The Day of the Lord
I am currently reading through the minor prophets in my daily Bible reading. I noticed that the phrase “Day of the Lord” is a common theme in much of their writing, and I thought I would do a little study on the phrase to see if I could figure out what The Day of the Lord was really all about. After each passage, I offer some conclusions about what the passage says about the Day of the Lord.
According to my ESV Study Bible, the earliest known usage of the phrase is in Amos 5:18-20:
“Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” [Amos 5:18-20]
Amos invokes the term in describing the judgment against the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians. Amos rebukes those who desire the coming day of the Lord and asks “Why would you want that?” The ESV study Bible postulates that perhaps the term had come into popular use at that time to symbolize that time when God would return and make Israel the head of all nations. Amos warns that the coming day of the Lord is not a time of safety (as having escaped from a lion) but terror (as being consumed by a bear).
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord is nothing to look forward to because it brings with it the darkness of judgment.
So, let’s see what the other prophets had to say about it. Isaiah employs the term in prophecying the coming destruction of Babylon at the hands of the Medes and Persians in Isaiah 13:6-9:
“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 human heart will melt. They will be dismayed: pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. 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 land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” [Isaiah 13:6-9]
Matthew Henry, in his concise commentary, offers the following comments on this passage:
“We have here the terrible desolation of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. Those who in the day of their peace were proud, and haughty, and terrible, are quite dispirited when trouble comes. Their faces shall be scorched with the flame. All comfort and hope shall fail. The stars of heaven shall not give their light, the sun shall be darkened. Such expressions are often employed by the prophets, to describe the convulsions of governments. God will visit them for their iniquity, particularly the sin of pride, which brings men low. There shall be a general scene of horror. Those who join themselves to Babylon, must expect to share her plagues, Rev_18:4. All that men have, they would give for their lives, but no man’s riches shall be the ransom of his life. Pause here and wonder that men should be thus cruel and inhuman, and see how corrupt the nature of man is become. And that little infants thus suffer, which shows that there is an original guilt, by which life is forfeited as soon as it is begun. The day of the Lord will, indeed, be terrible with wrath and fierce anger, far beyond all here stated. Nor will there be any place for the sinner to flee to, or attempt an escape. But few act as though they believed these things.”
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord is a time of dismay, agony, anguish desolation and judgment. It comes cruelly with wrath and fierce anger.
Jeremiah employs the term utilizing vivid terms of battle to describe God’s judgment against Egypt:
“That day is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge himself on his foes. The sword shall devour and be sated and drink its fill of their blood. For the Lord GOD of hosts holds a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.” [Jeremiah 46:10]
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord is a day of God’s vengeance against his enemies. It involves great bloodshed as God executes his judgment against his enemies.
Ezekiel refers to the Day of the Lord in two separate passages. In the first, he laments that because of the false prophets, Israel has not adequately prepared itself for the coming Day of the Lord. In the second, Ezekiel offers a gloomy vision of that day in the judgment against Egypt.
“Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the LORD.” [Ezekiel 13:3-5]
“The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: “Wail, ‘Alas for the day!’ For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. A sword shall come upon Egypt, and anguish shall be in Cush, when the slain fall in Egypt, and her wealth is carried away, and her foundations are torn down. Cush, and Put, and Lud, and all Arabia, and Libya, and the people of the land that is in league, shall fall with them by the sword.” [Ezekiel 30:1-5]
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord is a day of battle that must be prepared for. It is a day marked by clouds and doom.
The prophet Joel includes a number of sections referencing the Day of the Lord. The first warns of its imminence of the Day of the Lord reflecting the judgment against Israel by use of a locust invasion:
“Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?” [Joel 1:14-16]
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord is marked by famine and a lack of joy. Our response to its imminence should be repentance on the part of God’s followers.
Further description of the Day of the Lord is offered in the very next chapter:
“Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.
Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run. As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle.
The LORD utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” [Joel 2:1-11]
“The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. 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 2:30-31]
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord is a day of darkness, gloom and clouds. It devours like fire and leaves desolation in its path. Nothing escapes it. It brings anguish. It will be a great and awesome day which no one can endure. The sun will go dark before that day comes, but there is hope. However, anyone who calls on the name of the Lord before that day will be saved.
Finally, Joel looks forward to a future Day of the Lord and provides us with a description of what the battle on that day will be like:
“Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD. Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.” [Joel 3:9-16]
Conclusion: At some point in the future, there will be another Day of the Lord in which the great armies of the world will line up against God in the valley of decision for his judgment.
Obadiah uses the term in reference to the coming judgment of Edom.
For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, so all the nations shall drink continually; they shall drink and swallow, and shall be as though they had never been. [Obadiah 1:15-16]
Conclusion: Edom and the nations would drink of the retribution of God for their sins against Israel on the Day of the Lord.
Zephaniah’s use of the term for the judgment against Judah is as follows:
“Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; 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 everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud. “On that day,” declares 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 complacent, 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 mankind, 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 jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.” [Zephaniah 1:7-18]
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord will bring punishment for the wicked and wailing. God will judge those convinced that he does not judge good or evil. It will be a day of wrath, distress, anguish, ruin, devastation, darkness, gloom and clouds. It will bring distress on man such that they walk like the blind. Blood will be poured out, and the earth will be consumed.
Finally, Malachi refers to the Day of the Lord as the time when the Lord would become man:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” [Malachi 4:5-6]
Conclusion: Here the prophet is clearly referring to the condescension of God in taking on human flesh and dying on the cross for our sins.
New Testament References
There are also references to the Day of the Lord in the New Testament. In Acts, Luke recounts Peter’s words indicating that the prophecy of Joel was at least partially fulfilled on the day of Pentecost:
“For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” [Acts 2:15-21]
Conclusion: The prophecies of the Day of the Lord can have both short-term and long-term fulfillment.
In Romans, Paul reminds us that on the Day of Wrath, God will exercise his righteous judgment:
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” [Romans 2:4-11]
Conclusion: The future Day of Wrath will bring judgment for both the righteous and the wicked.
In 1st Corinthians, Paul speaks once again of the Day of the Lord:
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 1:1-5]
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord will bring judgment when we will either by condemned or saved by God.
In 1st Thessalonians, Paul talks about the coming Day of the Lord:
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.” [1 Thessalonians 5:1-4]
Conclusion: There will be no warning that the future Day of the Lord is coming. We should be prepared at all times for that day will bring sudden destruction.
In 2nd Thessalonians, Paul tells us more about the Day of the Lord:
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 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, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” [2 Thessalonians 2:1-12]
Conclusion: There will be no mistaking the Day of the Lord. Only God currently restrains that day from coming.
Peter tells us more about the circumstances surrounding the coming Day of the Lord:
“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. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 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!” [2 Peter 3:10-12]
Conclusion: The Day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day, the heavens will pass away. Based on this knowledge we should live lives of righteousness and holiness.
Finally, in Revelation John tells us that there will be a battle on the Day of the Lord between God and the forces of Evil:
“For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” [Revelation 16:14-16]
Conclusion: There will be a great battle at Armageddon on the coming Day of the Lord.
What then shall we say about the Day of the Lord?
The Day of the Lord is not a single day in history or in the future. It has been, and will be, repeated throughout the history of man as God brings forth just judgment against those who sin against him. Prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Obadiah referred to the Day of the Lord as judgment against individual nations which have already come to fruition. Malachi refers to the Day of the Lord as that time when God would take on human flesh to come to this earth to be tempted like us yet sinless and to die on the cross for our sins and be raised on the third day to live forever. Joel and Zephaniah refer to a yet future day when God will come to judge mankind. In the New Testament book of Acts, Peter explains that Pentecost represents the partial fulfillment of prophecy regarding the Day of the Lord. The remainder of the New Testament references are to a future Day of the Lord where the human race will be judged.
So, the Day of the Lord seems to have multiple meanings and connotations, so what is the common theme? The common theme is judgment and repentance. We will all be judged by God for our actions and attitudes. Repentance can stave off the Day of the Lord or keep people safe during that fateful day. Only by the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will we be kept safe on the future Day of the Lord. That day is coming, and we should live our lives in such a way to avoid the horror of that day and pray that by God’s grace when we stand before him he will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”