Friday, January 4, 2013

The End Back Then, Part 3: Temple Tragedy

Jesus told the disciples who had been impressed by the Temple in Jerusalem that it would be utterly destroyed. Shocked, the disciples soon asked Jesus when that would happen, when would He return, and when would be the end of the world. Jesus replied in somewhat vague, but lengthy detail. First He warned them of upcoming false Messiahs, wars, and disasters. Then He told them how they would become witnesses to the world. The worst was yet to come...

This is Part 3 of a five part series entitled "The End Back Then." The series entries are:

The End Back Then, Part 3: Temple Tragedy
Never again. Powerful, defiant words. They are a steadfast resolution and a promise of a better future. If spoken by God, they should have even more significance, because we know that God would never go back on His word. Ironically, that is how we know Jesus' words to be false, as we will see in this study.

In the sections of Matthew 24:15-21, Mark 13:14-19, and Luke 21:20-24 we find Jesus' "prophetic" words regarding the Siege of Jerusalem which would occur 70 CE. However, this was allegedly not prophesied by Jesus originally, as Mark 13:14 infers and Matthew 24:15 directly alludes to like so:
"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— " NIV
An abomination that causes desolation? Mentioned by Daniel? What is that about? I went into this particular prophesy of Daniel's in detail in an earlier post, so check that out if you want a bigger picture, but let me give you a quick breakdown here of the esoteric prophesy to "let the reader understand":

This is a reference to Daniel 9, and particularly the prophesy contained in Daniel 9:24-27, which is known as the Prophesy of Seventy Weeks. The "weeks" are normally interpreted as groups of seven years, so we are referring to a prophesy of 490 years here. At the end of this time, sins would be atoned for and there would be everlasting righteousness.

Most of the exciting stuff in the prophesy occurs in the final "week," and that is precisely the time period Jesus referred to here. In those final seven years:
  • The anointed Jewish ruler will be cut off, replaced by a foreign ruler (or at least a non-anointed ruler)
  • That foreign ruler will rule for seven years
  • That foreign ruler will make promises to many
  • That foreign ruler will put an end to sacrifices and offerings in 3.5 years
  • That foreign ruler will set up an "abomination which causes desolation" in the Temple which will remain there until the ruler's preordained end.
  • Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed at some point by this foreign ruler's people
  • At the end of this seven-year rule, God will make atonement for the Jewish people, put an end to sin, and establish everlasting righteousness.

Cognitive bias being the issue it is, most Christians focus on the foreign ruler (the Romans), the stopping of sacrifices (Jesus rendering sacrifices unnecessary), the promise with many (Jesus new covenant), the atonement for sins (Jesus' sacrifice), and the Temple's destruction by a foreign army (Romans, 70 CE) and think that this is a miraculously accurate prophesy.

And it does seem that way... if you ignore some very important details, such as the fairly major points that Roman dominion lasted far longer than seven years, that the Jewish sins would have been atoned for way back when Jesus died, and that there has yet to be any end of sin, or the start of everlasting righteousness for that matter, in roughly 2000 years afterward. :-)

As for what the "abomination which causes desolation" means, and what this "prophesy" is actually referring to, it probably has much more to do with what occurred under the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175 to 164 BCE) which lead to the Maccabean Revolt. In fact, in the Catholic canonical Bible book of 1 Maccabees, verse 54 explicitly refers to such an abomination:
Now the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Judea on every side; KJV
Of course, that episode did not end with eternal righteousness either, but even a cursory glance over that history reveals a much better match with Daniel's prophesy overall than the siege in 70 CE.

Anyway, the rest of Matthew 24:15-21, Mark 13:14-19, and Luke 21:20-24 primarily describes just how boot-shakingly terrifying this time period will be, such that you are better off just fleeing the area without worrying about gathering up your prized possessions. Then, in Mark 13:19 we find an incredible statement, which is echoed more succinctly by Matthew 24:21:
"For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again." NIV
Did you catch that? This was going to be the absolutely most distressing event to ever occur! The Flood of Noah? The plagues on Egypt prior to the Exodus? Pssh. They were to be merely children's nightmares compared to the real distress of that time. Furthermore, and most importantly, Jesus said that the distress of that period would never be equaled again! So all of the horrific events prophesied in Revelation could not possibly take place unless it has already take place back during the siege of Jerusalem, because the terrors described therein from chapters 6-20 would undoubtedly cause not only equal, but outright greater distress than what happened during that siege.

From this, we can discern either that Scriptures, including Jesus' own alleged words, are wrong, or that God is a liar. Given that I am fairly certain that this God does not exist, I suspect the former option is the right one, but either one is not good for Christianity.

Just in case you think I am misunderstanding the scope of distress here, we should check out the next verse. Matthew 24:22 says essentially the same thing that we see in Mark 13:20:
"If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the Elect, whom He has chosen, He has shortened them." NIV
No one would survive! God would not even be able to keep His Elect alive! That is a time of some serious tribulation!

Curiously, Luke, "the editor" as I like to call him, wisely redacted this sentiment. Not only that, but if you really compare Luke 21:20-24 to Matthew 24:15-21 and Mark 13:14-19, you see that that is not the only important change Luke made. He also recast this event as "the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written." So this was to be a judgement day of sorts, where God unleashed His wrath on the Jews, but only on the Jews. This was not to be the Judgement Day. The fact that Luke could differentiate the Siege of Jerusalem from the real "end" suggests that Luke was writing his Gospel at some considerable amount of time after the siege and Temple destruction took place.

In contrast, the lack of discernment on this matter in Matthew and Mark suggests rather that they were written much closer to the time of the Siege. However, Matthew has not proven himself to be much of an editor in his Gospel, so he may have written it much later like Luke, but, like a high-school cheater, got caught copying the wrong answer off of Mark who was "sitting next to him," so to speak.


  1. That verse from Matthew is pretty powerful. To say that it is the worst thing that has ever or will ever happen is an amazing statement to make.

  2. I know, right Hausdorff? That kind of statement is not one of those wishy-washy, ambiguous, open-to-interpretation types. It is, or at least should be, impossible to get around. But where there is a (free) will, there is a way! ;-)