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The Day of the Lord

by Homer Hailey in The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 5, Mar. 1952.

The message of the prophets was a message of warning and call to repentance. They sought to stay the hand of sin and turn men to God. In clarion tones they cried mightily against sin, warning of a "a day of the Lord" "a day of judgment" which should break forth upon their world of ungodliness and corruption. However, the message was not one of destruction only, but always with the dark warning of judgment there was an accompanying bright gleam of hope, an escape for the remnant who would turn to God, or who should abide in their faithfulness.

With the prophets, the "day of the Lord" was "the great day," "the day", "that day." The expression "the day of the Lord" is found in Peter's sermon on Pentecost, and many times thereafter in the sermons and writings of the apostles. Various have been the applications made of the expression as used by Peter in his first sermon (Acts 2:20). Some apply it to the day of Pentecost, others to the day of judgment, the day of the destruction of Jerusalem, or to the day of salvation that is, the present dispensation of salvation in Christ. An investigation of the use of the expression should prove worth-while to the Bible student.

Christians of today are prone to think of "the day of the Lord" and of the word "judgment" only with reference to a future and final day in which God will judge the world. But judgments of God against sin and ungodliness have come over and over in human history. All of these point to an inevitable and final judgment at the end of time. However, such a final judgment does not militate against repeated expressions of God's hatred for sin, as that hatred finds expression in judgments in time.

The idea of "the day of the Lord" is rooted in Old Covenant teaching. In order to understand its import in the New, and as used by Peter on Pentecost, the Bible student should look to its use among the ancient prophets, and beginning there, continue through to its use by the apostles of the New. Peter's audience would understand his use of it in that light.

Prophets and "The Day of the Lord"

"The Day of the Lord" and the Nations

In his oracle concerning Babylon, Isaiah cried, "Wail ye; for the day of Jehovah is at hand; as destruction from the Almighty shall it come ... Behold, the day of Jehovah cometh, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger; to make the land a desolation, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of it" (Isaiah 13:6,9). Now note the strong figure of speech which follows, "For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine" (Isaiah 13:10). Mark the association of "Day of Jehovah," "cruel," "wrath," "fierce anger," "desolation," "to destroy sinners," with the failure of stars, sun, and moon to give light. The day of Babylon's judgment should be one of darkness and destruction. While over against this is the promise, "For Jehovah will have compassion on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land" (Isaiah 14:1). Darkness for the sinner, but hope for God's chosen.

In his oracle concerning Nineveh, Nahum follows the same pattern. Before describing the destruction, he lays down for a foundation the fact that Jehovah's indignation and vengeance is terrible when it breaks forth upon His enemies, while on the other hand, "Jehovah is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that take refuge in Him. But with an over-running flood He will make an end of her (Nineveh's) place, and will pursue His enemies into darkness" (Nahum 1:1-8).

As he spoke the Word of Jehovah concerning the nations, and looking especially toward Egypt and her relation to the king of Babylon, Jeremiah said of their impending doom, "For that day is a day of the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, a day of vengeance, that He may avenge Him of His adversaries; and the sword shall devour and be satiate, and shall drink its fill of their blood" (Jeremiah 46:10). Later, Ezekiel cried, "Alas for the day!...It shall be a day of clouds, a time of the nations. A sword shall come upon Egypt" (Ezekiel 30:3). Obadiah likewise included all the nations when he said, "For the day of Jehovah is near upon all the nations: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee; they dealing shall return upon thine own head" (Obadiah 15). But of Israel he said, "But in mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy" (Obadiah 17). Destruction for the nations and Edom, but escape for Jehovah's own.

From this we conclude that when Nineveh fell, when Babylon went down, when Egypt and the nations met days of calamity and destruction, "the day of the Lord" came for each. But it was not all dark, for with the doom of the wicked there was refuge in Jehovah for the righteous.

"The Day of the Lord" and Israel and Judah

As the chosen people of Jehovah, Israel came to think of such a place in His favor as guaranty of God's goodness toward themselves, and of the day of Jehovah as being a day of judgment only to her enemies. Wherefore Amos said, "Woe unto you that desire the day of Jehovah! Wherefore would ye have the day of Jehovah? It is darkness, and not light ... Shall not the day of Jehovah be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?" (Amos 5:18-20). While about one hundred years after "the day of the Lord" came to Israel in the Assyrian invasion, Zephaniah cried to Judah, "Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord Jehovah, for the day of Jehovah is at hand...And in that day, saith Jehovah, there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and a wailing from the second quarter, and a great crashing from the hills" (Zephaniah 1:7,10). And again, "The great day of Jehovah is near, it is near and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of Jehovah; the mighty man crieth bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and gloominess, a day of the trumpet and alarm, agaisnt the fortified cities and against the high battlements. And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against Jehovah; and their blood shall be poured out as dung" (Zephaniah 1:14-16). To both Israel and Judah, "the day of Jehovah" should be a terrible day, a day of judgment and calamity.

Joel and "The Day of the Lord"

Of all the prophets, Joel, in his book, makes the idea of the "day of Jehovah" more central than any. In the locust plague he sees a judgment of God for the present, and in it a prophecy of "the day of the Lord" to come. "Alas for the day! for the day of Jehovah is at hand, and as destruction from the Almighty shall it come...Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain; let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of Jehovah cometh, for it is nigh at hand; a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, as the dawn spread upon the mountains" (Joel 1:15; 2:1,2). In describing the invasion of locusts, or an invading army typified by them, the prophet continues, "The earth quaketh before them; the heavens tremble; the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining...for the day of Jehovah is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?" (Joel 2:10). Note carefully this language which describes the day of judgment brought on by the invaders.

From the present invasion, the prophet looked to the distant future in which judgment and redemption should be again combined. This he describes as the time when the Spirit should be poured out upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-30). In connection with this pouring forth of the Spirit, he continues, "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into blood, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah cometh" (Joel 2:30,31). This is the language of the other prophets concerning a day of judgment, but of what does the prophet speak? Of whatever it was, in the midst of it deliverance should be provided. "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of Jehovah shall be delivered; for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape, as Jehovah hath said, and among the remnant those whom Jehovah doth call" (Joel 2:32).

Acts 2 and "The Day of the Lord"

The prophecy of Joel began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16). The Holy Spirit came as predicted, and Jehovah began to call the remnant (Acts 2:39). Those who escaped found their escape in Zion and Jerusalem, the kingdom being received at that time (Hebrews 12:22-28); and that escape was realized by calling on the name of the Lord -- by obeying the gospel (Acts 22:16). But of what did Peter speak when he spoke of "the day of the Lord?" The language was the prophetic language of judgment. It could have referred only to the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish system, or to the final judgment, or to both, the first being typical of the latter.

Just prior to His death, Jesus told the disciples of the destruction of Jerusalem (read Matthew 24,25; Mark 13; and Luke 21). The disciples then made request, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:1-3). Jesus proceeded by referring to the coming of the Roman army, as foretold by Daniel, and of the terrible days which should accompany the invasion (Matthew 24:15-29). Accompanying and following this should be the national ruin and the complete break-up and collapse of the Jewish system. This the Jews should have understood by His use of prophetic language in the statement which followed, "But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall 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 ... coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:29,30; cf. Mark 13:26) In describing the destruction of Egypt, Isaiah had said, "Jehovah rideth upon a swift cloud, and cometh unto Egypt" (Isaiah 19:1). He, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Joel had all used the expressions of "thick clouds," the darkening of the stars, sun, moon, and the shaking of the heavens to describe judgments by war (Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah 4:20,23; Ezekiel 32:7,8; Joel 2:10; 3:15). Christ's coming on the cloud, and the shaking of the heavenly bodies was simply prophetic language of judgment of war by the hand of God, and of national collapse.

This contention is further confirmed by the fact that all these things should come to pass in that generation (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). According to Jesus, "These are days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:22). This would include Joel 2 (also Isaiah 61:1,2; 63:4, to which the reader is referred with the request that he turn to these and read them). In the midst of such a prediction Jesus adds, "But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:28). The beginning to an end of the Jewish order was to the Christians what the destruction of Babylon, Assyria, etc., had been to God's people of old.

We conclude that "the great and notable day" of Peter's sermon (Acts 2:20), was the "days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" of Jesus' statement in Luke 21:22. It was the day of complete collapse and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

This destruction, an expression of the judgment of God, became another finger in history pointing to the inevitable and future day of God's wrath in judgment. In that day, instead of the fall of Jerusalem and the Jewish order, it will be the complete collapse and passing away of the present order, with a new heaven and a new earth appearing. As of old, and as in apostolic days, those calling on the name of the Lord, and seeking their escape in Zion were saved, so then, those who seek refuge in Him shall be secure. All judgments in time point to the final judgment of God. Ancient prophets in a modern world would be warning of a "day of the Lord," but one far more terrible than any now past, and exhorting children of God to be found watching, faithful in Him.