What Is the Day of the Lord?
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
1st Thessalonians 5:1-4; compare 2nd Peter 3:10, Isaiah 2:12 and others.
As we are working our way through 1st Thessalonians, we have come to a portion touching on the end times. In chapter four, we saw a detailed description of the Rapture of the Church. In the beginning of chapter five, we see the Beginning of the Tribulation and the fact that it does not involve the Church.
Some years ago, I heard a man teaching on 2nd Peter 3:10. I believe that he meant to teach honestly and accurately: he probably was not a false teacher. But he evidently also did not search out the other references to the “day of the Lord.” He tried to force both events in this passage to fit into a single 24-hour day.
2nd Peter 3:10
Let’s read it: 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
- It comes as a thief in the night, and
- All the heaven and Earth (and all that is in it,) will be destroyed.
This verse summarizes the facts. I might say, “the Book of Genesis says God created the Heavens and the Earth, and Joseph was embalmed in a coffin in Egypt.” While that is true, it is not helpful: it skips 1700 years of history! 2nd Peter 3:10 tells us the “beginning and the end” of the Day of the Lord.
What do We Know?
We want to knowwhen the “opening bell” of the Day of the Lord will be. We also want to know what happens during that “day.” God freely tells us what will happen during the Day of the Lord. He does not tell us when it begins. In Matthew 24:36, Jesus specifically warns that “NO Man will know the day or the hour of His coming.” And, in Acts 1:7, He reiterates that “it is not given unto you to know the times or the seasons…”
The teacher I heard probably tried to teach honestly. But if he had researched even a little, he would have found that it could not be a 24-hour day. During that “day of the Lord,” the Gentile nations will come to Jerusalem: How often? They will come year by year, to worship the Lord, in person! And this is specifically after they had warred against Israel. So, it cannot be a single 24-hour day.
Zechariah 14:16 says, “and it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts [that’s Jesus!], and to keep the feast of tabernacles.”
That places this specific occurrence after the Tribulation, and before the destruction of this World. So, the passage in 2nd Peter covers a lot of territory…not just a 24-hour day.
“First Mention” Principle
In Bible Study and Interpretation (also called Hermeneutics) we teach a concept called the “first mention” principle. It means that if we are addressing a topic, it is a good idea to go back and look up how God introduced that topic.
Isaiah 2:12-4:6 introduces the topic of the Day of the LORD. He says that it will be a time of heavy Judgment on Israel. He says that all their pride and self-will and idolatry will permanently be put away from them. But He also warns that in the process, they will lose everything they now count precious.
Relatively few people of Israel will even survive the “Judgment portion” of the Day of the Lord: We can see in Isaiah 4:1 that there will be an extreme shortage of men. They will be reduced to an approximate 7:1 ratio of women to men. It says that “in that day, seven women will lay hold of one man, saying, we will pay for our own food and clothing, but let us be called by your name, to take away our shame.”
In the books of Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets, the contrasts become sharper and sharper. Isaiah 11:10-13 says all the Jews from every nation will be brought back to Israel, and that they will all get along perfectly. It also says that the “Root of Jesse” (the Messiah) will be there, and the Gentiles will eagerly seek Him. That sounds like a total blessing! But we just read of all the judgment and destruction! We can already see what seem to be irreconcilable differences in what is predicted for the Day of the Lord. And that is just in Isaiah!
In Isaiah 11:6-9 we see that the entire animal kingdom will be restored to peace. (That indicates a partial lifting of the curse.) The predators and prey will all eat the same diet… the lion will eat hay, just like an ox, etc. Those all sound like blessings!
Are there Contradictions?
But in Isaiah 13:6-11, it says, “Howl ye, for the Day of the Lord is at hand; it will come as destruction from the Almighty!” Verse nine says it will be a day of “cruel wrath and fierce anger.” And, Isaiah 19:23-25 says it will be a day of blessing, and peace, and gentleness!
(Do you see some apparent contradictions?) Remember, ALL these prophecies will be fulfilled literally, in the Day of the Lord. If any fall short, then God’s Word would fall short. Remember, too, they must be fulfilled in the Day of the Lord, not before. There may be similar things that happen before it, (or which have already happened.) But the ultimate fulfillment has to be in the Day of the Lord. (Don’t take a “similar” thing to mean that the day of the Lord has come.)
So, Which is it? Destruction or Peace?
Will all the earth be blessed, as in Isaiah 11:9, where He says, “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the Earth as the waters cover the sea…”? Or will “…the heavens…pass away with a great noise, and the elements … melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein … be burned up” as 2nd Peter 3:10 says?
God’s Word is complete, and it is also completely true. Both of those “extremes” have to happen. And all the things attributed to the Day of the Lord have to happen exactly as predicted.
The Divine Puzzle
We see that “The Day of the Lord” looks like a very complex “puzzle.” We know it all has to “fit together,” but it really doesn’t look possible.
Years ago, my father sent us a wooden three-dimensional puzzle. As I recall, it had about nine very similar pieces. They all interlocked to make a sort of “many-sided wooden ball:” a polyhedron of some sort. Separately,, all the parts looked very similar. But they only went together in a very limited group of possibilities. Once you know the secret, you can reassemble it, but without that knowledge, it seems impossible.
Without the clues here in 1st Thessalonians 4 and 5, the “puzzle” of the End-times and the Day of the Lord would be very difficult to understand.
Is there “Order” in the “Puzzle?”
We see that there is a long list of things that have to happen “in the Day of the Lord.” Only one of them falls into the category of “unknowable.” It is the Rapture of the Church. We do not know when that will occur. It could happen very soon (and we hope it does, of course.) But it also could be many years from now.
We can list fairly accurately every other item on the list of “things to come in the Day of the Lord.” The Bible requires that they come in the order given in the book of the Revelation, including all the terrible wrath and judgment, the plagues, and all the peace and joy and blessings. How do they fit together?
In 1st Thessalonians 4 and 5 we begin to see “how they fit together.”
- The Rapture of the Church: We cannot predict this accurately, and it “Comes as a thief in the Night.” then,
- The Tribulation Begins: all the details are laid out in Daniel and Revelation. The Tribulation encompasses all the judgments: all the plagues, wars, and destruction on Earthexcept one.
- The Return of the Lord (Revelation 19:11-21) comes next. He immediately sets himself to the task of The Judgment of the Living (surviving) nations (Matthew 25:31-46.) But, The Tribulation does not include the final destruction of the Heavens and the earth, as described in 2nd Peter 3:10. That destruction is 1,000 years later.
- Kingdom Age begins: The Kingdom age encompasses all the blessings and Peace and holiness and Joy that is predicted in the Old Testament Prophecies. The Jews have been waiting for and hoping for this Kingdom, over the last 3,000 years. It will fulfill all the promises of Peace and blessing in Isaiah and elsewhere. Everyone who enters the Kingdom will already be a believer, but New Generations will be born and will reach adulthood during this time…and many will hide rebellion in their hearts, even though Jesus is living on Earth, and ruling from Jerusalem. They will still rebel inwardly, just as Judas did.
- End of the Kingdom Age: Satan will be released for a short time and all those “secret rebels” will join him in an all-out siege on Jerusalem, attempting to overthrow The King. At that moment (once they have all assembled there,) the Father will rain fire from Heaven and destroy them all, and then,
- The Heaven and Earth will pass away: (“the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”, and Immediately,
- The Great White Throne Judgment will occur: (Revelation 20:11-15) This is the end of “the Day of the Lord.” All sin will have been dealt with, once for all. The “bringing in of eternal righteousness” predicted in Daniel will also happen right there, and the eternal state will begin. The New Heaven and Earth will appear after the Judgment is complete.
What are We to Do, regarding the Day of the Lord?
In 1971, there was a book written, called “What to do until the Messiah Comes.” It was entirely centered on self-improvement, humanitarian activities, peaceful, communal living, gardening, and crafts, etc. Nothing about His coming, at all.
So, What is the Problem with that Picture?
Did Jesus give instructions about “what to do until He returned?” Yes, as a matter of fact He did! And none of it had anything to do with any of the things in that book!
He said we are to be doing what he said to do, and so, to be found faithful. That includes loving our neighbor as ourselves, submitting to civil authority, demonstrating a holy lifestyle, etc. But it also includes taking the Gospel to the lost and dying World.
Philippians 2:15, 16 says we are to “shine as lights” in that dark world, and to be “holding forth the Word of life.” That means offering Eternal Life to the lost!
In 1st Corinthians 15:34, Paul admonished the Corinthian believers to “Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”
You see, they had a job to do, and they were not doing it!
So, What about Us?
The Day of the Lord has not begun, but it could begin at any time. And once it begins, then our time for voluntary obedience to Jesus (out of Love and a genuine desire to please Him with our lives) will end. Our only opportunity to “join Him in double harness,” working with Him to “do the will of Him who sent us, and to finish His Work”… will be gone forever.
The Obedience of Faith is what pleases the Lord. When the people asked Jesus “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” He replied, “This is the Work of God, that you believe on Him whom He hath sent!”
Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
If I really believe He is coming back, What then? If I can see that my time is especially short, simply because of my age, I should take this seriously. Ephesians 5:16 says to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.” More explicitly, as Colossians 4:5 says, we are to “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. This is about our relationships with unbelievers. This is “lifestyle evangelism” and “personal evangelism.” It has to be lived, but it also has to be spoken.
Some of you have friends who do not know the Lord. Some have relatives, and family members who are still lost. Give this some thought. The fact is, we all are running out of time. We are running out, and they are, too!
Lord Jesus, allow us to see our own mortality and how fleeting our time on Earth truly is. Help us to live in the Light of that Knowledge, and use wisely whatever time we have left.