WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN? PART SIX
THE ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION IDENTIFIED:
Some feel it was the Roman armies that were the abomination causing desolation. The Scripture doesn’t say it was the Roman armies. When Luke speaks of armies surrounding Jerusalem, he says this in conjunction with the desolation of Jerusalem being near. Luke does not speak of the abomination that causes desolation. He speaks only of the desolation itself. Matthew speaks of the abomination standing in the holy place causing the desolation. Mark says the same thing. Christ told the inhabitants of Judea to flee when they saw the abomination standing in the holy place. Daniel says that because of the overspreading of abominations (more than one), He (the prince, Christ) shall make it desolate. I believe the “it” is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem. The Greek word bdelugma, which is translated as abomination, has as its basic meaning, “a foul thing.” Neither Daniel nor the gospel writers identify the exact nature of the abomination. However, an examination of the pertinent Scriptures which speak of the abomination that causes desolation, and a review of the history of the time, will identify the abomination.
Daniel 9:27: And he shall confirm (Hebrew: Gabar, which means to make strong) the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate (KJV).
Matthew 24:15-16: 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.
Mark 13:14: When you see `the abomination that causes desolation' standing where it does not belong-let the reader understand-then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Luke 21:20-21: When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.
Roman armies began occupying Judea with the arrival of Cestius Gallus. This Roman General and his army did not enter the city of Jerusalem. Instead they withdrew. The Romans, however, were not the only armies in the area. The Idumeans, played a significant role in the destruction of Jerusalem. They lived to the southwest of Judea and they joined forces with rebel Jews warring against other Jews. All of this military activity was the immediate signal to the Christians to get out before the Roman armies returned and occupied Judea in great numbers, surrounding the city of Jerusalem. Once this happened, it would become very difficult if not impossible to escape. It was the actions of desecration committed by the Idumeans and the zealots that greatly disrupted the temple worship. I submit that this desecration by the Idumeans and Zealots was the abomination that preceded the desolation. The Christians saw what was happening at the temple, in the city of Jerusalem and in Judea at large, and fled before the Romans totally occupied the area.
The Romans built a moat around the city of Jerusalem. This would have made it impossible for Christians living in the city to escape the city. This moat was built before the Romans scaled the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. The Christians were able to escape before the Romans scaled the walls of Jerusalem and occupied the temple area. Since their escape was in response to seeing the abomination set up, this abomination must have occurred prior to the Romans surrounding the city and making it all but impossible to escape.
Christ speaks of the abomination that causes desolation standing in the holy place as the signal to flee Judea. If the holy place is to be understood as the temple, the city of Jerusalem, or both, the Roman armies could not be the abomination standing in the holy place. By the time the Romans would have been standing in the holy place it would have been too late to flee the city. By the time the Romans entered the city and reached the temple to destroy it, the city of Jerusalem and much of Judea was in shambles. In order to escape this destruction, the Christians would have fled much in advance of the Romans entering the city and the temple area. By the time the Romans stood in the holy place, it had already been desecrated by the Jews. The Jews, Idumeans and other rebel forces had already created an abomination (foul thing) in the city and at the temple. The desolation to follow was the complete destruction of the temple and the city by fire. This was the judgment brought by Christ through the vehicle of the Roman armies. This Roman invasion brought about the final spreading of abominations that had been started by the Jews and their rebel associates. These abominations caused the final desolation of the city and temple. This brought to an end the Old Covenant system, the consummation that Daniel speaks of.
In the 70 weeks prophecy, Daniel speaks of Christ confirming the covenant for one week. In the midst of the week the sacrifices would cease. The war lasted seven years. The sacrifices did cease around the middle of the war. The war ended the Old Covenant system once and for all. The physical removal of the priesthood, sacrifices and temple was the final and full confirmation that the New Covenant system had fully replaced the Old. As word spread of this destruction, it became obvious to the Christian community that the old system was abolished. Christ confirmed the New Covenant by His intervention through human instruments to destroy the Old system. The destruction of the temple was the confirmation that the old system was gone and the new system was now fully established. This final confirmation lasted seven years. It involved the complete removal of the old system, right down to the last remaining adherents to this system who were destroyed at Masada in A.D. 73. This was the final and complete fulfillment of “all things that have been written,” as Christ prophesied in the Olivet Discourse.
THE SEVEN YEAR WAR:
Daniel characterizes the 70 weeks in the following manner:
Daniel 9:24: Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy (KJV).
The end of the 69th week to the end of the 70th week is the focus of Daniel in this passage. I believe that the Scriptural evidence points to an approximate 40-year time frame between the end of the 69th week and the beginning of the 70th week. It was during this 40-year period of time that the New Covenant was in the process of being established. It began to be established through the ministry, death and resurrection of Christ which all took place at or after the end the 69th week. It was further established during the approximate 40-year ministry of the apostles. It was completely established and confirmed by the final dissolution of the Old Covenant from A.D. 66 to 73.
This seven-year war was the 70th week. In Daniel 9:26, Daniel speaks of this time frame as a time of war, and overspreading of abominations. This didn’t happen at the time of Christ’s ministry or at the time of the crucifixion or shortly after the crucifixion. The context of the 70th week includes the destruction of the city, leading to the consummation. In Daniel 12:11, the prophet spoke of the daily sacrifice being removed at the time when the abomination is set up. We have seen from our review of Scripture and history that the abomination is set up at the time of the war that led to the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. The removal of the daily sacrifice is dated to the war. This destruction took place approximately 40 years after Christ returned to the Father. This is when Christ facilitated the end of the sacrificial system in the middle of the 70th week. This tie-in to the war shows that the 70th week occurred some 40 years after the end of the 69th week. This was the 70th week (seven years) confirmation that Daniel speaks of. This confirmation took place between A.D. 66 and 73 when the old system became visibly destroyed, thus signifying to the Christian community that the New Covenant, and all that it represented, was now fully in place.
Some may object to the conclusion that Christ confirmed the covenant through the Roman-Jewish War of A.D. 66 to A.D. 73. Some would argue that the New Covenant was established at the death of Jesus when He became the sacrifice for sin. It is true that Christ’s sacrifice terminated the need for animal sacrifices. In the temple, the curtain that hid the holy of hollies from general view was torn from top to bottom at the time of the crucifixion. This exposure of the holy of hollies was evidence that the sacrificial system was no longer necessary. Everyone would now have direct access to God, not just the High Priest.
There is no doubt that the death and resurrection of Christ caused the sacrificial system to become obsolete. Through His death and resurrection, Christ became our High Priest. There no longer was a need for the priestly system of the Old Covenant. For Gentiles converting to Christianity, the Christ event was confirmation enough that a new system was being established. For many Jews converting to Christianity, the Old Covenant was still felt to be of significance. This obsolete system did not pass away at the death of Christ. While it no longer held any spiritual significance before God, it nevertheless continued to function physically for another forty years. Those who continued to adhere to this system believed it still to be a viable system and necessary for a proper relationship with God. This included Christian Jews who still wanted to cling to many aspects of the old system. This misplaced adherence to an obsolete system would end only when the means to facilitate this system would be destroyed. This destruction would confirm that the new had replaced the old in its entirety.
Therefore, the establishment of the New Covenant was a gradual process that took place between the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and His return in the destruction/judgment of A.D. 66 to 73. The Old and New Covenants co-existed during this period of time. The Old Covenant would not be wiped out until the destruction of the temple, which was the centerpiece of that covenant. There is sound Scriptural evidence for this position. In his letter the churches of Galatia, Paul writes:
Galatians 4:21-31: Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: ‘Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.’ Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.’ Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
This figurative application by Paul shows that the Old and the New Covenants were co-existing at the time of Paul’s letter. But, as the son of Hagar was cast out, so would the Old Covenant be removed. This analogy reflects the bitter struggle that was taking place between fleshly and spiritual Israel. Just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, physical Israel was persecuting spiritual Israel, which was the developing Christian Church. The whole force of Paul’s writings, as well as other New Testament authors, reflects this struggle and its eventual resolution in the return of Christ to judge the Old Covenant adversaries of the New Covenant Christians. We see this ongoing battle recorded throughout the New Testament Scriptures of which the following are a few examples.
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.
Hebrews 10:32-37: Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, (Greek: very,very little while) ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’
Here are just two examples of persecution the adherents to the Old Covenant system were waging against the Christian community and how the coming of Christ would bring it all to an end. Here again we see the imminency of the coming of Christ tied to bringing relief to first-century Christians who were being persecuted for their acceptance of the New Covenant system. To postulate that these Christians all went to their graves and are still waiting to be delivered from the Jewish and other persecutions of the first century is ludicrous and contrary to the context of the text.
Much of the New Testament narrative is about the covenantal change that was taking place and the dynamics associated with that change. The implementation of the New Covenant system included the establishment of the New Jerusalem.
Hebrews 12:18-24: You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’ But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Throughout the book of Hebrews, the writer contrasts the physical with the spiritual, the temporal with the eternal.
Hebrews 9:22-23 (King James Version): Almost all things are by the law purged with blood and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
Here the writer is showing that under the law (Old Covenant system), there existed physical patterns of things that exist at a much higher level of reality in the non-physical spiritual realm. In verse 24 (KJV) it is recorded that “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” The NIV says it this way: “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one.”
A modern analogy would be the sewing of a garment. In most cases you would use a pattern. The pattern would not be of the same material as the garment. Nor would it be the thing that you would wear. Once the pattern is used it is generally cast aside because it is not the real thing. You would now wear the garment. The Old Covenant provided the physical patterns of the spiritual realities that have now been established.
Christ came to facilitate the wearing of the new garment. He did this through His death, resurrection and ascension to the Father. He powerfully intervened in the Great War to completely remove the old garment and replace it with the new. The new garment includes inherent eternal life through the sacrifice of Christ. This new garment includes the reality of the Kingdom life available through the indwelling of God’s Spirit. Living the Kingdom life is synonymous with living in the spiritual New Jerusalem.
WHEN WAS THE OLD COVENANT SYSTEM REMOVED?
Again, it must be emphasized that the Old system was not eliminated at the cross. The cross event began the removal of the old system. This removal was not completed until Christ returned to bring salvation with Him. Many years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ the Old Covenant was still around.
Hebrews 8:12-13: For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
This letter to the Hebrews was written many years after the cross. The Old Covenant was still around. It was obsolete but still a functional entity. Animal sacrifices were still going on, temple rituals were still being performed and holy days were still being kept. Dozens of New Testament Scriptures attest to the first-century Christians looking to the return of Christ as the terminus event in the full removal of the old system and the full implementation of the new system.
The apostle John made a rather interesting statement in the first chapter of his Gospel. He said: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). What are we to make of this statement? It’s not difficult to understand that grace came by Jesus Christ. The very fact that Christ paid the death penalty in our stead demonstrates His grace bestowed upon us. But why does John contrast the giving of the Law by Moses, with truth coming through Jesus Christ? Wasn’t the law of Moses truth as well?
The answer to that question involves the issue of the two covenants in Scripture. The Old Covenant that God established through Moses deals with the physical while the New Covenant established through Christ deals with the spiritual. The Old Covenant was temporal in nature. It could not facilitate eternal forgiveness of sin. This system was only a pattern of the real thing. John, therefore, contrasted it with the truth that Christ brought. Christ brought the real thing. The Old Covenant was valid for what it was designed. It was designed to facilitate a relationship with God based on works. The New Covenant is designed to facilitate a relationship with God based on grace. The whole battle between advocates of the new system versus advocates of the old system involved this question of grace and works relative to a right standing before God.
Christ came to reveal the spiritual relationship that we can have with the Father through Christ. That relationship involves our resurrection from spiritual death and the presence of the spiritual Kingdom within us. This is what covenantal change brought about and continues to sustain. Our responsibility as Christians is to respond to the grace of Christ by facilitating the righteousness of God in our behavior.