Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Call to Alacrity, not Perplexity

In my two previous posts I have been discussing an article by Professor Dan Doriani titled What is The 'Abomination of Desolation'? The article appears at The Gospel Coalition website. This post seeks to answer the question posed in the title of Professor Doriani's article.

It could be pointed out that by considering what the Abomination of Desolation is, Professor Doriani is also seeking to establish when it is. In other words, did it happen in 70 AD, or is it yet a future event? Understanding what it is assists in understanding that it has not yet occurred.

Some keys to answering this question of when are in Matthew 24: 15 itself. The verse begins with the clause "Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation..." (NASB). Not "if you see..." The text presumes that the reader who happens to be located in the vicinity of the event will see it. With the assistance of current technology (and, hypothetically, of future technology), it is easy to consider how those in the region could view a video feed of the event. On the other hand, in the first century it would not seem plausible that everyone in the district could personally observe, from their houses and fields,  an occurrence taking place inside the Temple. Also, the definite article and reference to the book of Daniel both clarify that a technical prophetic term is being implemented to refer to a specific earth-shaking event--this is not just an abomination, but The Abomination. When it happens, it will dwarf other lesser abominations.

Then there is the urgent instruction  to flee from the area because the Abomination of Desolation signals the approach of superlative tribulation never seen before and never to be seen again (verses 16-21). But when Roman armies invaded the Temple in 70 AD it was at the conclusion of a long siege, not the beginning. This siege followed a military campaign throughout the region and a long duration of turmoil within the city. It signaled the culmination, not the onset of the Roman conquest. The time to flee would have arrived well before the Temple destruction. And as bad a time as it was, it was not the worst in history. Those taking flight from the invasion would have long since taken leave if able as the war and famine in the area had already been going on for a considerable duration. Thus pagan soldiers entering the Temple in the first century would have been too late a cue to try and escape. The urgency required by the directive in the text--not going back into the house, even to grab a coat, does not fit the first century invasion which would have allowed for enough warning prior, as armies gathered, for local residents to gather some provisions.

In addition there is the warning sign itself. It would be difficult to argue that the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 AD could not have been anticipated as the Roman armies gathered to invade after conquering the surrounding area. But in the warning of Matthew 24: 15-22 it is anticipated that people will have no warning except the Abomination of Desolation episode itself. Thus people may be outside without their luggage but are instructed not to delay by going back to their houses. And verse 20 isolates the time frame of the window of escape to a single day--hence the exhortation to pray it not be a Sabbath, when travel would be more difficult.

Verse 29 describes apocalyptic cosmic phenomena that were not witnessed in the first century, followed by the Second Coming of Jesus in verses 30 and 31. That itself should prove that verses 15-31 have not yet happened.

The question of whether the invasion by Titus of Rome in the first century was the Abomination of Desolation is a matter of some debate. But when the real Abomination of Desolation occurs, there will be no debate. Believers will know it when they see it.

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