The day of the Lord





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by Ray Stedman

The Day of the LORD is a special term in the Bible used to refer to a period of time when God directly intervenes in human affairs---in judgment or in blessing. The Day of the Lord we are presently waiting for in our time frame will begin with the rapture (or "translation") of the church and will continue through the tribulation period (seven years), and on through the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth until the time of the "new heavens and new earth." (Rev. 21)

In contrast to the coming Day of the Lord, we can think of the present age as “The Day of Man,” because God has allowed human evil to run its full course in our time. God’s interference with man’s attempts to conduct his own affairs as he pleases, is today minimal. Although there is restraint from God on man’s attempts to run things, God is now allowing what is called “the mystery of lawlessness” to run its course. The culmination of “Man’s Day” will be the appearance on the stage of history of a great world leader, a “lawless one,” who will in actuality attempt to counterfeit God’s Messiah and King, Jesus.

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12)

At the present time Jesus Christ the Lord is indeed ruling over the earth (and indeed over the entire universe), however He is not yetreigning on the earth. It is God’s will “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11) According to God’s decree all men will one day submit to the authority of Jesus willingly or by force—one way or the other. The above quotation is repeated also in Romans 14:11 and is derived from Isaiah Chapter 45 in the Old Testament which says in part,

“…I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things…”Woe to him who strives with his Maker, an earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it, `What are you making’? or `Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, `What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, `With what are you in travail?'” Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: “Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands? I made the earth, and created man upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host…

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, `Seek me in chaos.’ I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right.

“Assemble yourselves and come, draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: `To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.'”

Before departing from his disciples for the last time from the Mount of Olives Jesus instructed his disciples giving them what has been called “The Great Commission.”

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.'” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The disciples and Christians of the First Century all expected Jesus to return very soon. Indeed this has been the hope of the true church in every generation.

Come Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free,
From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King.
Born to reign is us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne.”

       (Charles Wesley, 1707 – 1788)

The actual second coming of Christ to earth is described several places in the New Testament (as well as in the Old). Towards the very end of the First Century the aged apostle John saw the Second Advent in a great vision,

“I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev. 19:11-16)

For the unrepentant who reject Christ’s rule over them now during the present Day of grace, the fast-approaching Day of the Lord will be a time of terrible retribution, judgment and eternal destruction. For God’s people it will mean final purifying, fulfillment, and reward. The Apostle Paul describes the parousia (“presence,” or “appearing”) and the epiphaneia (“shining-forth” or second coming) of the Lord as a single event in his First letter to the Thessalonians. In our earthly time frame these two events (the rapture of the church and the second coming in power and glory) are separated by the seven years of the tribulation period

“We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brothers, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring.

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering-since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12)

The Old Testament is replete with vivid poetic descriptions of impending judgments on Israel, and/or the gentile nations, which also will be more completely carried out by the Lord at the end of the age we now live in:

“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every man’s heart will melt, and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in travail. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame. Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant, and lay low the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make men more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.” (Isaiah 13:6-13)

God’s judgments-both of men and Satan, “the god of this world (or, age)” —are especially directed at the root problem of sin—which is pride.

“Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from before the terror of the LORD, and from the glory of his majesty. The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the pride of men shall be humbled; and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; against all the high mountains, and against all the lofty hills; against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the pride of men shall be brought low; and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away.

“And men shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. In that day men will cast forth their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats, to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. Turn away from man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:10:22)

Today, the New Testament offers wonderful, complete forgiveness of all sin made possible by the death of God’s own son, Jesus, on our behalf. The full power of his resurrection enables those who follow Jesus to live whole and godly lives. Furthermore, Christ promises that his bride, the true church, will escape from the wrath to come. (See 1 Thessalonians 1:10, quoted below).

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews warns that God will soon shake not only all the cities of the earth, the foundations of all human society, but also the heavens themselves, including the “principalities and powers in the heavenly places,” the unseen angelic orders who presently control human affairs to a great extent. Only those things in heaven and on earth which God himself has built will survive!

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

Zephaniah the prophet gives us an especially vivid view of the Day of the Lord. A partial fulfillment of this prophecy occurred about 30 years later in the Babylonian captivity, however it is clear that the full implications of this prophecy are yet future:

“The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. ‘I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ says the LORD. ‘I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will overthrow the wicked; I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,’ says the LORD.

“‘I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests; those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens; those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom; those who have turned back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him.’

“Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. And on the day of the LORD’S sacrifice—‘I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. On that day I will punish every one who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud.’ ‘On that day,’ says the LORD, ‘a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, a loud crash from the hills. Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! For all the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off. At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are thickening upon their lees, those who say in their hearts, “The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.” Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.’

“The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on men, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full, yea, sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Zephaniah 1)

Zephaniah also writes of blessings upon Israel and all the nations in the days of Messiah’s visible, earthly, thousand-year reign:

“‘Therefore wait for me,’ says the LORD, ‘for the day when I arise as a witness. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger; for in the fire of my jealous wrath all the earth shall be consumed. ‘Yea, at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. ‘On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall pasture and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.’

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has cast out your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear evil no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Do not fear, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. ‘I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you together; yea, I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the LORD.” (Zephaniah 3:8-20)

Joel tells of disturbances in the heavens and great disruptions in nature associated with the Day of the Lord. These events are also described in the New Testament.

“And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the LORD shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” (Joel 2:30-32)

And in the New Testament,

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?'” (Rev. 6:12-17)

God’s ultimate purpose in judging evil is not the destruction of mankind but a new creation:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their children with them. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:17-25)

The Apostle Paul tells us that the Day of the Lord will approach and come upon the world silently and unannounced:

“But as to the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.

“But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:31-11)


For the term the Day of the Lord see Isa. 13:6, Isa. 13:9, Isa. 58:13, Jer. 46:10, Ezek. 13:5, Ezek. 30:3, Joel 1:15, Joel 2:1, Joel 2:11, Joel 2:31, Joel 3:14, Amos 5:18, Amos 5:20, Obad. 15, Zeph. 1:7, Zeph. 1:14, Zech. 14:1, Mal. 4:5, Acts 2:20, 1Cor. 5:5, 2Cor. 1:14, 1Ths. 5:2, 2Ths. 2:2, 2Pet. 3:10.

For the term that Day (which refers either to an impending or a final judgment when God intervenes) see Deut. 31:17, Deut. 31:18, 1Sam. 8:18, Isa. 2:11, Isa. 2:17, Isa. 2:20, Isa. 3:7, Isa. 3:18, Isa. 4:1, Isa. 4:2, Isa. 7:18, Isa. 7:20, Isa. 7:21, Isa. 7:23, Isa. 10:20, Isa. 10:27, Isa. 11:10, Isa. 11:11, Isa. 12:1, Isa. 12:4, Isa. 17:4, Isa. 17:7, Isa. 17:9, Isa. 19:16, Isa. 19:18, Isa. 19:19, Isa. 19:21, Isa. 19:23, Isa. 19:24, Isa. 20:6, Isa. 22:8, Isa. 22:12, Isa. 22:20, Isa. 22:25, Isa. 23:15, Isa. 26:1, Isa. 27:1, Isa. 27:2, Isa. 27:12, Isa. 27:13, Isa. 28:5, Isa. 29:18, Isa. 30:23, Isa. 31:7, Isa. 52:6, Jer. 4:9, Jer. 30:8, Jer. 48:41, Jer. 49:22, Jer. 49:26, Hosea 2:16, Hosea 2:21, Joel 3:18, Amos 2:16, Amos 8:3, Amos 8:13, Amos 9:11, Micah 2:4, Micah 4:6, Micah 5:10, Micah 7:11, Micah 7:12, Zech. 2:11, Zech. 3:10, Mark 2:20, Luke 6:23, John 14:20, John 16:23, John 16:26.

Paul uses the term “the day of Christ” in 1 Cor. 1:8, Phlp. 1:10 and 2:16.

Notes from the New Scofield Reference Bible: The Day of the LORD (Jehovah), Summary: The Day of the LORD is that period of time when God openly intervenes in the affairs of men–in judgment and in blessing. See Joel 1:15, note. It will begin with the translation of the Church and will terminate with the cleansing of the heavens and the earth preparatory to the bringing into being of the new heavens and the new earth.

The order of events appears to be:

  1. the rapture of the Church just preceding the beginning of the Day of the LORD (I Th. 4:13-17);
  2. the fulfillment of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:27), the latter half of which is the great tribulation (Mt. 24:21; see Rev. 7:14, note;
  3. the return of the Lord in glory to establish the millennial kingdom (Mt. 24:29-30);
  4. the destruction of the beast, the false prophet, and their armies, which is the “great and terrible” aspect of the day. (Rev. 19:11-21);
  5. the judgment of individual Gentiles according to their treatment of his brethren, the Jewish people (Zech. 14:1-9; Mt. 25:31-46) and the judgment of Israel (Ezek. 20:3438);
  6. the millennial reign of Christ on earth (Rev. 20:4-6);
  7. the satanic revolt and its judgment (Rev. 20:7-10),
  8. the resurrection and final judgment of the wicked (Rev. 20:11-15);
  9. the destruction of the present earth and heaven by fire preparatory for the future “day of God” (2 Pet. 3:10-12); and
  10. the creation of the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17-19; 66.22; 2 Pet. 3-.13; Rev. 21:1).

Especially recommended for a better understanding of this complex subject are Ray Stedman’s commentary on the two letters to the Thessalonians, his Expository study on the Olivet Discourse, and his commentary on the book of the Revelation. These are all available on line as well as in book form.

The Ray C. Stedman Library.