Jesus’ grim forewarning of the disciples continues with specific mention of ‘the abomination that causes desolation’. This image is from Daniel and would have been familiar – such desecration had happened before in 168 BC when Antiochus IV Ephiphanes set up an altar to Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on it.
We can only imagine the despair and horror at the thought of a repeat of such disgrace and humiliation – especially in light of the hopes resting in Jesus as Messiah bringing glory and spiritual renewal to Israel? How square warnings to flee Jerusalem and the rejection of the Temple as God’s sacred dwelling place with God’s blessing on his covenant people?
It’s likely this is why Jesus mentions false Messiahs – perhaps ones who will desperately offer the false hope of deliverance and victory rather than understanding the unfolding disaster as the judgement of God and rejection of the Temple. They are not to be listened to because they will deter the disciples from what they need to do – get out of Jerusalem as fast as possible.
Everything points to events not far off. The question in verse 4 (when will these things happen?) has been answered, if hardly comfortingly. The imminent confrontational climax of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem foreshadows the destruction of the Temple to follow.
In this whole discourse there is a strong sense of ‘end game’ – the coming of the Messiah is inaugurating a whole new ordering of God’s relationship with his people.
The Destruction of the Temple
14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
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. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.