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The Middle of the Tribulation

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The Middle of the Tribulation (Mark 13:14-18)

The phrase “abomination of desolation” comes from the Book of Daniel and refers to the idolatrous pollution of the Jewish temple by the Gentiles. To the Jews, all idolatry is an abomination (Deut. 29:17; 2 Kings 16:3). The Jewish temple was defiled in 167 the Syrian king Antiochus IV (also called “Epiphanes,” meaning “illustrious”) when he poured swine’s blood on the altar. This event was predicted in Daniel 11:31. The temple was also defiled by the Romans in a.d.70 when they captured and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. However, these events were but anticipations of the final “abomination of desolation” prophesied in Daniel 9:27 and 12:11.[1]

Persecution in the time of the Maccabees

When Alexander the Great died, his empire broke up into four main parts. Judah came to be ruled by a Hellenistic (Greek-style) king of Syria called Antiochus. He added the surname ‘Epiphanes’ because he claimed to be the ‘epiphany’ or manifestation of Zeus.

Antiochus tried to make the Jews live like Greeks. Some of the priestly class and aristocracy cooperated, but the common people rebelled. Strict Jews suffered terribly as they saw an image of Zeus set up in the temple, and pigs sacrificed on pagan altars around the country. Innocent families, who refused to defend themselves (and would certainly not fight on the Sabbath) were tortured and killed for upholding Jewish traditions.

At last the Jewish resistance found a leader in a priest named Mattathias. He and his five sons fought a guerrilla war in the hills. One of the sons was Judas ‘The Hammer’ Maccabeus — and their struggle became known as the Maccabean revolt.

But the Jews were divided in their approach. One group trusted solely in God to defend them. They were the Hasideans, the ‘holy ones’, who tried to avoid conflict by withdrawing to the desert. They were pursued and slaughtered in a sabbath-day massacre. Meanwhile, the Maccabees were more worldly wise. They realized they would have to defend themselves, however much they trusted in God and regardless of the day of the week.

The Maccabeans and the surviving Hasideans joined forces. They forced Antiochus to back down. Jewish society was once again founded on Jewish law, and the temple was restored. The rededication of the temple on 14 December 164 bc became the feast of Hanukkah in the centuries that followed.

Judas Maccabeus and his descendants became the ruling family in Judah. Their line is known as the Hasmonean dynasty. They ruled until the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 bc.

The Hasidean (strict Jewish) tradition continued in various forms. Some may have founded the Essene community, living in the desert by the Dead Sea at Qumran. The traces of their settlement, and their ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ which survived in earthenware jars in the caves, were among the exciting finds of the 20th century.

Other Hasideans may have continued to live holy lives in the midst of Jewish society. Perhaps they became the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

Although the Hasmoneans became the ruling class, the memory of Judas Maccabeus must have inspired the Zealots, who were later to plot the overthrow of the Romans.

The Looming Crisis

The sign that the temple is about to be destroyed will be ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ (24:15–28). In time past, this was a huge idol of the Greek god Zeus which Antiochus Epiphanes set up in the temple in 167 bc. The prophet Daniel had foreseen it in his visions (Daniel 11:31).

Now something like ‘the abomination’ is to appear again. Emperor Gaius will try (and fail) to install a statue of himself in the temple in ad 40. The Roman legions will parade their standards in the temple before destroying it completely along with the city in ad 70. For the Jews, this will be the ultimate desecration of their holy place.

Jesus says that when ‘the abomination’ appears, the people are to run for their lives. There won’t be time to collect any belongings from their homes. It will be particularly hard for pregnant women. They must pray that the crisis doesn’t come in winter, when the weather is cold and the roads muddy; or on the sabbath day, when it is forbidden to make any long journey.

A serious illness midway through his reign left Gaius mentally unstable. Becoming unpredictable in his actions toward both the Senate and the Roman citizens, Gaius insisted that he be worshiped as a god, perhaps in imitation of Hellenistic ruler cults. Persecution against the Jews broke out in Alexandria, spawned by Hellenists who used Caligula’s penchant for worship to bait the Jewish community. Later, Hellenists at Jamnia set up an altar to Caligula that incensed the Jews. Caligula responded by ordering an image of himself erected in the Jerusalem temple. Agrippa I and the Syrian legate Petronius interceded, arguing that such an action insured a Jewish rebellion. Unwilling to relent, Caligula ordered the task completed but was assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard in a.d. 41 before his orders could be carried out.


[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Mk 13:14). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

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