What Does Jesus Say About His Coming?
Third in a Series of Six Messages
Jackson Snyder, October 14, 1995
Loosely based on The End, by Conyers
Mark 13:14 (NIV) 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.
One of the last signs that Jesus gave us that would indicate when He would be coming is this "abomination that causes desolation." There has been much speculation as to what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of it.
Mark adds a note: "let the reader understand." In other words, this is a mystery that only the reader who is living close to the time of his coming might understand. I believe that this "abomination," this final sign before Jesus comes, may be the rebuilding of the temple over the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed within one generation of Jesus' prediction and destroyed just as he said - not one stone was left upon another. Although Jerusalem was rebuilt shortly after, the temple has never been rebuilt. The holy place where it stood has been vacant 1,931 years, but now, in 2001, the Temple Faithful in Jerusalem is ready to rebuild. The attempt to sacrifice animals in a new temple could be the final abomination that will draw the wrath of God.
Temple Worship Abominable
In its heyday, the temple was not only an awe-inspiring house of worship, but it was also the greatest slaughterhouse in the world, with animal sacrifices going on continually. The temple priests were not pastors like Catholic priests, but were trained blood-letters and butchers, skillful with the knife and the flame. The temple sacrifices of bulls, goats, sheep and birds caused rivers of blood to flow from the altar down the drainage ditches into the sewage system of Jerusalem. The smell of animals, their entrails, their excrement, and flesh burning must have been overwhelming. We must realize that temple worship would never be either reverent or inspiring to us; rather, temple worship, with its killing and burning, its noise and confusion, would be shocking and "abominable." Restoration of the temple and temple worship is not something we should feel nostalgic about. Jesus destroyed that system because it was an abomination to God.
Is 1:10. Hear what Yahweh says, you rulers of Sodom; listen to what our God teaches, you people of Gomorrah. 11. `What are your endless sacrifices to me?" says Yahweh. `I am sick of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of calves. I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12. When you come and present yourselves before me, who has asked you to trample through my courts? 13. Bring no more futile cereal offerings, the smoke from them fills me with disgust. New Moons, Sabbaths, assemblies, I cannot endure solemnity combined with guilt. 14. Your New Moons and your meetings I utterly detest; to me they are a burden I am tired of bearing. 15. When you stretch out your hands I turn my eyes away. You may multiply your prayers, I shall not be listening. Your hands are covered in blood,
16. wash, make yourselves clean. Take your wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease doing evil. 17. Learn to do good, search for justice, discipline the violent, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. 18. `Come, let us talk this over," says Yahweh. `Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
The Temple Not Yahweh’s Home
If the sacrificial system is an abomination to God, why does the Bible say God set it up in the first place? Because animal sacrifice was a cultural expectation of people in Bible history. This is evident in the passage where Abraham and the Lord first make a covenant - Abraham splits a bull in half, and he and the Lord walk between the pieces. Abraham was also willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to God, because this was the traditional practice of Abraham's family.
But God would not accept the offering of Isaac. Instead, God provided a ram, steering Abraham away from human sacrifice to the sacrifice of animals. From this single sacrifice grew a whole cult based on the sacrificing of animals, with intricate rituals and rules, as recorded in the Law. Then in 950 B.C., Solomon built the great temple where animal sacrifice could be carried out in luxury and style. Solomon's temple was built on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, the very site where Abraham sacrificed the ram centuries before. Solomon believed that since the temple was God's earthly home, it should be built over this most sacred place: "the Holy of Holies."
Solomon spared no expense in furnishings his temple. The total value of the temple's gold was over $680 million, according to today's values. All this money came from taxes levied against very poor people. This is the second reason the temple was an abomination – Yahweh’s people sacrificed all they had to keep the temple system functioning lavishly.
God doesn't live a lavish lifestyle in a mansion in Jerusalem. Our God is not concerned with conspicuous consumption. He commands us to see to the needs of the poor rather than to steal from the poor. No wonder Jesus called the temple a "den of thieves." The temple was stealing the people blind in the name of religion, and the bloodthirsty priests were keeping them bound with threats and laws and sacrifices.
Solomon's (or Zerubabel's) Temple was finally rebuilt by Herod the Great, the same Herod who slaughtered the innocent children of Bethlehem in search of the baby Jesus. It was this temple that stood in Jesus' day. It's building began in 20 B.C. and wasn't finished until 64 A.D. - 83 years in the building! Think of the expense and extravagance! Unfortunately, it was destroyed by the Romans 6 years after it was finished. What had taken 83 years to build was destroyed in one day, as Jesus predicted.
The Abomination in Daniel
Now let’s look back in time to Daniel' prophecy. There is an earlier mention of this “abomination of desolation" that Jesus knew all about. Daniel writes:
Armies shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate (Daniel 11:31).
Daniel's prophecy came to pass in 167 B.C. when the Antioches Epiphanes, the Seleucid Emperor marched against Jerusalem from the east, conquered it then set up the image of Jupiter in the holy place. He then had pigs sacrificed on the temple altar, which was the abomination that "desolated" the holy place. The Jewish community raised an army around the Maccabee family that defeated the Emperor after several years of war. The temple was “cleansed,” and sacrifices were once again instituted. This event is remembered today as Hanukkah - the Feast of Lights. (You can read about it all in the first and second books of the Maccabees.)
Jesus knew about this "abomination" because it had already happened, prophecy had already been fulfilled. He's not speaking of this now. He is predicting another abomination that will herald his coming. In retrospect, we understand that the abomination Jesus was referring to is the rebuilding of the temple on holy ground and reinstitution of the sacrificial system.
Jesus didn't sacrificed animals, nor did he ever tell anyone to do so. Although he believed the Holy of Holies to be sacred, he taught that the temple and its practices were unholy -- a desecration of the holy place. For in the Father's plan of redemption, the sacrificing of animals was finished. Through the prophets, God was moving people away from sacrificing toward a worship that was "in spirit and truth."
The prophets steered the people toward spiritual rather than ritual worship. One prophecy in particular is relevant to our lesson today:
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
God was preparing his people for a Savior who would usher in a new age of fellowship with God, an age where the Father of creation would be known to his children without the need of priests who sacrificed animals.
Jesus and Temple Worship
Jesus taught that he would be the last sacrifice for the nation, commemorated not with the blood of animals, but with the breaking of the bread of his body and the spilling of the wine of his blood. Because of this, Jesus was accused by the temple leaders of doing good deeds by the power of the devil rather than the power of God. They said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons" (Mark 3:22).
Jesus replied, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin" (v. 29).
Everyone wonders about this "unforgivable sin." Jesus tells us that it's attributing the work of God to the devil. These religious leaders were attributing Jesus' healings to the devil. That is unforgivable. But these "blind guides" themselves were doing something very similar by sacrificing animals. They were attributing the work of the devil to God, shedding the innocent blood of sacrificial animals as though God was thirsty for blood. And though the time of sacrificing was over, they kept up their devilish practices for the sake of prestige, tradition and money.
Their sin was unforgivable -- Jesus saw to it that the temple and all the sin that it stood for was eventually destroyed. He predicted the onslaught of the Roman Legions upon Jerusalem. He predicted in 30 AD that the temple would be destroyed within the generation, and it was.
Mat 24:1. Jesus left the Temple, and as he was going away his disciples came up to draw his attention to the Temple buildings. 2. He said to them in reply, "You see all these? In truth I tell you, not a single stone here will be left on another: everything will be pulled down." 3. And while he was sitting on the Mount of Olives the disciples came and asked him when they were by themselves, "Tell us, when is this going to happen, and what sign will there be of your coming and of the end of the world?" … 34. “In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place.”
Since it’s destruction, there has been no place for sacrificing to occur, and thus, since 70 AD, sacrifice in the name of Yahweh has ceased.
A History Lesson
And God has not permitted the temple to be rebuilt in all these years because the preparation for rebuilding of the temple by hopeful Jews has been reserved for believers as the final sign of Jesus' return. Through almost 2000 years, every attempt at rebuilding the temple has been scuttled. A notable attempt to rebuild came in the year 361. The Roman emperor Julian sacrificed animals to many gods. When Julian returned to Rome from battle, "there would be a scarcity of cattle" because of all his sacrifices. Julian believed that his main god was Yahweh of the Bible. He figured that if he rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and got the system of sacrifice going again, all the blood would go to his credit before the deity. Jews around the world contributed to the temple's rebuilding, just like they're doing today.
But when the building started, historians tell us "terrifying balls of flame kept bursting forth ... a furious blast of wind and flame issued from the sacred place." Then there was an earthquake; many of the workers were killed. Emperor Julian himself was killed the same year. Through a miracle of judgment, God ended this attempt at rebuilding even before it got started.
400 years after Julian, Moslems built a mosque on the temple site over what they thought was the Holy of Holies. The "Dome of the Rock" still stands on the site today, 1,300 years later. But scholars have concluded that the builders missed the Holy of Holies, building their mosque over the ancient "Court of the Gentiles" instead. The Court of the Gentiles was the filthy, profane area where Jesus cast out those selling sacrificial animals. The Court of the Gentiles was the biblical "den of thieves." Imagine the justice: "the den of thieves" is Islam's second-most holy site!
Then in 1973, for the first time in 1,903 years, Israel won back the temple mount in the war with Jordan. In the last 25 years, Jews and Christians all over the world have set their hopes for the temple rebuilding and the restoration of the sacrificial system. Millions of dollars have been poured into the project, most of which was raised in the U.S. Some groups have located Levitical priests through genealogical research. These new priests are now learning the elaborate details of sacrificing in schools set up for this purpose. All the furnishings, vestments, musical instruments and vessels are ready -- even the Ark of the Covenant -- all manufactured of the finest gold and silver. Everything is prepared, including the first sacrifice (which is a perfect red heifer raised by a Christian minister in Mississippi, as unlikely as that seems).
Rabbi Shlomo Goren is the chief priest and heads the Temple Mount Society. Rabbi Goren insists, "I cannot leave this world without assuring that Jews will once again pray on the mount." And sacrifice animals, I might add. In 1989, when we were present in Jerusalem, Rabbi Goren led a group to the temple mount with the granite cornerstone. This act started a riot that ended in shooting. It has been repeated every years since during the feast of Tabernacles. Though these are minor incidents and hardly get any attention anymore, the annual attempts at rebuilding demonstrate why Jerusalem's temple mount is potentially the most volatile 35 acres on earth. For in order to build the new temple on the temple mount, the gigantic Dome of the Rock mosque that currently occupies that space must come down.
Even as we speak, Islamic armies surround Jerusalem. The destruction of the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding of the temple on that site could certainly usher in world war! The race for the temple mount is the real reason there is an arms race in the Middle East.
Three times every day, religious Jews pray this prayer: "May it be Thy will that the temple be speedily rebuilt in our days."
Many Christians and Jews today are raising money for rebuilding the temple. Jews reason that restoring the temple means restoring classic Judaism. Christians reason that rebuilding the temple will force the coming of Jesus. But what this all tells us is that Jesus' final sign is quickly becoming a reality, which means judgment is on the way. What exciting days we live in! And though these are days of great fear among worldlings, we who have made our garments white in the blood of the last sacrifice have nothing to fear but fear itself. As Jesus tells us in St. Luke, "When these things take place, look up and raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28). Watch Jerusalem! Knowing now the last sign, we must tell others before it is too late. "For this good news will be preached throughout the world," Jesus warns, "and then the end will come." Watch Jerusalem. As you see prophetic events unfolding there, I implore you to be ready for his coming!