The concept “Day of the Lord” or the idea contained in that term is expressed by the writers of Holy Writ throughout. Besides the literal reference it is designated by such expressions as: “day of visitation”, “day of vengeance”, “day of battle”, “day of evil”, “day of wrath”, “day of destruction”, “day the Lord made”, and “especially in the Old Testament, simply as “the day”, and even more frequently as “that day”. The same is taken up in the New Testament under the terms: “that day”, “His day”, “my day”, “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”, “day of the Lord Jesus”, “the great day of His wrath”, and, “that great day of God Almighty”.
These references extend throughout Scripture, from Moses in the Pentateuch to the closing portions of the Revelation of John. The specific term or the idea contained therein is found in all the prophetic writings of the Old Testament without exception. In fact, the entire body of the discourses of some of the so-called Minor Prophets is devoted to the exposition of the concept. It is also to be found in some of the poetical writings of the Old Testament; notably Proverbs and the Psalms and including the book of Job. The references do not cease, however, with the close of the Old Testament but are taken up again in the New Testament. Though the citations in the New Testament are not as numerous and detailed as those in the Old Testament it is evident that they too emphatically belong to the general concept.
From the space and time given to the exposition of this concept in Scripture, it is evident that the term has profound import for the Church of God in the midst of the world. If this were not so it is doubtful that God in the Holy Spirit writing the Scriptures would go to such length and diligence to expound and place the concept in His Word. From this it also follows that the concept is certainly an aspect of the Revelation of God in Christ. The Reformed conception of Scripture holds it as the self-revelation of God in Christ—the perfect image, as the central theme. A concept therefore, which courses its way throughout that Revelation, as this does, must necessarily be intimately bound with and have reference to that Revelation itself. In other words, the day of the Lord must be an aspect of the Self-revelation of God; it speaks to us of God.
Many writers believe that the term is purely and simply eschatological in character. That it is such at all, is evidently from the general exposition and the content given to it in Scripture; also from the fact that it is not limited in scope to the old dispensation but is also taken up in the new and would thus have meaning and content for the church today. Generally speaking, in the Old Testament revelation the term is most closely connected with coming judgment, temporal and final, and relative to both God’s people and the world in general. In the New Testament salvation is stressed; although it is true that throughout Scripture both elements are stressed as inseparably connected with the term.
To limit the concept strictly as an eschatological idea does not exhaust the significance of it. It is evident that it has meaning for the Church throughout the ages as well as for the daily life of believers. This would follow from the prominent place which this concept receives in the Old Testament. For, although it is true that the prophecy of the Old Testament looks forward to the very end of time, it has its primary fulfillment among Israel—the Church of the old dispensation. It is also clear that the idea contained in the term has been partially realized and accomplished both among Israel of old and in the new dispensation.
In order to see all this clearly and arrive at a definite understanding of the term, three things will be necessary: first to examine several passages in which the term or its equivalent is found, secondly to gather together the various aspects of these descriptions in order to ascertain the meaning of the concept, and finally, to determine its scope and fulfillment.
In the examination of the concept throughout Scripture we will proceed through the books of the Canon in the order that we have them in our Bible. This will not only give a sense of continuity to the discussion but will simplify our search in following the trail in Scripture. It would be difficult to determine, likewise, which writer first introduced the idea historically for many of the dates of the writings of the prophets are not definitely known and cannot be set with any degree of accuracy.
The very first reference, as has been intimated, is by Moses. This is our starting point, not so much because of its worth or clarity but more for its virtue as the first instance of reference to the idea and as forming the foundation upon which the prophets build. It is found in: “Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us ? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.”
In the following chapters of the Pentateuch are recorded Moses’ parting addresses, in which, by revelation of God, he predicts the falling away of Israel, the splitting of the Kingdom, the dispersion of the ten tribes, the captivity and return of Judah, the destruction of foreign nations. He continues through the final dispersion of the Jews at the fall of Jerusalem into the New Testament Dispensation of the gathering of the Church. All of these subjects are more fully developed by the later Prophets, as is also the prophecy concerning ‘That Day”.
The next reference we find in the book of Job, chapter 21. Here Job is diligently maintaining the righteousness of God in His dealing with Job. He shows that the wicked, though despising God, do sometimes prosper but that God is just and sovereign in His dealings and “that the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath”. Also in Job God Himself in direct speech refers to the day. In the 38th chapter he answers and rebukes Job declaring His own righteousness and power and sovereignty. Vss. 22-23. “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?”
The Psalms are filled with references to the same idea. Of them A. B. Davidson writes: “They give back, in thanksgiving, in praise, and often in prayer, the faiths and hopes already contained in the mind of the people and long cherished. And these hopes and faiths are in the main eschatological. When the Psalms speak of judgment, and of the meek inheriting the earth, of the nearness of the day of the wicked, of seeing God’s face in righteousness, of the upright having dominion speedily over the unrighteous, and much of the same kind, they are not uttering vague hopes never before expressed, but reflecting the certainties of a faith as old at least as the prophets of the 8th century, the certainty of a judgment of God, and of the rise behind it of a kingdom of righteousness, and peace, and everlasting joy.”
A splendid example of this is found in, “The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries. He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.” And again in , “I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation. The stone which the builders refused is become the head of the corner. This is the Lord*s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
The first direct reference to the term “day of the Lord” is found in the prophecy of Isaiah. Beginning with the 10th verse of chanter 2 we read: “Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. 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: And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,” etc. And so forth, for this prophecy of universal judgment in that day continues through chapter 3, while the short chapter 4 speaks of the salvation of purged Israel. The general theme of the first part of the prophecy is a continuation of judgments of that day, up to chapter 40 which opens with the beautiful word of salvation to God’s people: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” Of the references interspersed between these two, some of the most notable are: “And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?” 10:3, “Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.” 13:6, chapter 17:11 where it is described as a day of grief and of desperate sorrow, and finally in 28:5 where the aspect of salvation is on the foreground: “In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people.”
The main references in Jeremiah are towards the close of his prophecy. The 30th chapter pictures Israel in travail but includes the promise of deliverance with these words: “Alas! for that day is great so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” vs. 7. He speaks specifically of the day again in the 10th verse of chapter 46, which emphasizes the idea of judgment upon the adversaries of God and His cause represented by His people: “For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries: and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiated and made drunk with their blood: for the Lord God of hosts hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.”
Ezekiel adds several new elements to the concept; predicting that battle comes with the day of the Lord and that Israel is not prepared, cf. 13:5. He also warns of the nearness of the day and emphasizes the judgment of the heathen with the following prediction: “For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.” 30:3.
All of the minor prophets, unless Jonah is to be included under this category, he is the exception, speak at great length of this concept. Much of the material is repetition and re-emphasis of that which previous writers have expressed in principle so that we can consider their material but briefly. This should not leave the impression, however, that their treatment of it is brief, for as we stated in our introduction some entire writings are concerned with the concept and these are found among the minor prophets. It is also true that several new and striking ideas are added by them to the already rich term.
Early in the writings of Hosea he makes mention of “that day” and relates at the close of the 2nd chapter that the Lord will bring back His people from their adulterous ways and make a covenant with them in “that day”. This discourse closes with the beautiful promise: “And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.” In the 9th chapter he returns to a description of the day and speaks of it as: “the solemn day” and “the day of the feast of the Lord”, vs. 5.
Joel is the first of the prophets whose entire discourse deals with “the day of the Lord”. He speaks with renewed emphasis of the judgment which shall befall Zion and Israel first of all. This portion closes with the promise of the outpouring of the Spirit which includes this significant description: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come”. 2:31. He closes his prophecy with a curse upon the nations who have wronged Jehovah’s people and the blessing which ensues to Judah and Jerusalem “for the Lord dwelleth in Zion”. Here is included one of the most striking passages where the term is found. In chapter 3:14 we read: “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” And again in vs. 18: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the Lord and shall water the valley of Shittim”.
Amos introduces a new element when he warns the people who desire the approach of the day with these words in chapter 5:18:20: “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. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark and no brightness in it?” Dr. H. Bavinck considers this as quite a general feeling among the people, for he states in his “Gereformeerd Dogmatiek”: (DUTCH REMOVED)” Except in the passage quoted from Amos we failed to discover in our examination any such general feeling among the people with reference to the day of the Lord. Even here it is limited and particular in scope; concerning those who were not aware of its import and meaning. In the closing chapters Amos again speaks of the judgments coming but closes with the blessing and promise that the day shall bring for the faithful.
Also Obadiah in his short writing directly mentions the day of the Lord; in the 15th verse: “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall be upon thine own head.”
The prophecies of Micah, Nahum and Habakkuk are, generally speaking, completely concerned with “that day”. Micah directs his prophecy of judgment especially against the ten tribes and Judah, while Nahum and Habakkuk add decrees against particular heathen nations. All close their writings with the promise of restoration and salvation for the faithful. Nahum adds an element to the idea when he calls it “the day of his preparation” 2:3. Habakkuk experiences fear and trembling and rottenness enters his bones when he considers “the day of trouble”, as he calls it. Cf. 3:16.
Once again the entire prophecy of Zephaniah speaks very definitely and precisely of the day of the Lord. He stresses the universality of the judgment that comes in that day and closes with a beautiful promise to the true Israel: The two most striking passages are 1:14-16, “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty men shall cry there bitterly. 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, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers;” and from the promissory section, chapter 3:16, 17: “In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”