THE "DAY OF THE LORD"?
"THE DAY OF THE LORD" is a key biblical phrase in
understanding God's revelation about the future. The New
Testament writers used this phrase according to their
understanding of the Old Testament prophets. A survey of the
prophets indicates the term was used in reference to both near
historical fulfillment and far future eschatological events. The
New Testament writers picked up on the eschatological usage and
applied the phrase to both the judgment that will climax the
Tribulation period and the judgment that will usher in the new
The day of the Lord is one of the major strands woven
throughout the fabric of biblical prophecy. Without a clear
understanding of it, God's plan for the future is obscure.
"The day of the Lord" appears in four uncontested New
Testament passages (Acts 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:2;
2 Thessalonians 2:2; and 2 Peter 3:10). However, the prophets
actually wrote more about it and provided the basis for whatever
Peter and Paul understood about it.
THE OLD TESTAMENT DATA
The phrase "the day of the Lord" appears 19 times in the Old
Testament. The expression occurs in six minor and two major
Obadiah relates the family feud between Israel (Jacob) and
Edom (Esau). The theme of this book is the day of the Lord
experienced first by Edom and second by the nations (I5-16) who
walked in Edom's way. Obadiah 15 is the pivotal verse. The fact
that the language of verses 1-14 is singularly applied to Edom
warrants a near-future fulfillment---in all likelihood,
Nebuchadnezzar's plunder. However, the language of verses 15-21
points to the far future and the establishment of God's kingdom.
Walter Kaiser (pp.188-89) notes, "As for the fulfillment of this
prophecy, Obadial combined in one picture what history split into
different times and events... having near and distant events, or
multiple fulfillments, all being part of the single truth -
intention of the author with its more immediate victory over Edom
and the distant total victory of the kingdom of God."
(There is in prophecy a DUAL application in many cases. This is
one of them. See my expounding of the book of Obadiah - Keith
To summarize, Obadiah makes several contributions to the
biblical pattern. It combines the near view (with particular
reference to Edom, verses 1-14) with the far view (involving all
the nations, verses 15-21). It predicts judgment and destruction
of all the godless (verses 15-16,18). The restoration of Israel
is involved in the far view (verses 17-21) but is not evident in
the near. The near is a preview, taste, and guarantee of what the
far will involve in a lesser - to-greater logical flow. Finally,
the day of the Lord ends with the establishment of God's kingdom
(Once again see my study on this prophectic book. There will be
an end-time fulfilment of all verses - Keith Hunt)
The day of the Lord is mentioned five times in Joel (1:15;
2:1; 2:11; 2:31; 3:14). The details in each passage are similar,
but enough differences occur to suggest that Joel begins with a
very narrow historical sample (a locust plague) and expands it to
include a universal, eschatological application.
Joel uses themes in his description of the day of the Lord
that other prophets pick up later:
Joel 1:15---Destruction Isaiah-13:6
Joel 2:2---Day of Darkness Zephaniah 1:15
Joel 2:2---Day of Clouds Zephaniah 1:15; Ezekiel 30:3
Joel 2:2---Thick Darkness Zephaniah 1:15
Joel 2:11; 2:31---Great Zephaniah 1:14; Malachi 4;5
Joel 2:31; 3:15---Cosmic Disturbances Isaiah 13:10
Joel 2:31---Terrible Malachi 4:5
The locusts of Joel are real locusts or grasshoppers that
had recently played havoc with Judah's countryside. They ravaged
the fields and ruined the harvest. This vivid evidence of
destruction is the basis for Joel to warn the nation to repent
lest the day of the Lord soon come with even greater destruction
(1:15). The message of Joel 1 is that natural disasters like
locust plagues are harbingers of imminent divine destruction.
The warning of impending disaster and the past experience of the
locusts in Joel 1 are used in Joel 2 to describe the future
destruction caused by an invading human army. As Joel's prophecy
proceeds, it grows in its intensity and scope. Joel 2:18-27
functions as a transition from the near view to the far view. The
events that Joel predicts in 2:28-32 will be spectacular. God
will pour out His Spirit on all mankind (2:28-29). Cosmic
disturbances will flash God's greatness from the skies (2:30-31).
Repentance will be available to everyone (2:32; see Obadiah 17).
Most significant in 2:31 (NKJV) is the statement that the great
cosmic signs will be a prelude "before the coming of the great
and awesome day of the Lord." This seems to limit the day of the
Lord to the very end of the Tribulation if Joel 3:15, Matthew
24:29, and Revelation 6:12 refer to the same event. The day of
the Lord at the end of the Tribulation will contain unmistakable
manifestations of God's greatness. It will include both physical
disturbances (see 2 Peter 3:10) and spiritual revival.
(For a full expounding of Joel see my study of that book of the
prophets - Keith Hunt)
The prophecy in Amos 5:18,20 about the day of the Lord has
an important historical setting. The prophet wrote to the
northern tribes (7:10) and King Jeroboam, predicting their future
exile to Assyria (5:27; 6:14; 7:9; 7:17). Amaziah, the priest of
Bethel, accused Amos of conspiracy (7:10) and attempted to send
Amos back to Judah. Amos' message of judgment conflicted with
Amaziah's message of peace and prosperity.
These self-righteous Israelites mistakenly longed for the
day of Yahweh's return, which they thought would bring them
blessing and prosperity. Amos' description of the day of the
Lord was diametrically opposed to this view (5:18-20). According
to Amos, it is not a day of delight but of darkness - a day of
gloom, not gladness.
The day that Amos envisioned was the fall of Samaria in 722
B.C. (2 Kings 17). Amos stresses the inevitability of this
destruction (5:19-20). He does not use "the day of the Lord" to
portray the eschatological expression of God's judgment. However,
Amos does anticipate God's intervention on behalf of Israel to
re-establish His kingdom (9:11-15).
(The book of Amos has a most definate future filfilment. See my
study on this prophetic book - Keith Hunt)
Isaiah 2:12 is the first mention of the day of the Lord in
Isaiahs prophecy. This chapter emphasizes the future
establishment of God's kingdom (2:2-4), the present sinful state
of Israel (2:5-9), and the future day of reckoning 1:10-22). The
prophet appears to look beyond the near and into the distant
future in the judgment of 2:10-22, just as he had looked to the
eschatological kingdom in 2:1-4. Several indicators of millennial
conditions appear in 2:1-4 (see also Revelation 20:1-6). Mt.Zion
will be the world capital, and all the nations will come to it
(2:1-2) in order to seek God's word (2:3). God will judge between
the nations, and war will be no more (2:4-5). This eschatological
emphasis in 2:2-4 leads us to conclude that eschatological
judgment is in view in 2:10-22.
Isaiah describes the day of the Lord as a time of universal
humiliation for all who are proud (2:11-12,17). In contrast, God
will display the splendor of His majesty, and the population will
flee in terror to caves for protection (2:10,19,21). The Lord
alone will be exalted (2:11,17). The timing and terminology of
Isaiah 2:21 are strikingly similar to the description of the
sixth seal in Revelation 6:16-17.
Isaiah 13:1-8 deals with God's use of Babylon as His
instrument of indignation for the destruction of Israel (13:5-6).
This reminds one of Habakkuk's dismay that God would do such a
thing (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Isaiah had the day of the Lord in the
mind (13:6) even though it would not come for over l00 years,
when Babylon destroyed Judah in 586B. C.
However, Isaiah 13:9-16 speaks of implicans for the far
future: cosmic disturbances(13:10,13; see also Matthew 24:29;
Revelation 12-13; Joel 2:31) and the universal judgment mankind
(13:11; see 2:11-12). The near emiphasis returns in 13:17-22,
where Isaiah scribes the end of Babylon.
(Again, a dual application, the main one being at the time of the
end of this age. See my study on the book of Isaiah - Keith Hunt)
This prophecy pictures Judah as the sacrifice (1:7) that is
offered to God by the priest Babylon. Zephaniah begins with a
broad, universal perspective (1:1-3) and then narrows his focus
to the immediate situation of Judah 1:4-13). Finally he returns
to the universal in 1:14-18.
In vivid terms, Zephaniah 1:14 portrays the day of the Lord
as a day of wrath. He further describes it as characterized by
trouble and distress, destruction and desolation, darkness and
gloom, clouds and thick darkness, and trumpet and battle cry.
Ezekiel wrote during the fulfillment of the near day of the
Lord's judgment (13:5). He was taken captive to Babylon in 597
B.C. when Johoiachin was exiled (1:2). Ezekiel 13 was written in
592 B.C., six years after the second phase of the captivity. Here
Ezekiel prophesied against false prophets (verses 1-16) and
prophetesses (17-23). They had prophesied from their own hearts
(13:2) and preached an maginary peace when in fact there was no
Ezekiel never explicitly makes the far eschaological
application to all nations as Obadiah does in Obadiah 15-21. Yet
Charles Feinberg p.173) suggests that we may assume such an
application. The day of God's judgment on Egypt may be identified
in principle with that day when He will call all nations to
Zechariah is the first postexilic prophet to peak explicitly
of the day of the Lord. Because the Assyrian and Babylonian
judgments were history, Zechariah's entire prophecy deals with he
far eschatological expectation. His subject in chapter 14 is the
day of the Lord and its subsequent results. The chapter states
that things will get worse (14:2,5) before they get better
(14:1,14). God will then intervene against the nations and fight
on Israel's behalf (14:3-5,12-13). This pictures Christ's return
at Armageddon (see Joel 3; Matthew 24; Revelation 19) to
establish His millennial kingdom and to claim His rightful place
on the throne of David.
Zechariah always describes the day of the Lord as a day of
God's anger and wrath, not a day of God's blessing. Thus we may
conclude that it is the time when God intervenes as the righteous
judge to impose and execute His decreed punishment. After the
eschatological day of the Lord fulfills God's judgments, God will
reign on earth and bless His people. The blessings that are tied
to the day of the Lord are chronologically consequent to it, not
inherent within it.
The great and terrible day of Malachi 4:5 (see also Joel
2:11,31; Zephaniah 1:14) is described in 4:1-3. It is clearly a
day of judgment, as the reference to furnaces, fire, chaff, and
ash clearly show. It points to the end of the Tribulation, when
the wrath of the Lamb and Almighty God will be poured out (see
Revelation 6:16-17; 16:14).
(For the end time prophetic message of all the prophets see my
studies on those books - Keith Hunt)
THE PROPHETIC FULFILLMENT
God's servants the prophets spoke of the day of the Lord as
both near historical and far eschatological events. Many passages
contain a movement from the near to the far event. The prominent
theme of every "day of the Lord" prophecy is God's judgment of
sin. The blessings of God's reign are subsequent to and a result
of the day of the Lord, but they are not a part of it.
R.V. G. Tasker (p.45) observes, "The expression 'the day of the
Lord' at the time of the rise of the great prophets of Israel
denoted an event to which the Israelites were looking forward as
the day of Jehovah's final vindication of the righteousness of
His people against their enemies."
George Ladd (p.68) adds, "The prophets viewed the immediate
historical future against the background of the final
eschatological consummation, for the same God who was acting in
history would finally establish his Kingdom in the future."
"The day of the Lord" is a biblical phrase used by God's
prophets to describe either the immediate future or the ultimate
eschatological consummation. They used it to describe several
events. Readers must interpret the appearance of it in its
context to determine whether the prophet expected the immediate
historical act of God or Yahweh's ultimate eschatological
(Within all the phrases "day of the Lord" in the prophets there
is most definately a full deep fulfilment at the end of this age
- Keith Hunt)
Two periods of the day of the Lord are yet to be fulfilled
on earth: (1) the judgment that climaxes the Tribulation period
(2 Thessalonians 2:2; Revelation 16-18) and (2) the consummating
judgment of this earth that ushers in the new earth (2 Peter
3:10-13; Revelation 20:7-21:1). The Old Testament's use of "the
day of the Lord" provides a basis for a more accurate
interpretation of Acts 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians
2:2, and 2 Peter 3:10, which all have an eschatological emphasis.
G.M.Burge (p.295) notes that the New Testament maintains a
futurist expectation of the day of the Lord in relation to the
second coming of Christ in judgment on the "day of Christ"
(Philippians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:2). Thus, the New Testament
writers interpret this day in light of its eschatological
fulfillment in the future.
RICHARD L. MAYHUE
Burge, G.M. "Day of Christ, God, the Lord;" in "Evangelical
Dictionary of Theology." Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984.
Feinberg, Charles. "The Minor Prophets" Chicago: Moody Press,
Kaiser, Walter. "Towards an Old Testament Theology" Grand Rapids:
Ladd, George. "The Presence of the Future." Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974.
Price, W.K. "The Prophet Joel and the Day of the Lord" Chicago:
Moody Press, 1971.
Tasker, R.V.G. "The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God."
London. The Tyndale Press, 1951.
Entered on this Website March 2009