“Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, ‘For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?’ And he said to me, ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.’” (Dan 8:13-14)
This is very difficult word, whose origin lies in the Spirit’s drawing my attention to the above text, will be misunderstood by some and gloated over by others. However, if it is Spirit-given, the saints (i.e. holy ones) will inwardly know its truth. This article is an assurance to those in deep distress that after a fixed period God will sovereignly act to restore the place of appointed worship to its proper condition.
Growing numbers of Western Christians are feeling desolate in the contemporary church. This article argues the reason is genuine and spiritual. Throughout scripture various anti-God forces invade the holy place/Temple/church by means of deceptive religious forms that exalt man. This leads to divine judgement in terms of the withdrawal of the manifest presence and glory of God. Those who seek to maintain faithfulness during these times of spiritual decline are attacked by evil forces. Under such circumstances God calls his people to come out from the dominant forms of religion lest they suffer with the majority.
1. A Time of Desolation
The scripture speaks in various places of an “abomination of desolation” (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Matt 24:15; Mark 13:14). Whatever this abomination is, its impact is clearly to lay waste, render infertile, rob of joy and so on. A growing number of devout believers feel this way about their experience of church but cannot make sense of it. In fact they are one with the saints that “sigh and groan over all the abominations” committed in the Temple (Ezek 9:4) and those Christians who mourned over the spiritual state of the church (Matt 5:4; 2 Cor 12:21).
2. The Abomination is in the Holy Place
Satan’s central strategy against humanity is not focused on government, business or other “people of influence” but on the worshipping life of the people of God. He seeks to invade the sacred space God shares with his people – this was the meaning of the serpent’s intrusion into Eden (Gen 3:1ff.), the various “abominations” in the Temple in Ezekiel’s day (Ezek 8:3-15), the “abomination of desolation” in the temple sanctuary (Dan 11:31; 12:11; Matt 24:15; Mark 13:14) and the attempt of the beast to destroy God’s “dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven” (Rev 13:6).
Since there is nothing more important than the dwelling place of God, the principal arena for the discernment of the work of evil powers is within the assembly of the people of God.
3. The Abomination is a Human Image
When the persecutor of the Jews, Antiochus Epiphanes (whose name means “glorious manifestation of God”), set up an image in the Jerusalem Temple (167 B.C.) he made it in the form of the Olympian Zeus. He did this because he thought of himself as the manifestation of this chief Greek. This indicates the abomination that makes desolate is human self-worship. Such is a pervasive theme in scripture.
In the New Testament, it is “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:3) who “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (v.4). Most pointedly, “the image of the beast” is an image of a healed human being (Rev 13:3, 14-15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20). The image is expressly worshipped because it has seemingly overcome humanity’s greatest enemy, death. To identify the “abomination” we need to examine human religious practices.
4. The Abomination Promotes Worship and Glory Promising Prosperity
The locus of the activity of Satan is in the realm of self-worship. In tempting Jesus to worship him he was not suggesting Christ set up a public Satanic cult but seek “power and glory” (Luke 4:6) for himself.
The “the mystery of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:6) is a prospering power. It always seems to be on the winning side, it triumphs even over death (Rev 13:3, 12). Daniel’s “little horn” (8:11, representing Antiochus Epiphanes) “acts and prospers” (8:12; 1:36). The “mark of the beast” is not about some bar code imprint, but a sign that enables its followers to “buy and sell” (Rev 13:16-17) for the purpose of making rich.
Deep in the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities of his day is the issue of the power of money. Jesus warned the Pharisaical teachers, who were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14), “what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (16:15). Their theology of wealth equated prosperity with righteousness. Likewise, the wealthy land-owning Temple controlling Sadducees, plot to kill Jesus only after his threat to the Temple, the source of their finances (Mark11:15-18).
Like the self-righteous church of Laodicea, which exulted in its achievements, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (Rev 3:17) we must beware lest Christ reject us, “I will spit you out of my mouth” (3:16). The prosperity teachers of our day and their adherents are in great danger.
5. The “Priests” have Failed You
One of the central teaching tasks of the priestly ministers of the old covenant was to teach Israel the “difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Ezek 44:23). Yahweh announces that a central reason why Israel is sent into exile is the failure of the priests to do this, so that God himself is profaned (Ezek 22:26). This means the Holy One is treated as common and with contempt. His anger flares up to cleanse the land (22:31).
Where there is widespread confusion in the church over what is sinful, this must be rooted in the responsibility of the pastors/elders of the day to warn congregations of the discipline of God. The false apostles at Corinth seemed to tolerate the Corinthians misbehaviours (2 Cor 11:5, 13; 12:11). The true apostle unhesitatingly explains that sickness and death had come upon Christians because they had treated their poorer brothers and sisters with contempt (1 Cor11:17-22, 27-34).
The loving apostolic father commends mourning over sexual sin (1 Cor 5:2) and commands, “Purge the evil person from among you.”(5:13). He knows that the Holy Place is incompatible with tolerated evil: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:17).
There are pastoral figures today who have failed their charges in an even more serious manner. In Ezekiel 8:3 we read of “the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy” at the entrance to the Temple. This appears to be an idol figure, most likely of Asherah, consort of the Canaanite high god El. Apparently, the priests had allowed this image to communicate that if you wanted to gain access to Yahweh you had first to pay homage to this other god. This practice was “an abomination” (8:6) before the true God.
At the entrance way of various mega churches in our land one can see set up life size (or larger) photos of the senior pastor and his wife, communicating that if you want access to God here is the way to find it. Combine this with the focus on tithing, attendance, honouring the pastor’s “vision” etc. and we surely have a mediatorial and false priestly position in place that stirs up the heart of God.
6. God is Jealous
Since the abominable attack is focused on the covenant community of God, the divine response is typically one of jealousy. This was warned of in the second commandment, “You shall not bow down to them (images) or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex 20:5). We have already encountered the image “that provokes to jealousy” (Ezek 8:3) and there are numerous other references of this sort in the Old Testament. The language is marital, Yahweh is an offended husband who will purify his adulterous wife through punishment (Ezek 16:38; Zeph 3:8).
This thrust continues unabated in the New Testament. As an apostle, Paul has a “divine jealousy” towards the Corinthian believers because they are turning to “another Jesus”, a “different” gospel and a “different” spirit under the influence of false teachers in the church (2 Cor 11:2-5). Earlier he had warned of the consequences of idolatry and immorality, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Cor 10:22). In the context, the consequences are those suffered by Israel– physical destruction.
There is an even more horrible consequence of worldly ways, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the Spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?” (James 4:4-5) Arguably, this is a cross reference to Genesis 6:3, and indicates a grieving and significant withdrawal of the presence of the Spirit of God.
7. War on the Saints
The holy place is the site of the most intense spiritual warfare on earth, in the Old Testament this is the physical shrine of the Jerusalem temple, in the New Testament it is the church.
Both Testaments convey this warfare by the expression “war on the saints”; “this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them” (Dan 7:21) “it (the beast) was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them” (Rev 13:7).
The primary issue is not physical persecution. The devil seeks to deceive the saints (Dan 8:25; Rev 13:14), by convincing them that the real problem is theirs and not that of the church and its leadership. His strategies are exclusion, isolation, confusion over responsibility and fragmentation.
“The saints” is not an inclusive term; it refers to a remnant of true believers within the visible people of God. Jesus prophesies that in times of lawlessness “the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24:12). This can only be understood as the cooling of a love for Christ (compare Rev 2:4). Apart from the prophetic word however this loss of devoted holiness will always go unnoticed (Isa 6:9; John 12:38-40; Heb 5:11).
The faithful among “the saints” however will always recognise the desolation in the holy place, because it is given to them to discern this. What they are in fact sensing is the withdrawal of the manifest and glorious presence of God.
8. The Glory has Departed
Wherever the “abomination of desolation” is working in the holy place the glory of God departs. This is what Ezekiel saw in the Spirit (Ezek11:23).
Immediately before Jesus cleanses the Temple, he speaks of total destruction, “because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:44). Here, “visitation” means the glory of God manifest in Christ himself (John1:14) but not received by the religious rulers of the day, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:36-43).
A church filled with self-praise will always be blind to the glory of God. Jesus walks constantly in the midst of the golden lampstands of the churches (Rev 1:12; 2:1), but with few exceptions they seem completely unfamiliar with the content of his word of rebuke. It is the same in our day. The abominations of the contemporary Western church have led to the large scale withdrawal of the manifest presence of the Spirit, as an act of divine considered judgement.
In speaking of the persecutions of his day, Peter boldly applies Ezekiel’s language of the divine destruction of the Temple and its idolatrous worshippers to what God is doing to the church, “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). The believers’ response to this requires something greatly lacking in the modern church, “this calls for wisdom” (Rev 13:18; Ps 107:43; Dan12:10; Hos 14:9; Mark13:14).
9. Two Marks Two Futures
We are familiar with “the mark of the beast” (Rev 13:16ff; 14:9ff.). Those who are so marked have no future in God’s kingdom. This was clearly the situation for some in the visible church of the apostles’ day. Membership of the visible church with its services, preaching, worship and sacraments does not shield us from the coming wrath.
The other mark however is a saving one, “And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it… Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.”” (Ezek 9:4,6). In the same manner the elect in the visible church are sealed with the name of the Lamb on their foreheads. (Rev 3:12; 7:3; 9:4; 14:1).
Only those with the name of Jesus indelibly imprinted on their foreheads, that is, in the renewal of their minds (so that they are a living sacrifice and not worldly-wise) follow Christ wherever he goes, and are assuredly protected from “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:16).
10. God is Calling, “Come Out”
Throughout scripture comes the prophetic cry, “Flee Babylon!”(Isa 48:20; Jer 49:30, 50:8,16,28, 51:6; Rev 18:4). Where the abomination of desolation is sighted the command is to flee (Mark 13:14).
Paul expounds these principles to the Corinthians at length, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 6:14-7:1).
Separation from everything that is false and unholy in the church is a pre –condition for the indwelling manifest presence of God. God is saying today, “Seek my holy presence, refuse to compromise with evil and I will do the rest.” This is how it has always happened in reformation, restoration and revival.
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”(Acts 2:46-47)
This is a hard word to bring, but it is not written in a judgemental spirit. I believe it makes sense both biblically and contextually of the experience of growing masses of people in the Western church. They are “coming out”. God may have called you to stay and intercede in the midst of the falling away that is accelerating in the church,otherwise you need to ask him if he is calling you to come out. If you do not obediently come out then you will remain in the sacred space where the divine jealousy is aroused and suffer with the rest of the people from the withdrawal of his holy presence. The assured result will be uncomforted desolation.
 “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you—abide in him.” (1 John 2:26-27)
 This appears to be the meaning of the expression “2,300 evenings and mornings” in scripture (Dan 8:14).
 He is already “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4. Compare Luke 4:5-6; 1 John 5:19).
 “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas, ’yet you are but a man, and no god,” (Ezek 28:2). “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.” (Rom 1:22-23)
 The number of the beast is strictly “the number of man” (Rev 13:18). Greek has no indefinite article.
 If Jesus had done this he would have been transformed into the image of Satan, i.e. into the antichrist.
 This is intimately connected with the trading power of Babylon/Rome (Rev 18:11-13).
 Compare the disciples shock that it would be difficult for the rich to be saved (Luke18:25-27).
 The immediate background is Hosea 12:8, where Yahweh condemns affluent Israel as idolatrous, and goes on to proclaim destruction (Hos 13).
 This has widespread application – to foods, sexual relations, sacrifices etc. e.g. Lev 18.
 Deut 32:16, 21; Josh 24:19; 1 Ki 14:22; Ps 78:58; Nah 1:2 etc.
 He sees the incident of the golden calf (Exod 32) and the Baal of Peor (Num 25) as specifically recorded as a warning to Christians. Compare the sicknesses and deaths in the church in 1 Cor 11:30.
 “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.’” That speaks of the withdrawal of the life giving Spirit.
 As to the grieving of the Spirit see Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30, and the withdrawal of the Spirit’s anointing, Psalm 51:11.
 Greek has two words that are both at times translated “temple” in English. Naos, which is the sanctuary itself, and hieros that includes the entire temple compound. The church and believer as temple is always naos.
 In the end however Satan’s success brings his defeat, for this is how the cross works in history (Rev 12:11). Luther’s excommunication illustrates this well.
 Compare Romans 9:6, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”.
 The antichrist is “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:3) because “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). In John’s understanding this is aimed at false teachers in and around the church (see 1 John 1:8, 10 and the problem Paul faced in Rom 6:1-2).
 As part of the “fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil 3:10) that they (and not all believers) have actively sought.
 A line from a contemporary music CD produced by one of Perth’s “premier churches” states boldly, “this is the church’s finest hour.” I suggest such self-glorifying language (compare Eph 3:21, “to him be glory in the church”) is the work of a cross denying alien spirit.
 The vocabulary of the New Testament indicates that the church as Christ’s body is the object of temporal and restorative judgement but never of eternal wrath e.g.1 Cor 11:28-33; 1 Pet 3:17; 1 Thess 1:10).
 “Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” (Ezek 9:6).
 2 Cor 11:26; Gal 2:4 speak of “false brothers” in the church. Jesus warns that he will destroy those in the church who hold to false teaching to do with idols and sexual immorality (Rev 2:14-16, 20-23).
 Rev 14:4. Principally, this means a willingness to die for him at the hands of the dragon and the beast e.g. Rev 12:11; 13:10
 “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.””(1 Cor 5:9-13)
 Compare the place of the supernatural in the story of the Azusa St. revival, e.g. The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, Cecil M. Robeck, Nelson 2006.
 This is not a claim that the whole church is apostatizing, only those fragments that are deviating from the centrality of Christ and his gospel.
 A fuller examination of this theme would show how Jesus, the true saint, temple and holy place (Mark 1:24; John 2:19-21), is handed over by false religious rulers to the powers of evil at the cross (Luke 22:53; John 19:11), but triumphs over them by faithfulness even in the midst of the desolation of Fatherlessness (Mark 15:34; Col 2:14-15).