What Is the abomination of desolation?

by Matt Slick

The abomination of desolation is a phrase that appears several times in the Bible and references the desecration of the sacred Temple of Jerusalem, an event that has occurred several times in history and will probably occur again.

  • Daniel 9:27, "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate."
  • Daniel 11:31, "Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation."
  • Daniel 12:11, "From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days."
  • Matthew 24:15-16, "Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains."
  • Mark 13:14, "But when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains."
  • Luke 21:20, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near."

The word "abomination" occurs over 120 times in the Bible.  In the Hebrew Old Testament, there are four different words used to translate into the English "abomination".  In the Greek New Testament, there is one word:  bdelugma. In both testaments it means a detestable act or thing such as magic and divination, (Deuteronomy 18:12), unclean sacrifices (Leviticus 11:10-13), pagan idolatry (Jeremiah 4:1), and detestable things (Luke 16:15; Revelation 17:4-5; 21:27).

There appears to be a reference to the Daniel prophecy that is recorded as being fulfilled in the book of Maccabees (which is not Scripture).

"1 Macc. 1:54, 59 reports that “they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah.… And … they offered sacrifice on the altar [Gk. bōmós] which was upon the altar of burnt offering.” Apparently an altar dedicated to Zeus was erected on Yahweh’s altar (thysiastḗrion) of burnt offerings. According to 2 Macc. 6:2, Antiochus ordered that the Jerusalem temple be called the temple of “Olympian Zeus.”1

The phrase "abomination of desolation" in Daniel 11:31 appears to be a prophecy of the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes IV which occurred in 167 B.C. where he forbade the daily Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem and "caused an altar to be erected on the altar of burnt-offering, on which sacrifices were offered to Jupiter Olympus."2  Other commentators see the pagan altar as an offering place to Zeus.3  But, Jupiter was equivalent the Roman version of the Greek god Zeus.

The Gospels and the Abomination of Desolation

The occurrence of the phrase in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, at the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus referred to it as a future event, the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., which occurred at the hands of the Romans (see Luke 21:20). However, the context of Matthew 24 deals with the second coming of Christ. The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of your coming, and at the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). Christian commentators have offered to possible interpretations. One is that the abomination of desolation occurred in the destruction of Jerusalem when the Romans raised their pagan flag above the Temple at its destruction. Another view is that there will be a future abomination of desolation performed by the Antichrist before Jesus returns. This latter view has led to speculation that there will be a seven year tribulation period in which the man of lawlessness will arise. During this time Israel will reinstitute its sacrificial system in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. The antichrist will then commit an abomination in regards to that sacrificial system at the Temple - possibly erecting a statue of himself in the Temple and requiring worship. Some see 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 is a prophecy describing this event:

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, "Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the bapostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above aevery so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God."


The abomination of desolation is a phrase used to designate a horrible and devastating activity that is idolatrous in its essence and a grotesque affront to the holiness of God.



  • 1. Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988. Vol. 1, p. 931, note that carm does not consider Maccabees to be scripture
  • 2. Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893.
  • 3. Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985. Abomination That Makes Desolate, The

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.