by Michael E. Brooks
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16 NKJV).
Many of the idols which one may still see in much of the world are greatly offensive to people of other faiths and cultural standards. Some possess grotesque features, others are lewd and obscene. Within the context of the religion which they represent there are reasons for such depictions, but those reasons in no way lessen their offensiveness to others.
In 167 BC a Syrian king named Antiochus IV Epiphanies invaded Judah and sought to destroy the culture and religion of the Jews. Among other atrocities he defiled the temple of God in Jerusalem by installing an idol within it and offering an unclean pig upon the alter as a pagan sacrifice. It is this event which Jews believed fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel 11:31, cited by Jesus in Matthew 24:15.
Two hundred years after this event, the Jewish people were still enraged and offended by it. At the time it had sparked a successful revolution. Much later, references to it could be counted upon to incite the multitudes. Jesus prophesied that something like it would happen yet again. His prophecy was fulfilled about forty years later when Roman armies invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. It would never again stand as the central focal point of Jewish worship.
But is this historic survey the only application one should make of Jesus’ prophecy? Let me suggest another, perhaps more relevant to our lives. Inspired apostles taught that though the physical structure known as the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem no longer exists, there is a temple built by Jesus that does exist now and will forever. That temple is the church that Jesus built and of which he is the head. That temple is often referred to collectively, that is as the church (Ephesians 2:21; 1 Peter 2:5). The concept is also used in reference to individual members of the church, each of whom is a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). These are not contradictory uses, but illustrate that the church is a spiritual entity, comprised of every true child of God (John 18:36; Acts 2:47).
If a foreign king placing an idol in the temple and offering a contemptuous sacrifice on the altar was “an abomination of desolation” not only in the eyes of the Jews but also in the eyes of God, how should one suppose that idolatries and defilements within the church are viewed by him? When professed Christians openly and flagrantly display covetousness “which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5), is that not abominable? When pulpits are filled with false doctrine, untrue to Scripture or the will of Christ, does that not bring desolation (1 Timothy 4:1-3)?
Not every idol is made from stone, wood or metal. Not all false religions claim the existence of different gods or saviors. When persistent impenitent sin is openly present in the lives of Christians, and tolerated by the church, how can God be honored and his name exalted? When churches offer that which is not commanded by Scripture as worship to God (Leviticus 10:1) how can he be pleased?
Paul spoke strongly about this inconsistency. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
This principle is not limited to the individual Christian’s morality. Within the context of discussing division in the church Paul also says, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
Jesus foretold another abomination of desolation within the existing temple of God in Jerusalem. He also warned his listeners to flee from Judea (i.e., from the presence of that desolation) when it appeared. That same warning applies today whenever abominable things are done, especially within the house of God, the church. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).
The better course is once again described by the apostle Paul, “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11).
It is often correctly pointed out that no church (congregation) or Christian is perfect, just forgiven. Yet that is no excuse for tolerating sin. God demands that believers make the effort of perfection (Matthew 5:48) and live penitently (1 John 1:8-9). To refuse is to erect idols and introduce defilement within the house of God. That is abomination.
by Michael E. Brooks