But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 2 Pet 3:10
The expression, ‘day of the Lord’ is first encountered in the OT; Amos, deemed to be the earliest prophet, used it (5:18) though Joel, who is difficult to date, uses the expression five times. It is used by at least a half dozen other OT prophets. Apparently it is found 18 times in the OT. Cognates such as ‘the day’ and ‘that day’ or ‘a day’ are contractions of the phrase and occur more frequently. In the NT, expressions such as ‘the day of Jesus Christ’ and similar constructions also mean ‘the day of the Lord’ (I Cor 1:8; 2 Cor 1:14; Phil 1:6,10)
The ‘day of the Lord’ is essentially a time when God visits the world in decisive action. The presence of the Lord is integral – hence the day of the Lord. It is a day when he rends the heavens and comes down. The day of the Lord is principally viewed in terms of judgement but normally includes salvation. The ‘day’ may be a literal day or may refer to a period of time. In fact, the day of the Lord is more an event than a time period.
There are a number of occasions in OT history which are effectively days of the Lord though they are not so called; the actual expression is confined to the OT prophets. The universal flood with its motifs of judgement and salvation is essentially a day of the Lord (Cf. Gen 6:5-8; 7:1; 2 Pet 3). The redemption of Israel from Egypt is a day of the Lord. It was a day when God visited in salvation for Israel and judgement for Egypt. God’s name is glorified (gains renown) throughout the ANE in both the salvation of Israel and the destruction of the Egypt (Cf. Ex 9:16, 15; Roms 9).
Israel is God’s chosen people yet they experience days of the Lord, devastating attacks by foreign nations whom the Lords raises to punish his wayward people (Isa 3. 5:5; Cf. Zech 14:3). Assyria and Babylon are two obvious examples (Isa 2:6-22), Both nations are used by God (God often uses foreign armies as his instrument of judgement) to punish Israel but both overstep the mark and are themselves in turn judged by God (Isa 10:5:19; 13). The OT often describes these historical events of divine visitation in such universal and apocalyptic language that it is clear the prophecy looks beyond the more immediate historical situation to an eschatological event (Isa 2:12-24 24: Zeph 1:14-18). It is of this eschatological day that Paul speaks in Thessalonians (1 Thess 5; 2 Thess 2)
Historical days of the Lord therefore pointed to a climactic, eschatological day of the Lord. This is a day at the end of history when God will visit the world in ultimate and decisive judgement and salvation. (Zech 12, 14). It is a day of both retribution and renewal, a day when evil is erased and the renaissance of all things occurs. It is primarily the day of Christ’s Second Coming. I say, primarily, because there is a sense that the death of Jesus is also part of the eschatological ‘day of the Lord’ though admittedly it is never named as such.
The day of the Lord belongs to the eschaton (the time of the end), however, the eschaton embraces both the first and second coming of Christ. In the first coming ‘the End’ is commenced and in the second it is consummated. It is not surprising that ‘the day of the Lord’, like most events of the eschaton (eg salvation, redemption, reconciliation etc), has two referents. There are two occasions in the eschaton when God visits in judgement and salvation – the cross and the second coming, Both combine to constitute the eschatological day of the Lord’ There is an organic relationship between them. The ‘day of the Lord’ at the cross shapes the final day of the Lord; it makes the final judgement of unbelievers certain and secures the salvation of believers. Perhaps it isn’t so far out to say the day of the Lord is inaugurated at the cross and consummated at the second coming.
While the cross is not explicitly called ‘a the day of the Lord’ the features of a ‘day of the Lord’ are present. The nations are gathered against the Lord’s anointed, Jesus, the true Israel. Ironically, the nations now include Israel, especially Israel. The true Israel is abandoned to the hatred of the nations; like national Israel he is forsaken. The cross is a place of divine judgement. Jesus drinks the cup of divine wrath which the nations unwittingly have a hand in administering. In the OT, the day of the Lord is a day of sacrifice (Zeph 7:1). The cross is a unique sacrifice that wipes out sin in a single day (Zech 3:9). It is a place of darkness and earthquakes, the cosmically attendant features of the day of the Lord (Ezek 32:7,8; Amos 8:9). Finally, the eschatological day of the Lord at the cross results in salvation and the inauguration of the new age; it also sea ls the final eschatological day of judgement (Jn 12:31; 2 Thess 1:8). These began in Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation – for God alone is exalted in that day. The judgement and salvation of the last day both flow from the cross.
The day of the Lord at the second coming is therefore the consummation of the day of the Lord at the cross. Undoubtedly it is the final aspect of this eschatological day that carries the title ‘day of the Lord’. Of this final eschatological day all previous OT ‘days’ are foreshadows and types. They are geopolitically limited but the eschatological day of the Lord is universal. Then God’s wrath overflows against the nations (Zeph 1:14-18, 3:8-10; Isa 2:10-22, 13:1-22) including the nation of Israel (Amos 5:18; Mic 3:6-12). A day off universal judgement is ordained (Isa 13, 24). Where there is unbelief there is judgement.
In the OT, Israel seemed to believe that the day of the Lord would be a day of judgement for the nations and salvation for them. The prophets disabuse them of this notion. The day of the Lord is a day off darkness for all who live ungodly lives whether Jew or gentile. The NT will show that the divide on that day is not between Jew and gentile but believer and unbeliever (2 Thess 1). Only for believers will the day be one of salvation, for all others it will be one of judgement. Apostate Israel is regularly told they should not long for the day of the Lord for it will be darkness not light (Amos 5:18-20).
Some think the phrase ‘day of the Lord; may have originated in Israel’s ‘holy wars’. Since the final day of the Lord is cast in terms of a holy war (Rev 19) this is not impossible. Israel conquered Canaan by engaging in holy wars (Deut. 1:30; 3:22; Josh. 5:13–15; 6:2). These wars often involved the Lord himself (in the tabernacle) leading the nation into battle. The soldiers were consecrated, indicated by sexual abstinence. Rev 14). Sometimes the battle was very evidently divinely fought as at Jericho with its tumbling walls. God is the divine warrior who fights on behalf of his people. Indeed, were it not for the Lord fighting on Israel’s behalf they would have been defeated for the Canaanites were greater in number with superior armaments to Israel. It is possibly that because they were the weapon of God’s judgement against the Canaanites that Israel (wrongly) assumes that God is always on their side (Deut 1:30, 9:4,5). The fact that they are God’s chosen people lulls them into a false security; only faithful Israel is elected Israel (Roms 9). It is worth noticing that as the cities of Canaan experienced their own ‘day of the Lord’, the kings of these cities were taken outside the city and hanged on a tree until sundown (Josh 8:29). Jesus is made sin. He becomes the Canaanite King who is hung on a tree until sundown that his people may become the righteousness of God in him.
And so previous battles prefigure the last bloody battle, the final holy war against evil. Zephaniah says the Lord has prepared for himself a sacrifice (Zeph 7:1). The destruction of the wicked is a sacrifice, an unclean supper (Rev 19). The unholy and ungodly come to do battle with the Lord on the great day of the Lord God Almighty (Rev 16:14). However, it is a foolish gesture, Their leader is destroyed by the breath of his mouth and his coming (2 Thess 2:8) and all others with the sword that proceeds from his mouth – a word will crush them. On that day the Lord alone will be exalted and man shall be humbled (Isa 2:12-19). We should note that ‘the Lord’ who comes in salvation and judgement in these OT prophecies is the Lord Jesus in the NT (Cf. Acts 2:20,21; 2 Thess 2:1).
The day of the Lord involves not only war but also judgment. The nations must be judged and destinies decided (Joel 3; Zeph 2:6-15; Matt 25:31-46). God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world (Acts 17). All will be judged for the deeds done in the body (Matt 12:36; Roms 2). For some believers, much of what they have done will be burned up (1 Cor 3:13).
How can we insure that we are among those for whom the day of the Lord will be a day of salvation. It will be a day of salvation for those who belong to Christ. Christians are those who live by daily faith in Christ. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Only those who are watching and waiting for its arrival will be among the redeemed (1Thess 4:13-5:11; 2 Thess 2:1,2; Matt 25). We must remember the day is near. The fire of that day will test our works (1 Cor 3:13). Believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and return with him to judge the world. They are a sort of contingent from a city who see the dignitary coming and go out to meet him and accompany him back to the city. So God’s people will accompany Christ back to earth that he may judge the world. The earth ( a renewed earth) is where God’s people belong (Rev 21). The Coming of the Lord is both a time of retributive justice and redemptive recreation. Christ’s coming seems to involve a collapse of the old world as the new creation initiated by Christ’s resurrection flowers into the regeneration of all things, a new heavens and new earth; the inaugurated kingdom becomes the culminated kingdom.
Peter’s words say it well,
…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Pet 3