THE DAY OF THE LORD
By David Noakes
There is today a famine of the truth of the word of God in many parts of the church, and it is a famine which is increasing in severity. It is of the greatest importance that in the difficult days that lie ahead, God’s people should not find themselves either deceived by false teaching or taken unawares by events that their teachers had not told them to expect. It is a matter of urgency that we try to grasp clearly and accurately the whole of what Scripture predicts for the closing days of this age - but stripped of the speculation and sensationalism which so often surrounds it.
To establish truth, we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit; and we need to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, allowing the word of God to be its own commentary upon itself, and letting the weight of the whole of the prophetic writings taken together build up a clear picture of the events which are being predicted. It could be likened to a jigsaw puzzle, scattered through the pages of the books of the prophets, which only the Holy Spirit can assemble correctly.
The topic of ‘the Day of the Lord’ is a thread that is interwoven into the Scriptures from the time of the earliest writing prophet, Obadiah, right through to the book of Revelation. Almost every prophet makes reference to it, either directly or indirectly. Sometimes, as with Isaiah in chapters 9-12, their prophetic vision leaps back and forth, from the time of the immediate future of which they are speaking, to the time of the end of this age. Sometimes, as with Joel and Zephaniah, the Day of the Lord is completely central to their writings, and the prophetic revelation arises either out of considering historical events that have already taken place - in Joel’s case a judgement on the Land of Israel by means of an invasion of locusts which had already happened in his own day (Joel 1: 1 - 2: 11) - or as with Zephaniah, out of a prophetic awareness of the imminence of the invasion and destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, which took place some 45 years later in 586 BCE (Zeph 1: 4 - 2: 3; 3: 1-13).
A major theme of biblical prophecy
The Day of the Lord is a theme to which the prophets were drawn like moths to a candle flame. What is this great event that so occupied their thoughts and which keeps breaking into their writings as if they had suddenly taken off their reading glasses and instead had picked up a telescope to gaze with astonishing clarity of vision into the distant future?
It is a major theme of biblical prophecy, running like an unbroken thread through the writings of the Hebrew prophets, in which the phrase ‘the Day of the Lord’, with its unique significance, occurs 21 times between Isaiah 2: 12 and the very last verse of the Old Testament, Malachi 4: 5. Parallel to that phrase is another that has similar theological significance when used by the prophets: ‘in that day’, which is found 107 times in their writings and out of which 80 references are directly relative to the future Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord is thus mentioned by the prophets more than 100 times. It is continuously into the book of Isaiah, appearing in no fewer than 17 of the first 35 chapters. Of the 17 books of the Old Testament prophets, only five fail to mention it directly by name; and of those five, Daniel in chapters 7-12 deals with the subject extensively, while both Nahum and Habakkuk also contain relevant prophecy relating to the closing days of this age. This prophetic theme continues through the New Testament, emerging, for example, in the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24: 15-31; Mk. 13: 14-27; Lk. 21: 20-36), in 1 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude and of course almost the whole of the book of Revelation.
How should we understand this term ‘the Day of the Lord’ and its counterpart ‘In that day’? What do they signify? There is no special significance in the actual Hebrew or Greek words used in the two phrases. In the Hebrew Old Testament the ordinary Hebrew word for day, yom, is used; while in the Septuagint and the New Testament the usual Greek word, hemera, is found. Yom is translated variously in the Scriptures as ‘day’, ‘time’ or ‘year’. It can express either a particular point in time, or a period of time that may extend during months or even years. When included in the phrases ‘the Day of the Lord’ or ‘in that day’, it is used prophetically to indicate a particular future period of time when God’s personal and direct intervention in human history will occur in order to fulfil His purposes.
What are these purposes? The evidence from Amos 5: 18 indicates that the popular understanding among the people at the time of his ministry in the northern kingdom of Israel (c.760 BCE) was that it would be a day when God would intervene in such a way as to exalt Israel to be chief among the nations, irrespective of Israel’s unfaithfulness towards Him. This was the view being taken by the people at a time of relative peace and prosperity, which had led to great complacency (Amos 6: 1-7). Amos, however, hastens to disabuse them of such an idea. The Day of the Lord will certainly be an occasion when God intervenes, but first to punish sin, which has reached a climax: ‘Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light ... will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light - pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?’ (Amos 5: 18, 20).
All the prophetic writings
confirm Amos’s understanding of the Day of the Lord as
a day of terror, involving the invasion of
The great day of the Lord is near - near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. (Zeph 1: 14-16)
Both these and other passages in the prophetic writings underscore the fact that the Day of the Lord is to be a day when the terror of divine Judgement is to be poured out on the unbelieving nation of Israel (see, e.g., Isaiah 2: 6-21; Jeremiah 30: 4-17; Joel 1: 15 - 2: 11; Malachi 4: 1). Yet this by no means represents the whole of God’s purposes at that time. The unbelieving nations of the world will also be brought into judgement; and in addition a surviving remnant of the nation of Israel will enter into a national conversion, forgiveness of sins, cleansing, and restoration to possession of the entirety of the Land that God Promised to Abraham (see, e.g., Isaiah 4: 2-6; Jeremiah 30: 18-31:40; Micah 4: 1-8; Zechariah 12: 10 - 13: 2).
The tribulation period
The Day of the Lord is always
found in the context of a prophetic prediction of a future disaster, involving
certain signs that will portend its arrival, notably convulsions of nature and
periods of darkness in the sky. The Day itself involves the direct intervention of God in the affairs
of men, bringing judgement and great destruction upon Israel through military
invasion by the Gentile nations, which in turn results in destruction by God of
those armies at the return of the Lord Jesus and deliverance for the repentant
remnant of Israel. This
leads directly into the fullness of restoration of both the nation and the
What we are describing is thus that period of prophetic prediction in human history known in the New Testament as the Tribulation or the Great Tribulation. It may be helpful to tabulate some of the other terms used in the Old Testament to represent this period of time. It is variously referred to as:
The Time of Jacob’s Trouble . Jeremiah 30: 7
His wrath. Isaiah 26: 20
The Overwhelming Scourge . Isaiah 28: 15, 18
God’s Strange Work. Isaiah 28: 21
God’s Alien Task. Isaiah 28: 21
Day of Vengeance. Isaiah 34: 8; 35: 4; 61: 2
The Seventieth Week of Daniel . Daniel 9: 27
The Time of Wrath. Daniel 11: 36
The Time of Distress. Daniel 12: 1
The Day of Pitch-darkness, without a ray of brightness. Amos 5: 18
The Day of Darkness and Gloom. Joel 2: 2; Zephaniah 1: 15
The Day of Clouds and Blackness. Joel 2: 2; Zephaniah 1: 15
The Day of Judah’s Disaster. Obadiah 13
The Day of Wrath. Zephaniah 1: 15
The Day of Distress and Anguish. Zephaniah 1: 15
The Day of Trouble and Ruin. Zephaniah 1: 15
The Day of Trumpet and Battle-Cry. Zephaniah 1: 15
These descriptions alone are sufficient
to indicate that this period will be a time of unparalleled distress for the
whole world, but pre-eminently for the house of Jacob, for whom it will be the
final outworking of God’s judgement upon their national sin and apostasy. This must come to pass before the restoration
of the kingdom to
The uniqueness of the nation of Israel
To understand rightly what the
Scriptures reveal, it is of critical importance to bear in mind that what we
are examining is the writings of Hebrew prophets, prophesying to Hebrews about
what is primarily, in the purposes of God, an event which involves His final
dealing in judgement with the nation of
It is impossible to understand the events that will mark the closing days of this age without understanding the relationship between Hebrew Israel, the physical descendants of Jacob, and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This relationship is special, unique and irreplaceable; and no third party, including the church, can ever be a substitute within it.
A key biblical distinction is
between the place of
The Bible speaks of
The consistent testimony of the
many passages of Scripture that relate to God’s future dealings with the nation
Judgement and salvation
Scriptures predict exactly what
we see today in the nation-state of
An examination of the passages of Scripture dealing with the topic of the Day of the Lord leads to the realisation that, as we have already said, the period of time being described in the Old Testament writings is the same as that which the New Testament identifies as the great tribulation (Rev 7: 14). At every place in Scripture where the phrase ‘the Day of the Lord’ is to be found, it is in a context which relates it to the tribulation period.
Although the period of the
tribulation is first and foremost the time of Jacob’s trouble, it will include
also God’s judgement on the Gentile nations and will result in the salvation and restoration of the surviving
remnant of the nation of
To put some more flesh on these bones and to substantiate what has been said, we need to examine certain key passages of Scripture that make detailed reference to the Day of the Lord. Since, however, the theme runs like a continuous thread through the prophetic writings, from Isaiah to Revelation, we cannot attempt to cover every place where it is mentioned.
Let us begin with the book of
Joel, after Obadiah the first of the writing prophets to deal with the subject
of the Day of the Lord. He prophesied to
Military invasion of the Land of Israel
Joel describes an actual historical invasion of the Land by locusts in four
successive waves (v. 4),
bringing total destruction of the crops.
From an examination of Jeremiah 15: 3 and Ezekiel 14: 21, it is apparent that,
prophetically, four stages of a disaster indicate its completeness. It brings lamentation among the people and a
call to the priests for national repentance (vv. 13-14). From the springboard of this account of an
actual invasion by locusts in Joel’s own day, he moves immediately into the
prophetic future, using the analogy of the invasion by locusts to describe an
invasion of the
Although there was at least some
limited measure of fulfilment of this prophecy in both the Assyrian and the
Babylonian invasions of 722 BCE and 586 BCE respectively, this passage has its
real and ultimate fulfilment in an even more catastrophic event yet to
come. This invasion will be the worst in
than three centuries later, following the return of the remnant of Judah from
the Babylonian exile, the prophet Zechariah received a more detailed account of
that same invasion, which even the post-exileic period was still revealed as a
future event. In Zechariah 12, the Lord states in verses
2 and 3: ‘I am going to make
Turning to the book of Zephaniah, whose central theme is also that of the Day of the Lord (1: 14), we find that the whole of chapter 3 is speaking to the unrepentant city of Jerusalem concerning God’s future judgement, and beyond that to the subsequent restoration of a saved remnant of her people. Again, we are told that God’s judgement will be executed at the hands of Gentile nations, who will in turn themselves be judged by the Lord. Zephaniah 3: 7-8 reads:
‘I said to the city, “Surely you will fear me and accept correction!” Then her dwelling would not be cut off, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did. Therefore, wait for me,’ declares the Lord, ‘for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them - all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.’
To digress briefly at this point, the translation here may be somewhat misleading. The final sentence, translating the Hebrew word erets, which is translated only rarely as ‘world’, but more usually as either ‘earth’ or ‘land’, says that the whole world will be consumed, while the KJV renders it ‘All the earth shall be devoured.’ Both translations appear to assume that God has here turned His attention to speaking solely of His judgement on the Gentile nations of the world. However, God never states that He is jealous over the nations of the world, but states frequently that He is jealous over His people Israel and over the city of Jerusalem; and in the context of the whole passage, it may be that the final sentence of 3: 8 should read: ‘The whole land will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.’ This statement can be understood either to be literal, or as a metaphorical expression of the overflowing of the Lord’s heated indignation against the corruption about which He has already protested with solemn warnings.
The likelihood of this
possibility appears to be reinforced by an examination of the language used by Zephaniah in chapter 1. In verses 2 and 3, which clearly refer to widespread destruction on the whole
inhabited earth in the day of the Lord’s judgement, the word translated ‘earth’ is adamah; whereas in verse 18, in the context of a passage
which begins in verse 4 and in which the prophet is
specifically addressing Judah, the word erets is chosen. This distinction in
the choice of language in the original inspired texts is surely significant for
our understanding and interpretation: adamah is used to describe the earth as a whole, erets when the
God speaks primarily to Israel, secondarily to the Gentiles
A factor of importance in our eschatological understanding of biblical
prophecy concerning the closing days of this age is that although it is not at
all unusual for the prophets to speak of specific Gentile nations as being the
recipients of God’s judgement, when they do it is almost invariably made clear
by the fact that those nations are mentioned by name. Except
where that is the case, we need to bear in mind that the usual task of the
Hebrew prophets was to prophesy to their own people concerning the nation and
The rest of the world will, of course, experience the supernatural manifestations of the wrath of God as revealed in appalling detail in the Book of Revelation; and the clear implication of scriptures such as those found, for example, in Isaiah 24 and in the Olivet Discourse is that the entire world will experience the shakings and disasters that result from the overflowing of God’s judgement upon the sin of all the nations (cf. Hag. 2: 20-22 and Heb. 12: 26-27). When the world’s cup of iniquity is full, His final judgements will fall in the Day of the Lord.
Worldwide warning signs
We have already quoted Amos 5: 18 and 20, stating that the Day of the Lord will be ‘darkness, not light - pitch-dark, without a ray of
to Joel 2: 2 we find
similarly, that the day will be one of ‘darkness and gloom, a day of
clouds and blackness’, and in 2: 10 that ‘the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine’. This is not just symbolic darkness; there
will also be a literal aspect to it.
Jesus said in Luke 21: 25 that ‘there will be signs in the sun, moon and stars’.
Even as there was physical darkness when Jesus was enduring the
judgement of God against sin at
The terrible invasion described
in Joel 2 brings forth God’s call to
Salvation of a remnant
Following this repentance, God
responds to the surviving remnant and delivers those who have called upon Him
for salvation (2: 32; see
also Mal. 3:
16 - 4: 3). The
second part of Joel’s prophecy moves from the invasion and destruction of
Thus far, we see the Day of the
Lord as being a time of terrible judgement on the Land and nation of
(a) upheavals in nature;
(b) a period of unnatural darkness.
These are warnings to all those
who have ears to hear and especially to
‘In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, “They are my people,” and they will say, “‘The Lord is our God.’”
Romans 9: 26-29, Paul quotes from Hosea 1: 10, Isaiah 10: 22-23 and Isaiah 1: 9 to establish the fact that a remnant of Israel will be saved; and on examination of the scripture that he quoted from Isaiah 10, we find that it is at the time of the Day of Lord, the complete quotation beginning in verse 20 with the theologically significant phrase ‘in that day’. The whole passage, Isaiah 10: 20-23, reads:
In that day the
Jesus also confirmed that there would be a surviving remnant. In Matthew 24: 15, He turns His attention to the time of the great tribulation and gives prophetic warnings relating to it. It is to be, in Judea particularly (v. 16), a time of unparalleled distress (v. 21) from which there would be no survivors except for divine intervention (v. 22), but God will intervene and bring an end to the tribulation in Judea ‘for the sake of the elect’ - that is, the remnant of Israel that is to be saved out of it.
The ‘Little Apocalypse’ of Isaiah 24-27
Another key passage of Scripture that is prophetic of the Day of the Lord is the ‘Little Apocalypse’ of Isaiah 24-27. Many commentators appear to think that the whole of chapter 24 is speaking about God’s judgement solely on a worldwide basis, but this assumption does not seem to equate with the usual prophetic methods of expression.
We noted previously that when
the Hebrew prophets are speaking about nations other than
It appears significant when
considering the language of Isaiah 24 that
when the prophet wishes to make reference to the earth in a worldwide sense, he
uses a different Hebrew word. In this
context he does not use erets but adamah, which means the ground or the soil of the dry land. Adamah is used in Isaiah 23: 17, where
Of the two occasions when the word translated as ‘the earth’ or ‘the world’ is not the usual erets, Isaiah employs the word adamah, once in verse 21; while on the other occasion in verse 4, he uses the less common word for the habitable earth, tebel, sandwiched between two uses of erets in the very same verse. Why should there be these variations of usage on only two out of seventeen occasions when ‘the earth’ is in view?
It is easy to see in verses 21-23 that
the prophetic revelation shifts its emphasis into a clear global perspective of
judgement upon world rulers, both human
and spiritual; hence the change of emphasis signified by the sudden use of
the different word adamah. In verse 4,
however, the sudden single use of tebel may be to enable the prophet to speak in the same sentence of
the simultaneous total impoverishment of both the
It seems very probable, from the
actual content of this chapter also, that the prophecy does relate primarily to
However, in the context in which Isaiah is writing in chapter 24, it seems much more likely that the broken covenant which is in the prophet’s view is God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, expressed in 1 Chronicles 16: 15-18 and Psalm 105: 8-11 to be an ‘everlasting covenant’ concerning Israel’s inheritance of the Land of Canaan, ultimately to be possessed by the restored nation in its entirety from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Euphrates (Deut 11: 24). What, one must ask, would amount to an infraction of this covenant by God’s chosen people? Could it be that in the sight of God the willingness to surrender His Land (Joel 3: 2) in return for a spurious peace amounts to such a denial of that covenant He has made with His people?
In verses 10 and 12 we find reference to a ruined,
desolate city, which would fit with the condition of
In verses 18b-20 of Isaiah 24 the Scripture makes reference to a great earthquake. Is this to be a worldwide earthquake? In Zechariah 14: 4-5 it is
predicted that in the Day of the Lord there will be a great earthquake in the
Land of Israel which splits the Mount of Olives in two immediately prior to the
Lord’s Second Coming. Revelation 11, which speaks of events in
God’s subsequent judgement of the nations
to the book of Joel, the prophet’s attention turns in chapter 3 towards the judgement of the
Gentile nations of the world.
This also forms part of the events of the Day of the Lord, and will
happen (v. 1) the
time of God’s restoration of the fortunes of
Judgement on their armies
Verses 9-11 underline that the nations have come to
Judgement on the individual Gentile survivors on that Day
Following this deliverance, and the repentance and restoration of the surviving remnant and of the Land, which we have already mentioned and which is also described in Zechariah 12: 10-13: 1 and 14: 6-11, the returned Messiah will bring the survivors of all the nations before Him for judgement in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3: 1-8, 12-17). They will be there in huge numbers (v. 14).
The judgement of God upon the
Gentiles will be on the basis of either their anti-Semitism or their
pro-Semitism (v. 2). His charges against them will be those of
scattering the people of
Judgement of particular nations
Space will not permit the lengthy examination of God’s dealings with specific individual nations, but Scripture has much to say on the subject. For example:
Babylon and Edom (the descendants of Esau) will both become permanent desolate wastelands, dwelling-places only for demons (Jer. 50: 35-40; 51: 37-43 [Babylon]; Jer. 49: 13, 15-18; Obad. 15-18; Is. 34: 5-16 [Edom]).
descendants of Lot (the nations of
Philistia will be taken over by
The establishment of the millennial kingdom
final outcome of the Day of the Lord is the establishment of the millennial
kingdom. The Lord will dwell in
What will be the signs to warn us of the
impending approach of the Day of the Lord?
1. Specific to the nation of Israel will be the re-establishment of the ministry of the prophet Elijah, which will have the particular emphasis of calling the nation to repentance in the area of its collapsing family relationships (Mal. 4: 5).
2. We have already seen in Joel 2: 31-32 the prophetic prediction that ‘before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’, there will be certain signs:
(a) ‘wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke’ (v. 30), corresponding to the effects of the first, second, fifth and sixth trumpet judgements found in Revelation 8: 7-9 and Revelation 9: 1-21;
(b) ‘the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood’ (v. 32), corresponding to the judgement released at the Lamb’s opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6: 12-17.
The whole of the order of nature in the heavens and on the earth will be thrown into turmoil and upheaval as a result of the out-pouring of the judgements of God, before the culmination of the Day of the Lord in the Armageddon campaign and the Second Coming of Messiah.
Isaiah 13: 9-10, Amos 5: 20 and Zephaniah 1: 15 all speak similarly of periods of darkness coming over the earth at that time, and Jesus underlined these events during the Olivet Discourse. He says in Luke 21 that:
(a) there will be ‘wars and revolutions’ (v. 9);
(b) ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom’ (v. 10);
(c) we’ll see ‘great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places’ (v. 11);
(d) there will be ‘fearful events and great signs from heaven’ (v. 11);
(e) ‘before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you’ (v. 12). All these events of war, and upheavals of nature on earth and in the heavenly bodies, have been predicted by more than one of the writing prophets. Daniel 9: 26, speaking of the times of the end when the Antichrist will rule, says: ‘The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed’ (see also Psalm 46: 8).
3. To these predictions, however, Jesus adds one more: the severe persecution of the church, together with the apostasy this will bring about (Mt. 24: 9-13).
4. This apostasy is mentioned by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2: 3, which leads us on to one final and crucial indication that the Day of the Lord is drawing near. This will be the emergence of the ‘man of lawlessness’, the Antichrist. Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-4:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion [Greek apostasia] occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
What will initiate the Day of the Lord,
the period of the tribulation?
The final sign, just mentioned, is that of the emergence into recognition of the man of sin, the Antichrist. The same figure appears constantly as a king in Daniel chapters 7, 8, 9 and 11. We read in 7: 25: ‘He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws’; in 8: 25: ‘He will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power’; and again in 11: 36: ‘The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place.’
This same figure is in focus in Daniel 9: 24-27, the well-known passage to the 70 weeks of
years that Daniel prophesied. There is
still remaining one period of seven years to run in God’s prophetic time-clock
The warning of Jesus is specific: ‘So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation”, spoken of through the prophet Daniel ... then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains … For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again’ (Mt. 24: 15-16, 21).
Speaking of the Antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2: 4 says: ‘He sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.’ This event, breaking His covenant made with Israel, will be the clear signal to the Jewish nation that their time of false security (for that is what it will have been) is over and that the final and intense period of Jacob’s trouble, their last great persecution at the hands of the Gentile nations, is about to begin.
What are the purposes of the Day of the Lord?
1. To bring a great harvest of salvation from all nations into the
2. To break the stubbornness of the nation of
3. To deal with the sin of the Gentile nations, of which
4. To usher in the millennial
kingdom, with Jesus on the throne in