What is The Abomination That Causes Desolation, Part. 2 + Paul’s Shaved Head?! #218
Hello friends and happy Saturday to you! Today, we finish our discussion of the Abomination of Desolation, but first, let’s tackle an issue related to Acts 18 from yesterday.
Friend of the show and friend of the host Ramal Llewop hit me up with an interesting observation this morning about Paul’s shaving his head, which got me to thinking: what’s that all about? Why in the world would the apostle Paul shave his head as part of a vow? The guy who was very clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone is doing some sort of external act of piety?! What gives? Well, let’s discuss it, but first I’m going to turn on the “speculation” light in the cabin. Buckle your seat belts, and realize we are going to go through the turbulence of guessing at something that the Bible doesn’t fully spell out for us. Please remain seated and buckled in until the pilot turns off the light and the speculation is over.
As you might know, the Old Testament discusses a vow of consecration called a Nazirite vow. This is a voluntary act that some saints of God undertake either for a very long time (Samuel, Samson and possibly John the Baptist), or for a short period of time to separate themselves from other things and devote themselves to God. Sort of a leaving and cleaving, but of a spiritual nature, rather than a marital nature.
Numbers 6 describes this vow, noting that it is open to men or women, is voluntary, and concludes thusly:
18 “The Nazirite is to shave his consecrated head at the entrance to the tent of meeting, take the hair from his head, and put it on the fire under the fellowship sacrifice. 19 The priest is to take the boiled shoulder from the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and put them into the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated head. 20 The priest is to present them as a presentation offering before the Lord. It is a holy portion for the priest, in addition to the breast of the presentation offering and the thigh of the contribution. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine. 21 “These are the instructions about the Nazirite who vows his offering to the Lord for his consecration, in addition to whatever else he can afford; he must fulfill whatever vow he makes in keeping with the instructions for his consecration.”
The word Nazirite comes from the Hebrew verb נָזַר nâzar and it means to dedicate/consecrate/separate from something. The Nazirite is dedicating himself to God and separating himself from all other things. I note here that there is no promise or explicit reward attached to a Nazirite vow – the reward is in the consecration – the nearness to God. Of more import to our current question about Paul and his vow and head shaving, I note that a vow to God is a very important part of the Nazirite process and the shaving of the head and burning of the hairs at the end of the Nazirite process is very important. We see Paul undertaking both of these elements in Acts 18 (possibly also in Acts 21, but we will discuss that shortly), and there seems to be no other act in the Bible that involves both head-shaving and vowing. Though we can’t be 100% sure (because the Bible doesn’t specify…) I think it is likely that Paul has completed a Nazirite vow in Acts 18, and he is doing what is prescribed in Numbers. With him about to leave for Jerusalem, perhaps he is doing such an act to demonstrate to the Jews that he himself is a Jew, who honors the Word of God in an all things to all people sort of way – we don’t know, because the Bible doesn’t even give us a hint of Paul’s motivation there.
The weakness to the Nazirite/Acts 18 theory is the location of the hair-shaving, the port town of Cenchrea, which was in the city-state of Corinth…a Greek city. Numbers 6 commands that the hair-shaving would have been done at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Would such a place – or its analog – have been in Cenchrea, and if so, would it have been an acceptable place (outside of Israel) for a Nazirite to perform the ending of their vows as prescribed in Numbers 6? I am not sure – such a question doesn’t appear to be addressed in the Old Testament. One other possibility then is that Paul was not doing a Nazirite vow exactly, but more of a general vow of consecration and devotion that was somewhat patterned after a Nazirite vow, and such a vow may be mentioned in a negative sense in Jeremiah 7:29, “Cut off the hair of your sacred vow and throw it away.”
Well, I didn’t quite mean to talk so much on that topic, but it is a fascinating act by Paul, and raises an issue that we will see again in Acts 21, so perhaps this will serve as an introduction for that chapter.
For today, we are reading Judges 15, Jeremiah 28, Acts 19 and Mark 14. Our focus question concludes from yesterday – What is the Abomination of Desolation mentioned by Jesus in Mark 13/Matthew 24/Luke 21 and by Daniel in Daniel 9, 11 and 12? Answering the latter part of this question is somewhat easy, because the first fulfilment of what Daniel saw happened BEFORE the time of Jesus. Yes, I said before. Before we discuss that, perhaps we should mention prophecy with a dual fulfillment first. Sometimes prophecies are fulfilled TWICE. Once in the near future, and, more fully, in the distant future. We see a great example of this in a very famous passage in Isaiah:
13 Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God? 14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. 15 By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating curds and honey. 16 For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned. 17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s house such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah: He will bring the king of Assyria.”
If I were to ask most Christians whom Isaiah 7:13-14 is referring to, they would quickly answer Jesus, which is a correct answer, but not the WHOLE answer. Because, if you keep reading the Isaiah prophecy, you will see that it is first fulfilled in Isaiah’s lifetime, quite possibly by the birth of his own son. More fully, this prophecy is fulfilled by the birth of Jesus. For more: https://academic.logos.com/immanuel-in-isaiah-a-study-in-multiple-fulfillment/ Likewise, Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled in 167 B.C. by a Greek ruler named Antiochus IV Epiphanes. That whole story is told in a book called 1 Maccabees, which is considered as part of the apocrypha, and was written around 100-150 B.C. A fun note about apocryphal books like 1 Maccabees is that they were contained in the original 1611 King James version of the Bible. 1 Maccabees tells describes the Abomination of Desolation like this:
41 Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people,
42 and abandon their particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king, 43 and many Israelites delighted in his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44 The king sent letters by messenger to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, ordering them to follow customs foreign to their land; 45 to prohibit burnt offerings, sacrifices, and libations in the sanctuary, to profane the sabbaths and feast days, 46 to desecrate the sanctuary and the sacred ministers, 47 to build pagan altars and temples and shrines, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, 48 to leave their sons uncircumcised, and to defile themselves with every kind of impurity and abomination; 49 so that they might forget the law and change all its ordinances. 50 Whoever refused to act according to the command of the king was to be put to death. 51 In words such as these he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people, and he ordered the cities of Judah to offer sacrifices, each city in turn.
52 Many of the people, those who abandoned the law, joined them and committed evil in the land. 53 They drove Israel into hiding, wherever places of refuge could be found. 54 On the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five,* the king erected the desolating abomination upon the altar of burnt offerings, and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars.
1 Maccabees 1:41-54
So – about 160 years BEFORE the birth of Jesus, Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled, in part, and Jesus would have been fully aware of this, just as Americans are fully aware of the Revolutionary war against the British. Therefore, what Jesus is telling us is that, prior to His return, such a thing – comparable to what Daniel prophesied and what was fulfilled first by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is going to happen. Now, here’s where it gets a bit complicated. There are two major schools of thought on this second abomination of desolation.
#1 – The first parts of Matthew 24 and Mark 13 are referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem which would have been in the near future when Jesus taught the Olivet discourse. In 70 AD, precisely as Jesus predicted, a Roman army surrounded the city and basically destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, and slaughtered countless Jews. Some believe the abomination of desolation happened then when the commander of the Roman armies, or some of his men, appeared in the temple and defiled it. For more on this view, CLICK HERE.
This is very possible, and could fit in with Jesus’ teaching of the first parts of Matthew 24. The problem with this view is that we don’t really have a historical record that General Titus (who would eventually become Emperor Titus) actually engaged in an abominating desolation. However, Josephus, the first century Jewish/Roman historian, does say that Roman soldiers set the temple on fire, and that many bodies were burned and killed near the altar of the temple, which might could qualify as such. Perhaps a bigger problem is found in Mark 13:5-8
5 Jesus told them, “Watch out that no one deceives you.6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many.7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but it is not yet the end.8 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
Were these prophecies of Jesus fulfilled prior to 70 A.D.? If so, then we certainly don’t have an extant historical record that indicates that they were.
#2 Option 2 is that the Abomination of Desolation is an event that will happen directly before the return of Jesus and is still in the future. Some believe that the antichrist will be the one who leads an army to sack Jerusalem, and that he will be the one to set up the abominating desolation, but the Bible doesn’t necessarily specify that, and – though the ‘little horn’ of Daniel 7-11 seems to comport with the antichrist somehow, it does not appear that the King of the North (who set up the first abomination of desolation) is the same as the future antichrist.
Which solution do I favor? I lean towards option #2, that this event is in the future – yet to happen. That there will be a group/army opposed to God and His ways that will somehow seek to set up a terrible defilement in the temple of God in Jerusalem as a way to thumb their noses at Almighty God. This will end up being a tremendous and devastating mistake for whoever does so. Being specific beyond this point would probably be speculating to a reckless degree, as we are already well outside the bounds of Scripture here…so let’s swim back to a safe place, and read the rest of our Bible passages!