What Is the “Abomination of Desolation?”

As Jesus taught His disciples how to prepare for His Second Coming, He referenced a prophecy from the book of Daniel:

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

Matthew 24:15

In Mark’s version of the account, He doesn’t say that we should stand in the holy place. He says that the abomination itself is standing in the wrong place. And in Luke’s version, the reference to Daniel is omitted, replaced by the imagery of Jerusalem under seige, which leads to desolation:

Mark 13:14Luke 21:20
But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand)…And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

Joseph Smith’s revision of the passage in Matthew combines these accounts by equating the abomination of desolation with the destruction of Jerusalem:

When you, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, then you shall stand in the holy place; whoso readeth let him understand.

Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:12

So from these accounts of the Savior’s words, we learn the following:

  • Prior to the Savior’s Second Coming, the abomination of desolation prophesied by Daniel will occur.
  • This event is related to the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • When it happens, we should respond by standing in holy places.

The first half of the book of Daniel contains stories of the miracles Daniel and his friends experienced while they served the kings of Babylon and Persia. The second half of the book (chapters 7-12) describes a series of apocalyptic visions Daniel saw while in captivity.

In the first year of the reign of King Darius, Daniel prayed on behalf of his people. Remembering the prophesied promises, he pleaded with God to remember scattered Israel and to gather his people again to Jerusalem. The city, he observed was empty, the temple “desolate” because of the transgressions of the people. But Daniel pleaded, “O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies” (Daniel 9:18, italics added).

In response to his prayer, the angel Gabriel appeared and promised that Jerusalem would soon be rebuilt. But he also told Daniel that this prosperity would not persist. The people would again fall into wickedness, and “for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate” (Daniel 9:27).

Daniel also prophesied of a future nation who would conquer Jerusalem and “pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.” But Daniel continued, “The people that do know their God shall be strong” (Daniel 11:31-32, italics added; see also Daniel 12:11).

So desolation comes in response to abominable practices, but God does not abandon us even when we are desolate. His deliverance is available when we return to Him.

The Hebrew word translated “abomination” in these passages is shiqquts (שִׁקּוּץ), which means a detested thing, something God hates. Throughout the Old Testament, this word is associated with idolatry.

The word translated “desolation” is shamem (שָׁמֵם). It represents an emptiness or destruction which causes astonishment. The English word “desolate” comes from two Latin roots meaning “completely alone.” (See “desolation,” Online Etymology Dictionary.)

Stephen E. Robinson offered the following interpretation of the combination of these terms: “In the book of Daniel the abomination of desolation is that thing which is so hateful to God that its presence in the temple causes the divine presence to depart, leaving the sanctuary desolate” (“Early Christianity and 1 Nephi 13–14,”in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, 1988, 177–91).

After the destruction which coincided with the death of Jesus Christ on the American continent, the survivors heard the voice of the Savior lamenting the destruction. One city at a time, He reported the natural disaster which had destroyed the city—earthquakes, floods, and fires—and then explained why the city had been destroyed: “to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come up any more unto me against them” (3 Nephi 9:5, 7, 8, 11, italics added).

Several hours later, He pleaded with the survivors to return to Him, using the same language He had used to lament the wickedness of Jerusalem during His mortal ministry:

O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.

But if not, O house of Israel, the places of your dwellings shall become desolate until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers.

3 Nephi 10:6-7, italics added; see also Matthew 23:37-38, Luke 23:34-35

But as He ministered to the people in person, He reassured them that the desolate can be restored and can prosper again. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, He said:

Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord….

For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.

3 Nephi 22:1, 3; see also Isaiah 54:1, 3

In September 1832, as many missionaries returned to their homes in Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith received a revelation on the topic of priesthood. At the end of the revelation, the Lord emphasized to His missionaries the urgency of sharing the gospel:

Verily I say unto you, the rest of my servants, go ye forth as your circumstances shall permit, in your several callings, unto the great and notable cities and villages, reproving the world in righteousness of all their unrighteous and ungodly deeds, setting forth clearly and understandingly the desolation of abomination in the last days.

For, with you saith the Lord Almighty, I will rend their kingdoms; I will not only shake the earth, but the starry heavens shall tremble.

Doctrine and Covenants 84:117-118, italics added

Three months later, the Lord again emphasized this warning in another revelation, telling church members to prepare for difficult times ahead, “That their souls may escape the wrath of God, the desolation of abomination which awaits the wicked, both in this world and in the world to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:84-85, italics added)

The use of this terminology in these revelation, including the reversal of the words, highlights this principle: wickedness leads to emptiness. It promises but cannot deliver satisfaction.

As the Savior instructed His disciples, when we see the abomination of desolation, we ought to ensure that we are standing in holy places. In April 2021, President Russell M. Nelson provided the following guidance as we continued to experience the COVID-19 pandemic:

Often when the Lord warns us about the perils of the last days, He counsels thus: “Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved.” These “holy places” certainly include the Lord’s temples and meetinghouses. But as our ability to gather in these places has been restricted in varying degrees, we have learned that one of the holiest of places on earth is the home—yes, even your home….

Have you ever wondered why the Lord wants us to make our homes the center of gospel learning and gospel living? It is not just to prepare us for, and help us through, a pandemic. Present restrictions on gathering will eventually end. However, your commitment to make your home your primary sanctuary of faith should never end. As faith and holiness decrease in this fallen world, your need for holy places will increase. I urge you to continue to make your home a truly holy place “and be not moved” from that essential goal.

What We Are Learning and Will Never Forget,” General Conference, April 2021

Today, I will follow the Savior’s admonition to stand in holy places. I will remember that God always remembers His children. Abominations do lead to desolation, but God can restore desolate places and desolate people who turn to Him and seek to be close to Him again.

One thought on “What Is the “Abomination of Desolation?”

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  1. Truely educational! I am aware that our homes should be holy places, however, I must admit –I didn’t understand fully this prophesy –“until the ,Pandemic! Spending so much of my time, and the desperate need to communicate with Heavenly Father, taught me, my home is a sanctuary,a place of prayer and faith.


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