This is now the fourteenth post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:
This will be the last of four posts in which we are considering the words of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse related to the predicted judgment on apostate Israel in 67-70 AD. We have already considered Christ’s non-physical return in judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD, and His declaration that His generation would not pass away until all that He had prophesied would take place. In the previous post we examined the signs that Jesus said would lead up to the end of the age. In this post we will speak of the abomination of desolation, as well as the great tribulation which Jesus said would find no comparison in history.
III. The Abomination of Desolation
It is said by a number of futurists that, in the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, nothing occurred which may have fulfilled Christ’s prophecy of a coming abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel (8:13; 9:26-27, 11:31, 12:11). Of this, Jesus said, “when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16). A number of early church writers, however, did teach that the abomination of desolation occurred in the time period of Jerusalem’s destruction. These included Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), Eusebius (263-339) Athanasius (296-372), Augustine (379), Chrysostom (379), Jerome (347-420), and Remigius (437-533). Eusebius, for example, said:
…the many great sieges which were carried on against the cities of Judea, and the excessive sufferings endured by those that fled to Jerusalem itself, as to a city of perfect safety, and finally the general course of the whole war, as well as its particular occurrences in detail, and how at last the abomination of desolation, proclaimed by the prophets, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, the temple which was now awaiting its total and final destruction by fire– all these things any one that wishes may find accurately described in the history written by Josephus (Dennis , 2009).
Sam Storms (2006) is one contemporary pastor and author who believes that the abomination of desolation and the great tribulation are already long past. He says, “[A] careful study of [Matthew 24 and Mark 13] will reveal that ‘the abomination of desolation’ to which [Jesus] refers, as well as the ‘great tribulation,’ pertain to the events of 70 a.d.”
From Scripture it seems possible that the holy place mentioned by Jesus was not the temple, but Jerusalem, since the entire city was considered holy (Daniel 9:24, Nehemiah 11:1, Matthew 4:5, Matthew 27:53). In Daniel’s day the temple was holy, but Jesus had just pronounced it desolate (Matthew 23:38). This was the viewpoint of Chrysostom, who wrote, “For this it seems to me that the abomination of desolation means the army by which the holy city of Jerusalem was made desolate” (recorded in The Ante-Nicene Fathers). Thomas Newton, in his dissertation titled “The Prophecy of Matthew 24” written in 1753, also took this position (Todd Dennis , 2009):
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.
Other commentators roughly contemporary to Thomas Newton held to the same view, i.e. that these words of Jesus were fulfilled in 67-70 AD, also allowing that “the holy place” was not the inner temple but Jerusalem itself. These included John Wesley (1754), Adam Clarke (1837), C. H. (Charles) Spurgeon (1868), and Philip Schaff (1877). For many of these commentators, it was enough of an abomination that the Romans came into Jerusalem bearing standards, emblems, and banners with images of their gods and proclamations of the deity of their emperor. B.H. Carroll (1915), in his well-known work, “An Introduction of the English Bible,” related an interesting incident which took place during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD). This incident sheds light on what was constituted as such an abomination at this time:
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’ (pp. 263-264).
As we will see later, it’s a historical fact that thousands of believers, recalling Jesus’ words, did flee to the mountains around 67 AD. According to Remigius, they did so as the Roman army approached, even a couple years before the Romans invaded the temple itself:
[F]or on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us [referring to Eusebius], miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time.
IV. No Greater Tribulation Before Or Since
Holford writes that in the final days and hours of the siege on Jerusalem, when the temple was penetrated, many Jews inexplicably forsook the towers of the temple which they had arrogantly deemed to be impenetrable. In a panic, they “sought refuge in caverns and subterraneous passages; in which dismal retreats no less than two thousand dead bodies were afterwards found. Thus, as our Lord had predicted, did these miserable creatures, in effect, “say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the rocks, ‘Cover us’ (Luke 23:30; cf. Rev. 6:16).” Even the Roman general Titus recognized the hand of God in Israel’s destruction, for he exclaimed, “Had not God himself aided our operations, and driven the Jews from their fortresses, it would have been absolutely impossible to have taken them; for what could men, and the force of engines, have done against such towers as these?”
Josephus vindicates the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:21 (“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”) with his own firsthand report: “If the misfortunes of all nations, from the beginning of the world, were compared with those which befell the Jews, they would appear far less in comparison; No other city ever suffered such things, as no other generation, from the beginning of the world, was ever more fruitful in wickedness.”
This statement by Jesus is one more indication that the tribulation He spoke of is already past. For if this refers to a yet future time just prior to the Second Coming, and not 67-70 AD, why would Jesus use the phrase “and never will be”? It wouldn’t make so much sense to use the expression “and never will be” when referring to an event that brings humanity to the very end of time. Instead this phrase implies that a significant period of time would follow the great tribulation Jesus spoke of, which makes sense if it was completed by 70 AD. The final section will show in more detail how awful that tribulation was.
 E.g. Spurgeon said, “This portion of our Savior’s words appears to relate solely to the destruction of Jerusalem. As soon as Christ’s disciples saw ‘the abomination of desolution’, 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 (Haynes, 2001).