“Let the Reader Use Discernment”
“When you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation . . . standing in a holy place, . . . then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.”—MATTHEW 24:15, 16.
1. The warning Jesus gave as found at Luke 19:43, 44 had what outcome?
OUR being alerted to an approaching calamity can enable us to avoid it. (Proverbs 22:3) So imagine the situation of Christians in Jerusalem after the Roman attack in 66 C.E. Jesus had warned that the city would be surrounded and destroyed. (Luke 19:43, 44) Most Jews ignored him. But his disciples heeded his warning. As a result, they were saved from the calamity of 70 C.E.
2, 3. Why should we be interested in Jesus’ prophecy recorded at Matthew 24:15-21?
2 In a prophecy with implications for us today, Jesus outlined a composite sign that included wars, food shortages, earthquakes, pestilences, and persecution of Christians preaching about God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:4-14; Luke 21:10-19) Jesus also offered a clue that would help his disciples to know that the end was close—a ‘disgusting thing that causes desolation standing in a holy place.’ (Matthew 24:15) Let us reexamine those meaningful words to see how they can affect our lives now and in the future.
3 After outlining the sign, Jesus said: “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. 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.”—Matthew 24:15-21.
4. What indicates that Matthew 24:15 had a fulfillment in the first century?
4 The accounts by Mark and Luke provide supplemental details. Where Matthew uses “standing in a holy place,” Mark 13:14 says “standing where it ought not.” Luke 21:20 adds Jesus’ words: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near.” 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. Complete desolation occurred when the Romans destroyed both city and temple in 70 C.E. What was “the disgusting thing” back then? And how did it ‘stand in a holy place’? Answers to these questions will help to clarify the modern-day fulfillment.
5, 6. (a) Why would readers of Daniel chapter 9 need discernment? (b) How was Jesus’ prophecy about “the disgusting thing” fulfilled?
5 Jesus urged readers to use discernment. Readers of what? Likely, of Daniel chapter 9. There we find a prophecy indicating when Messiah would appear and foretelling that he would be “cut off” after three and a half years. The prophecy says: “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.”—Daniel 9:26, 27; see also Daniel 11:31; 12:11.
6 The Jews thought that this applied to the profanation of the temple by Antiochus IV about 200 years earlier. However, Jesus showed otherwise, urging discernment because “the disgusting thing” was yet to appear and stand in “a holy place.” It is apparent that Jesus was referring to the Roman army that would come in 66 C.E. with distinctive ensigns. Such standards, long in use, were virtual idols and were disgusting to the Jews.* When, though, would they ‘stand in a holy place’? That happened when the Roman army, with its ensigns, attacked Jerusalem and its temple, which the Jews considered holy. The Romans even began to undermine the wall of the temple area. Truly, what had long been disgusting now stood in a holy place!—Isaiah 52:1; Matthew 4:5; 27:53; Acts 6:13.
A Modern-Day “Disgusting Thing”
7. What prophecy of Jesus is being fulfilled in our time?
7 Since World War I, we have seen the larger fulfillment of Jesus’ sign recorded in Matthew chapter 24. Yet, recall his words: “When you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation . . . standing in a holy place, . . . then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.” (Matthew 24:15, 16) This aspect of the prophecy must have a fulfillment in our time too.
8. For years, how have Jehovah’s Witnesses identified “the disgusting thing” in modern times?
8 Demonstrating the confidence of Jehovah’s servants that this prophecy would be fulfilled, The Watchtower of January 1, 1921, focused on it in connection with developments in the Middle East. Subsequently, in its December 15, 1929, issue, on page 374, The Watchtower definitively said: “The whole tendency of the League of Nations is to turn the people away from God and from Christ, and it is therefore a desolating thing, the product of Satan, and an abomination in the sight of God.” So in 1919 “the disgusting thing” appeared. In time, the League gave way to the United Nations. Jehovah’s Witnesses have long exposed these human peace organizations as disgusting in God’s sight.
9, 10. How did an earlier understanding of the great tribulation influence our view of the time when “the disgusting thing” would stand in a holy place?
9 The preceding article summarized a clarified view of much of Matthew chapters 24 and 25. Is some clarification in order regarding ‘the disgusting thing standing in a holy place’? Apparently so. Jesus’ prophecy closely links the “standing in a holy place” with the outbreak of the foretold “tribulation.” Hence, even though “the disgusting thing” has long existed, the link between its “standing in a holy place” and the great tribulation should affect our thinking. How so?
10 God’s people once understood that the first phase of the great tribulation began in 1914 and that the final part would come at the battle of Armageddon. (Revelation 16:14, 16; compare The Watchtower, April 1, 1939, page 110.) So we can understand why it was once thought that the latter-day “disgusting thing” must have stood in a holy place soon after World War I.
11, 12. In 1969, what readjusted view of the great tribulation was presented?
11 However, in later years we have come to see things differently. On Thursday, July 10, 1969, at the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly in New York City, F. W. Franz, then vice president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, gave an electrifying talk. In reviewing the previous understanding of Jesus’ prophecy, Brother Franz said: “The explanation was given that the ‘great tribulation’ had begun in 1914 C.E. and that it was not allowed to run its full course then but God stopped World War I in November of 1918. From then on God was allowing an interval for the activity of his anointed remnant of elect Christians before he let the final part of the ‘great tribulation’ resume at the battle of Armageddon.”
12 Then a significantly adjusted explanation was offered: “To correspond with the events of the first century, . . . the antitypical ‘great tribulation’ did not begin in 1914 C.E. Rather, what took place upon Jerusalem’s modern antitype in 1914-1918 was merely ‘a beginning of pangs of distress’ . . . The ‘great tribulation’ such as will not occur again is yet ahead, for it means the destruction of the world empire of false religion (including Christendom) followed by the ‘war of the great day of God the Almighty’ at Armageddon.” This meant that the entire great tribulation was yet ahead.
13. Why is it logical to say that there will be a future ‘standing in a holy place’ by “the disgusting thing”?
13 This has a direct bearing on discerning when “the disgusting thing” stands in a holy place. Recall what happened in the first century. The Romans attacked Jerusalem in 66 C.E., but they abruptly withdrew, which allowed Christian “flesh” to be saved. (Matthew 24:22) Accordingly, we expect the great tribulation to begin soon, but it will be cut short for the sake of God’s chosen ones. Note this key point: In the ancient pattern, ‘the disgusting thing standing in a holy place’ was linked to the Roman attack under General Gallus in 66 C.E. The modern-day parallel to that attack—the outbreak of the great tribulation—is still ahead. So “the disgusting thing that causes desolation,” which has existed since 1919, apparently is yet to stand in a holy place.* How will this happen? And how can we be affected?
A Future Attack
14, 15. How does Revelation chapter 17 help us to understand events leading up to Armageddon?
14 The book of Revelation describes a future destructive attack on false religion. Chapter 17 outlines God’s judgment against “Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots”—the world empire of false religion. Christendom plays a central part and claims to have a covenant relationship with God. (Compare Jeremiah 7:4.) The false religions, including Christendom, have long had illicit dealings with “the kings of the earth,” but this will end in the desolation of those religions. (Revelation 17:2, 5) At whose hands?
15 Revelation depicts “a scarlet-colored wild beast” that exists for a time, disappears, and then returns. (Revelation 17:3, 8) This beast is supported by world rulers. Details supplied in the prophecy help us to identify this symbolic beast as a peace organization that came into existence in 1919 as the League of Nations (a “disgusting thing”) and that is now the United Nations. Revelation 17:16, 17 shows that God will yet put it into the hearts of certain human rulers who are prominent in this “beast” to desolate the world empire of false religion. That attack marks the outbreak of the great tribulation.
16. What noteworthy developments are taking place involving religion?
16 Since the start of the great tribulation is yet future, is the “standing in a holy place” still ahead of us? Evidently so. While “the disgusting thing” made its appearance early in this century and has, thus, existed for decades, it will take a position in a unique way “in a holy place” in the near future. As first-century followers of Christ must have keenly watched to see how the “standing in a holy place” would develop, so do present-day Christians. Admittedly, we will have to wait for the actual fulfillment to know all the details. Yet, it is noteworthy that in some lands there is already a detectable and growing antipathy toward religion. Some political elements, in league with former Christians who have deviated from the true faith, are promoting hostility against religion in general and true Christians in particular. (Psalm 94:20, 21; 1 Timothy 6:20, 21) Consequently, political powers even now “battle with the Lamb,” and as Revelation 17:14 indicates, this fight will intensify. While they cannot literally get their hands on the Lamb of God—Jesus Christ in his exalted, glorified state—they will further vent their opposition against God’s true worshipers, his “holy ones” in particular. (Daniel 7:25; compare Romans 8:27; Colossians 1:2; Revelation 12:17.) We have divine assurance that the Lamb and those with him will be victorious.—Revelation 19:11-21.
17. Without being dogmatic, what might we say as to how “the disgusting thing” will stand in a holy place?
17 We know that desolation awaits false religion. Babylon the Great is “drunk with the blood of the holy ones” and has acted as a queen, but her destruction is certain. The unclean influence she has wielded over the kings of the earth will dramatically change as that relationship turns into one of violent hatred on the part of the ‘ten horns and the wild beast.’ (Revelation 17:6, 16; 18:7, 8) 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.
18, 19. What reasons are given to show that “fleeing to the mountains” will not mean changing religion?
18 After foretelling ‘the standing of the disgusting thing in a holy place,’ Jesus warned discerning ones to act. Did he mean that at that late point—when “the disgusting thing” is “standing in a holy place”—many people will flee from false religion and take up true worship? Hardly. Consider the first fulfillment. Jesus said: “Let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains. Let the man on the housetop not come down, nor go inside to take anything out of his house; and let the man in the field not return to the things behind to pick up his outer garment. Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days! Keep praying that it may not occur in wintertime.”—Mark 13:14-18.
19 Jesus did not say that only those in Jerusalem needed to withdraw, as if his point was that they needed to get out of the center of Jewish worship; nor did his warning mention changing religion—fleeing from the false and taking up the true. Jesus’ disciples certainly needed no warning about fleeing from one religion to another; they had already become true Christians. And the attack in 66 C.E. did not motivate practicers of Judaism in Jerusalem and throughout Judea to abandon that religion and accept Christianity. Professor Heinrich Graetz says that those who chased the fleeing Romans came back to the city: “The Zealots, shouting exultant war songs, returned to Jerusalem (8th October), their hearts beating with the joyful hope of liberty and independence. . . . Had not God helped them as mercifully as He had helped their forefathers? The hearts of the Zealots knew no fears for the future.”
20. How did the early disciples respond to Jesus’ warning to flee to the mountains?
20 How, then, did the comparatively small number of chosen ones back then act on Jesus’ advice? By leaving Judea and fleeing to the mountains across the Jordan, they showed that they were no part of the Jewish system, politically or religiously. They left fields and homes, not even gathering their possessions from their houses. Confident of the protection and support of Jehovah, they put his worship ahead of everything else that might seem important.—Mark 10:29, 30; Luke 9:57-62.
21. We need not expect what when “the disgusting thing” attacks?
21 Consider, now, the larger fulfillment. We have for many decades been urging people to get out of false religion and to take up true worship. (Revelation 18:4, 5) Millions have done so. Jesus’ prophecy does not indicate that once the great tribulation breaks out, masses will turn to pure worship; certainly, there was no mass conversion of Jews in 66 C.E. Yet, true Christians will have great incentive to apply Jesus’ warning and flee.
22. Our applying Jesus’ advice about fleeing to the mountains may involve what?
22 We cannot presently have full details about the great tribulation, but we can logically conclude that for us the flight Jesus spoke of will not be in a geographic sense. God’s people are already around the globe, virtually in every corner. We can be sure, though, that when flight is necessary, Christians will have to continue to maintain a clear distinction between themselves and false religious organizations. It is also significant that Jesus warned about not going back to one’s house to retrieve garments or other goods. (Matthew 24:17, 18) So there may be tests ahead as to how we view material things; are they the most important thing, or is the salvation that will come for all on God’s side more important? Yes, our fleeing may involve some hardships and deprivations. We will have to be ready to do whatever it takes, as did our first-century counterparts who fled from Judea to Perea, across the Jordan.
23, 24. (a) Where only will we find protection? (b) What effect should Jesus’ warning about ‘the disgusting thing standing in a holy place’ have on us?
23 We must be certain that our refuge continues to be Jehovah and his mountainlike organization. (2 Samuel 22:2, 3; Psalm 18:2; Daniel 2:35, 44) That is where we will find protection! We will not imitate the masses of mankind who will flee to “the caves” and hide “in the rock-masses of the mountains”—human organizations and institutions that may remain for a very short while after Babylon the Great is desolated. (Revelation 6:15; 18:9-11) True, times may get more difficult—as they would have been in 66 C.E. for pregnant women who fled Judea or for anyone who had to travel in cold, rainy weather. But we can be sure that God will make survival possible. Let us even now reinforce our reliance on Jehovah and his Son, now reigning as King of the Kingdom.
24 There is no reason for us to live in fear of what is going to happen. Jesus did not want his disciples back then to be afraid, and he does not want us to be in fear, either now or in the days to come. He alerted us so that we can be preparing our hearts and minds. After all, obedient Christians will not be punished when destruction comes on false religion and the rest of this wicked system. They will be discerning and heed the warning about ‘the disgusting thing standing in a holy place.’ And they will act decisively on their unshakable faith. May we never forget what Jesus promised: “He that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”—Mark 13:13.
“The Roman standards were guarded with religious veneration in the temples at Rome; and the reverence of this people for their ensigns was in proportion to their superiority to other nations . . . [To soldiers it] was perhaps the most sacred thing the earth possessed. The Roman soldier swore by his ensign.”—The Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th Edition.
It should be noted that while the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in 66-70 C.E. can help us to understand how they will be fulfilled at the great tribulation, the two fulfillments cannot be exactly parallel because the fulfillments occur against different backdrops.
Do You Recall?
◻ How did “the disgusting thing that causes desolation” manifest itself in the first century?
◻ Why is it reasonable to think that the modern-day “disgusting thing” will stand in a holy place at a future time?
◻ What attack by a “disgusting thing” is foretold in Revelation?
◻ What sort of “fleeing” may yet be required on our part?
[Picture on page 16]
Babylon the Great is called “the mother of the harlots”
[Picture on page 17]
The scarlet-colored wild beast of Revelation chapter 17 is “the disgusting thing” referred to by Jesus
[Picture on page 18]
The scarlet-colored wild beast will lead a devastating attack on religion