The Significance of the Word “Desolate” in the New Testament


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the book of Revelation”

The word “desolate” (or the related word “desolation”) only appears 12 times in the New Testament. Seven of these appearances are in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and five of them are references to Jerusalem’s condition in Jesus’ day and to what was about to happen to that city. This word does not appear in John’s gospel account, but its final two appearances in the New Testament demonstrate that John, in the book of Revelation, was showing Jerusalem to be every bit the desolate place that Jesus said it was.

Like the previous post, this one is also inspired by a recent discussion here. PJ Miller, of Sola Dei Gloria, observed the similarity between Matthew’s use of the word “desolate” in both chapters 23 and 24:

[1] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

[2] “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16).

[1] In Matthew 23:38, Jesus summed up what had become of Jerusalem in His lament over that city. Although formerly God’s house, Jesus now spoke of Jerusalem (and/or the temple) as “your house,” for He had abandoned it and left it to them as “desolate.”  About 650 years earlierGod said the same to Jeremiah just before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC:

I have forsaken My house, I have left My heritageI have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies… ‘Many rulers have destroyed My vineyard, they have trodden My portion underfoot; They have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it desolate; Desolate, it mourns to Me; The whole land is made desolate, because no one takes it to heart” (Jeremiah 12:7-11).

(In two recent posts, we discussed how first century Jerusalem became infested with demons, but how God chose new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, as His house and His dwelling place.)

Strong’s Concordance defines the word “desolate” (#2048), used in Matthew 23:38, as “lonesome, waste, desert, solitary, wilderness.”

[2] In Matthew 24:15, Jesus warned His followers living in Judea to flee to the mountains when they saw the “abomination of desolation.” Matthew’s Jewish audience was familiar with this phrase, and would understand the reference to Daniel, but Luke quotes Jesus differently for his mostly Gentile audience:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…” (Luke 21:20-21).

So the “abomination of desolation” was in the hands of foreign armies coming to complete Jerusalem’s desolation. The warnings of Matthew and Luke, stated differently, were to bring about the same response: immediate flight. In 314 AD, Eusebius, known as the father of church history, wrote the following about the obedience of Jesus’ followers to His words in Matthew 24:

“The people of the church at Jerusalem, in accordance with a certain oracle that was vouchsafed by way of revelation to the approved men there, had been commanded to depart from the city before the [Jewish-Roman war of 67-73 AD], and to inhabit a certain city of Peraea. They called it Pella [in modern-day Jordan]. And when those who believed in Christ had removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had utterly deserted both the royal metropolis of the Jews itself and the whole land of Judaea, the Justice of God then visited upon them all their acts of violence to Christ and his apostles, by destroying that generation of wicked persons root and branch from among men” (see here for more about this event).

The word “desolation” in Matthew 24:15 is #2049 in Strong’s Concordance, and the definition there is: “from 2048; to lay waste (lit. or fig.): -(bring to, make) desolate (-ion), come to nought.” The word “desolation” in Luke 21:20 is entry #2050, and Strong’s simply points back to #2049. So we can see that all three entries (#2048, #2049, and #2050) are essentially the same word, just as the words “desolate” and “desolation” are essentially the same in English.

“Desolate” and “desolation” appear in Mark 13:14 and Luke 13:35 as direct parallels to Matthew 24 and Matthew 23, respectively. Otherwise, these words only appear six other times in the New Testament.* We’ll look briefly at four of these instances, before looking at their two appearances in Revelation: 

The word “desolation” appears in Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 (parallel passages), where Jesus responds to the Pharisees who question by what power He was casting out demons: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

The word “desolate” appears in Acts 1:20 regarding Judas Iscariot: “’For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it.”

It also shows up in Galatians 4:27, in Paul’s argument that God’s people belong to the Jerusalem above, and not the Jerusalem below. He quotes Isaiah 54: “For it is written: ‘Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.’”

The Strong’s entry for Acts 1:20 and Galatians 4:27 is #2048, and the entry for Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 is #2049.

*A different Greek word for “desolate” appears in I Timothy 5:5, and refers to a widow’s grief.

The final two places where this word shows up in the New Testament are in Revelation 17:16 and Revelation 18:19 (Strong’s #2049), regarding the burning of the harlot and the great city:

And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.”

They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’”

As we discussed in a recent post (“Jerusalem, a Dwelling Place of Demons“), “the great city” was first identified as the place “where also our Lord was crucified (Rev. 11:8).” Of course, Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. This city was also aptly named “the harlot,” the same name given to it by Jeremiah (3:6-8), Ezekiel (16:15), and Hosea (6:10) because it was full of spiritual adultery at that time. Revelation 16-19 repeatedly holds “the great city”, “the harlot,” and “Babylon the great” (different names for the same entity) responsible for shedding the blood of God’s saints, prophets, and apostles. Jesus left no doubt who was responsible for shedding this blood, and when the resulting judgment would come: Israel, in His generation (Matthew 23:29-38).

Jesus declared Jerusalem in His day to be a desolate house, and He warned that “the abomination of desolation” would come and complete its desolation in His own generation. John, in his visions of “things which must shortly take place…for the time is near…at hand” (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10), saw the outcome of what Jesus prophesied, Jerusalem made desolate and burned to the ground.

Seeing how the word “desolate” is used here in Revelation 17 and 18, concerning the harlot and the great city, is good confirmation that John was showing Jerusalem to be every bit the desolate place that Jesus said it was in Matthew 23 and 24. This desolation was made complete in the year 70 AD. Gratefully, we can rejoice that we are children of the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26), the new Jerusalem aligned with the new covenant established by the blood of our Savior (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Leviticus Required the Temple in Jerusalem to be Torn Down


Today I learned something very interesting from a portion of Gary DeMar’s book, “Last Days Madness.” Gary demonstrates from the book of Leviticus why Jesus, as our great High Priest, was qualified to pronounce the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This is a fascinating connection, and brings added covenantal meaning to the words Jesus used in Matthew 23 and 24:

The Jews of Jesus’ day had turned the temple into a “house of merchandise” (John 2:16) and a “robbers’ den” (Matt. 21:13). When a priest inspected a house and found it leprous, the house was to be torn down (Lev. 14:33–47). Jesus, as the High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:6), inspected the temple twice, found it leprous, and issued His priestly evaluation: “And Jesus came out from the temple” (Matt. 24:1), as the priest “shall come out from the house” (Lev. 14:38), and declared it “desolate” (Matt. 23:38), as the priest declared a leprous house to be “unclean” (Lev. 14:44).

A leprous house could be cleansed in only one way: “He shall therefore tear down the house, its stones, and its timbers, and all the plaster of the house, and he shall take them outside the city to an unclean place” (Lev. 14:45). When Jesus’ disciples pointed to the temple buildings after hearing of its desolation, Jesus answered: “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2).

-Gary Demar, Last Days Madness, 1999, page 108

Second Temple

SOURCE

The collapse of the temple was most devastating to the Jews of that day who didn’t believe in Jesus. The Jerusalem temple was not only considered one of the great wonders of the world, but it was seen to be God’s central dwelling place. For the people of God, thankfully, God’s temple was already established in His Son, Jesus, and those who belong to Him:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (I Corinthians 6:19)

For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'” (II Corinthians 6:16)

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

PP4: Internal Evidence for an Early Date (Revelation)-Part 1


This is now the fourth segment 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. The first segment included the Title Page, Outline, Introduction, and a brief introduction to Partial-Preterism. The second segment consisted of the References page, and the third segment was a discussion of the external evidence for an early date for the writing of the book of Revelation. These segments can be found here, and again it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this current post:

[1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/brief-explanation-of-partial-preterism/
[2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp2-references/
[3] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp3-external-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation/

We will now turn to some of the internal evidence for an early date. This was a rather long section in my paper, so I’m going to break it up into several parts. Among other things, this first part will deal with references to Jerusalem, a temple, Babylon the Great, and a great city in the book of Revelation.

Adam Maarschalk

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II. Internal Evidence for an Early Date (Part 1)

The reality is that if an early date for the book of Revelation is valid, this leaves room for the possibility that many of the events in this book were also fulfilled during the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and the Roman/Jewish War of 66-73 AD. Even more telling than the external evidence (e.g. quotes from early church fathers and historians), though, is the internal evidence from the text when it is compared with other passages of Scripture and also with what historically happened during the Roman/Jewish War.

Kenneth Gentry (1998), a former Dispensationalist, discovered in his reading of “The Jewish War” by Josephus a number of accounts which seem to reflect the descriptions of the plagues and judgments in Revelation. For example:

Regarding the blood flow to the “horses’ bridles” [Revelation 14:20], Josephus’ comments on the battle scenes during the Jewish War are enlightening. At one point a naval battle produced a “lake all bloody and full of dead bodies” (Wars 3:10:9). Later he reported that “the whole of the country through which they had fled was filled with slaughter, and [the] Jordan [River] could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the lake Asphaltitis was also full of dead bodies” (Wars 4-7:6). Surely such carnage and bloodshed are suggested by John’s imagery (p. 245).

John also refers to a time period of 42 months in Revelation 11:2-3, which is significant in light of history. John is told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months…” During the Roman/Jewish War, as will be seen, it did take Rome 3.5 years, or 42 months, to overcome Jerusalem and trample it. This occurred from the time Nero dispatched his general Vespasian to advance on Jerusalem in early spring 67 AD until Jerusalem and the temple were demolished and laid level by the end of September 70 AD.

John’s words echoed the words of Jesus given earlier. In Luke 21:24, Jesus, clearly speaking about Jerusalem’s pending destruction (Luke 21:5-7), said, “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Dispensationalists interpret the phrase “times of the Gentiles” to be the entire Church Age. However, is it not possible that the “times of the Gentiles” is what John wrote about in Rev. 11:2-3?

In this Revelation 11 passage, John is told to measure a temple which apparently still existed. If he wrote this in 95-96 AD, the temple would have met its destruction 25 years before, and one could wonder why John did not raise a question when given this command or even mention the recent destruction of the temple at all in his book. Its absence  after 70 AD was no small thing, not only because of its most central significance to Judaism, but also because of its magnificence and physical stature. After a grand renovation project at the hands of Herod around 20 BC, it was widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful structures in the world [The use of the phrase “temple of God” quite possibly indicates that the Church is also being referred to here (cf. Eph. 2:11-22; II Cor. 6:16; I Cor. 3:16, 6:19). Therefore it may be that John was (symbolically) measuring the Church which would be trampled (persecuted) for 42 months (see Rev. 13:5-7; this passage will be discussed later). Given the similarity between this passage and Luke 21:24, the physical temple was also probably being alluded to. It may be that both ideas were being spoken of in this case.]

On the other hand, if the temple John measured is still future, as Dispensationalists teach, on what grounds could a future physical temple be referred to as “the temple of God”? Such a temple would be blasphemous in light of Christ’s work on the cross which has created a new, non-physical temple (e.g. Ephesians 2:13-20). The reinstitution of sacrifices would be an even greater insult (See Hebrews 7:11-10:18).

The description of the woman in Revelation 17 offers further internal evidence for an early date. This woman, who rode the beast, was said to be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (verse 6). She is a great city (verse 18), and is hated by the beast and the 10 kings who desolate her and burn her with fire (verses 16-17). More specifically, it is said that “in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24), and the “saints and apostles and prophets” were told to rejoice over her destruction (18:20).

Who was responsible for shedding all the blood of the prophets and the saints, according to Jesus, and who would receive judgment as a result? The answer can be found in Matthew 23, as David Lowman (2009 [3]) so aptly points out:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’” Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:29-38, emphasis added).

Is it a coincidence that the word “desolate” is used here, just as it is used in Revelation 17:16; 18:17, 19, not to mention Daniel 9:27 and Luke 21:20? No, Jerusalem was the prophetic “Babylon the Great” in the book of Revelation. The generation which heard Jesus speak these things also saw them happen, just as He said they would, in 70 AD. The third bowl judgment, rivers and springs of water becoming blood (Revelation 16:4), also is directly linked to those who had shed righteous blood (verses 5-6): “And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, ‘Just are You, O Holy One, who is and who was, for You brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!’” As we will see later, Josephus and others recorded that the rivers and springs of Jerusalem and its surroundings were filled with blood during the Roman/Jewish War. Again, Jesus said that it was the generation that would crucify Him that would be held responsible for the blood of saints and prophets (cf. Matthew 21:33-45), not a generation in the 21st century or beyond, and that Jerusalem would experience this wrath.

Jerusalem receives specific mention in Revelation 11:8, where she is clearly identified by the description “the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where [the] Lord was crucified.” It’s worth noting that “Revelation 11:8 suggests that Jerusalem’s streets were intact at the time of John’s writing” (Kenneth Gentry, 1998, p. 236) because the dead bodies of the two witnesses were to lie there for several days. If John wrote this in 95 or 96 AD, Jerusalem would have been a wasteland. As Kathleen M. Kenyon remarked, “It was two centuries or more [after 70 AD] before human activity began once more to make its mark in the whole area of ancient Jerusalem.”[1] It’s also significant in Revelation 11:8 that Jerusalem is called “the great city.” This is the same title given to Babylon the Great on at least six occasions (17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21).

To be called “Sodom,” of course, is not a compliment. When Isaiah was instructed to prophesy against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1), he called the Israelites by the same name because of their apostasy. It would make sense for John to speak of apostate Jerusalem, once known as the holy city, as Sodom, Babylon, and a harlot. Todd Dennis writes, “The image of the unfaithful wife, the harlot, was often used of Israel in the OT. Israel is repeatedly called the wife of God (Jer. 2:2, 3:14, Is. 54:5). But she was an unfaithful wife (Jer. 3:20, Hos. 1:2, Ez. 6:9, Ez. 16, Is. 50:1) behaving as a prostitute (Jer. 3:1-2). In the context of Jerusalem’s designation as a prostitute, Is. 1:21 is especially noteworthy: ‘See how the faithful city has become a harlot’” (Todd Dennis [25], 2009). Rome in John’s day or a secular city/state in our day could not be said to fornicate against God in the way that Jerusalem was able to. Kenneth Gentry (1998, p. 241) also writes that there “is an obvious contrast between the Harlot and the chaste bride (cp. Rev. 17:2-5 with Rev. 21:1ff.) that suggests a contrast with the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above (Rev. 21:2; cp. Gal. 4:24ff; Heb. 12:18ff.).”

Dennis adds that the description of the harlot’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls) was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (Revelation 17:4; cf. Exodus 28:5-21). The golden cup she held was likely symbolic of the temple vessels, the greatest part of which were gold and silver, according to the Jewish historian Josephus (Wars 5.4.4). On Aaron’s forehead was the inscription “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36). The harlot’s forehead, on the other hand, bore the title “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev. 17:5).


[1] Kathleen M. Kenyon, Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History, 1967, p. 185.

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The Bible study group I belong to has posted fairly comprehensive chapter-by-chapter studies on the book of Revelation. They can all be found here.