November 11, 2018
What is the Abomination of Desolation? An abomination is a disgusting and hated thing. There is nothing found more disgusting and hated by God than idolatry, that is, the worship of false gods. Desolation is the act of desolating; to lay bare and make uninhabited. In our Gospel lesson Jesus meshes his warning of two different events: the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the end of the world. Both of these events coincide with the abomination of desolation.
In 70 AD the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was burned down and destroyed along with the city of Jerusalem by Roman forces. Jesus predicted this would happen. There were signs leading up to this event. In 40 AD the emperor, Caligula attempted to set up a golden statue in the temple for people to worship. Jesus told the Jews that when they saw these signs to flee. The destruction of the temple, which put an end to Jewish sacrifices to this day, and the destruction of Jerusalem were the Abomination of Desolation.
The destruction of the temple in 70 AD was the final of many assaults on Jewish worship. Throughout the Old Testament bad kings set up idols in the temple. In 167 BC the king of Syria sacrificed pigs in the temple. These abominations had the goal of destroying the religion of the Jews by desecrating their place of sacrifice. It was through sacrifices that God communicated to his people that he accepted them. If the place of sacrifice is destroyed, then so is the religion of the Jews.
Every sacrifice of the Old Testament pointed to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. When the faithful Jews of the Old Testament looked to the sacrifices in the temple, they remembered God’s promise to send a Savior to redeem them from their sins. So, the attacks on the temple, the place of sacrifice, was an attempt by the devil to remove Christ from God’s people.
Yet, there is another abomination, which makes for desolation that we must contend with in these last days. This abomination does not deal with a temple made with hands. Rather it is an attack on a spiritual temple. The abomination of desolation, which we must contend with today, is the removal of Christ Jesus from his Church. Jesus warns, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible even the elect.” This warning from Jesus is for us. And just as many believers heeded Jesus’ warning concerning the first Abomination of Desolation and fled before Jerusalem was laid bare, so we too should heed Jesus’ warning.
The abomination of desolation today is not Barrack Obama or Donald Trump or any other political leader. It is not the rulers of the nations Jesus warns us about, but those who infiltrate Christ’s church on earth. Scripture says that the man of lawlessness “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thess. 2:4) Further, it says, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.” (2 Thess. 2:9) Satan isn’t really concerned with destroying the United States of America. America will fall just as every other nation will fall. Satan wants to lay the very Church of Christ desolate. He does this by raising false christs and false prophets within the very visible church of God on earth!
Jesus warns, “if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. … “If they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” Yet, many popes and bishops dressed in religious vestments have sent Christians out into the wilderness on pilgrimages or into monasteries and convents seeking Jesus through a life of good works, while ignoring the salvation Christ earned for them through his blood. Many preachers, with their own churches, radio and television shows or internet podcasts tell millions of people where to find Christ. They lead people astray with great wonders and signs. Some seem to perform miracles by healing the crippled and sick or speaking in tongues or prophesying. Jesus said they would do these things. They lead people astray with impressive performances and clever arguments. They’re successful and attractive. And they call themselves Christians. Yet, all these false christs and false prophets have something in common: they distract from Christ’s suffering and death on the cross for the forgiveness and salvation of his people.
Satan attacks Christ’s Church from the inside. The abomination of desolation standing in the holy place is false faith standing in the place of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. The temple is no longer needed, because Jesus has fulfilled all sacrifices. Now you are the holy place where God dwells. Through faith in Jesus’ blood shed for you, God dwells in your heart. This is how he is with his people. Satan wants to replace Jesus’ blood and righteousness from your faith with a false faith. He doesn’t do this with threats of physical force. He does this by impersonating Christ and his church. This is why it is so important for you never to take your eyes off of Jesus and what he has done for you on the cross.
How do you identify the true Christ from an imposter? How do you know that you are in the true Church or a bad counterfeit? Like many young children, when I was a small child I once wrapped my arms around the legs of a lady at church, because I thought she was my mom. They were wearing similar skirts. And likewise, Christians get deceived. They identify the church by looking at things that remind them of church. But not all building with steeples, crosses, and pulpits actually have Christ inside! Just as not all women, who wear skirts are my mom.
You identify the true Church by listening for the true teaching of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose for your justification. If you believe that God forgives you for Christ’s sake, you truly are forgiven and will be saved. Yet, even if a church has all the other familiar markings of a church, an altar and pews, a pastor and people, candles and hymn books, this does not mean that it is the true church; if Christ is not preached. If you do not hear that the blood shed on the altar of the cross washes away your sins, then that is not the church of Christ.
The abomination of desolation stands in the holy place not only when false teachers remove Christ’s work of salvation from the preaching of the church, but when Christ, his blood and righteousness are removed from your heart. You can belong to an orthodox Lutheran church, yet if you do not believe in the forgiveness of sins from Christ then an abomination dwells in your heart instead of Christ Jesus.
“Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Christians gather around the cross of Christ. While Satan calls us to go out and see more glorious christs, who offer you success, who don’t tell you to repent of your sins, who are rich and successful, Christians gather around a broken and despised Christ, who died upon the cross. While Satan calls you to go to a vibrant, growing church that is adored by the world, the elect are scorned for going to Jesus, where he can be found, even when the numbers dwindle.
The true church is despised in this world because Christ is despised. To trust in his sacrifice for sins is offensive, because it means that we must acknowledge that we are sinners, who need to repent. God’s wrath against Jesus on the cross is hated, because it reveals God’s wrath against our own personal sins. To believe that God can punish Jesus for sins that we’ve committed is scoffed at even by so-called Lutheran theologians and deemed ridiculous. Yet, we fools trust in this foolishness. We cherish the cross of Christ, his blood poured, and his broken body laid in a tomb.
We gather to eat the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins; the same body nailed to the cross and blood which dripped from the nails and spear. The world finds this grotesque. Even many Christians don’t understand this. Yet, Jesus himself bids us to eat and drink. His flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. We do not devour Christ like vultures around a corpse as the mocking world imagines, rather, we partake of the risen body of Christ. We eat and drink and receive Christ’s living body and blood in a way that we do not understand, yet we believe that just as Christ is risen from the dead, so will we, who have been joined to him through this meal.
The tribulation in these latter days will be greater than the world has ever seen. The number of false christs and false prophets will only increase and attack Christ’s church from the inside out. Satan is dead set on laying the Church of Christ desolate. Yet, God will preserve his Church. Built on the rock the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling. Church buildings may be burnt to the ground. Churches and synods might go belly up or reject the Gospel, even the Missouri Synod might fall away. But Christ’s Church will never fall away. The elect of Christ will remain gathered around the preaching of Christ crucified, wherever that might be. No one will be able to remove Christ from his proper place in their hearts. Nations and empires have risen and fallen, and yet many still will fall. Yet, the Church, that despised flock, who trusts in a foolish Gospel, she will remain forever. Amen.