MORE FROM PROPHECY COURSE
THE DAY OF THE LORD
The Day of the Lord
(Joel 1-3, Ezekiel 32, various)
What is the day of the Lord? The day of the Lord is a term often misused to point at the last day of history, the day when the Lord Jesus comes again to wrap everything up and judge the living and the dead. But is that truly what the “day of the Lord” means? In this lesson, we put proper context around this Jewish expression.
TAKE-AWAYS FROM THIS LESSON
- What does “day of the Lord” mean?
- What does it mean to “come in the clouds”?
There is a common notion that the day of the Lord is the same as the day of Christ, when Jesus returns to earth at the end of days, but we are mistaken if we think there is only one day of the Lord.
The “day of the Lord” is a poetic Jewish idiom for expressing a cosmic “lights out” from God. Always expressed in the form of an invading army released by God Himself, the day of the Lord is judgment from above by sword below. God’s wrath is coming for you and there is nowhere to hide.
Now, I just have to prove it to you. So, let us establish the truth out of the mouths of two or three witnesses. Buckle up, campers; there is a lot of Scripture here!
The Sun Will Be Darkened (Major Examples)
One of our clearest pictures of the day of the Lord comes to us through the book of Joel. Probably writing when Israel was still emerging from their Babylonian exile, Joel offers us a single conditional prophecy: Judgment will confront Israel again at the hands of a northern army (2:20). Will Israel repent and return to the Lord when the time comes? In his prophetic download, Joel uses the term “day of the Lord” five times (1:15, 2:1, 11, 31, 3:14). His vision opens with an image of crops being decimated by locusts and an ensuing famine, but quickly the army of locusts darkens into a powerful invading army as part of a cataclysmic national judgment. The message? Destruction is optional, life is available, return your hearts to the Lord.
One of the most distinguishing phrases commonly used in “day of the Lord” imagery makes use of what we call “cosmic decreation” language. Cosmic decreation or deconstruction is exactly what it sounds like; the universe itself is unraveling—or at least, your little slice of it. Per Joel 2:31: “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” In Joel 3:15: “The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.”
Jeremiah & Ezekiel
But there are many examples of “day of the Lord” language in the Old Testament. Before Joel, the prophets Jeremiah (46:10) and Ezekiel lamented judgment coming to Egypt at the hand of the Babylonians. Read Ezekiel 32 and see the depth of poetic judgment language God is laying down! “I will lay your flesh upon the mountains, and fill the valleys with your height.” (v5) Crimson rivers glutted with bodies, images of sword and shame and graves! And of course, in Ezekiel 32:7: “And when I put you out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light.”
Isaiah foretells judgment coming to Babylon at the hand of the Medes, fulfilled in 539 BC. Chapter 13:9-11: “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners from. For the stars of heaven and the constellations shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”
More Old Testament Examples of the Day of the Lord
- Isaiah 2:12 (judgment over Israel): “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:”
- Amos 5:18,20 (judgment over Israel): “Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! To what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.”
- Malachi 3:5, 4:1,5 (foreshadowing the coming Messiah and fall of Israel in 70 AD): “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:”
- Nahum (judgment over Nineveh at the hands of Babylon, 612 BC)
- Zechariah 14:1-9 (judgment over Israel)
- Obadiah and Isaiah 34 (judgment over Edom)
- Habakkuk 3:11,16 (judgment over the Chaldeans (Babylonians))
Clouds, Darkness and the Day of the Lord
As I began to pull this lesson together, I initially tried to carve out the cloud connection as a separate talk. However, as I continued to study, the connection between clouds, darkness and the day of the Lord is so close, so intertwined, I could not.
Clouds are key in “day of the Lord” imagery. Why? Because mortals do not walk among the clouds. God manifested Himself to Israel in the clouds in Exodus, in the wilderness, in the tabernacle and in the temple. In Old Testament and New, clouds are considered to be the visible evidence of the invisible presence and power of God. From a judgment perspective, your country’s spiritual darkness is now being matched by the physical world around you; you, in your wickedness, are now cut off from the light of God’s grace. Yes, clouds bring life-giving rain, but they may also destroy you through floods, hail and lightning and—if the clouds are actually smoke from your city as it burns to the ground—their presence may mean you’re in rebellion and have stepped out from under the protective wing of God.
Looking back to Joel 2:2, notice, “A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness…”
When referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah in 586 BC, the prophet Zephaniah (1:15) said, “That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness…”
Per Ezekiel 30:3, “For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.”
In Nahum 1:3, a warning of judgment coming to Nineveh at the hands of the Babylonians and Medes, as fulfilled in 612 BC: “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” You will see a connection between the desolations described by both Nahum and Joel.
In 2 Samuel 22:7-10, we see David singing about the day God delivered him out of the hands of Saul and his armies: “He bowed [parted] the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet.” Other translations say “thick darkness” was under God’s feet. The NIV says “dark clouds.” We also see this same language used in David’s Psalm 18 about the same event. “He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.” (v11)
God’s warning to Israel in Isaiah 5:30 declares: “And in that day, they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.” The ESV says, “…the light is darkened by its clouds.”
In Isaiah 19:1: “The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rides upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.”
Finally, there is a sense that God hides His face behind the clouds as He turns away from you. The whole short book of Lamentations is a snapshot of the humiliation and sorrow to come out of Israel’s Babylonian fall and exile. Per Lamentations 2:1: “How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!”
To Whom Does the Day of the Lord Belong?
I want to drive home a point here: Though always delivered by a reprobate foreign army, the day of the Lord is always served as judgment by God Himself!
Joel 1:15: “Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.”
Joel 2:11: “And the Lord shall utter His voice before His army: for His camp is very great: for he is strong that executes His word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?”
Isaiah 13:11: “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”
I encourage you to go back and review the day of the Lord examples I already mentioned. Notice, over and over, it is God delivering judgment. Yes, foreign armies are the tool, but it is God fanning their desire for conquest and setting their attention upon the wicked nation.
Day of the Lord as Prophesied in the New Testament
Right! That was a lot of Old Testament! Well, you may wonder, do we see the “day of the Lord” in the New Testament? I’m glad you asked!
Welcome to one of the trouble-spots in Bible prophecy; the hotly-debated, oft-misunderstood Olivet Discourse. Though Jesus’ judgment over Israel from the Mount of Olives is not the focus of this lesson, it seems the 400+ years between Malachi and Matthew is enough for us to forget all about the day of the Lord imagery we just left in the Old Testament. Many have literalized this Jewish expression into representing the end of the physical cosmos, when—as our Old Testament witnesses just illustrated—it is a poetic, allegorical expression for national judgment. Matthew 24:29-30: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Mark, in his gospel (13:24-26), “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” And of course, Luke’s synoptic account (21:25-27) offers similar language.
Let’s pause for a moment to piece this together.
- Who is the Son of man? Jesus claimed this title.
- Who is Jesus? The Son of God, equal in His divinity and one with the Father and Spirit, the Jewish Messiah.
- And class, what does it mean to be coming in the clouds? Day of the Lord judgment coming to one nation at the hands of another.
- Can Jesus—like His Father—bring day of the Lord judgment upon Israel? Absolutely. He even promised He would.
Jesus declares this same judgment again in Matthew 26:63-64, this time to Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest: “But Jesus held his peace and the high priest answered and said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘As you’ve said. Nevertheless, I say to you, you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.’” Jesus is threatening Caiaphas! (Call it “promising,” or maybe even “taunting” or “provoking.”) Caiaphas is promised to see “day of the Lord” judgment, which we know came to Jerusalem at the hands of Rome in 70 AD, 40 years later.
Peter, in Acts 2:20, quotes Joel 2:31 saying, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come.” The Jewish people knew—if the prophecy of Joel was coming true before them through the speaking of tongues—the rest of Joel’s prophetic judgment about an invasion by a northern army would soon follow! Property values in Jerusalem were about to tank! Joel 2:32 says “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved…” so absolutely, many came to Christ this day!
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we see a vivid picture of Christ’s return, however this passage is often conflated with the next several verses, which speak of the impending day of the Lord judgment approaching the Jewish nation. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4: “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write to you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” As history tells us, Israel was delivered over to the Roman army in fulfillment of this day of the Lord.
Here we see a connection between 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12, where Paul speaks of Christ’s Final Judgment, and its appearance in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Revelation 20:11-15. Then, in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul transitions to the incoming day of the Lord (“that the day of the Lord has come” v1-2). As we saw between 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, Paul uses this exact same pattern again when he moves between the Final Judgment of 2 Thessalonians 1 to the approaching day of the Lord of 2 Thessalonians 2, which we know climaxed in 70 AD. Unfortunately, the day of Christ (Jesus’ Second Coming and the White Throne Judgment) is often conflated with the day of the Lord (national judgment) and is taught as the same event (e.g. 1 Thes 4 is merged with 1 Thes 5, 2 Thes 1 is merged with 2 Thes 2.) However, in both his letters to Thessalonica, Paul teaches about these two separate events and he does so in the same order, moving from future Final Judgment to near-future national judgment.
2 Peter 3:10, “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.” 2 Peter 3 is difficult and requires more context for a full explanation. Suffice it to say—in light of all the other “day of the Lord” examples—modern Bible students need to slow down and look deeper. (For instance, the periodic table of elements did not exist at the time this was written so “elements” does not refer to material reality. The word “elements” (stoikion) refers to the Mosaic Law and the Old Covenant religious order, as it does in Galatians 4:3, 4:9 and Hebrews 5:12. But 2 Peter 3 is its own lesson for another day. Stay with me.)
Finally, Revelation has a couple “day of the Lord” examples. Speaking of Jesus, Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, he comes with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”
Revelation 6:12-13: “And I beheld when he [Jesus] had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” Man, that sure sounds like Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse, doesn’t it? Hmm. I wonder if there is a connection?
And that is the “day of the Lord” with a healthy helping of “coming in the clouds.” In this lesson, I’ve established that both are poetic decreation expressions—a cosmic “lights out” by God—warning of impending national judgment at the hands of a foreign invading army.
Well, brothers and sisters, it’s time to call “lights out” on this lesson. Remember: It’s the Truth that sets you free.
Scripture Revealed. “Melting Elements”. Retrieved from https://www.scripturerevealed.com/prophecy/melting-elements/.