The Day of the Lord

William Arnold III

The "day of the Lord" has been understood by some to refer to the entire Tribulation period, the second coming, and the millennial kingdom. It is my understanding, however, that this is simply a reference to the return of the Lord, the day that he comes back. Just the phrase day of the Lord is difficult for me to see as relating to the Tribulation period, which is described as a time of lawlessness (Matt. 24:12), when the "man of lawlessness" is ruling the world (2 Thess. 2:3-4) and destroying Godís people (Dan. 7:21; Rev. 13:7). If anything, this would be the day of Satan. But a closer look at the references to the day of the Lord will show not only that it does not need to include the Tribulation or the Millennium but that it is best taken to refer simply to the second coming.

When we look in the Old Testament, the day of the Lord is characterized by destruction (Isa. 13:6; Joel 1:15); fury and anger (Isa. 13:9); doom (Eze. 30:3); clouds and darkness (Eze 30:3; Amos 5:20); people trembling (Joel 2:1); retribution (Obad. 1:15); and it is said to be great and awesome (Joel 2:11; Mal. 4:5).1 These references could easily refer to the return of Christ when he comes "in flaming fire taking vengeance" (2 Thess. 1:7-8 KJV), and when people are crying out, "Hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Rev. 6:16,17). Joel actually seemed to equate the day of the Lord with the battle of Armageddon (Joel 3:9-16). Also, Jesus said that the sun would turn into darkness right before he returned. This idea of darkness is routinely connected with the return of the Lord and the day of the Lord.

Alluding to Joel 2:31, Jesus said that the sun and moon will be darkened and the powers of the heavens will be shaken at his return (Matt. 24:29). Isaiah 34:4 and Revelation 6:14 add that during this time the sky is rolled up like a scroll (compare "the heavens will disappear," 2 Peter 3:10). The Old Testament ties the darkening of the sun and the moon with the stars as well in passages such as Isaiah 13:10, Ezekiel 32:7-8, and Joel 2:10; 3:15. Isaiah 60:2 states that darkness will cover the earth before the glory of the Lord appears. Joel 2:2, Zephaniah 1:15, and Amos 5:18-20 describe the day of the Lord as a day of darkness.

In the New Testament the day of the Lord is mentioned seven times, with both a positive and a negative tone. The first is Peter quoting Joel 2:31 in Acts 2:20. The next three are in the Corinthian epistles and are given as an expectation of believers. Paul says that the Corinthians were "awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:7-8).2 He delivered one brother to Satan "so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor. 5:5, NET)3 and also said that "we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus" (2 Cor. 1:14). In all of these cases this seems to be a day they were expecting.

The next two references to the day of the Lord are in the Thessalonian epistles. The first is 1 Thessalonians 5:2, in which Paul told the believers that "you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2). Two verses later he says, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief" (v. 4, emphasis added). Why would he say that the day would not overtake them like a thief if it was not going to overtake them at all? In the rest of the chapter he goes on to talk about how they are of the day and of the light, not of the darkness as others. His point is that the day would not take them unexpectedly, because they knew what to look for. It seems very clear that they were expecting to see this day. The day of the Lord in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 and in 2 Peter 3:10 as well seems to be something that they were expecting.

Furthermore, the New Testament also refers to the day of Christ as a hope for believers. Some have tried to make this a different event from the day of the Lord, but as we saw, 1 Corinthians 1:8 makes reference to the "day of our Lord Jesus Christ," while 2 Corinthians 1:14 refers to the "day of the Lord Jesus." These seem to tie both of them together. The title Lord is used almost exclusively of Christ in the New Testament. The classic statement of faith is "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11). If Lord and Christ are the same person I find no problem with day of the Lord and day of Christ being the same event, especially when we see that it is variously referred to as day of Jesus Christ, his day, day of God, great day, day of wrath, the day, that day, day of redemption, and day of visitation.

Finally, Joel states that the great cosmic signs will take place "before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes" (Joel 2:31), and Jesus says that they will occur "immediately after the tribulation" (Mat. 24:29). Therefore, the day of the Lord must be after the Tribulation. The second to last verse in the Old Testament says that Elijah the prophet will come before the day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5), and most see Elijah as being one of the two witnesses during the Tribulation (Rev. 11). Also, Paul states very emphatically that the day of the Lord will not come until the antichrist is revealed (2 Thess. 2:1-3).


1. I am fully aware of the range of meaning for the Hebrew yom (day) which can simply mean "time." However, I am also aware that the usual meaning for yom as well as for the Greek hemera is simply a "day." <back>
2. In this passage as well as 2 Cor. 1:14 in which the English reads "the day of our Lord," the Greek literally reads "the day of the Lord of us." In both instances, then, the day of the Lord phrase is present. <back>
3. Some manuscripts read "day of the Lord Jesus," but "day of the Lord" is the reading favored by the USB4/NA27 Greek Text. <back>

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