As Jesus neared the end of his earthly ministry, he went to Jerusalem one last time in order to observe the Jewish Passover festival. On that occasion he threw out the moneychangers and also pronounced judgment upon the temple and the nation. Not quite grasping what Jesus had done, the disciples evidently sought to remind Jesus of how impressive the temple was. Surely, the disciples must have been stunned when Jesus bluntly told them the temple was going to be razed to the ground.
Matthew 24:1 records the incident, saying: “Departing now, Jesus was on his way from the temple, but his disciples approached to show him the buildings of the temple. In response he said to them: "Do you not behold all these things? Truly I say to you, By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.”
The inquisitive disciples naturally wanted to know when the temple was going to be destroyed. The account states: “While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: ‘Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?’”
In response to their multi-faceted question, Jesus gave a simple, yet profound and far-reaching answer. And after giving his disciples a general outline of what was to occur, Jesus then gave a specific sign that would signal Jerusalem's imminent destruction. He said: “Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, (let the reader use discernment,) then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.”
Even though Jesus’ apostles were originally from the region of Galilee, they apparently took up residence in Jerusalem after Christ's resurrection; making it the unofficial administrative headquarters of the international Christian congregation. It would, therefore, be imperative for the apostles and all the congregations in Jerusalem and Judea to recognize the sign when it appeared.
To impress upon them the urgency of heeding the signal when it appeared, Jesus went on to say to them at Matthew 24:17-22: "Let the man on the housetop not come down to take the goods out of his house; and let the man in the field not return to the house to pick up his outer garment. Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days! Keep praying that your flight may not occur in wintertime, nor on the sabbath day; for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world's beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short."
As an aid to help his followers recognize the "disgusting thing" when it became manifest, Jesus referred to the prophecy of Daniel, saying parenthetically ("let the reader use discernment").
What prophecy in Daniel must Jesus have had in mind? No doubt he was initially directing their minds to the 9th chapter of Daniel, where are found these words: "And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself. And the city and the holy place the people of a leader that is coming will bring to their ruin. And the end of it will be by the flood. And until the end there will be war; what is decided upon is desolations. And he must keep the covenant in force for the many for one week; and at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease. And upon the wing of disgusting things there will be the one causing desolation; and until an extermination, the very thing decided upon will go pouring out also upon the one lying desolate."
By referencing Daniel, the 1st Century Christian readers of that prophecy could discern that the disgusting thing was connected to a leader and a people that would flood over the land during the period of war that would follow Jesus' death. Moreover, the discerning reader could connect the leader associated with the coming "disgusting thing" with the king of the north, which the 11th chapter of Daniel similarly indicates would break the Leader of the covenant.
Daniel 11:21-22 reads: "And there must stand up in his position one who is causing an exactor to pass through the splendid kingdom, and in a few days he will be broken, but not in anger nor in warfare. And there must stand up in his position one who is to be despised, and they will certainly not set upon him the dignity of the kingdom; and he will actually come in during a freedom from care and take hold of the kingdom by means of smoothness. And as regards the arms of the flood, they will be flooded over on account of him, and they will be broken; as will also the Leader of the covenant."
By reasoning on Christ's additional information, as recorded in the 21st chapter of Luke; namely, that Jerusalem would be trampled on by the nations for an appointed time, the apostles and disciples no doubt recognized the disgusting thing as being associated with the Roman Empire long before its legions ever arrived to bring desolation.
Jehovah's Witnesses, of course, realize that not only does Jesus' prophecy have a much grander fulfillment, but the prophecy of Daniel does too. Yes, Daniel's prophecy refers to another political disgusting thing that would menace God's holy place. Jehovah's Witnesses have also pre-identified the disgusting thing that will bring desolation; recognizing the United Nations as a disgusting thing in God's sight; since it is posed to become a world government, and as such, it presumes to accomplish what only God's kingdom can possibly accomplish.
However, in what sense must the reader use discernment today? Another important question: What is the holy place that is destined to become desolated?
In Jesus' day Jerusalem was considered the holy city of Jehovah. And even though corrupt Jews had turned it into "a cave of robbers," Jesus still referred to the temple in Jerusalem as "my Father's house". Even after the inception of Christianity the early disciples and apostles still continued to view the temple in Jerusalem as something holy. For example, after his conversion Paul still went to the temple to pray. In fact, the glorified Jesus even spoke to Paul in the temple. Acts 22:17-18 relates: "But when I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, 'Hurry up and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not agree to your witness concerning me.'"
Many years after his conversion, Paul ceremonially cleansed himself as a Nazerite in accord with the Law and he went into the holy temple, again. The 21st chapter of Acts records the occasion. "Then Paul took the men along the next day and cleansed himself ceremonially with them and went into the temple, to give notice of the days to be fulfilled for the ceremonial cleansing, until the offering should be presented for each one of them. Now when the seven days were about to be concluded, the Jews from Asia on beholding him in the temple began to throw all the crowd into confusion, and they laid their hands upon him."
What is the point? Even though Christ told the Jews that their house was abandoned to them, out of respect for Jehovah, Jesus and his apostles, and many Jewish believers in Christ besides, continued to hold the temple sacred up until the time it was destroyed. That being the case, what must the modern-day holy place be that is destined by prophecy to be trampled on by a disgusting thing?
According to the Watchtower it is Christendom. The reasoning being that Jerusalem was not really a holy place to God after Christ condemned it. The most recently published article on this topic, in the May 1st, 1999, Watchtower, states:
This helps us to see that the first fulfillment involved the Roman assault on Jerusalem and its temple—a place holy to the Jews but no longer the place holy to Jehovah—which began in 66 C.E.
For that reason, the Watchtower goes on to say:
"When the "scarlet-colored wild beast" attacks the religious harlot, "the disgusting thing" will be standing in a menacing way in Christendom's so-called holy place. So desolation will begin on faithless Christendom, which portrays itself as holy."
While it is true that that Jehovah no longer really considered earthly Jerusalem and its temple holy—Jesus and the apostles did—at least nominally. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, the apostles were also headquartered in Jerusalem. Even though spiritually mature Christians looked more to a "Jerusalem above" as the real city of God, nevertheless, Christ's congregation was still intimately associated with earthly Jerusalem and the temple up until the time the holy city came under siege. So, that's why Jesus referred to Jerusalem and the temple as a holy place.
Since Jesus was giving his anointed disciples a specific sign it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus was referring to something that his disciples recognized as actually being holy—not something that only falsely claimed to be a holy place.
In view of all of the foregoing, it is evident that something is obviously lacking in the Watchtower Society interpretation of this vital prophecy. Perhaps Jehovah’s Witnesses, as readers of the prophecy, have not really used discernment, as Jesus advised. More reasonably, if Jehovah's Witnesses are really God's people, then the holy place that is due to become desolate must represent the spiritual temple of Jehovah as represented by the holy ones and the organization associated with it. In other words, what is commonly called: Jehovah's visible organization.
Besides, if the holy place is intended to symbolize Christendom why would Jesus' modern disciples have to discern the threat and flee out of the doomed "city"? If the holy place were actually Christendom, will not Christ's disciples have gotten out of her long before the disgusting thing begins standing where it ought not?
This brings us back to the words of Jesus: "Let the reader use discernment"—along with the question: What did Jesus intend for Christian readers to discern? Are we merely to discern from reading Daniel that the Roman armies were the foretold disgusting thing when they planted their idolatrous ensigns in the temple? Surely not. Of what value would that be for Christ's disciples living during the grander fulfillment—during the actual conclusion of the system?
At Daniel 11:30-31 it states concerning the king of the north: "And he will actually go back and hurl denunciations against the holy covenant and act effectively; and he will have to go back and will give consideration to those leaving the holy covenant. And there will be arms that will stand up, proceeding from him; and they will actually profane the sanctuary, the fortress, and remove the constant feature. And they will certainly put in place the disgusting thing that is causing desolation.
The sanctuary, fortress and constant feature, mentioned above, have reference to that which belongs to God—used in the worship of God—as was the ancient temple. In other words, the sanctuary, fortress and constant feature are a holy place to God. This is collaborated by Daniel 8:13, which refers to the king fierce in countenance bringing desolation upon the "holy place" and the "constant feature." So, the "putting in place the disgusting thing that causes desolation" is in reference to the sanctuary of Jehovah—not Christendom and certainly not Babylon the Great. Also, the reader of Daniel ought to discern that the king of fierce countenance and the disgusting thing are one and the same. This creates an interpretive problem in the way Jehovah’s Witnesses presently understand the prophecy of the king of the north and south. What?
It is generally assumed that the prophecy is to be read as if the events unfold in a chronological progression; but, according to the 8th chapter of Daniel, the holy place is desolated during the time of the end. However, assuming the parallel prophecy of the king of the north/south is in chronological order, the desolation of the holy sanctuary and the putting in place of the disgusting thing takes place before the appointed time of the end. That's because Daniel 11:35 says: "And some of those having insight will be made to stumble, in order to do a refining work because of them and to do a cleansing and to do a whitening, until the time of the end; because it is yet for the time appointed."
Of course, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the "time of the end" began back in 1914. And in order to get around Daniel 11:35, which says the time of the end "is yet for the time appointed," the Watchtower conveniently interprets that "time of the end" as being a different time of the end.
Yes, there is no getting around the fact that the Watchtower took liberties in the interpretation of Daniel in an attempt to prop up the sagging 1914 doctrine. Discerning readers should recognize the Watchtower's interpretation is wholly unsatisfactory. Appropriately enough, the otherwise insightful faithful slave has stumbled over the very verse that foretells his stumbling!
WHAT IS THE TIME OF THE END?
At the risk of irritating the reader with a redundancy of previously discussed topics, the "time of the end" is the same thing as the "conclusion of the system of things." The Greek word syntelia, which was used in Daniel and translated into English as "the time of the end," was the same Greek word Jesus used that is translated "conclusion of the system." Jesus said that the harvest is the conclusion of the system of things. That's when the angels are dispatched to separate the weeds from the wheat— the good from the bad—out from Christ's kingdom and remove all causes for stumbling. It is a mere delusion to suppose that God's angels have already effected such a decisive separation and cleansing of those associated with God's kingdom.
Furthermore, at Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus used "syntelia" in the illustration of the dragnet, where he said: "Again the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up fish of every kind. When it got full they hauled it up onto the beach and, sitting down, they collected the fine ones into vessels, but the unsuitable they threw away. That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous and will cast them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be."
Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be so unreasonable so as to insist that the angels have already set about their work. However, it does seem reasonable that the Watchtower Society is the dragnet—not Christendom—as is now supposed. The Watchtower has indeed accomplished a great in-gathering of all sorts of persons—some good and some not so good. That being the case, then, it would seem that the organization is about to be "hauled up onto the beach," as it were, to commence the foretold separation.
The point as it relates to the topic at hand—let the reader use discernment—is that the time of the end has not begun yet. Therefore, the holy sanctuary, fortress and constant feature have not been desolated yet; since the 8th chapter of Daniel says that such occurs during the time of the end. To harmonize the two prophecies of Daniel, apparently Daniel 11:30-31 is a flash forward to what the king of the north ultimately accomplishes during the time of the end. Ultimately, the true knowledge of Daniel will not become known until the prophecy is unsealed during the oncoming time of the end.
But in order to substantiate the truth regarding a future desolation of the true Christian congregation, consider, now, others of the prophetic books.
In harmony with all the other prophets who foretell an invasion force from the north, Joel also refers to the locust army as "the northerner." The concluding chapter of Joel indicates very plainly that the symbolic locust attack is an immediate prelude to Armageddon, and that the locusts are the strangers that violate what is holy to Jehovah; and must, therefore, be analogous to the disgusting thing that causes desolation to the holy place. That is why Joel 3:17 reads: "And you people will have to know that I am Jehovah your God, residing in Zion my holy mountain. And Jerusalem must become a holy place; and as regards strangers, they will no more pass through her."
In the related prophecy of Nahum, the Assyrian army is similarly likened to locusts—Jehovah saying to them: "It will devour you like the locust species. Make yourself heavy in numbers like the locust species; make yourself heavy in numbers like the locust. You have multiplied your tradesmen more than the stars of the heavens. As for the locust species, it actually strips off its skin; then it flies away. Your guardsmen are like the locust, and your recruiting officers like the locust swarm. They are camping in the stone pens in a cold day. The sun itself has but to shine forth, and away they certainly flee; and their place is really unknown where they are."
Nahum 2:15 indicates that the locust become guilty before God for invading the holy place: "Look! Upon the mountains the feet of one bringing good news, one publishing peace. O Judah, celebrate your festivals. Pay your vows; because no more will any good-for-nothing person pass again through you. In his entirety he will certainly be cut off."
Isaiah 43:25-28 is in harmony with Daniel as regards the princes of the holy place being handed over to their enemies because of transgression—their transgressions. It reads: "I—I (Jehovah) am the One that is wiping out your transgressions for my own sake, and your sins I shall not remember. Remind me; let us put ourselves on judgment together; tell your own account of it in order that you may be in the right. Your own father, the first one, has sinned, and your own spokesmen have transgressed against me. So I shall profane the princes of the holy place, and I will give Jacob over as a man devoted to destruction and Israel over to words of abuse.
As all of Jehovah's Witnesses must surely know, the 43rd chapter of Isaiah is where the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" is derived. So, it would seem that Jehovah is speaking directly to his witnesses at a future time when they are laid low and in desperate need of salvation and liberation. That being the case, how does the Watchtower apply the span of verses cited above? Strangely, they do not —at least not in the latest commentary on Isaiah. The Watchtower merely comments that Jehovah forgives the transgressions of Christians—generically. Yet, the prophecy echoes Daniel's prophecy in every detail. Obviously, the prophecy cannot apply to Christendom. And it is equally evident that it does not apply to any prior periods of persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Furthermore, the grand salvation that God performed for the Israelites when he delivered them from Babylon has had no modern parallel—yet. The mere fact that Jehovah's Witnesses have doctrinally distinguished ourselves from the denominations of Christendom is not the result of the fall of the modern Babylon the Great. That is not reasonable. Christendom is just as vital today as ever and in many places around the world they still use their considerable political influence to hinder our work.
If the prophecies are to be accomplished upon those who are witnesses for Jehovah, then it is evident that not only has Jehovah not released his witnesses from Babylon's chains yet—God’s people have not yet even gone into captivity!
But how is it possible for the Watchtower and Jehovah's Witnesses to be conquered by what we recognize as the world empire of false religion?
As we are well aware, Revelation depicts Babylon the Great as a harlot sitting astride a scarlet-colored wild beast. The beast depicts the eighth king after the seventh king revives from his death stroke, which occurs during the tribulation. It is after the beast revives that Jehovah hands over his transgressing anointed princes and allows his sanctuary to be desolated. Evidently, during the tumult of war and in the aftermath of the demise of the Anglo-American power is when the disgusting thing will manifest itself standing in Jehovah's holy place. That means that when the disgusting thing stands where it ought not, Babylon the Great will still be very much a going concern. For certain, Christianity’s age-old nemesis, Christendom and the whore of Babylon, will appear to have triumphed over Jehovah's kingdom.
A disgusting thing standing in a holy place indeed!
What a humiliation awaits all of Jehovah's Witnesses! But, that is the price that must be paid for sinning against Jehovah. Micah 7:8-10 gives voice to Jehovah's humiliated faithful slave at that time, saying: "Do not rejoice over me, O you woman enemy of mine. Although I have fallen, I shall certainly rise up; although I dwell in the darkness, Jehovah will be a light to me. The raging of Jehovah I shall bear—for I have sinned against him—until he conducts my legal case and actually executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I shall look upon his righteousness. And my enemy will see, and shame will cover her, who was saying to me: "Where is he, Jehovah your God?" My own eyes will look upon her. Now she will become a place of trampling, like the mire of streets."
During the humiliation it will appear as if the last king is greater than Jehovah God. That is why Daniel was inspired to write concerning the boastful king of the north: "And the king will actually do according to his own will, and he will exalt himself and magnify himself above every god; and against the God of gods he will speak marvelous things. And he will certainly prove successful until the denunciation will have come to a finish; because the thing decided upon must be done."
Apparently, then, the disgusting thing standing in a holy place will serve as a signal for Jehovah's people to abandon the Watchtower Society; as it will have served its purpose by then. How? Why? When? Where?—those questions are perhaps unanswerable and even unimportant at the present time. What is important is to recognize that serving Jehovah as his witnesses carries with it an enormous responsibility and God’s servants must accept whatever Jehovah permits.
One thing is certain: If all are to successfully serve as his witnesses all the way to the end, in order to experience a salvation unlike anything Jehovah has ever done, it will require that Christians first drink down the cup full of Jehovah's rage in accord with the 60th Psalm, which says: “O God, you have cast us off, you have broken through us, you have become incensed. You should restore us. You have caused the earth to rock, you have split it open. Heal its breaches, for it has tottered. You have caused your people to see hardship. You have made us drink wine sending us reeling. You have given to those fearing you a signal to flee zigzag on account of the bow. In order that your beloved ones may be rescued, O do save with your right hand and answer us…”