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Watch. Run. Pray. Endure. Discern. God loves you still; don't ever forget it.
"When you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. Let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.
"Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation. Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, He shortened the days.
"If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' do not believe it. False christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive even the elect; see, I have told you all things beforehand." Mark 13:14-23 NKJV, condensed
"At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was . . . . Your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. . . ."
I looked, and there stood two others. . . . One said, "How long shall the fulfillment of these wonders be?" Then I heard the man clothed in linen swear by Him who lives forever, that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered; all these things shall be finished.
Although I heard, I did not understand. He said, "Go your way, for the words are sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined; none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.
"From the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the 1,335 days. But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days." ---Daniel 12:1-13
Desecration and Desolation
9/11 is a code word all Americans identify with. On that day people ran. We knew the fear of not knowing what would happen next. The attack from abroad changed our lives forever as securing the homeland became a prime concern. A word striking fear and terror in the Old Testament was the phrase, "the abomination of desolation." Jesus picked up on Daniel's phrase. It was associated with non-Jewish victors desecrating the temple by moving their own gods into the sacred place, thereby abolishing religious freedom.
There are interesting parallels between the apocalyptic words of Jesus and the vision of the prophet Daniel. Both responded to the question, "How long?" Both refer to protection for God's people, to hardships like never seen before, and something horrible that happened in the temple which caused great distress. Neither should we miss the clear reference to the resurrection of the dead in the last verse of Daniel. Resurrection was surely topmost in the mind of Jesus right now.
Daniel could have been describing the 2nd century prior to the birth of Jesus. In 168 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria invaded Palestine and replaced the God of Israel (rumor was he sacrificed a pig on the altar!) with Zeus Olympius. The whole of Jerusalem was captured, plundered and burned. These events inspired the Jewish resistance, led by the Maccabees, which fought victoriously to reclaim their city. The temple was purified and rededicated on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in 164 B.C. This story of liberation and national survival is still celebrated annually during Hanukkah.
200 years later, Jesus could have been describing the First Jewish-Roman War (see notes at bottom of previous page), when again the temple was desecrated. This time it was 68 - 70 A.D. and the Roman general Titus who, after starving the city into subjection, profaned the Holy of Holies. Blood flowed in the streets of Jerusalem. His troops rampaged the holy city and the Judean countryside, leaving it ruined and desolate.
People read different things into this futuristic teaching. What did Jesus actually say? Here's what these verses tell us: When you see the horrible thing where it should not be, then run. Don't look back or take a defensive position. Just flee for your lives. Be sympathetic toward those with special hardships, like pregnant and nursing women. Pray that it won't happen in winter, the wet season. People will suffer like never before. Because God loves you, God will shorten the days. But beware of those who are intent upon deceiving you. Then Jesus concluded, "Now I have told you everything."
It leaves us in the 21st century wondering what Jesus meant and if his disciples understood it any better than we do? Many Christians still watch and pray, believing Jesus foretold a day in the future. They claim the blessedness of waiting and continue to watch for these events to take place in the form of a great tribulation before the second coming of the Christ. The sign is the desecration of the Holy by an unbelieving foreign invader, or more specifically, a sacrilege in the holy city of Jerusalem.
Desecrating the holy leads to great suffering and desolation in the land. But isn't it a curious thing that Jesus said we are to run and not take a defensive stance? It's as though God is enshrined in the hearts and lives of his people, not in buildings and institutions. The light of the Gospel is not extinguished when the flame on the altar is snuffed out.
The use of the word "elect" in this passage is also interesting. Throughout his ministry, Jesus turned the tables on our thinking. Those favored by God are not the ones at the top of the religious ladder. Instead, God's favorites are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, the pure in heart, peacemakers, the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those who suffer persecution for his sake. Also the humble virgin mother, forgiven sinners, disciples who left all to follow Jesus, and those who show mercy, love justice, and lift up the oppressed.
Another great concern of Jesus is that we will be distracted from the truth of his gospel and be tempted to jump ship in search of fairer seas. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, warned many times about the dangers of being led astray by some razzle/dazzle charlatan. Or that we simply wander off because we are not paying attention. God is forever present and acting in our world. Wake up! Salvation is found by following Jesus. Enough said.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: If you had the chance to know what the future holds for you, would you want to know? Why or why not?
This Olivet discourse comes just a few days before the crucifixion. If you were about to die, what do you think you would talk about with your loved ones? In what ways would your approach be different than what Jesus said?
What event or circumstance could shatter your world? Infidelity? Bankruptcy? An incurable disease? As people of faith how are we to respond to these tragedies? Are there any words in today's text which would help you cope? Is there a promise in this text? Or any hope and encouragement?
Name some things you hold dear which are being profaned in today's world? What is the connection between desecration and desolation? How does the former lead to the latter?
The focus is on survival instead of saving Jerusalem. Why would Jesus tell his disciples to flee instead of defending the temple? Why the sense of urgency? When is it good to put some distance between you and your problem?
"Prayer is the power of the powerless. To pray truly is to pray from where you don't have control, and yet can trust, because you are a beloved child of God's household." --Henri Nouwen How does that definition of prayer fit this "end time" Scripture?
If God is in charge of human history, how do we explain the catastrophic suffering of the innocent?
Jesus was very concerned that his followers would be misled. Was that a realistic concern? Why or why not? How fragile is your faith?
Who are the false messiahs and what are the false teachings which distract and tempt you to forsake what you have learned from Jesus?
The prophet Jeremiah had a litmus test for false prophets: Did their words come true! How do you determine whether words are true or false? How well do you discern between uncomfortably true and pleasingly false?