The Day of the Lord
This article, written February 2023 (updated October 2023), is a spin-off to our Introduction to the Book of Joel, although it could have also been written in association with several other books of the OT prophets who wrote of the day of the Lord (see also Introductions to Amos and Zephaniah). In the ninth century BC, Joel prophesied that God would sent a plague of locusts to devastate the land of Judah as judgment for their evil doings. He then had pity and restored the people when they repented. This series of events foreshadows the coming of the great Day of the Lord.
So, what is this mysterious day that is prefigured by these past events? Is it one specific day or a series of events spanning an unknown unit of time? When will the events happen? In simplest terms, we can describe the day of the Lord as a future historical day or time that God will personally intervene in human affairs to set all things right, punish the wicked, exalt the faithful, and establish His righteous rule.
In this article, we’ll further examine what the Word of God says about this great day.
Table of Contents
- Day of the Lord in Joel
- A Note about Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy
- Events Associated with the Day of the Lord
- What the Bible Says - A Brief Survey
- Final Thoughts
- Related Articles
Day of the Lord in Joel
In the Bible, God first introduced us to the “Day of the Lord” by the eighth century BC prophet Joel, as he described the invasion of Judah by an army of locusts as a prefiguration of a greater future event. Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand -- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste -- nothing escapes them… Before them the earth shakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? (Joel 2:1-3, 10-11).
In Joel 2:12-27, the Lord then offers His people forgiveness for repentance and declares: “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.” (Joel 2:28:32).
Of course, many of our readers will recognize the last five verses of Joel 2 (28-32) as being quoted by the Apostle Peter in his address to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost in the first century AD (Ac 2:16-21). Some, particularly those who subscribe to a Preterist view (the view that all of Scripture, even the events predicted in the Book of the Revelation, have already been fulfilled), believe that the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 fulfilled the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32. While all believers present at Pentecost were filled by the Holy Spirit, this initial outpouring could probably be considered as a partial fulfillment, as well as a precursor to the end-time events in which the Messiah will establish His righteous reign.
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A Note about Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy
Before we begin our discussion, we should clarify a few points regarding the interpretation of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic Literature. Thus, we include an excerpt from our Prophecy and Apocalyptic Literature article in our Bible Genre Analysis Section (see the article for additional information):
As if dating a prophecy's fulfillment wasn't tough enough, a prophet may sometimes describe two or more different events in the same paragraph (or even in the same sentence) that might be hundreds or thousands of years apart, and the fact that he's delineating between more than one event is not always readily apparent. In addition, a prophecy might have an initial (or partial) fulfillment within an almost immediate or short time period after the prediction that foreshadows an ultimate later fulfillment. This ultimate event could be in our past (often by the Works or Person of Christ), or still in our future. This technique is often referred to as “Prophetic Telescoping”. Adding to our challenge, since fulfillment of any Biblical prophecy is certain (but see the “exception clause” in Jeremiah 18:7-10), a prophet often describes future events in the present rather than the future tense. The identity of the event(s) can often be determined by the historical context, and how it was understood by the original audience. We must then ask if the event has already occurred in history. Don’t automatically assume that phrases such as “in the last days”, “end of the age”, or “day of the Lord” indicates a future event. We can also look for parallels in Scripture. For example, Jesus' Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 is connected to the “great tribulation” (also Dan 12:1). In many cases, we may even be able to identify the event from extra-biblical historical sources, if it has already occurred in the past.
On a related subject, we see many Messianic predictions throughout the OT. Many were fulfilled at the First Coming of Christ, while others await the Second Coming. Still others have had an initial fulfillment at the First Coming while awaiting an ultimate fulfillment at the Second Coming. Again, these prophecies may have been made within the same paragraph or sentence, so the reader should take due diligence in his or her interpretation.
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Events Associated with the Day of the Lord
In Joel, the plague of locusts foreshadows the coming Babylonian invasion that began in 605 BC. The Babylonian invasion is both an initial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, but also a foreshadowing of the future end times events at the Second Coming of Christ. These
The day of the Lord is often associated with, and includes certain end-time events such as the Rapture, the Second Coming of Christ, the Millennial Kingdom, and the Final Judgments. The time frame of these events can range from instantaneous (the Rapture) to a thousand years (the Millennium Reign of Christ), so it’s probably best to view the “day” as being a period of time. Both the Hebrew (singular: yom, plural yomin) and Greek (singular: hemera, plural: hemerais) words for day can refer to a literal 24 hour day, the daylight portion of a day, or to a certain period of time (age / era). In addition, we also find that a thousand years are like a day (Ps 90:4, 2Pe 3:8) to our eternal God.
We also note that Bible interpreters may have differing views on how to interpret these various end time events. We generally hold to a more literal interpretation unless the context dictates otherwise. Note also that a literal interpretation can also contain an allegorical view of a certain portion of the overall event. For more information on the various interpretive views of end time events, see our list of Related Articles at the bottom of this page.
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What the Bible Says - A Brief Survey
The exact term “Day of the Lord” appears a couple of dozen (24) times in the English Standard Version of the Bible. The number may vary slightly in other translations. In addition, the term is also expressed in other similar phrases such as “day of the anger of the Lord”, “day of God’s anger”, or in the NT, “day of Jesus Christ”. In many other cases, it is simply referred to as “that day”.
In the OT, particularly in the books of the prophets, the Israelites often looked forward to that day, believing that God would destroy their enemies while restoring the Jews to their “rightful prominence” among the nations. They neglected to understand that their nationality would not save them, only those individuals from all nations who revered the Lord (Mal 4:1-3). The OT prophets often spoke of the day as coming in their lifetime, with an ultimate fulfillment in the end times. For example, Zephaniah wrote, “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... Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.” (Zph 1:14,18)
Here's a sampling of what the Bible says about the Day of the Lord:
It will be a day of universal judgment on all the nations. Behold, the Day of the LORD is coming -- cruel, with fury and burning anger-- to make the earth a desolation and to destroy the sinners within it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light. The rising sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity. I will end the haughtiness of the arrogant and lay low the pride of the ruthless (Is 13:9-11).
For those depending on religious rituals, the day will be a day of darkness rather than light (Amos 5:18-27).
Persecution of Christ’s followers will greatly increase (Mt 24:5-14), but Christ will make all thing right when he returns (2Th 1:5-10).
The wicked is “storing up wrath” for that day (Ro 2:5).
The nations will gather against Jerusalem, (Zec 14:2, Lk 21:20), but the Lord will fight for and deliver His people (Ez 38:18-23; Zec 14:3-5).
God’s kingdom will be established (Zec 14), in particular, On that day the Lord will become King over all the earth—the Lord alone, and His name alone (Zec 14:9).
The faithful martyrs will be avenged (Rev 6:9-11, 12:11-12, 20:4).
The Lord will reign over a restored Jerusalem (Is 2:2-4).
The Messianic hope will be fulfilled. Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey… Then I will pour out on the house of David and on the people of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and prayer, and they will look on Me, the One they have pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zec 9:9, 12:10)
We need to be prepared for this day. It will come expectantly, like a thief in the night (2Pe 3:10), but signs heralding the day will be given (1Th 5:2-8), including the sign of the 1948 restoration of Israel in their native homeland (Is 11:12). In addition, these signs are intended to be understood (Lk 21:31).
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In the introduction, we described the Day of the Lord in simplest terms as a future historical day or period of time that God will personally intervene in human affairs to set all things right, punish the wicked, exalt the faithful, and establish His righteous rule. In broader terms, we might also define it as any specific time period that God is glorified in victory over His enemies, and even including exacting justice against His chosen people.
No one knows the exact time of the coming day of the Lord. Yet, in the last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, Jesus states multiple times that “I am coming soon”. Thus we should all ask ourselves, “Am I ready?”.
Christians have no need to fear the coming Day of the Lord, because we are assured that God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1Th 5:9).
For those who have never surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, or if anyone have doubts, we invite you to read our How to Know for Sure that You’re Going to Heaven article.
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Refer to the following articles for more information on the various interpretations / views of the events of the End Times.
Interpretations of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel
Views on the Book of Revelation
Views of the Millennium / Millennial Kingdom
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