What is the day of the Lord?

Last updated on March 18, 2024

For many, “the day of the Lord” brings up the picture of a great battle at the end of the world, in which beasts rampage all over the earth. Although this image may find some resonance in the last book of the Bible, it completely misses the meaning and importance of this biblical phrase. Let us therefore look at what the Bible has to say about this day.

The day of judgment

The day of the Lord” appears numerous times in the Old Testament, exclusively in the prophets. It is repeatedly described as a great and awesome day, in which God comes to show His power over evil. Darkness and fear will spread over the land because God will judge evil. Notably, the day of the Lord often describes an event that is not distant, but to be expected very soon. We see in Joel:

“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!” (Joel 2:1-2). By judging the evil nations around Israel, God delivers His people from oppression, just like He did when He freed them from Egypt in the book of Exodus. The day of the Lord thus signifies a moment in which God comes to do away with the evil nations and save Israel.

Israel is not exempt

This does not mean, however, that Israel will always escape God’s judgment. God made clear that if the Israelites follow the sinful ways of the surrounding nations, they too will be judged (see Deuteronomy 28:15). Amos even warns the sinful Israelites that they should not hope for God’s judgment, as if the day of the Lord would benefit them.

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18). If the people of Israel ignore God’s commands, they too will experience God’s wrath on the day of the Lord and those who are proud and lofty, will be brought down (Isaiah 2:12). The day of the Lord in the Old Testament thus does not only signify a day of judgment on the nations, but also a day of judgment on the Israelites themselves.

Jesus’ coming as the new day of the Lord

The phrase “the day of the Lord”, or parallel phrases like “the day of judgment”, is picked up in the New Testament and given a new meaning. (For example: Matthew 24:42, 1 Thessalonians 5:1 and 2 Peter 3:8-9) Most of the time, it refers to the judgment that will take place when our Lord Jesus returns. On that day, when the trumpet sounds, Jesus will come back in all His glory to execute His judgment on the wickedness on the earth and gather every faithful believer. This will be the great and final day of the Lord. At the same time, the day of the Lord has already come at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out (Acts 2:16-21); believers are already in union with Christ, saved from sin and empowered by the Spirit to do good works, but still await the fullness of His presence at His second coming.

What will the day of the Lord be like for me?

So, how are Christians to respond? People often approach the day of the Lord with questions like: “When will this day happen?”, “What will happen before it?”, “Will it happen in our lifetime?”. These questions are certainly worth exploring, but I think the most important question to ask is: “What will this day be like for me?” This day will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2) for those who live in darkness, but if we are living in the light of Christ, this day will not surprise us (1 Thessalonians 5:4). If we obey His Word, it will be the day of unending joy. For the day of His return will be terrible for those who do not love God, but for those who humble themselves before Christ, it will be the day of salvation.

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