[Page 163]Abstract: On the Mount of Olives, just prior to the culminating events of the Passion week, Jesus gave one of the most controversial prophecies of the New Testament, saying, among other things, that the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place.” In Joseph Smith-Matthew the Prophet renders this passage in a way that radically changes its meaning. Rather than describing how the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place,” the jst version enjoins the apostles to “stand in the holy place” when the “abomination of desolation” appears. Though several Latter-day Saint scholars have offered interpretations and personal applications of these words as given in modern scripture, it appears that no one has heretofore seriously explored how this change in meaning might be explained and defended. This article will show that other passages in the Bible, in connection with the light shed by Jewish midrash and contemporary scholarship, demonstrate that the idea behind Joseph Smith’s revision of the passage, far from being a modern invention, reverberates throughout the religious thought of earlier times. The article concludes with an appendix that tries to draw out a possibility for a specific interpretation of the prophecy about the “abomination of desolation” at the time of Christ and in the latter days.
[Editor’s Note: Part of our book chapter reprint series, this article is reprinted here as a service to the LDS community. Original pagination and page numbers have necessarily changed, otherwise the reprint has the same content as the original.
See Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “Standing in the Holy Place: Ancient and Modern Reverberations of an Enigmatic New Testament Prophecy,” in [Page 164]Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of The Expound Symposium 14 May 2011, ed. Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation; Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2014), 71–142. Further information at https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/ancient-temple-worship/.]
Immediately after His prophecy about the destruction of the temple, and just prior to the culminating events of the Passion week, Jesus “went upon the Mount of Olives.”2 Here, in a setting associated with some of His most sacred teachings,3 His apostles “came unto him privately” to question him about the “destruction of the temple, and the Jews,” and the “sign of [His] coming, and of the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked.” Within this discourse, Jesus gave one of the most controversial prophecies of the New Testament:
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation … stand in the holy place …
Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains:4
The gospel of Mark is at variance with the wording of the gospel of Matthew, though the two accounts agree in general meaning. Instead of saying that the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place,”5 Mark asserts that it will be “standing where it ought not.”6 Luke, writing to a Gentile audience that was not as familiar with the temple and its [Page 165]customs as were the Jews addressed by Matthew, describes the sign in a more general way, referring to how Jerusalem would be “compassed by armies.”7 Though the interpretation of these verses has been contested, the sense of the Greek text underlying them is clear.
Comparing the verse in Matthew to its equivalent in the Joseph Smith Translation (jst), we see that the Prophet has rendered this passage in a way that radically changes its meaning. Rather than describing how the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place,”8 the jst version enjoins the apostles to “stand in the holy place”9 when the “abomination of desolation” appears. In these and related verses in the Doctrine and Covenants, the sense of this phrase in the synoptic gospels is turned upside down. Rather than describing how an evil thing would stand the holy place, thereby profaning it, modern scripture applies the phrase to the apostles and the saints, admonishing them to stand in holy places and thereby be saved.
Though several LDS scholars have offered interpretations and personal applications of the sense of these words as given in modern scripture, no one has yet, to my knowledge, seriously explored how this change in meaning could be explained and defended.10 It is easy to see how, on the face of it, some might be (erroneously) led to conclude that Joseph Smith’s rendering of the verse in question was an obvious and embarrassing mistake, based on his admittedly rudimentary acquaintance with the Greek text of the New Testament. In this article, however, my purpose is to advance an alternative claim: namely, that in the scriptural word picture of the righteous standing in holy places, Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the prophecy — whether or not a consonant Greek reading is ever found — resonates with a potent metaphor from the heart of Judaism and early Christianity. Speaking more generally, I find this to be a powerful example of how, as expressed in the words of Yale professor Harold Bloom, elements of Mormon scripture “recapture … crucial elements in the archaic Jewish religion. … that had ceased to be available either to normative Judaism or to Christianity, and that survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched [Joseph] Smith directly.”11
Throughout this article, I will consciously, though not exclusively, use forms of argument that are encountered much more rarely today than they were in biblical times: specifically, midrash, allegory, and typology. About the unfortunate near abandonment of these ancient modes of biblical interpretation, Old Testament scholar James Kugel observes:12
What [modern exegetes] generally share (although there are, of course, exceptions) is a profound discomfort with the actual [Page 166]interpretations that the ancients came up with — these have little or no place in the way Scripture is to be expounded today. Midrash, allegory, typology — what [on earth] for? But the style of interpretation thus being rejected is precisely the one that characterizes the numerous interpretations of Old Testament texts by Jesus, Paul, and others in the New Testament, as well as by the succeeding generations of the founders of Christianity.…
Ancient interpretive methods may sometimes appear artificial, but this hardly means that abandoning them guarantees unbiased interpretation … At times, [modern] interpretations are scarcely less forced than those of ancient midrashists (and usually far less clever).
Apart from trying to make sense of obvious references to the book of Daniel, modern interpretations of the Olivet prophecy tend to focus more on pinpointing historical events that might have been seen as fulfilling Jesus’s words than on understanding the significance of these words and their meaning in a temple context.13 Lacking an understanding of the temple context of these words, scholarly commentary typically rewards our efforts to understand the passage with unsatisfying surveys the journalistic dimensions of who, what, when, and where the “abomination of desolation” may have occurred while leaving us in ignorance about what seemed to be most important to those ancient readers. To premoderns, a “literal” interpretation was not one that laid out the bare facts of the matter in documentary fashion, but rather one that emphasized what the letters, i.e., the words, actually say. These are two very different modes of interpretation. As James Faulconer observed: “‘What x says’ [i.e., the premodern idea of “literal”] and ‘what x describes accurately’ [i.e., the modernist idea of “literal”] do not mean the same, even if the first is a description.”14 What is missing from most modern commentaries, as excellent as they are in so many respects, is a consideration of how an interpretation of Matthew 24:15-16 might be informed by ancient perspectives on biblical passages that relate to the concept of something “standing in the holy place” — whether the reference is to an evil thing (i.e., the abomination of desolation as in the kjv) or to a righteous individual (i.e., a faithful disciple of Jesus, as in the jst).
I believe that careful examination of such passages in the Bible, in connection with the light shed by Jewish midrash and contemporary scholarship, will show that the idea behind Joseph Smith’s application of the concept of standing in the holy place in the jst and the additional [Page 167]concept of not being “moved” in the Doctrine and Covenants,15 far from being a modern invention, reverberates throughout the religious thought of earlier times. Indeed, as Jewish scholar Avivah Zornberg has argued, the Hebrew Bible teaches that standing in the holy place — “hold[ing one’s] ground,” as it were, in sacred circumstances — is a powerful symbol of the central purpose of existence. This purpose can be expressed as follows: “being — kiyyum: to rise up (la-koom), to be tall (koma zokufa) in the presence of God.”16
In the remainder of the article, I will explore how one’s fitness to stand in holy places might be understood in a way that is consistent with Joseph Smith’s reading of the prophecy of Matthew 24:15-16. I will show the importance of this idea in the Old and New Testament — and its particular relevance for our own time. I will begin by a selective survey of Old Testament references to patriarchs, priests, and prophets who stood in holy places.17 I will also give some examples of the use of the biblical concept of “not being moved.” Because the ideas of “standing in the holy place” and “not being moved” do not co-occur explicitly in the Bible, I will pursue the discussion by exploring three biblical accounts that are of particular significance because they contain both positive and negative instances of the fitness of individuals to stand in holy places coupled with the motif of significant “movement” of transgressors. In examining these three accounts, I will freely mix insights from ancient, medieval, and modern commentaries and expansions. In the realization that we live on the near side of a great divide that separates us from the religious, cultural, and philosophical perspectives of those who recorded ancient scripture,18 the value of premodern interpretations of scripture should not be underestimated.19
Happily, the Prophet Joseph Smith was far closer to this lost world than we are — not only because of his personal involvement with the recovery and revelatory expansion of primeval religion, but also because in his time many archaic traditions were still embedded in the language and daily experience of the surrounding culture.20 For this reason, there will be great value in exploring as a next step his revelatory insights from the Doctrine and Covenants are of great value.
To understand the significance of these admonitions from Joseph Smith’s revelations on standing in holy places and not being moved in the last days, the theme of measurement will be introduced. The modern day implications of New Testament passages relating to the measurement of Jesus’s disciples individually and collectively, with reference to the dimensions and layout of the temple, will be outlined and discussed. [Page 168]Finally, I will share some personal and practical observations on the subject of standing and falling. A separate appendix examines the topic of the “abomination of desolation.”
Old Testament Patriarchs, Priests, and Prophets
“Standing in Holy Places” and “Not Being Moved”
Standing in Holy Places. An implicit reference to standing in a holy place goes back to premortal scenes, when God “stood in the midst” of choice spirits, including Abraham and another “one among them that was like unto God,”21 “and he saw that they were good.”22 In such contexts, the “midst” (center) is typically depicted as the most holy place, and the degree of holiness decreases in proportion to the distance from that point.23 Later, the patriarch Enoch “stood upon the place” as he “cried unto the Lord.”24 Draper, Brown, and Rhodes point out that the term “the place” often “points to a special, even sacred locale.”25 Enoch recounts: “as I stood upon the mount, I beheld the heavens open, and I was clothed upon with glory; And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face.”26 Later, in vision, Enoch sees the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, “and the saints arose, and were crowned at the right hand of the Son of Man.”27 Many of the spirits in prison also “came forth, and stood on the right hand of God.”28
Moses demonstrated his personal fitness to stand in the presence of the Lord at the beginning of his ministry when he received his commission on Mount Horeb, significantly called “the mountain of God.”29 His vision of the burning bush brings together three prominent symbols of sacred space — the bush (or tree), the mountain, and the Lord Himself.30 Indeed, in Exodus 3 we explicitly encounter the concept of standing in sacred space for the first time in the Bible.31 As he approached the Lord, Moses was told to remove his sandals, “for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”32 Moses’s experience on Horeb was later paralleled by Joshua who, in meeting the “captain of the host of the Lord … fell on his face to the earth and did worship.”33 Though it is not said explicitly whether Joshua was subsequently told to stand,34 we read this instruction in the next verse: “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy.”35 The practice of removing footwear in holy places is consistent with the practice of later generations of temple priests who officiated barefoot in the sanctuary.36
Sometime after the vision on Horeb37 but prior to his return to Egypt to rescue the children of Israel,38 “the glory of the Lord was upon [Page 169]Moses, so that Moses stood in the presence of God, and talked with him face to face.”39 In Exodus 33:21-23, the Lord commands Moses to “stand upon a rock” where the Lord will allow His “back parts” to be seen, while protecting him from the danger of seeing His face.
Later, in describing the appointment of seventy men to serve as elders and officers of the people, Moses was told to “bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.”40 In reprimanding to Korah and other rebels who were seeking priestly offices, Moses described their service as being: “to bring you near to himself [i.e., the God of Israel] to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them.”41 This is similar to the language of Deuteronomy 10:8,42 where the duties of the Levites were described as being “to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister unto him,43 and to bless in his name.”44 According to Jacob Milgrom, the Hebrew term ‘amad lifnei (stand before) “is language of subordination.”45 In other words, their office was to stand and serve — and not to be served. An explicit reference to standing in the holy place is found in 2 Chronicles, in conjunction with Josiah’s keeping of the Passover. The Levites were instructed to “stand in the holy place according to the divisions of the families of your brethren the people, and after the division of the families of the Levites.”46
Among the prophets, Elijah and Elisha are notable for their self-description as part of their solemn declarations: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.”47 In an echo of the experience of Enoch, Elijah was commanded to “stand upon the mount before the Lord”48 as he awaited the Lord’s manifestation in the form of a “still small voice.”49
Each of these references helps establish the scriptural precedent for the idea of standing in a holy place, and implicitly we understand that it is only those who are qualified by their righteousness that are able to do so. Psalm 24:3-4 addresses these qualifications directly: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.” Elsewhere in the Psalms, we encounter negative examples: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”50 Similarly, Ezra lamented: “O Lord God of Israel … behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this.”51
[Page 170]Not Being Moved. The idea of settling on a single Hebrew equivalent to the compound concept of disciples who “stand in holy places” and are “not … moved”52 as found in the Doctrine and Covenants is problematic because there are several Hebrew and Greek terms that are translated “moved” in the kjv. However, one particularly fitting Hebrew term is mot53 (totter, shake, slip54). It is used frequently and consistently in the Psalms — considerably more frequently than any other book of the Bible — to convey the unshakability of the righteous, sometimes in contrast to the wicked and sometimes specifically mentioning the feet. For example:
- Psalm 15:5: He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
- Psalm 16:8: I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
- Psalm 21:7: For the king trusteth in the Lord, and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved.
- Psalm 30:6: And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.
- Psalm 46:4-6: There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
- Psalm 55:22: Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.
- Psalm 62:2: He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved.
- Psalm 62:6: He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved.
- Psalm 66:9: Which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved.
- Psalm 93:1: The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.
- Psalm 96:10: Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously.
- [Page 171]Psalm 99:1: The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.
- Psalm 112:5-6: A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.
- Psalm 121:2-3: My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Being “moved” in the sense of shaking or trembling (or causing to shake or tremble) is a concept associated in scripture with the figure of Satan. Moses 1:21, for example, contains both elements: “Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook.” In this instance thunderous shaking of the ground echoes the emotional intensity of Satan’s rage in terrifying reverberations. Writes Nibley: “[Satan is] the gaieokhon, the earthshaker. It means … both the earthshaker and the earthholder. If he holds it, he shakes it.”55
Other scriptural references linking Satan and trembling include James 2:19 (“the devils also believe, and tremble”56) and Isaiah 14:4, 7, 6 (“How hath the oppressor ceased! … The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet … Is this the man that made the earth to tremble,57 that did shake58 kingdoms”).59 This latter verse is an interesting parallel to rabbinic commentary that also pictures Cain as someone who made the earth tremble.60
Like the concept of standing in holy places, the concept of the righteous not being moved is not uncommon in scripture. However, the conjunction of these two concepts, as found in the Doctrine and Covenants, is not found in the Bible explicitly.
To further enrich the picture of the scriptural idea of standing in holy places and not being moved, I will now look at three biblical accounts that are of particular significance because they contain both positive and negative instances of the fitness of individuals to stand in holy places connected to the idea that transgressors, unlike the righteous, are “moved”:
- Adam and Eve’s standing in Eden, including a comparison with Daniel’s account of Nebuchadnezzar’s abasement;
- Israel’s failure to stand at Sinai; and
- The fall of the temple guards at Jesus’s arrest
[Page 172]1. Adam and Eve’s Standing in Eden
After the Fall, Adam and Eve were driven from the lush garden to live in the relative wilderness of the mortal world. The fall of the king of Tyre, in the lamentation of Ezekiel 28, is frequently interpreted as having been typed on Adam.61 The king is described as a “seal of perfection,”62 in essence Yahweh’s signet ring, faithfully bearing in every detail “the likeness of Yahweh” and the righteous exercise of “divine authority in the world.”63 The use of this term may also witness his perfection in the keeping of the covenant to which he is bound to his sovereign Lord.64 Previously, the king had dwelled “upon the holy mountain of God,”65 walking “up and down in the midst of stones of fire.”66 Verse 13 explicitly identifies this mountain as Eden.67 “Eden, as a luxuriant cosmic mountain becomes an archetype or symbol for the earthly temple,”68 a place from which the protagonist is to be “cast … out”69 because of the “multitude of [his] iniquities.”70 Significantly, God says that he is not only to be cast out, but also that he is to be “cast … to the ground.”71 The Hebrew term eres (ground) has a double sense: “[o]n the one hand, it evokes an iconoclastic picture of an idol being hurled down and lying in ruins on the ground (eres)”72 rather than standing in the holy place of the sanctuary. On the other hand, it evokes the imagery of Adam being thrown out of Eden to live on the earth (eres).73
Adam and Eve’s expulsion is described twice in Genesis, with different terms used in each case.74 The Hebrew word shillah (“send him forth”) in 3:23 is followed by the harsher term geresh (“drove out”), used in 3:24. Significantly, the same two terms are used in the same order in the book of Exodus to describe how Pharaoh would drive Israel away from their familiar comforts in Egypt — their erstwhile “Eden” — into the wilderness.75 This deliberate parallel suggests that we are not meant to read Adam and Eve’s exit from Eden as depicting a unique event but rather as demonstrating a repeated type of mankind’s difficulty, in its fallen state, to “stand in holy places” and not be “moved.”76 The importance of this recurring theme to the entire story of Adam and Eve will become clearer as we now begin to examine it in more detail.
The motif of standing in the holy place goes back to the moment of Adam’s creation. Of significance to our subject is the commentary on Genesis 2:7 by the revered Jewish exegete Rashi that connects the themes of creation and atonement to the idea of standing in God’s presence:
[Page 173]God took [Adam’s] dust from the place of [the temple altar, signifying His] wish that [Adam might] gain atonement, and that he may be able to stand.78
In contrast to cattle, which Rashi said “do not stand to be judged”79 (in other words, are not held accountable for their actions80), Jewish accounts of Adam’s creation specifically highlight his first experience after being filled with the breath of life:81 namely, the moment when God “stood him on his legs”82 (Figure 2). According to Zornberg,83 it is in the ability to stand in the presence of God that one specifically demonstrates the attainment of full “majesty and strength.”
Medieval artistic convention makes it clear that Christ was imagined as raising the dead to eternal life by the same gesture that was used to create Adam and stand him on his feet84 (Figure 3). Likewise, we note the Old Testament literary formula that nearly always follows descriptions of miraculous revivals of the dead with the observation that they “stood up upon their feet.”85
More generally, in Christian iconography this gesture is used in scenes representing a transition from one state or place to another. For example, a depiction at the Church of San Marco in Venice shows God taking Adam by the wrist to bring him through the door of Paradise and to introduce him into the Garden of Eden.86 Another Christian scene shows God taking Adam by the wrist as he and Eve receive the [Page 174]commandment not to partake of the Tree of Knowledge.87 Likewise, scripture and pseudepigrapha describe how prophets such as Enoch,88 Abraham,89 Daniel,90 and John91 are grasped by the hand of an angel and raised to a standing position in key moments of their heavenly visions.92
It is by being raised by the hand to the upright position that we are made ready to hear the word of the Lord. It is no mere coincidence that before heavenly messengers can perform their errands to Ezekiel,93 Daniel,94 Paul,95 Alma the Younger,96 and Nephi97 they must first command these seers to stand on their feet.98 As biblical scholar Robert Hayward has said: “You stand in the temple,99 you stand before the Lord,100 you pray standing up101 — you can’t approach God on all fours like an animal. If you can stand, you can serve God in His temple.”102 If you are stained with sin, you cannot stand in His presence.103
Jewish writings tell of how Adam lost the divine ability to stand through his taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. For example, in an account that plays on the nuances of Hebrew terms for standing, we read:
Before the sin, Adam could “hear God speaking and stand on his legs … he could withstand it.”104 … In another midrash, God says, “Woe Adam! Could you not stand in your commandment for even one hour?
After the Fall, Adam and Eve sorrowed over the loss of the fruit trees of Eden as the source of mankind’s food (whether meant literally or [Page 175]figuratively) — leaving them nothing besides “the herb of the field” to eat. In connecting the king of Tyre to Adam, Ezekiel also alludes to the book of Daniel, explicitly calling him “wiser than Daniel”105 and implicitly evoking “the theme of estrangement from one’s own essential human identity” in that book’s depiction of the arrogance and subsequent abasement of Nebuchadnezzar.106 Building on these scriptural associations, Rabbinical and early Christian writings saw Adam and Eve’s loss of their paradisiacal food as part of a humiliating penance, to a degree in the likeness of Nebuchadnezzar’s transformation to a beastlike state.107
Regarding Nebuchadnezzar, we read in Daniel 4:31-33:
O king Nebuchadnezzar, … The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: … until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.
Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and self-exclusion from society ended only when he satisfactorily completed the process of penance.108
In presenting Adam and Eve as being temporarily reduced to eating the herb of the field like the animals,109 the Jewish scholar Rashi played [Page 176]on the double meaning of the Hebrew term veirdu in Genesis 1:28. He commented that instead of man’s “having dominion” over the beasts as God originally intended, he now would “fall down” below and be with them.110 The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan says that after hearing the consequences of his transgression, Adam pled that he might be spared:
I beseech by the mercy before you, O Lord, let me not be reckoned before you as cattle, that I should eat the grass of the surface of the field. I will arise [literally, “I will stand up”] and labor … and I will eat the food of the earth; and thus let there be a distinction before you between the children of men and the offspring of cattle.111
Tradition records that God eventually answered Adam’s prayer by showing him how to grow wheat for bread, making it clear that this curse was not meant as an arbitrary “punishment” but rather as a temporary ascetic “discipline for spiritual renewal.”112 Although to be banished from the Garden of Eden “is to lose a particular standing ground,”113 it was always God’s intention to restore Adam and Eve and their posterity to their former glory,114 enabling their “confidence” to again “wax strong”115 in His presence.116
The humiliation of the serpent is an important part of this story as well. Significantly, it is not only banished from holy places but also is reminded that it will never be able to stand at all: “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.”117 Note that the Mosaic law will declare that what goes along on its belly is an abomination to Israel.118 The metaphor of eating dust occurs several times in scripture in connection with the fate of conquered foes.119
In contrast to the temporary nature of Adam and Eve’s estrangement from God, the book of Jubilees reports that the serpent “was not and never will be afforded any chance at repentance”120 because of its role in the Fall. As a symbol of this consequence, we are told that the serpent permanently lost its legs121 and, with that loss, the ability to stand.122 “The loss of limbs and organs guarantees that the rebel will never rise anew in his full powers, which he will never possess again,”123 being consigned to crawl on its belly and eat of the dust forever.124
2. Israel’s Failure to Stand at Sinai
I have already mentioned the deliberate parallel between Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden and Israel’s exodus from Egypt to their wilderness probation. As the path of exaltation was revealed through five covenants [Page 177]given to Adam and Eve after the Fall,125 so Israel’s salvation was also understood in rabbinical teaching to have been made contingent on its acceptance of the five parts of God’s Law.126
In contrast to Moses, Israel proved themselves unready to accept the fulness of God’s law at Sinai.127 They preferred that Moses go alone to ascend the holy mountain, while they stayed at its foot128 (Figure 5). Painting a vivid word picture of how the Israelites were unable to stand in the divine presence, Rashi explains that when they heard the sound of the voice of God emanate from Sinai “they moved backwards and stood at a distance: they were repelled to the rear a distance of twelve miles — that is the whole length of the camp. Then the angels came and helped them forward again.” Zornberg reasons: “If this happened at each of the Ten Commandments, the people are imagined as traveling 240 miles in order to stand in place!”129 Though this imagery is, of course, figurative, it is highly instructive.
We see this same movement away from God and toward the regions of death at the incident of the Golden Calf.131 Before their sin, the Israelites looked without fear upon the divine flames of God’s presence at the top of the mountain, but as soon as they had sinned, they could not bear to see even the face of Moses, God’s intermediary.132 By way of contrast to the Israelites, Moses, like Jesus at the Transfiguration,133 was covered by a glorious cloud134 as he communed face-to-face with the Lord, having been made like God Himself.135 Moses then stood to Israel [Page 178]as God stood to him and, having received the power of an eternal life, he became known in the Samaritan literature as “the Standing One.”136
Comparing the sin of the Israelites to the transgression of Adam, midrash has God reproaching them:
Like Adam, the people were destined to live forever, but “when they [made the golden calf and] said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel!,’ death came upon them. God said, ‘You have followed the system of Adam, who did not stand137 the pressure of his testing for three hours. … ” ‘I said, “You are gods. … ” But you went in the ways of Adam,’ so ‘indeed like Adam you shall die. And like one of the princes you shall fall’138 — you have brought yourself low.”139
The midrash uses the imagery of the Fall with a perfect consistency. The sin [of taking the forbidden fruit], as such, is not mentioned. Instead, what Adam, and again the Israelites, represents is a kind of spinelessness, a vapidity. The word that is used in Sanhedrin 38b to describe the sin is sarah, which implies exactly this aesthetic offensiveness: it holds nuances of evaporation, loss of substance, and the offensive odor of mortification. “O my offense is rank, it smells to heaven.”140 It signifies a failure to stand in the presence of God, to maintain the posture of eternal life. “You have brought yourselves low”: man, the midrash boldly implies, does not really want full and eternal being. He chooses death, lessened being. What looks like defiance is an abandonment of a difficult posture.
3. The Fall of the Temple Guards at Jesus’s Arrest
Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts highlight the perfidy of Judas as the one who identified his Master to the temple guards; the gospel of John emphasizes Christ’s mastery of the situation. The kiss of Judas does not appear in John’s narrative — in the words of Ridderbos, “Judas’ task of identifying Jesus had been taken out of his hands.”142 Instead, at that moment, Jesus is shown in full control of the arresting party by His startling self-identification:143
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?
They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he …
[Page 179]As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
The King James translation of the Greek phrase ego eimi as “I am he” obscures an essential detail. In reality, Jesus has not said, “I am he,” but rather “I AM,” using a divine name that directly identifies Him as being Jehovah.145 Thus, asserts Raymond E. Brown, it is clear that the fall of the temple guards is no mere slapstick scene that might be “explained away or trivialized. To know or use the divine name, as Jesus does [in replying with ‘I AM’], is an exercise of awesome power.”146
This event is nothing more nor less than a replay of the scene of the children of Israel at Sinai discussed earlier.147 In effect, in the gospel of John, the narrative takes the form of an eyewitness report148 of a solemn revelation to the band of arresting Jewish temple guards149 that they were standing, as it were, in a “Holy of Holies” made sacred by the presence of the embodied Jehovah, and that they, with full comprehension of the irony of their pernicious intent, were about to do harm to the very Master of the Lord’s House, whose precincts they had been sworn to protect. As with the Israelites at Sinai who were unworthy and thus unable to stand in the holy place, “those of the dark world fell back, repelled by the presence of the Light of the world.”150
[Page 180]To delve further into the symbolism of the scene, note that the Jews were generally prohibited from pronouncing the divine name, Jehovah.151 As an exception, that Name was solemnly pronounced by the High Priest standing in the most holy place of the temple once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Upon the hearing of that Name, according to the Mishnah, all the people were to fall on their faces.152 Was it any coincidence, then, that Jesus Christ, the great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek,153 boldly proclaimed His identity as the great “I AM” at the very place and on the very night He atoned for the sins of the world? Ironically, the temple guards who failed to fall on their faces at the sound of the divine Name were instead thrown on their backs in awestruck impotence.
Standing in Holy Places in the Last Days
Figure 7 depicts the landscape of hell. Sadly, it is also the landscape of much of the world we live in today, foreseen nearly a century ago by the poet William Butler Yeats:154
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
[Page 181]Are full of passionate intensity …
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Though there are many references in modern scripture to the general idea of standing in righteousness, each of the three instances of specific instructions for the faithful to stand in holy places appear in apocalyptic descriptions of the latter-day gathering and the destruction that will precede the Savior’s Second Coming.155
First, in Doctrine and Covenants 45, an overt expansion on the instructions and prophecies given to the apostles on the Mount of Olives, we are told:156
And there shall be men standing in that generation [i.e., in the last days], that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.
But my disciples shall stand in holy places and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die. …
And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand. …
For when the Lord shall appear he shall be terrible unto them, that fear may seize upon them, and they shall stand afar off and tremble.
Note that modern scripture is perfectly consistent with the subtle imagery of the biblical examples cited earlier. A contrast is drawn between the disciples, who “stand in holy places” and are “not moved,” and the wicked, who “stand afar off and tremble.”157 Another Doctrine and Covenants reference tells us that the earth itself will also tremble, and “men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.”158
The second Doctrine and Covenants reference to standing in holy places is found in section 87, as part of the revelation and prophecy on the wars and disasters that will eventually “make a full end of all nations.”159 Here, the Saints are told:160
Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.
[Page 182]The final specific mention of this phrase is in section 101, in a revelation responding to the Saints being driven from their homes in Jackson County, Missouri. The following verses assure the Saints that, despite their forcible ejection from the place where they had begun to build the city of New Jerusalem, it will not be moved, but rather will continue as the central gathering place from which Zion will eventually extend herself to fill the earth:161
Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered …
And behold, there is none other place appointed … for the work of the gathering of my saints —
Until … there is found no more room for them; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion.
Behold it is my will, that all they who call on my name … should gather together, and stand in holy places;
And prepare for the revelation … when … all flesh shall see me together.
The Saints in Joseph Smith’s time would have understood the term “holy places” in section 101 as the current and future stakes to which they were being gathered both spiritually and physically. Each one of these stakes was originally intended to feature its own temple as a focal point for the community. Borrowing vivid word pictures from the book of Isaiah,162 the Doctrine and Covenants describes the kingdom of God as a tent whose expanse increases continually outward from its “center place”163 through the establishment of “stakes, for the curtains or strength of Zion.”164
At the time section 101 was received, the “center place” of the tent would have been understood as Jackson County, Missouri, the intended location of the New Jerusalem, and the ever expanding curtains of the tent would have represented the growing number of outlying stakes165 that were eventually destined to span the whole earth — and, ultimately, to unite in perfect reflection with their counterparts in heaven. The revelations make it clear that it is “in Zion, and in her stakes, and in Jerusalem” that are to be found “those places which [God has] appointed for refuge.”166 God’s whole purpose is to draw the people of the world to [Page 183]such places of safety, the express purpose of the Church being “for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion.”167
Having considered what it means to “stand in holy places” in the last days with respect to the New Jerusalem, we return to Jesus’s prophecies about old Jerusalem. In addition to the first “abomination of desolation” that was to occur within the lifetime of the apostles, the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 24 predicts a second “abomination of desolation”:168
And again, in the last days, the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, will be fulfilled.
To understand the events associated with this verse, we must examine the theme of measurement — in this case the measurement of the disciple individually and collectively with reference to the dimensions and layout of the temple.
“The Measure of the Stature of the Fulness of Christ”
Connecting the idea of an individual disciple standing in the holy place to the size of the temple are scriptural references to the requirement of exact conformance of the disciple to the moral dimensions defined by divinity. Only those who are of a perfect spiritual stature are qualified to stand in the presence of God. In describing the essential qualities the youthful Jesus acquired as he grew to manhood, Luke states that He “increased [Page 184]in wisdom and stature.”170 In their strivings to become like their Lord, Paul instructed his readers to attain such “a knowledge of the Son of God” that would enable them also to become as the “perfect man,”171 thus attaining “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”172 This supreme objective, of course, could not be accomplished without divine help, for “[w]hich of you by taking thought,” Jesus rhetorically asked in the Sermon the Mount, “can add one cubit unto his stature?”173
The idea of the disciples adding cubit to cubit until they measured up to the perfection of Christ in stature would have been recognized by early Christians as an analogy to the process of temple building.175 The temple, like the disciple, was required to conform to the exact measures revealed by God.176 Recall, for example, how the dimensions of each aspect of the Israelite Tabernacle were described in minute detail to Moses;177 and how Ezekiel179 witnessed the careful measurement of his visionary temple. A similar motif of measurement of the temple precincts occurs in the book of Revelation,178 as we will see below.
Ronan James Head and I have made a study of the Investiture Panel at Mari,181 where one is also struck by the significant role played by measurement in the planning and construction of temples and palaces. As emblems that symbolically conjoin the acts of measurement in laying the foundations of sacred buildings and the processes of cosmic creation, one sees the Mesopotamian rod and ring, shown here in the right hand of Ur-Nammu. These two instruments of the rod and ring functioned [Page 185]essentially as a “yardstick” and a “tape measure,”182 and can be profitably compared to the “measuring reed” and “line of flax” of Ezekiel,183 as well as to the analogous cosmic surveying instruments of the square and the compass.184 Consistent with the general biblical symbolism, the Mesopotamian measuring devices also served as visual metaphors for the personal righteousness of those who were made kings.185 These kings, like the early Christians addressed by Jesus and Paul, were expected to “measure up” to their high and holy callings.
We return to Jesus’s question: “[w]hich of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?”186 “No one,” writes John W. Welch, “would be presumptuous enough to add a single cubit to any part of the temple.”187 Neither, I would add, would individuals aspiring to conform to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”188 presume to improve upon the dimensions of His perfection.
Let us turn now to the idea of temple measurement as it relates to the community of disciples collectively.
The 11th chapter of Revelation opens with the angel’s instruction to John to “measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.”189 By way of contrast, John is told not to measure the areas lying outside the temple complex proper — in other words, the outer courtyard. In the context of the rest of the chapter, the meaning of the angel’s instructions is clear: only those who are standing within the scope of John’s measure — in other words, within the temple — will receive God’s protection190 (Figure 10).
Of course, we are not speaking here of the measurement of a literal physical structure, but rather of measuring or judging the community of disciples who have been called to form the living temple of God,191 each individual in his or her differing degree of righteousness.192 Spiritually speaking, the worshippers standing in the holy place are those who have kept their covenants.193 These are they who, according to Revelation 14:1, will stand with the Lamb “on … mount Sion.”
By way of contrast, all individuals standing in the outer courtyard, being unmeasured and unprotected, will be, in the words of the book of Revelation, “given unto the Gentiles” to be “tread under foot”194 with the rest of the wicked in Jerusalem.
Ultimately, we read in section 101, “every corruptible thing … that dwells upon all the face of the earth … shall be consumed.”195 By “every corruptible thing” the verse means every being that is of a telestial nature. Only those who can withstand dwelling in at least a terrestrial glory will remain on the earth during the millennial reign of Christ. In that day, [Page 186]only those who remain unmoved in the holy place will be able to “stand still, with the utmost assurance to see the salvation of God.”196
In summary, where are the “holy places” in which we are to stand? In light of everything discussed in this chapter, the frequently heard suggestion that such “holy places” include temples, stakes, chapels, and homes seems wholly appropriate.197 However, it should be remembered that what makes these places holy — and secure — are the covenants kept by those standing within. According to midrash, Sodom itself could have been a place of safety had there been a circle of as few as ten righteous individuals in the city to “pray on behalf of all of them.”198
We have completed our selective survey of passages in biblical books from Genesis to Revelation, showing how the idea of “standing in holy places” in modern scripture reverberates throughout ancient religious thought. Now, in conclusion, a few personal observations.
Personal and Practical Observations on Standing and Falling
Many years ago, when I learned how to ski, I was taught that the first thing I needed to know was how to fall. In skiing, as in life, falling is an unavoidable if unpleasant prologue to eventual mastery of the slopes. Zornberg insightfully summarizes this lesson from Jewish tradition:
[Page 187]The Talmud makes an extraordinary observation about the paradoxes of “standing”: “No man stands on [i.e., can rightly under-stand] the words of Torah, unless he has stumbled over them.”200 To discover firm standing ground, it is necessary to explore, to stumble, even to fall … 199
In our repeated falls, we should be reassured in the knowledge that, like the Israelites at Sinai, we can receive help from “angels” appointed to assist our journey from the foothills of the sacred mountain and back into God’s presence at the summit.201 Such a scene is depicted above, where the fallen Abraham gratefully testified that the Angel Yahoel “took [him] by [his] right hand and stood [him] on [his] feet.”202 Through the ordinances of the priesthood, each of us may be given the knowledge and power to rise from our falls and stand in safety in the holy place.
The continual challenges endemic in the life of a disciple should teach us something about the nature of “standing” itself: namely, that what might appear to the naïve as a “static position” will, with experience, eventually be better understood as “a point of equilibrium in the eye of a storm.”204 Lest anyone think that living a life of continual standing in the presence of God is a “heavy, humdrum, and safe” affair, I close [Page 188]with the words of G. K. Chesterton, who understood that the essence of discipleship is to maintain:
… the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic … It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.205
Appendix: The Abomination of Desolation
Though the Joseph Smith Translation and the Authorized Version differ about who or what will or should stand in the holy place, all scriptural accounts cite Daniel as the source for the prophecy about the “abomination of desolation.”207 This term is sometimes rendered more precisely in modern translations as the “desolating sacrilege” or the “abomination that brings desolation.”208
While differing on the timeframe involved, most commentators agree that the “abomination of desolation” prophesied by Jesus, following the pattern of a presumed earlier fulfillment of the same prophecy by Daniel at the time of the Maccabees,209 has something to do with the desecration of the Jerusalem temple.210 For example, the key event is seen by some as when the Roman general Titus entered the most holy place in ad 70. The setting up of the Roman standards in the temple, or a comparable occurrence at a different time, has frequently been cited as the historical event corresponding to Matthew’s prediction that the “abomination of desolation” would “stand in the holy place.”211
In the body of the chapter, I have already discussed the fact that the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 24 replaces the plain sense of the Greek New Testament text predicting that an evil thing would desecrate the holy place, thereby profaning it, with the idea that the righteous would stand in the holy place and would thereby be saved. Throughout the chapter, I give examples of how the idea of the righteous standing in holy places in modern scripture finds a home in ancient religious thought. The previous analysis, however, leaves an important question unanswered: If the “abomination of desolation” is not some evil thing standing in the temple, what is it? In this appendix, I summarize and expand upon the view of New Testament scholar Peter G. Bolt whose interpretation provides one possible answer to this question.
By way of preface, it should be observed that scholars have found problems with the generally received view that the “abomination of [Page 189]desolation” referred to by Jesus involved the desecration of the Jerusalem temple. Note that the difficulty in interpretation is not about the desolation that was to come upon the Holy City — everyone agrees that this desolation refers to the Roman siege that ended in ad 70 — but rather about the nature of the “abomination” that was to be the proximal cause of this destruction. New Testament scholar R. T. France summarizes and critiques “the three main proposals of historical events which might have been recognized … by those who had heard of Jesus’s prediction”212 of this “abomination”:
- In ad 40 the emperor Gaius gave orders for a statue of himself to be set up in the temple at Jerusalem; fortunately the order had still not been carried out when Gaius was assassinated in ad 41, thus averting what would have been a bloody uprising.
- Probably during the winter of ad 67-68 the Zealots took over the temple as their headquarters, and Josephus speaks with horror of the way they “invaded the sanctuary with polluted feet” and mocked the temple ritual, while the sanctuary was defiled with blood as factional fighting broke out.213
- When the Roman troops eventually broke into the temple, the presence of their (idolatrous) standards in the sacred precincts would inevitably remind Jews of Antiochus; Josephus even mentions Roman soldiers offering sacrifices to their standards in the temple courts.214 Luke’s parallel to this verse215 apparently understands the [“abomination of desolation”] in this sense.
However, France concludes that:
None of these three events quite fits what this verse says: the Gaius event was too early (and in fact never happened) and the Roman presence in the sanctuary too late to provide a signal for escape before the end came, while the Zealot occupation, which took place at the right time, was perhaps not quite the type of pagan defilement envisaged by Daniel.
In light of such difficulties in trying to make prophecy fit history, Peter Bolt has argued that Jesus’s words about the “abomination of desolation” did not concern the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, but rather referred to the violent and ultimately fatal profanation of the temple of Jesus’s body — which the Savior Himself previously had said could be destroyed and raised up in three days.217 Bolt asserts that in [Page 190]quoting the prophet Daniel, the Savior was using “apocalyptic language preparing the disciples for [His own] coming death. This fits with the rest of [the] story, for [there could be no] greater act of sacrilege than the destruction of God’s Son in such a horrendous way.”218 Had not Jesus once referred to Himself as “one greater than the temple”?219 Also of significance to the meaning of the prophecy is the fact that Daniel 9:26, in the words of New Testament scholar Craig Keener, “associates the [“abomination of desolation”] with the cutting off of an anointed ruler, close to the time of Jesus.”220
With respect to the scriptural association of the “abomination of desolation” with the theme of Gentile domination, Bolt explains:222
Israel’s leadership will welcome their long-awaited Messiah by handing Him over to the Gentiles; that is, by handing him over to the wrath of God. And if that were not sacrilegious enough, Pilate, the representative of the Gentiles, will receive the Messiah from Israel, and condemn Him to death by crucifixion … If the destruction of the temple of God by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 bc, or the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes in 169 bc, was an abomination committed by the Gentiles, how much more is the “temple of his body” desecrated when the Gentiles destroy the Son of God on their cross?
[Page 191]What of Jesus’s instructions to His disciples: “let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains”?224 According to the early church historian Eusebius, Jewish Christians knew of and heeded this warning by Jesus and, when the armies began to surround Jerusalem in ad 68-70, they fled beyond Jordan, congregating mostly at Pella. Thus, asserted Eusebius, “not one Christian perished in the awful siege.”225
However, Keener226 points out at least one unsolved problem, namely that “Pella is not in the Judean mountains but in foothills and reached from the Jordan valley.”227
Alternatively, in Bolt’s view,229 the flight of the apostles shortly after Christ’s death rather than the flight of Jewish Christians following the siege of Jerusalem is the primary reference of Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 24:16-20. Once Jesus is arrested by the Romans, the disciples are being told to flee urgently, which they later do in the Garden of Gethsemane.230
Concerning the period of great tribulation that is also associated with the prophecy, Bolt explains:231
The great distress [mentioned in the Olivet discourse] is also a phrase drawn from Daniel. In the final chapter, Daniel learns that, just before the future day of resurrection,232 there will be [a] time of terrible suffering.233 Daniel promises that in that time of distress God’s people will be delivered.
[Page 192]Jesus informs his disciples that this suffering will be “such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be … ”234 By pushing it back to creation itself, Jesus encompasses the entire period of human existence in order to indicate that this coming distress will exceed any suffering that has ever been experienced … Jesus adds a statement that broadens the scope of His comparison into the future. There “never will be” … such suffering again. The suffering He has in view will be worse than any that has been experienced before, and will be worse than anything else to follow.
There is nothing trivial about the suffering of Christ [during His Atonement. It] was the greatest suffering this world has ever known — or will ever know.
“Which suffering,” the Lord Himself says in D&C 19:18, “caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit — and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink — ”
The Latter-day Saint view, based on an unambiguous statement in the jst, is that a second “abomination of desolation” will occur “in the last days.”235 If one were to accept Bolt’s arguments that the first “abomination of desolation” had to do with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, could an analogous event corresponding to a latter-day fulfillment of this prophecy be found?
Further probing the expected nature of the abomination, it should first be observed that, according to Keener,237 the “Jewish people recognized that shedding innocent blood in the sanctuary would profane it,238 and some even saw this defilement as a desolation.239 Josephus indicated [Page 193]that the shedding of priestly blood in the sanctuary240 was the desecration or ‘abomination,’ that invited the ultimate desolation of ad 70.”241 Note also that, in the chapter of Matthew just prior to the discourse on the Mount of Olives,242 Jesus Himself had alluded to the “blood of the righteous Abel” whose death, in some ancient traditions, was erroneously believed to have atoned for the sins of others.243 In the same verse, Jesus also mentioned the “blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar,” as shown in Figure 14.
In the scriptures, there is a latter-day analogue to the shedding of the innocent blood of Jesus Christ. It is, of course, found in the ministry and martyrdom of the two witnesses described in chapter 11 of the book of Revelation.244 Using temple language, they are described as “the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.245 Though no explicit location is given for their death,246 their ministry, like that of the Savior, is described as corresponding to the prophet Daniel’s apocalyptic period of 1,260 days. Having carefully scrutinized the evidence, New Testament scholar Gregory Beale, concludes that these “two witnesses are identified with the Witness”:247
The pattern of the narrative of the witnesses’ career in 11:2-12 is intended as a replica of Christ’s career: proclamation and signs result in satanic opposition, persecution,248 and violent death in the city where Christ was crucified, the world looks on its victim249 and rejoices;250 then the witnesses are raised and vindicated by ascension in a cloud.
In summary, these two events — the crucifixion of the Savior and the martyrdom of the two latter-day witnesses — provide a model for the “abomination of desolation” that is not dependent on the desecration of the Jerusalem temple as the cause of the ensuing desolation of the Holy City. Though Bolt’s hypothesis does not, of course, exhaust the possibilities for alternative explanations, it may provide a starting point for an interpretation of the past and future occurrences of the “abomination of desolation” that is consistent with the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 24:15.
Thanks to David J. Larsen, William J. Hamblin, Matthew B. Brown, David Calabro, Stephen D. Ricks, John S. Thompson, and anonymous reviewers for their careful reading of earlier drafts of this chapter, and for their excellent suggestions.
[Page 194]Figure Credits
- J. James Tissot, 1836-1902: The Prophecy of the Destruction of the Temple, 1886-1894. The Brooklyn Museum, with the assistance of Deborah Wythe.
- Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455): Creation of Adam, from Gates of Paradise, 1425-1452. http://artmight.com/albums/2011-02-07/art-upload-2/g/Ghiberti-Lorenzo/Ghiberti-Lorenzo-Creation-of-Adam-and-Eve-dt1.jpg (accessed 2 October 2014).
- The Harrowing of Hell from the Exultet Roll: Codex Barberini Latinus 592. (f. 4) , ca. 1087. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.
- William Blake, 1757-1827: Nebuchadnezzar, 1795. Tate Gallery Picture Library.
- The Children of Israel at Mount Sinai. http://castyournet.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/mt_sinai.gif (accessed 2 October 2014).
- J. James Tissot, 1836-1902: The Guards Falling Backwards, 1886-1894. The Brooklyn Museum, with the assistance of Deborah Wythe.
- Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525-1569): The Triumph of Death, 1562. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/10/Thetriumphofdeath.jpg (accessed 2 October 2014).
- J. James Tissot, 1836-1902: Jesus Goes Up Alone unto a Mountain to Pray (detail), 1886-1894. The Brooklyn Museum.
- Investiture scene from the Ur-Nammu Stela, ca. 2100 bce. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stela_of_Ur-Nammu_detail.jpg (accessed 2 October 2014).
- Temple Mount in Jesus’ Time. Crossway Bibles.
- Yahoel Lifts the Fallen Abraham, Codex Sylvester, 14th century. Photograph IMGP2167, 26 April 2009, © Stephen T. Whitlock and Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, with special thanks to Carole Menzies and Jennifer Griffiths of the Taylor Bodleian Slavonic and Modern Greek Library. From P. P. Novickij (Novitskii), Otkrovenie Avraama.
- J. James Tissot, 1836-1902: The Apostles’ Hiding Place, 1886-1894. The Brooklyn Museum, with the assistance of Deborah Wythe.
- J. James Tissot, 1836-1902: The First Nail, 1886-1894. The Brooklyn Museum, with the assistance of Deborah Wythe.
- J. James Tissot, 1836-1902: Zacharias Killed Between the Temple and the Altar, 1886-1894. The Brooklyn Museum, with the assistance of Deborah Wythe.
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Some might question this symbolism because the Menorah did not stand in the sacred center of the second temple. However, Margaret Barker argues that “there is reason to believe that the Menorah … originally stood [in the Holy of Holies], and not in the great hall of the temple” (Barker, Margaret. The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God. London, England: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), 2007, 6). For more on the topic of the sacred center of the temple and its relationship to the placement of the two special trees in the Garden of Eden, see J. M. Bradshaw, Tree of Knowledge.
See also Joshua 7:6, 10-13:
6 ¶ And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads . …
10 ¶ And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?
11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.
12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.
13 Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.
Ephrem the Syrian reasoned that since Adam “went astray through [an animal] he became like the [animals]: He ate, together with them as a result of the curse, grass and roots” (Ephrem the Syrian, Paradise, 13:5, p. 170). Nibley connects the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s “fall” to the Egyptian story of Osiris who, like Adam, was said to have been freed from a split tree (H. W. Nibley, Message 2005, p. 289): “In the book of Daniel, the tree that was split was the king himself (Daniel 4:13-15, 22); however the stump was not destroyed but preserved for a seven-year period (Daniel 4:23), during which time the king was ritually humiliated … (Daniel 4:33; cf. Apis-bull and Horus-hawk), only to resume his throne with all his glory greatly enhanced at the end of the seven-year period (Daniel 4:25, 31-34). This is the Egyptian seven-year throne period of the king … The splitting of the tree is plainly the substitute sacrifice, while its preservation against the time when the king shall be restored recalls the important role of the ished-tree in the coronation.”
Although nothing like this episode can be associated directly with the historic King Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 bce), both Neo-Babylonian inscriptions and the Prayer of Nabonidus>(4Q242) fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls provide evidence of a pre-Danielic tradition associating a similar story with Nabonidus, the last ruler of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (556-539 bce) and father of Belsharusur (biblical “King Belshazzar” — see Daniel 5:22, 7:1, 8:1; F. G. Martinez, DSS Translated, p. 289; L. T. Stuckenbruck, Daniel, [Page 215]pp. 104-106; J. A. Tvedtnes, Nebuchadnezzar; G. Vermes, Complete, p. 614; M. Wise et al., DSS, pp. 340-342). In his prayer, the king tells of his suffering with an “evil skin disease” for a period of seven years by the decree of God, and at least one scholar has proposed that a lacuna in the text “originally described Nabunay’s state as comparable to that of a beast (see Daniel 4:25b), or that he was ‘set apart from human beings’” (L. T. Stuckenbruck, Daniel, p. 105. See Daniel 4:25a). After appealing to gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, stone, and clay, his sins were forgiven by a Jewish healer after he finally prayed to the Most High God. A similar healing blessing performed by Abraham with the laying of hands upon the head is described in F. G. Martinez, Genesis Apocryphon, 20:28-29, p. 234.
A Coptic Christian tradition specifically mentions wheat (along with instructions for sowing and reaping) as having been divinely provided in answer to Adam’s cries of hunger: “‘If Thou art moved with compassion for the man whom We have created, [Page 216]and who has rejected My commandment, go Thou and give him Thine own flesh and let him eat thereof, for it is Thou Who has made Thyself his advocate.’ Then our Lord took a little piece of the flesh of His divine side, and rubbed it down into small pieces, and showed them to His Father. When God saw them He said to His Son, ‘Wait and I will give Thee some of My own flesh, which is invisible.’ Then God took a portion of His own body, and made it into a grain of wheat, and He sealed the grain in the middle with the seal wherewith He sealed the worlds of light, and then gave it to our Lord and told Him to give it to Michael, the archangel, who was to give it to Adam and teach him how to sow and reap it. Michael found Adam by the Jordan, who as he had eaten nothing for eight days was crying to God for food, and as soon as Adam received the grain of wheat, he ceased to cry out, and became strong, and his descendants have lived on wheat ever since. Water, wheat and the throne of God are the equals of the Son of God.” (E. A. W. Budge, Coptic Apocrypha, cited in E. A. W. Budge, Cave, pp. 18-19 n. 1. See also M. i. A. A. al-Kisa’i, Tales, pp. 68-70; al-Tabari, Creation, 1:127-130, pp. 298-300; S. C. Malan, Adam and Eve, 1:66-68, pp. 78-83; D&C 89:17). An Ethiopian source asserts that the Tree of Life “is the Body of Christ which none of the Seraphim touch without reverent awe” (B. Mika’el, Mysteries, p. 26). Note that the Egyptian Osiris was thought to have introduced wheat and the vine to mankind, and also saw wheat grains as having been formed from his body. The notion of wheat being divinely provided for Adam is also found in Islamic sources (G. Weil, Legends, pp. 31, 45. See also M. Ibn Ishaq ibn Yasar, Making, pp. 34, 37; cf. A. I. A. I. M. I. I. al-Tha’labi, Lives, pp. 63-65; B. M. Wheeler, Prophets, pp. 27-28). In addition, the Sumerian text Ewe and Wheat recounts how wool and wheat were divinely provided in primeval times: “The people in those distant days, They knew not bread to eat; They knew not cloth to wear; They went about with naked limbs in the Land, And like sheep they ate grass with their mouth … Then Enki spoke to Enlil: ‘Father Enlil, Ewe and Wheat … Let us now send them down from the Holy Hill’’ (R. J. Clifford, Ewe, 20-24, 37-38, 40, pp. 45-46). Linking the situations of Adam and Nebuchadnezzar to that of each penitent Christian, Ephrem the Syrian wrote that “only when [Nebuchadnezzar] repented did he return to his former abode and kingship. Blessed is He who has thus taught us to repent so that we too may return to Paradise” (Ephrem the Syrian, Paradise, 13:6, p. [Page 217]171). The bread promised to Adam on conditions of repentance and baptism by water can be seen as a type of Christ, the “bread of life” (John 6:35). Christ’s advent was, of course, preceded by John, dressed in the rough clothes of a penitent, eating what he could find in the wild, and baptizing “unto repentance” (Matthew 3:11. See T. G. Madsen, Sacrament, p. 85).
In the Tschemmin Book of the Dead (also known as Joseph Smith Papyrus V) from third- or second-century bce Egypt, a [Page 218]legged serpent appears in illustrated form, facing the staff-wielding initiate (M. D. Rhodes, Books of the Dead, Tschemmin Book of the Dead 74, Column X+3, p. 84; H. L. Andrus, God, p. 371; H. W. Nibley, Message 2005, p. 318 figure 98; J. M. Todd, Fragment, p. 40E. Cf. the vignette of spell 87 in the Papyrus of Ani, which contains instructions for being transformed into a serpent who is capable of endless cycles of rebirth (R. O. Faulkner et al., Book of the Dead 1994, plate 27. See J. H. Taylor, Spells, p. 65)). Rhodes cites Mosher’s conjecture that this vignette, not directly mentioned in the text of the chapter itself but perhaps related to its mention of “hurrying the feet and going forth [on the earth],” is a representation of the “desire of the deceased to come forth from the earth (tomb) and walk the earth” (M. D. Rhodes, Books of the Dead, Tschemmin Book of the Dead 74, p. 43). Nibley, on the other hand, interprets the legged serpent in light of its punishment “for attempting to frustrate the progress of the god on his journey or the initiate on his way” (H. W. Nibley, Message 2005, p. 315). Apparently, the opposing serpent is here identified with the funerary god Sokar (“It is against me that you do the things you do, O Sokar, Sokar who is in his cave, my opponent in the god’s domain … upon the shores of him who would seize their utterance in the god’s domain” [M. D. Rhodes, Books of the Dead, Tschemmin Book of the Dead 74, p. 43]). According to the Amduat, within the cavern “filled with flames of fire from the mouth of Isis” and surrounded by sandy shores of the lake of fire-water (“fiery pain for the enemies of Re but cool water for the blessed souls”), Sokar (the name given to the dead corpse of Osiris, from at least the time of the Old Kingdom, after he was murdered by his brother Seth [G. Pinch, Egyptian Mythology, p. 203] and based on a play on the words of his cry of mortal distress [J. P. Allen, Pyramid Texts of Pepi I, 480, p. 165, p. 205 n. 129]) and Re (the Sungod, who appears in the cavern in the form of a multi-headed serpent shaped like a barque) unite the opposites of death and life (T. Abt et al., Knowledge, pp. 71-72; cf. A. Schweizer, Sungod’s Journey, pp. 91-99), enabling, after the ultimate defeat of the evil serpent Apophis by the gods (E. Hornung, Triumph of Magic), the eventual regeneration and rebirth of the initiate.
In the next chapter, Tschemmin Book of the Dead 75, the staff-wielding candidate must face yet another test before entering the Holy Place. The opposing entity in the accompanying vignette is accurately but benignly described by Rhodes as “the hieroglyphic [Page 219]sign for Heliopolis” (M. D. Rhodes, Books of the Dead, p. 44). Nibley, however, explains that the sign originally represented the “sword and flame” that were instrumental in the defeat of the serpent (H. W. Nibley, Message 2005, p. 318 caption to figure 98, see also pp. 319-320). According to Nibley, the symbol was known as:
… the spear of Horus of Heliopolis with which he overcame the Adversary, the Serpent, when he took the rule … As to the two columns flanking the spear, the Jews, according to W. Kornfeld, were quite aware that the two famous pillars, Boaz and Jachin and strength and capital righteousness, that stood at the entrance to the Temple of Solomon (2 Chronicles 3:17), “belonged to the solar cult of On” — referring to the biblical name for Heliopolis.
While the “keepers of the pylons, standing with swords in their hands before a gate from which flames shoot forth” admit the Sun God Re, they prevent any possibility of the evil serpent entering the realm of the blessed (H. W. Nibley, Message 2005, p. 320). Within the temple at Heliopolis, Egyptian priests reenacted the defeat of Apophis by ritually trampling images of the evil serpent underfoot (cf. Genesis 3:15; J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, Moses 4:21d, pp. 266-267). Only after Adam and Eve “have been first purified by the hand of the cherubim” may they also enter within (H. W. Nibley, Message 2005, p. 320; cf. J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, Moses 4:31e, p. 282).
Also highlighting the fact that question of authority to rule rather than magical prowess was the issue at hand is the deliberate choice of the Hebrew term tannin (“large reptile,” e.g., crocodile, sea monster, leviathan) rather than nachash (“snake,” as in Exodus 4:3-4, 7:15) for the transformed staff (Exodus 7:9-10). Tannin was often “used metaphorically as a symbol of national empires and power” (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., Exodus, p. 347 n. 9. See Deuteronomy 32:33, Psalm 74:13, Ezekiel 29:3).
Incidentally, “[t]he use of magic in Egypt is well-documented in [Talc 2 of the] Westcar Papyrus (M.-J. Nederhof, Papyrus Westcar) where magicians are credited with changing wax crocodiles into real ones only to be turned back to wax again after seizing their tails. Montet … also refers to several Egyptian scarabs that depict a snake charmer holding a serpent made stiff as a staff up in the air before some observing deities (cf. J. B. Pritchard, Charms Against Snakes; J. P. Allen, Pyramid Texts of Unis, 3, p. 17, with a spell on a ‘spotted’ knife [representing a snake?] that ‘goes forth against its like’ and devours it)” (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., Exodus, 7:10-13, p. 347). See also L. Shalit, How Moses.
The idea of five sacred things is encountered in other forms of Jewish tradition. For example, Jewish authorities held that five things were lost when Solomon’s temple was destroyed. Both [Page 221]Margaret Barker and Hugh Nibley specifically connect these “five things” to lost ordinances of the High Priesthood (see J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 658-660).
“Here I stand there before you, on the rock in Horeb” (Exodus 17:6), which means, “this I, the manifest, Who am here, am there also, am everywhere, for I have filled all things. I stand ever the same immutable, before you or anything that exists came into being, established on the topmost and most ancient source of power, whence showers forth the birth of all that is. …” And Moses too gives his testimony to the unchangeableness of the deity when he says “they saw the place where the God of Israel stood” (Exodus 24:10), for by the standing or establishment he indicates his immutability. But indeed so vast in its excess is the stability of the Deity that He imparts to chosen natures a share of His steadfastness to be their richest possession. For instance, He says of His covenant filled with His bounties, the highest law and principle, that is, which rules existent things, that this god-like image shall be firmly planted with the righteous soul as its pedestal … And it is the earnest desire of all the God-beloved to fly from the stormy waters of engrossing business with its perpetual turmoil of surge and billow, and anchor in the calm safe shelter of virtue’s roadsteads. See what is said of wise Abraham, how he was “standing in front of God” (Genesis 18:22), for when should we expect a mind to stand and no longer sway as on the balance save when it is opposite God, seeing and being seen? … To Moses, too, this divine command was given: “Stand here with me” (Deuteronomy 5:31), and this brings out both the points suggested above, namely the unswerving quality of the man of worth, and the absolute stability of Him that IS. (modified by Fletcher-Louis from Philo, Dreams, 2:32, 221-2:33, 227, pp. 543, 545).
Fletcher-Louis comments on parallels between Philo, 4Q377 from Qumran, and the Pentateuch:
Like Philo, 4Q377 is working with Deuteronomy 5:5, the giving of the Torah, and perhaps Exodus 17:6. Both texts think standing is a posture indicative of a transcendent identity in which the righteous can participate and of which Moses is the pre-eminent example. With the stability of standing is contrasted the [Page 223]corruptibility of motion, turmoil and storms, which is perhaps reflected in the tension between Israel’s “standing” (lines 4 and 10) and her “trembling” (line 9) before the Glory of God in the Qumran text. Whether this and other similar passages in Philo (cf. esp. Sacr. 8-10; Post. 27-29) are genetically related to 4Q377 is not certain, but remains a possibility. (C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, Reflections, p. 304)
OT antecedents for this reaction have been proposed, e.g., Psalm 56:10(9): “My enemies will be turned back … in the day when I shall call upon you”; Psalm 27:2: “When evildoers come at me … my foes and my enemies themselves stumble and fall … ”; Psalm 35:4: “Let those be turned back … and [Page 224]confounded who plot evil against me.” Falling down (piptein) as a reaction to divine revelation is attested in Daniel 2:46, 8:18; Revelation 1:17; and that is how John would have the reader understand the reaction to Jesus’s pronouncement. Piptein chamai is combined with the verb “to worship” in Job 1:20. No matter what one thinks of the historicity of this scene, it should not be explained away or trivialized. To know or use the divine name, as Jesus does, is an exercise of awesome power. In Acts 3:6 Peter heals a lame man “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” i.e., by the power of the name that Jesus has been given by God; and “there is no other name under heaven among human beings by which we must be saved.” Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelica 9:27:24-26 in J. H. Charlesworth, Pseudepigrapha, 2:901; GCS 43.522) attributes to Artapanus, who lived before the 1st century bc, the legend that when Moses uttered before Pharaoh the secret name of God, Pharaoh fell speechless to the ground (R. D. Bury, ExpTim 24 (1912-13), 233). That legend may or may not have been known when John wrote, but it illustrates an outlook that makes John’s account of the arrest intelligible.
This same Jesus will say to Pilate, “You have no power over me at all except what was given to you from above” (John 19:11). Here he shows how powerless before him are the troops of the Roman cohort and the police attendants from the chief priests — the representatives of the two groups who will soon interrogate him and send him to the cross. Indeed, an even wider extension of Jesus’s power may be intended. Why does John suddenly, in the midst of this dramatic interchange, mention the otiose presence of Judas, “now standing there with them was also Judas, the one who was giving him over” (John 18:5)? John 17:12 calls Judas “the son of perdition,” a phrase used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 to describe the antichrist who exalts himself to the level of God. Is the idea that the representative of the power of evil must also fall powerless before Jesus? I have already pointed out a close Johannine parallel to the Mark/Matthew saying about the coming near of the one who gives Jesus over, namely, John 14:30: “For the Prince of this world is coming.” In John 12:31, in the context of proclaiming the coming of the hour (John 12:23) and of praying about that [Page 225]hour (John 12:27), Jesus exclaims, “Now will the Prince of this world be driven out” (or “cast down,” a textual variant; see also 16:11).
Keener (John, p. 1082; p. 1082 n. 124) offers additional precedents for the “involuntary prostration” of Jesus’s enemies:
Other ancient texts report falling backward in terror — for instance, fearing that one has dishonored God (Sipra Sh. M.D. 99:5:12; cf. perhaps 1 Samuel 4:18) .…
Talbert, John, 233, adds later traditions in which priests fell on their faces when hearing the divine name (b. Qidd. 71a; Eccl. Rab. 3:11, S3).
Matthew Brown points out further parallels to Mount Sinai and the temple during the culminating scenes of the Atonement on the Mount of Olives (M. B. Brown, Gate, p. 176):
Shortly before his crucifixion, the Savior took the twelve apostles, and perhaps others, with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane, which is located on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. When they had entered into the garden area, the Lord instructed the majority of His disciples to wait for Him while He took Peter, James, and John further into the Garden. Then, at some unspecified location, Christ told Peter, James, and John to stay where they were while He “went a little further” into Gethsemane by Himself (see Matthew 26:30-39; Mark 14:26-36). It was in this third area of the Garden that the Savior was visited and strengthened by an angel and where He shed His sacrificial blood (see jst Luke 22:43-44). This pattern is intriguing because it seems to match the tripartite division of the people during the Mount Sinai episode (Ground Level — Israelites, Half-Way — Seventy Elders, Top — Moses) and the tripartite division in the temple complex (Courtyard — Israelites, Holy Place — Priests, Holy of Holies — High Priest). It was, of course, in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement that the final rite was performed to purge the sins of the Israelites with sacrificial blood (see Leviticus 16:15).
Let them, therefore, who are among the Gentiles flee unto Zion.
And let them who be of Judah flee unto Jerusalem, unto the mountains of the Lord’s house.
Without the benefit of the light shed by Joseph Smith — Matthew, non-LDS scholars have sometimes concurred with the idea that the event is fulfilled twice: once shortly after Jesus’s death and again in the last days (e.g., J. B. Payne, Imminent Appearing, p. 152; L. T. Dennis et al., ESV, Matthew 24:15n., p. 1873). C. S. Keener, Gospel of Matthew, p. 577-578, while seeing “the whole interim between the Temple’s demise [in ad 70] and [Christ’s] return as an extended tribulation period,” also realizes that the tribulation of ad 66-70 is blended, in Matthew 24, “with the final one, which it prefigures”:
Early Jewish texts also telescope the generations of history with the final generation (O. S. Wintermute, Jubilees, 23:11-32, pp. 100-102). As in Mark, the tribulation of 66-70 remains somehow connected with the future parousia, if only as a final prerequisite. Further, the context may suggest that Jesus employs his description eschatologically, as in some Jewish end-time texts; in this case, the disasters of 66-73 could not have exhausted the point of his words.
The operative word for measurement is the Greek pēchus (forearm), hence the translation of “cubit” in the kjv. Nevertheless, some well-respected scholars take pēchus figuratively as “span” and translate the contextually sensitive Greek term hēlikia in terms of adding to the length of one’s life rather than to one’s height (e.g., C. S. Keener, Gospel of Matthew, p. 237; R. T. France, Gospel of Matthew, pp. 268-269; H. D. Betz et al., Sermon, p. 476). See also F. W. Danker et al., Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 435-436 who describe “age” as a first meaning of the term, but then admit that some scholars hold Matthew 6:27 and Luke 12:25 as referring to bodily stature (as in some non-biblical sources), noting also that “many would prefer ‘stature’ [in this sense] for Luke 2:52; Ephesians 4:13.”
In any case, whether we take age or height as the metaphor, the theme in all these verses is “maturity, as opposed to remaining children (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 13:11; 14:20; Philemon 3:15; Colossians 1:28)” (A.-J. Levine et al., Jewish Annotated, p. 350 n. 13-14). After examining the alternatives, J. Nolland, Matthew, p. 311 also highlights the “obvious links with the idea of maturity” in Matthew 6:27. “Standing alone it can refer to the requisite age(-range) for some activity or state of affairs (to be physically mature, be of age to take responsibility, etc.). The physical sense ‘stature’ is [Page 229]also derived from the idea of growing up and thus becoming bigger over time.”
The “desolating sacrilege” in 24:15 clearly alludes to the horror prophesied in Daniel 9:27 and repeated in 11:31; and 12:11, with Jesus explicitly mentioning the prophet’s name. In the OT it occurs first in the context of Daniel’s famous but notoriously difficult prophecy about seventy “weeks of years” (i.e., 490 years [9:24-27]). Seven times seven times ten almost certainly represents a symbolic number for a perfect period of time, and the abomination of desolation is related to something “set up on a wing,” presumably of the temple, since Jerusalem and its sanctuary are said to be destroyed (Daniel 9:26 …). First Maccabees 1:54 understood this prophecy to have been fulfilled in the desecration of the temple sanctuary by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid ruler who sacrificed swine on the Jewish altar and ransacked the capital city, leading to the Maccabean revolt of 167-164 bc [see also 2 Maccabees 8:17]. Jesus is envisioning a similarly horrifying event accompanying the destruction of the temple in the first century … The disciples comment on the temple that they can see from the Mount of Olives. Jesus then predicts its destruction. Luke explicitly takes it this way. Nothing in the context supports the notion that a temple rebuilt centuries later, only to be destroyed again, is in view … Foretelling the destruction of the temple, of course, places Jesus in a long line of prophets (cf. Micah 3:2; Jeremiah 7:8-15; 9:10-11; 26:6, 18 … ) (G. K. Beale et al., NT Use of the OT, Matthew 24:1-31, p. 86).
The subject of [Daniel 9:25-26] is stated to be the Messiah … ; and the purpose of the action described is six-fold: “to restrain transgression, and to seal up sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy” (v. 24). The applicability of the first four to Christ is clear (Hebrews 9:26). The “sealing of vision,” then, seems to refer to the termination of that anticipatory mode of prophetic revelation which reached its climax in John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13), and not, as sometimes asserted, to the fulfilling of all prophecies. Finally, the anointing of the “most holy,” in the light of the messianic prophecy that follows, can refer to none other than Christ’s anointing by the Holy Spirit (John 3:34). He then accomplishes this mission by causing a covenant (the newer testament; Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:6-9, 22) to prevail with many (Daniel 9:27). That is, He makes the testament efficacious with His elect (cf. Isaiah 53:11). Such testamentary action brings to an end the anticipatory sacrificial system of the older testament (Daniel 9:27), a termination that was demonstrated historically when the veil of the temple was symbolically rent in twain at Christ’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:51; cf. Hebrews 9:8). But it meant too that the ultimate death would have to take place: Messiah Himself would be cut off (Daniel 9:26). “For a testament is of force where there hath been death: for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth” (Hebrews 9:17).”
On the timing for the fulfillment of the prophecy, Payne writes (Imminent Appearing, pp. 148-149):
[Page 233]The most noteworthy feature of Daniel’s prophecy is the inspired prophetic calendar that accompanies it. Daniel predicted a lapse of “seventy weeks [of years],” or 490 years, for the accomplishing of the redemptive work (Daniel 9:24). The beginning point would be indicated by the commandment to restore Jerusalem (v. 25), an event that was accomplished, a century after Daniel, in the reign of the Persian, Artaxerxes I (465-424 bc), under Nehemiah (444 bc). But there had been an earlier attempt, in the same reign, to restore the city’s walls, which had been thwarted by the Samaritans (Ezra 4:11-12, 23). This attempt seems to have been made under Ezra (458 bc; cf. 9:9), on the basis of the extended powers granted him in Artaxerxes’ decree (7:18, 25, even though nothing explicit is said about his restoring Jerusalem). Daniel then went on to predict that from this commandment, to the Messiah, would be “seven weeks, and three score and two weeks” (9:25), or 69 weeks of years, equaling 483 years. From 458 bc this brings one to ad 26, the very time which many would accept for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus Christ and the commencement of His incarnate ministry. Verses 26 and 27 then describe how, in the midst of the final week (that is, of the last seven year period, and therefore in the spring of ad 30), He would bring to an end the Old Testament economy by His death. There could hardly have been a more miraculously accurate prediction than was this! The 490 years then conclude with the three and a half years that remained, during which period the testament was to be confirmed to Israel (cf. Acts 2:38).
[Page 234]Palestine’s central mountain range provided a natural place to flee (e.g., 1 Samuel 23:14; Ezekiel 7:15-16; F. Josephus, Wars (New), 2:18:9 (504), p. 764; cf. Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities, 6:11, 18, pp. 92-93, 94, 27:11, p. 161), as mountainous areas with caves often did (Diod. Sic. 34/35.2.22; Dion. Hal. 7:10:3; Appian C. W. 4:17:130; Arrian Ales. 4:24:2). Although the exhortation is too general to be sure, the language might even allude to the familiar 1 Maccabees 2:28.
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