Without a doubt, the return of Jesus is one of the Bible’s most intriguing and provocative subjects. For the believer, it’s something to get excited about and look forward to (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). For the nonbeliever, it’s something that you hope is not true and can be terrifying (2 Thess. 1:9-10; Matt. 25:31-46; 1 John 2:17).

In Mark 13 the Lord Jesus continues His description of the catastrophic circumstances that will precede His return. Mark 13 happens on a Wednesday evening. On Thursday Jesus will have a meal with the disciples in the upper room. That’s when Judas will leave the group to set up an ambush on Jesus in the garden. Then on Friday Jesus will be crucified.

Mark 13 begins with Jesus and the disciples leaving the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the disciples said, Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls. Then Jesus replies, Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another! (vs. 1-2, NLT). The disciples and Jesus are walking down into a valley and up a small mountain. They get to the top which overlooks the Temple. On their way to the top of this mountain the disciples are discussing what Jesus meant by the destruction of the temple. When they get to the top of the mountain four disciples approach Jesus and ask Him, Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled? (Mark 13:4). Matthew tells us that the disciples also asked, What sign will signal your return and the end of the world? (Matt. 24:3). Then Jesus answers both questions with one answer. For our purposes, we are focusing on the Lord’s answer regarding His return because the destruction of the temple has already occurred in 70 A.D.

Jesus begins His answer by giving them false signs to look for regarding His return. These are signs that will be disturbing and distracting, but they are not signs that He is about to return. These signs occur because we live in a fallen world. He says to ignore three things as signs for his return (Mark 13:5-8). Don’t get distracted by these.   

  • He said ignore spiritual disasters. The spiritual disasters come from people who claim they are the Messiah, a prophet of God with a new message, or a false teacher with some new insight from God that’s never been heard before. This can take the form of a false religion or a cult that appears to be Christian, but it’s not. Jesus said don’t be misled by any of these (Mark 13:5-6). Don’t think because you see the rise of these that Jesus is about to return. It’s a false sign. It is only evidence that we live in a fallen world.
  • Jesus also said to ignore human disasters. The human disasters deal with the “wars and threats of wars.” Because of the sinful world we live in there will always be wars and rumors of wars. This is another false sign that Jesus is about to return. When you hear of these things, Jesus said don’t panic (Mark 13:7). Just because there is another world war about to break out does not mean he is about to return. Stay aware, calm, and present.
  • Jesus also said to ignore natural disasters. The natural disasters refer to earthquakes, droughts, famines, and the like (Mark 13:8).

Jesus says those things are going to happen all the time, in every generation, and in every century. Those things are normal in a fallen world. Covered all this in part 1.

Then in verses 9-13 (covered all this in part 2) Jesus says you can also expect several things to be happening in the middle of all the spiritual, human, and natural disasters.

  • You can expect opportunities to explain why you are a follower of Jesus.
  • You can expect the followers of Jesus to spread the gospel.
  • You can expect supernatural help in telling others about Jesus.
  • You can expect to be hated by others for following Jesus.
  • You can expect to be rewarded when Jesus returns.

After giving some general birth pains prior to His return, Jesus gives a more specific event to look for prior to His return. Remember back in verse 4 the disciples had asked for a sign that would indicate the Lord’s return. Jesus is about to give them that sign. With that we pick up with Jesus’ answer in verse 14.

Mark 13:14-20

The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter. 19 For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. 20 In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days. (NLT)

We will only focus on verse 14 today. Jesus says, The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!)  To get us started I want you to see this in two other translations.

  • First, let’s look at this from the English Standard Version which says, “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand)…. (ESV)
  • Now let’s look at it from the New American Standard Version which says, “Now when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be – let the reader understand… (NASB).

Most translations use the phrase “abomination of desolation” rather than sacrilegious object that causes desecration. Because of this, I’m going to use the phrase “abomination of desolation” throughout the sermon. So, what is Jesus talking about?

Let’s start by breaking the words down first.

  • The word abomination (bdelugma) means to make something disgusting, detestable, polluted, offensive, filthy, immoral, or blasphemous. It literally means to emit a foul odor or to turn away on account of stench. Figuratively it refers to something that causes loathing or disgust. Spiritually speaking, it is something that is done to intentionally offend God or God’s people.
  • The word desolation (eremosis) means to leave something empty and uninhabitable. It means to devastate something or to destroy it in some way.

What you have here is something that was meaningful and beautiful that becomes so disgusting that it repels you away from it. Let me give you a simple illustration of abomination of desolation. You have a beautiful and precious dog. You love that dog. You love spending time with that dog. The dog loves you. The dog has gone missing for a few days. One day you are driving, and you happen to see your dog lying on the side of the road. You stop the car and go over to the dog. You quickly realize the dog had been hit by a car and it has rotted for a few days in the sun and burst open. The stench is horrible. It is disgusting to look at, smell, or be around. The smell of death is putrid. You would never bring that dog home, put him on your couch, pat him on the head and rub him behind the ears. The dog was intended to be a beautiful animal, has turned into a putrid and disgusting animal that you want to get away from. That is a mild example of abomination of desolation. It takes something beautiful and makes it so disgusting that you are repelled by it.

When Jesus talks about the abomination of desolation He is not talking about a dog, but the beautiful worship of God. Something or someone will defile and contaminate the worship of God that it will repel God’s people. Instead of being drawn to worship God, people will be repelled from the worship of God. The spiritual stench from this abomination will be so horrible that it will be unbelievable and unbearable. God and God’s people will be appalled by what is happening.

When Matthew writes about this, he gives us a little more insight. He writes that Jesus said, Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… (Matt. 24:15, NASB). There have been three abomination of desolations that relate to the Temple.

Daniel’s Abomination of Desolation

The first one we can call Daniel’s abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). When Daniel originally used this term, he was prophetically speaking about what happened in 167 B.C. when the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes attacked Jerusalem and desecrated the temple. He also outlawed the worship of God. He then sacrificed pigs on the altar. He put a statue of Zeus and an image of himself in the temple, since he believed himself to be a god. He turned the temple chambers into houses of prostitution. As a result, God’s people abandoned the temple. His abomination of worship resulted in a desolation of worship by God’s people. They ran from God’s house. They were not drawn to God’s house.

Disciples’ Abomination of Desolation

The second abomination we can call the disciples’ abomination of desolation because it would be during their generation. Jesus is saying something similar is about to happen again. There would be a second desecration of the temple that would be so bad it would cause God’s people to once again give up worship in the temple and run from it. Something interesting and significant happened right before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. The Zealots took over temple worship. The Zealots were first century terrorists who would knife people in crowds. When this terrorists group took over temple leadership, it installed a completely unqualified high priest to direct it – a man named Phanni. God’s people called him “the clown,” because his leadership was a joke. He came from a criminal background. He turned the temple into a place for criminal activity, even having people murdered in the temple itself. It was like having the Mafia run, organize, and use the church.

This became an abomination of desolation for the temple. God’s people who were still using the temple for worship ran from it, did not want to be associated with it. Again, what was known as the house of God and a place for the worship of God was becoming desolate because of the abominations that were taking place in it. To the disciples and the first century Christians Jesus was saying, “When you see an abomination of desolation happening, get out of Jerusalem in a hurry. That is the sign you are looking for. Jerusalem’s destruction is right around the corner.”

Jesus’ Abomination of Desolation

But, what about us today? How does this abomination of desolation apply to us? There is a third abomination of desolation coming. We will call this one Jesus’ abomination of desolation because it is a sign that His return is literally around the corner. Remember, Jesus is answering two questions with one answer. When will the destruction of the temple occur and when will He return?

God’s Word tells us the Antichrist will set up his throne in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and declare himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:4).

After pretending to be a peacemaker, the Antichrist will turn against God’s people, killing them and desecrating the temple (Rev. 11:2; 12:1).

He will also make war with believers (Rev. 13:7), killing many for their unwavering faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 6:9-11).

During that time, the Antichrist will openly blaspheme God. We are told in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 that “He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God” (NLT, see also Rev. 13:15).

Then in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 we are told, “This man [talking about the Antichrist] will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them” (NLT).

The final Antichrist will exalt himself as God and demand the worship of all people on earth (Rev. 13:7-8). His blasphemous religion will be promoted by the ultimate false prophet, who will perform great miracles through Satan’s power in order to deceive the world (Rev. 13:11-15).

Final Observations

Let’s take a look at some final observations.

Back to Mark 13:14 in the English Standard Version. Jesus says, “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (ESV).

This abomination of desolation is approaching

This Lord’s return and this abomination of desolation is approaching: Jesus begins verse 14 with the word butbut when you see the abomination of desolation…. Jesus is contrasting all the natural disasters against this abomination of desolation. Jesus is saying the disasters I just mentioned are not signs that I’m about to come back, but this abomination of desolation is. Jesus is saying, “I am coming back and that will be a strong sign.”

This abomination of desolation is definite

This Lord’s return and this abomination of desolation is definite: Jesus said, “but when.” Jesus tells us this is going to occur. This is not an IF this happens statement, but a when this happens statement. It’s definite. You can’t pray this away. This is going to happen no matter what. You cannot prevent it from happening. The abomination of desolation is going to happen, and the return of Jesus is going to happen.

This abomination of desolation is visible

This Lord’s return and this abomination of desolation is visible: Not only is the Lord’s return going to be visible, but this abomination of desolation will be visible. Jesus made this clear when He said, “but when you see” this abomination. You will be able to point to it. Record it. Take a picture of it. It will be physically visible. This is not a vision. This is not a hallucination. This will be an actual event.

This abomination of desolation is comprehendible

This Lord’s return and this abomination of desolation is comprehendible: Right in the middle of that statement by Jesus, Mark adds a phrase that says, let the reader understand. Why would Mark do that? This is not for the listening disciples but for future readers of Scripture. In the years immediately prior to the second coming, people will read Jesus’ words and, realized they are in the midst of the tribulation, be equipped to understand and endure the trials of that unparalleled trouble.


Jesus wants His followers to be able to handle all the disasters and not be surprised by what is about to happen. Jesus wants you to understand He will return. Be ready. Be faithful. Be calm.

Discussion Questions

  1. What signs does Jesus say you are to ignore regarding His return?
  2. What can you expect while waiting on the Lord’s return?
  3. According to verse 14, what is the sign you can look for that would indicate that Jesus is about to return?
  4. Describe the “abomination of desolation” that Jesus is referring too.
  5. What are the three abomination of desolations in relation to the temple?
  6. Why is this important to believers? Why is it important for the reader to understand this abomination of desolation?
  7. What is God saying to you personally through this?