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).

The Avenging of Righteous Blood (Deuteronomy, Matthew and Revelation)


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

Recently my friend, Jerry William Bowers Jr., posted the following status on Facebook:

Revelation simplified:

Revelation 6:10, 16:6, 17:6, 18:24, 19:2, 20:4 speaks to the avenging of righteous blood.

This was prophesied in Deuteronomy 32:43, and would occur in Israel’s “END” (Deuteronomy 32:20) in their “Latter end” (Deuteronomy 32:29).

Matthew 23:34-36 very clearly says this would be fulfilled in their own generation.

It just doesn’t get any simpler than that!

I agree with Jerry’s summary, and would like to develop it further. During the last several years of studying eschatology, one thing I’ve enjoyed immensely is allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. It’s an enlightening exercise. To give one example, I was taught for a long time that Isaiah’s imagery of a wolf lying down with a lamb is both unfulfilled and a literal reference to the animal kingdom. However, I’ve now come to understand, by allowing Romans 15 to interpret Isaiah 11, that this is presently fulfilled in Christ, who broke down the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles so that all may find their hope in Him (see “Romans 15 Shows That Isaiah 11 Is Fulfilled“).

Deuteronomy 32: Prediction of Israel’s End and Judgment for Murdering God’s People

Jerry’s status is also an appeal to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, in this case concerning the theme of the blood of the martyrs. Let’s take a look at the passages he referenced in Deuteronomy 32, plus one more (verse 5). There Moses is speaking to Israel (Deut. 31:30), which he very interestingly addresses as “heaven” and “earth” (Deut. 32:1).

“They have corrupted themselves; They are not His children, because of their blemish: a perverse and crooked generation” (Deut. 32:5).

And He said: ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faith‘” (Deut. 32:20).

For they are a nation void of counsel, nor is there any understanding in them. Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! (Deut. 32:28-29).

Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people” (Deut. 32:43).

Does anything jump out when noting Moses’ language in verse 20? Recall what Jesus said to His Israelite audience in Matthew 17:

Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me” (Matthew 17:17).

Moses predicted that at the time of Israel’s end, they would be a perverse and faithless generation. Jesus ministered in Israel to the same generation that was overthrown by the Romans in 70 AD, and He called that generation “faithless and perverse.” It would seem that Jesus intentionally invoked Moses’ words in Deut. 32:20. The apostle Paul did the same thing when addressing the Philippian church, as he used the exact same phrase Moses used in Deut. 32:5.

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15).

Matthew 23: Jesus’ Own Generation Responsible for The Blood of God’s Servants

We turn now to Jesus’ prediction in His woes upon the Scribes and Pharisees. He declared that they “build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous” (Matt. 23:29), and that they “are sons of those who murdered the prophets” (verse 31). Jesus went on to say:

Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:34-36).

Moses, in Deuteronomy 32, predicted that God would “avenge the blood of His servants” at the time of Israel’s end. Jesus told the religious leaders of Israel that they would be held responsible for “all the righteous blood shed on earth” (or land, that is, Israel’s land). He made it clear that their generation would experience that judgment.

Revelation: The Avenging of the Blood of God’s Saints, Prophets, and Apostles

In the book of Revelation, as John is shown a series of judgments being poured out, we see this scene in heaven:

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9-10)

Many believe or teach that the judgments of Revelation will be poured out in our own future and upon the entire globe, but who did Jesus say would be held responsible for all the bloodshed of God’s servants? What generation did He say would experience that vengeance? Without a doubt, it was His own people (Israel) and His own generation. As the outpouring of judgment progresses in the book of Revelation, we see how God answers the cries of the martyrs:

Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due” (Rev. 16:4-6).

So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement” (Rev. 17:3-6).

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.’ “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” …And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth” (Rev. 18:19-24).

For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her” (Rev. 19:2).

In our series on the book of Revelation, we noted that “the great city” was first identified in Rev. 11:8 as the place “where our Lord was crucified.” This is a positive identification of Jerusalem as “the great city” spoken of in the book of Revelation. It’s no wonder that “in her was found the blood of prophets and saints…” This is the very thing that Jesus said in Matthew 23 would be true of first century Jerusalem. This is also the time when the apostles lived and ministered (Rev. 18:20).

The great city, Babylon the Great, was called “the mother of harlots.” Did Jesus not refer to His own generation in Israel as “a wicked and adulterous generation” (e.g. Matthew 12:39, 16:4)? Did Jeremiah not use similar language to describe ancient Israel during times of apostasy? Was it not legitimate for God to use the language of adultery against an unfaithful nation that was in covenant with Him? Had first century Israel not become as awful and wicked as their ancient enemy and conqueror, Babylon?

See our study on Revelation 17:1-6 for the significance of the harlot imagery that John used, the garments that the harlot wore, the words on her forehead, the rich Old Testament background for all these things, and the harlot’s close partnership with first-century Rome.

The Apostle Paul Prophesies Judgment and Tribulation Against the Israel of His Day

In light of everything we’ve discussed above, it’s also good to take note of what the apostle Paul said to the believers in Thessalonica who were suffering and enduring persecution at the time of his letters (52-54 AD):

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (I Thessalonians 2:14-16)

“…[We] ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thessalonians 1:4-8).

Paul affirmed that the time had nearly come for the inhabitants of Judea to experience God’s wrath “to the uttermost” for killing Jesus and the prophets. Their opposition to the gospel was “contrary to all men” and was a great hindrance in the quest to spread the gospel among the Gentiles. It would be “a righteous thing with God” when they were repaid with tribulation, and it would result in them receiving rest. Jesus had promised to come with His angels in judgment and in His kingdom while some of His disciples were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28).

To Review

1. Moses prophesied that God would “avenge the blood of His servants” upon a faithless, perverse, and crooked generation at the time of Israel’s “latter end” (Deuteronomy 32:5, 20, 29, 43).

2. Jesus repeatedly denounced His own generation as “perverse”, “faithless”, and “adulterous.” Paul told the Philippian church that they were shining as lights in the midst of “a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:14-15).

3. Jesus told the religious leaders of Israel that their generation would be held responsible and judged for all the righteous blood shed on earth (Matthew 23:29-36).

4. John was shown a scene of martyrs crying out for their blood to soon be avenged “on those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 6:10).

5. John then sees seven bowls poured out “on the earth” (Rev. 16:1), and one of them causes the rivers and springs to become blood in order to judge those who had “shed the blood of saints and prophets” (Rev. 16:4-6).

6. John also sees a harlot dressed like a high priest of Israel and “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:3-6).

7. In Revelation 18:19-24, John sees the great city, earlier identified as Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8), overthrown and made desolate (see Matthew 23:38). The holy prophets and apostles, and all of heaven, were told to rejoice over this scene because God had avenged them on her, and because “in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.

8. In Revelation 19, John sees a heavenly scene in which there is much rejoicing over God’s righteous and true judgments, because He had judged the great harlot and “avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her” (verse 2). With the harlot judged and put away, John sees that “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (verse 7).