"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath." (Matthew 24:15-20)
What is 'your flight' that Jesus is talking about?Jesus is continuing his private (Matthew 24:3) discussion with his disciples.
While some sectarian institutions have interpreted and translated this text to imply that Jesus is discussing the "end of the world" - which still hasn't taken place some thousands of years later - a clear translation illustrates this is not what Jesus was discussing.
Notice the last sentence:
"Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath."Who is the "you" of the "your flight" - translated from the Greek word φυγή (phygē)? Again, we can see from Matt. 24:3 that Jesus was speaking "privately" with his disciples. We can also see from Matt. 24:14 that Jesus was instructing his disciples to teach throughout the land. Indeed, Jesus is pointing this discussion towards his disciples and the environment that would surround them in the years to come.
And what happened in the years to come to his disciples? For several decades, the most gruesome extermination of the Israeli and Judean and Christian peoples took place at the hands of the Romans.
This period, called the Jewish-Roman wars, lasted over 60 years. During this period, the Romans burned down practically every Judean village in the entire region. They tortured and killed hundreds of thousands if not millions of Israelites during that period. They brought down the entire civilization of Israel and its surrounding regions.
Is Jesus predicting a holocaust?While the German extermination of Jews was certainly a holocaust - the German extermination of Jews occurred in less than a decade. The Jewish-Roman wars period took place for more than half a century. Just consider the suffering and devastation upon the Jewish people during that period.
This ferocious Roman empire continued its brutal dominance over the Jewish and Christian societies for many centuries afterward. They also carefully covered up their holocaust by virtually destroying all historical and scriptural texts of the period, except for a few selected texts they nicely fit into a book now called the Bible - which they made sure their scribes translated and interpreted during the fourth century to conveniently remove their slaughter of the Jews and early Christians of that era.
And it is quite clear from this text that "your flight" refers to the flight of Jesus' disciples when they have to flee the burning of villages and the torture and killings by the Romans in the coming years.
Is this during the winter or on the Sabbath?As for winter, Jesus' disciples would be in the cold and without shelter. In the wintertime, Jerusalem and the surrounding mountains can get to freezing temperatures during the winter. And it does snow there on occasion.
As for the Sabbath, the Romans were exterminating Jews and Christians during the Jewish-Roman wars - and those who honored the Sabbath - which Jesus' disciples did - were obvious giveaways to the blood-thirsty Romans.
Jesus' statement saying "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" is obviously an instruction to his disciples that if they and their families and students are in Judea at the time of the coming holocaust, they should flee into the mountains.
And this is precisely what happened. Archaeologists have found the remains of Jewish and early Christian hideouts in the mountains surrounding Judea. Archaeological digs have ascertained that many of these small villages were also subjected to invasion by the Romans in the years after their fleeing the villages. This included the fate of the Essenes - who left behind proof that the Romans burned all but a few of the scriptural texts in the form of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It was a true catastrophe at the hands of the world's largest army - an army many historians estimate was the strongest and most brutal army in the history of the world.
The translation of the Greek word ἀναγινώσκω (anaginōskō) to "reader" is not only inaccurate - it is suspect. According to the Greek lexicon, this word is best translated to "to distinguish between, to recognize, to know accurately, to acknowledge."
It would be entirely out of context to attempt to translate to reader, because Jesus spoke these words several decades before they were even recorded into writing.
Did Jesus really say 'let the reader understand'?It is obvious the word "reader" was added in later by translators.
Furthermore, the word following ἀναγινώσκω is νοέω (noeō), which means "to perceive with the mind, to understand, to have understanding" according to the lexicon. So the most appropriate translation of phrase after mentioning Daniel is:
"Understand this accurately," or "understand this clearly."
This is a common statement for a person who is explaining something important. Jesus wanted his disciples to be clear on what he was warning them about in the coming years.
Is Jesus referencing Daniel?Jesus first quotes a phrase that the Book of Daniel referenced in his visions about the coming days of a Babylon catastrophe, over six centuries before Jesus' discussion with his disciples. Daniel used the phrase "an abomination that causes desolation" in his prediction about a coming disaster that would overwhelm that country in the near future.
Jesus is simply referencing Daniel's prediction of that catastrophe as he makes a similar prediction about another coming catastrophe.
Daniel also predicts a coming "anointed one" (an anointed priest or representative of God according to Old Testament definition) amidst that catastrophe. Here is the text discussing Daniel's vision given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel:
"Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the anointed one [or "messiah"], the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (Daniel 9:24-27)The meaning of "seven" or "sevens" has been studied closely by Biblical scholars and found to mean seven days, or a week. This means that Gabriel was predicting events that would occur within the next 10 years (70x7 days divided by 365 = 9.4 years), two months (7x7 days) and nine years (62x7 divided by 365), respectively. There is no indication that Gabriel is speaking of some messiah to come centuries later - or even thousands of years into the future in some "end of the world" scenario.
Rather, Gabriel was speaking to Daniel about events that would unfold in the coming decade for he and his people.
This is confirmed by the next verse in Daniel:
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision. (Daniel 10:1)As for the prediction of a coming messiah we can see from many Old Testament verses that "messiah" (מָשִׁיחַ) is also translated to "anointed ones", which were God's priests, or chosen representatives:
[God said to Moses] "Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve Me as priests." (Exodus 30:30)These and numerous other verses all use the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ which is translated to the "anointed", "anointed one" or "messiah" meaning one of God's priests - one of His representatives. And there is a solid case for understanding the מָשִׁיחַ (messiah) Daniel was referring to was actually Jeremiah.
Those were the names of Aaron's sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. (Numbers 3:3)
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD." (1 Samuel 16:6)
What does 'an abomination that causes desolation' mean?So why did Jesus conjure Daniel's expression "an abomination that causes desolation" as he described the coming years of Jewish-Roman wars and the effects they would have on his disciples? Jesus wanted to emphasize how bad it would get. As he spoke about the "holy place" (likely referring to the location of the temple of Jerusalem), he made reference to this quote to communicate that the destruction of the temple by the Romans would be the sign that they need to flee.
Using a well-known quote to communicate emphasis is very common. For example, many government leaders have quoted some of Churchill's famous statements as he talked about winning over the Germans in World War II. They might be referring to a current or future war - but they will still use one of Churchill's great quotes as they apply it to their current situation.
In the same way, Jesus was using a quote from the Book of Daniel - actually from the angel Gabriel - to emphasize the impact of the disaster to come for his disciples. Jesus wanted to make sure his disciples were ready for those years.
What is the purpose of this? Was Jesus cryptically speaking to society more than 2,000 years later? Certainly not. He was simply preparing his disciples because he wanted them to continue teaching what he taught them to others. He wanted them to spread his message. This meant weathering through the coming period of war.
And what was this message that Jesus wanted his disciples to pass on to others?
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matthew 22:37-38)