Day 213: Matthew 24:15

You will see ‘The Awful Horror’ of which the prophet Daniel spoke. It will be standing in the holy place.”

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Clue #8:  The Awful Horror will reappear.

The Awful Horror was first mentioned by the prophet Daniel, who lived in the late 7th century BC when the Jews were in exile in Babylon.  Daniel had many visions about the rise and succession of several empires.  In one of these visions Daniel describes the “Awful Horror,” a pagan statue that was brought into the Temple by the enemies of the Jews:

The angel went on to explain: “The next king of Syria will be an evil man who has no right to be king, but he will come unexpectedly and seize power by trickery.  Anyone who opposes him, even God’s High Priest, will be swept away and wiped out…”  “Later on he will invade Egypt again, but this time things will turn out differently.  The Romans will come in ships and oppose him, and he will be frightened.”

“Then he will turn back in a rage and try to destroy the religion of God’s people. He will follow the advice of those who have abandoned that religion.  Some of his soldiers will make the Temple ritually unclean. They will stop the daily sacrifices and set up The Awful Horror.  By deceit the king will win the support of those who have already abandoned their religion, but those who follow God will fight back.” (Daniel 11:21-22, 29-32).

The Awful Horror was mentioned again the Book of I Maccabees, which documents a period 500 years later when the evil Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes was persecuting the Jews.

On the fifteenth day of the month of Kislev in the year 145 (BC) King Antiochus set up The Awful Horror on the altar of the Temple, and pagan altars were built in the towns throughout Judea. Pagan sacrifices were offered in front of houses and in the streets. Any books of the Law which were found were torn up and burned, and anyone who was caught with a copy of the sacred books or who obeyed the Law was put to death by order of the king. Month after month these wicked people used their power against the Israelites caught in the towns. On the twenty-fifth of the month, these same evil people offered sacrifices on the pagan altar erected on top of the altar in the Temple. (I Maccabees 1:54-59).

Eventually King Antiochus was defeated and the Jews were able to pull down the Awful Horror, which historians believe was probably a statue of the Greek god Zeus.  Daniel predicted it, it showed up in the time of the Maccabees, and it was taken down a few years later.  And now Jesus mentions it again.  Apparently there is going to be a rerun.

Roman soldiers entering the Holy of Holies.

Roman soldiers entering the Holy of Holies.

It is generally assumed that this statement by Jesus somehow refers to the defilement of the Temple by the Romans in his own time. This event is described in detail by the great historian Josephus (37 AD-100 AD) in his master work, “The Wars of the Jews.”  In Book 1, Chapter 7 Josephus recalls how the Temple was invaded and violated by the Romans in the 1st century BC a few decades before Jesus was born.  Josephus reports that 12,000 Jews and only a few Romans were killed in this struggle, mostly because the Jews started fighting against each other.

The Romans were impressed by how the Temple priests continued to make their daily sacrifices and purifications with “the utmost exactness.”  He says, “And now did many of the priests, even when they saw their enemies assailing them with swords in their hands, without any disturbance, go on with their Divine worship, and were slain while they were offering their drink-offerings, and burning their incense, as preferring the duties about their worship to God before their own preservation.”

Ultimately the Roman general Pompey defiled the Temple in 63 BC when he entered the Holy of Holies.  Josephus wrote that “But there was nothing that affected the nation so much, in the calamities they were then under, as that their holy place, which had been hitherto seen by none, should be laid open to strangers; for Pompey, and those that were about him, went into the temple itself whither it was not lawful for any to enter but the high priest, and saw what was reposited therein.”

While Pompey did not steal or destroy anything in the Temple, he nevertheless violated it.  Imagine the arrogant general and his triumphant troops sauntering around in the Holy of Holies, running their hands over the candlestick with its lamps, picking up the golden vessels, tasting the spices, examining the piles of sacred money, perhaps even touching the Ark of the Covenant. To establish the Temple as his territory, Pompey replaced the High Priest with one of his own choosing.  And the defilement didn’t end with the invasion of the Romans.  Forty years later the evil King Herod the Great, a Jewish convert who did not obey the Law, rebuilt the Temple in a grand and gaudy style (See Day 206).  From that time on it was known as Herod’s Temple.  The Temple of the man who killed John the Baptist.

Maybe the Awful Horror wasn’t the defilement of the Romans or Herod. Perhaps the Awful Horror was the idolotry that had crept into Jewish religious practice.  On Day 123 I talked about Alfred Edersheim’s interpretation of Matthew 12:43-45 about demonic possession.  To make a long story short, Edersheim said that after the Jews returned from exile and rebuilt the temple, their emphasis was on combating idolatry (the worship of other gods) by demanding strict obedience to the letter of the Law of Moses.  Jesus said that they were successful in this effort.  However, somewhere along the line, their zeal to make things “clean and all fixed up,” they forgot about God.  He said that the Temple and religious practice in general was empty and devoid of meaning because God had left the building.  So now things were even worse.  Religious practice itself had become the new idolatry.  Idolatry had returned in the guise of religion but they failed to recognize it.  Along with the original spirit of idolotry, the pretense of religion was accompanied by other evils that Edersheim refers to – pride, self-righteousness, unbelief.  One might also add many others like legalism, cruelty, materialism, pride, to name a few.  Paganistic ritualism.  Awful.  Horrible.

I don’t think Jesus saw Jerusalem’s Temple as a holy place.  I think he felt that the Temple had indeed been defiled by both the Romans and the Jews themselves. I think that when he looked at the Temple and the rituals that were practiced there he saw the Awful Horror.  I think he saw idolotry and thinly veiled paganism.  He saw all of their faithful execution of religious duty as an exercise in futility because the Temple was just an empty shell.  God had left the building and the Awful Horror was the one who was now being worshiped.

What does this scripture say to you?

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