in a hurry. The ancient Near East was a man’s world. Women were treated like property, not persons. But here, we see the Lord’s countercultural treatment of women.
- Male headship is biblical Christianity.
- Male chauvinism is not.
We also see here Jesus’s love for children. He does not advise women to abort their children for safetyor survival. But Jesus is moved with compassion toward the unique burden pregnant women and nursing mothers carry.
A Call to Prayer. Verse 18 says, “Pray that it may not happen in winter.” During the winter season, heavy rain would complicate or prevent travel. Roads became impassable. Jesus instructs his disciples to pray the abomination of desolation does not happen in winter. This is a lesson about nature: God controls the weather. It is also a lesson about prayer: Prayer changes things!
Jesus’ instruction to pray for favorable weather teaches us to pray about our personal concerns with confidence that he will hear and answer. Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
- There is nothing too big for God to handle.
- There is nothing too small for God to care about.
A Time of Tribulation
Verses 19-20 explain why Jesus speaks with such urgency in verses 14-18. The abomination of desolation will be a time of tribulation.
Severe Days. Verse 19 explains: “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.” We use the word “unprecedented” too loosely. What we call unprecedented is often our ignorance of history. The abomination of desolation would truly be an unparalleled event. It will be a time of distress, pressure, and trouble like no other.
This is a fundamental reason why I believe this is a future event infinitely greater than the destruction of the temple. Jesus said nothing in history would compare to it. That would include the flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom, and the plagues of Egypt. Nothing in the days of Jesus and the apostles would be like it. And there will never be anything like it in the future. At this point, that would include two World Wars – one of which included dropping nuclear bombs. The abomination of desolation would usher in the darkest days in human history.
- The bad news is that these will be severe days.
- The good news is that these will be shortened days.
Divine Intervention. Verse 20 says, “And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved.” The Great Tribulation will be so severe that it could destroy all human life on Earth. But the Lord will intervene. He has already intervened. Jesus predicts terrible events in the future. But he declares God has stepped in so that it will not be as bad as it could be. Be concerned about the future. Do not be afraid. God is in control.
- Evil will not have the last word.
- The Lord will have the last word.
Sovereign Election. Verse 20 says, “But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” Why will God shorten the days? “For the sake of the elect.” Who are the elect? They are those “whom he chose.” Christians testify about choosing Jesus as Savior and Lord. Ephesians 1:4 says God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” Human pride hates the doctrine of election. It is stated here as a comforting truth. God will not allow the Great Tribulation to wipe out mankind for the sake of those he has chosen to save. The world does not know how much it owes to the elect. The wicked are the beneficiaries of God’s faithfulness to fulfill his purpose and promises for his people.
A Time of Deception
The disciples’ question is recorded in verse 4. Verse 5 records the Lord’s first response: “See that no one leads you astray.” Deception is a greater threat than persecution. We see that again here in those closing verses of this passage. How, then, should we live?
Spiritual Discernment. Verse 21 says, “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe him.” It is damnable to take advantage of the desire for hope. Jesus braces us for it to happen. The double “Look” is excited and emphatic. As the troubled cry out for rescue, some will claim the Christ has come to deliver his people. Jesus tells us not to believe them. The Lord’s return will not need to be announced. Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” Do not let anyone deceive you about the Person and Work of Christ.
Verse 22 explains: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”
- Pseudo-Christ will pretend to be the Christ.
- Pseudo-prophets will proclaim false Christs.
Beware of religious leaders with big titles. They are prone to use their “authority” to lead you astray. They may even perform “signs and wonders” to validate themselves. Miracles do not prove a man or ministry is of God. If miracles are not rooted in truth and holiness, they are the work of the devil to deceive you. “To lead astray” states their purpose. They may be so persuasive that they lead astray the elect, “if possible.” Praise God, it is not possible! Romans 8:30 says, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Spiritual Alertness. Verse 23 says, “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” “Be on guard” is a repeated admonition in the Olivet Discourse. Jesus did not give these instructions for us to speculate about the future. He gave them that we might be armed and ready for spiritual warfare. Your faith will be tested. You must be on guard to stand firm when tribulation comes.
How do we stand guard? Verse 23 says, “I have told you all things beforehand.” This is a statement about the sufficiency of scripture. The Bible does not tell us everything about the end. It does tell us everything we need to know to be on guard. It is also a statement about the trustworthiness of Christ. I do not fully understand everything Jesus says here about the future. But I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead. The crucified and risen Savior is worthy of our trust.
- If you are an unbeliever, trust Jesus to save you!
- If you are a believer, trust Jesus to keep you!
A group of applicants sat in a lobby, waiting to be interviewed for a job as a Morse code operator. As they chatted, no one noticed the clicking sounds coming from the loudspeaker. But one applicant got up and went into the office. He later came out and announced he got the job. The other applicants asked how. “While you were talking, you missed the manager’s coded message,” he answered. The message said, “The man I need must be on alert. The first one who interprets this message and comes to my office will be hired.” Jesus has told us what is to come. Stay tuned!