Daniel 9: The Desolation of Jerusalem
Jul 17, 2015
We tend to view the revelation given to Daniel through our own lens. We have an advantage over Daniel, because we live 2,600 years later. We can look back on Christ’s first coming as a matter of history. We know how Gabriel’s prophecy was actually fulfilled, and we tend to forget that Daniel did not enjoy such knowledge. To him, much of what Gabriel said was an enigma.
If we put ourselves in Daniel’s shoes and limit our knowledge to what Gabriel said, eliminating all that we know from the New Testament and later history, we can get a better idea of the shock and horror that Daniel must have felt. The angel was telling him not only that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, but that at the end of seventy weeks, the city and temple would again be desolated by a foreign army of some “prince.”
Worse yet, the Messiah would come at the end of sixty-nine weeks and would do His righteous work, but then He too would be cut off from His throne and “have nothing.” That is, He would be the victim of injustice and would lose His kingdom. Daniel was given no time frame for this desolation, other than that it would begin at the end of the seventy weeks.
Daniel does not tell us about any further conversation or revelation from Gabriel. This much he records, and it appears to be a summary of all of the salient revelations. Did Daniel question Gabriel further about these things, as he did previously? If so, we are not enlightened further. The message ends abruptly with no explanation.
The Wing of the Temple
The last piece of information given is at the end of Daniel 9:27,
27 … and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.
What does this mean? It is quite obscure. The Septuagint seems to clarify or explain this from the rabbinical perspective:
27 … and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolations; and at the end of the time an end shall be put to the desolation.
The Septuagint translators apparently believed that the “wing” was a wing of the temple. The Concordant Version follows the lead of the Septuagint, saying,
27 … on a wing of the sanctuary shall be desolating abominations. Till the conclusion of the era the deciding conclusion will be poured forth on the desolation.
The abomination, then, seems to be associated primarily with the temple itself, making it a religious problem, rather than a political problem in Jerusalem.
The Abomination of Desolation
The term “abomination” was often used as a euphemism for an idol or anything that was abominable to God. In this case it appears that the abomination, along with the “desolation,” was to continue to “the end of the time,” or “till the conclusion of the era.”
How long was this to last? I can find nothing in the text to hint at the length of time for this desolation. It is only when we look back in history that we can see that the desolation of Jerusalem and its temple has continued to the present time. The idolatry or false worship has not ceased, even though the city has been rebuilt. In fact, the reason for its desolation has not been resolved. Gabriel’s revelation strongly suggests that the problem in verse 26 and in the first half of Daniel 9:27 was the cause of the desolation in the last half of the verse.
In other words, the cutting off the Messiah, leaving Him with “nothing,” seems to be the cause of the desolation. Little is said of this, however, until we come to the New Testament, where the gospel writers clarify the reasons for the city’s desolation. Jesus gave warning many times, telling the people the cause of desolation and how to avoid being caught up in it personally.
For example, Luke 19:43, 44 speaks to Jerusalem directly, saying,
43 For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, 44 and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.
Immediately after saying this, Jesus entered the temple and cast out the moneychangers, telling them, “you have made it a robbers’ den” (Luke 19:46). This was the same reason that the original temple was made desolate, for Jeremiah 7:11 gives the same condemnation upon the city just before it was desolated in his day.
Many of Jesus’ parables revealed the reason for the city’s desolation, and it appears from the gospel accounts that as the day of His crucifixion approached, Jesus spoke with increasing clarity in His warnings. He understood that rejecting the Messiah was the cause of the coming desolation. Therefore, when we study Daniel 9, we too ought to make that cause-and-effect connection.
The Septuagint rendering of Daniel 9:27 uses the term, “abomination of desolations” in relation to the temple, or a “wing” of the temple. In Matthew 24:15 Jesus refers to the “abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” in terms of the war in which Jerusalem was to be destroyed. He tells the people that when they saw this coming, they were to flee quickly from the city and from Judea itself. If necessary, they were to leave everything behind.
This warning, of course, was applicable to the Roman war in the seven years from 66-73 A.D. Josephus says that the war began at Passover of 66, when the people rioted, and Rome used force to quell the riot. The first battle, however, occurred at the feast of Tabernacles of 66 A.D., when Rome’s Seventh Legion was destroyed. The reprisal from Rome came quickly and ruthlessly.
But a lull in the war occurred after Nero died in June of 68. During that lull, the church in Jerusalem escaped to Pella on the other side of the Jordan, leaving Judea altogether. This is mentioned by Bishop Eusebius in his History of the Church, Book III, v, 2. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70, and at Passover of 73 the war finally ended with the taking of Masada.
Jeremiah was told to take an old earthen vessel (jar) and smash it in the valley of the son of Hinnom [Greek: gehenna]. Jeremiah 19:10-12 says,
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Just so shall I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. 12 This is how I shall treat this place and its inhabitants,’ declares the Lord, ‘so as to make this city like Topheth’.”
God told Jeremiah that Jerusalem was to be destroyed like a broken vessel that “cannot again be repaired.” The city was destroyed in Jeremiah’s day (586 B.C.), but later it was rebuilt. The moment the city was rebuilt, it was a foregone conclusion that it would have to be destroyed again at a later date in order to fulfill Jeremiah’s prophecy. Hence, Daniel received revelation, not only of the rebuilding of Jerusalem but also of its destruction.
We know that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. But in time the city was rebuilt, and this again revived Jeremiah’s prophecy. As long as Jerusalem stands, the word of God to Jeremiah has yet to be fulfilled.
The fact that Jerusalem stands today shows that there is a third fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy that is yet to come. It is likely that this final destruction in our time will be the last. Isaiah 29:1-6 seems to describe a nuclear incident, and if so, the radiation may be what prevents the city from being repaired and rebuilt.
Such a destruction, of course, goes against much of today’s understanding of prophecy. But instead of ignoring Jeremiah 19:11, men should alter their views of prophecy to conform to the word of God. In Paul’s discussion of Jerusalem, he tells us in Galatians 4:30 that the city, like Hagar, was to be cast out. This will happen, whether prophecy teachers agree with the word of God or not.
Will the Jews build a third temple in Jerusalem before this final desolation occurs? I do not know. But if a third temple is built, and Levitical priests begin offering up animal sacrifices once again (as so many believe), those sacrifices would be an affront to the only true Sacrifice that God accepts. In fact, a reversion to animal sacrifices would represent another abomination of desolation, for such a practice would again signify a repudiation of the blood of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Christian Zionists who long for the day when the temple is rebuilt and animal sacrifices are reintroduced ought to understand that such an event would be an abomination, not a cause for rejoicing. Christians ought to be warning Jews to leave Israel, not raising money to send more of them into the danger zone. The early Church took heed to Jesus’ warning and left the area, while the rest of the Jews died in the destruction. What the early Church did is what Christian Jews should do today. If they fail to follow Jesus’ instructions, then many of them might perish along with the city in which they trusted.
This is part 51 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones