As we come now to the Word of God we are looking at a subject that is vital in Scripture; not the first coming of our Lord, but as we approach the Christmas season, we’re looking at the second coming of our Lord. He promised that He would come back. The angel said the day that Jesus ascended, “This same Jesus, whom you have seen go, in like manner shall come again.” And that is the Christian’s hope, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible is clear about that and has much to say about the end of human history. We need to understand what Scripture teaches, even though for some strange reason it is avoided by even many preachers.
We live in an increasingly secular world. We have probably more atheists now than any time in the history of our nation. Seems to be a global phenomenon that genuine Christianity and confidence in what the Bible says is diminishing, not in the sense of the true church, but in the sense of cultural acceptance of what Scripture teaches. As the culture we live in gets more and more secular, it moves further and further away from the Bible, and consequently it moves further and further into emptiness.
Philosophers and historians have always struggled with the ultimate question, and the ultimate question is simply this: “Why are we here? Where are we going? What’s the purpose of history? What’s the purpose of human existence? What is the meaning of life?” And even though we’ve made scientific and technological advances, we don’t seem to have made advances in terms of morality or being able to sustain relationships meaningfully.
Where is human life headed? Is it headed anywhere? Is there any point? Is there any purpose? Is there any end to this succession of events apparently leading nowhere? Does life have a goal, or are we just protoplasm waiting to become manure, just a long evolutionary joke?
One writer says, “Our generation is strangled by fear, and it is this kind of existential fear, this kind of transcendent fear, fear of man and what man will do based on what he has done in the past in self-destruction, fear of the future, fear of the direction in which we are being driven seemingly against our will and against our desires. There is a cry for illumination, there’s a cry for understanding, there’s a cry for an answer to this existential question of, “What does it all mean, and is there an end to this?” But there doesn’t seem to be an answer. Certainly for the secularists there is no answer at all.
There are three possible views of history that are offered, if you just kind of reduce them all to the simplest form. The first would be that history is cyclical, that basically it just goes around in a circle chasing its own tail. It doesn’t move forward in any linear sense, it just cycles and spirals back through the same things. There is an expression of this somewhat cynical view of human history expressed in Ecclesiastes 1:9. This is the ancient view. It says, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been is that which will be done. So there is no thing new under the sun.” That’s the cynicism of the preacher in Ecclesiastes.
A couple of verses later he says, “All is vanity and striving after wind.” This particular view is popular in the ancient Greek era. The history was just a series of movements around the same cycle, going absolutely nowhere. This is Hinduism with its reincarnations in that cycle. This is in Hinduism called samsara. This is also characteristic of New Age thought; but in this world view there is no advance: we’re not going anywhere; we’re achieving nothing; we’re contributing to nothing; we mean nothing; we have no significance.
That doesn’t work for some people, and so a second option is naturalism. Naturalism would say that history really is linear, and human life is linear. It’s not going around in endless circles, it’s actually moving in some direction. It is not repetitive, but it still doesn’t really identify any meaning to it, because naturalism is by definition atheistic. That’s why it’s called naturalism instead of supernaturalism.
So this is just another view that says, “We aren’t going in circles, we’re going in a straight line, but the straight line is going nowhere. There’s no end to the straight line; there’s no purpose; there’s no goal; everything is meaningless.” This perspective was articulated by Bertrand Russell, the celebrated British philosopher, who said, “There is no law of cosmic progress. From evolution there is no ultimately optimistic philosophy that can be validly inferred. There’s no way to know why we’re here, where we’re going, where we’re going to end up.”
Contemporary zealous, popular atheist Richard Dawkins puts it this way, quote, “Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection.” End quote. We’re just going forward into nothingness. That’s not a very satisfying view, even as the first view is not satisfying.
But there’s a third one, and that’s the biblical view. The Christian view of history stands in utter opposition to those two views. The Christian view of history says, “God created us with a purpose in mind, and history is His story, and He prewrote it in eternity past, and now it’s playing out in precise accordance with His will and purpose. And it has a direction. It had a very clear beginning, as revealed in the book of Genesis; and it has a very clear ending, as revealed throughout the Scripture and culminating in the book of Revelation.”
We are significant. We are going somewhere, and that somewhere has been identified definitely by God. And in this movement through time that we call human history there is a central figure, and that central figure is the Lord Jesus Christ. His first coming was in humility, so that he might die for the sins of His people and rise again to give them eternal life. After His first coming He ascended back into heaven and promised to return.
The next time He comes He doesn’t come in humility, He comes in glory. He doesn’t come to die, He comes to reign. He doesn’t come to rescue, He comes to condemn. The second coming of Christ is where history is headed; it is moving rapidly to that end. That end has been eternally designed by God with absolute detail, much of which is written on the pages of Scripture. We don’t need to be in the dark about the purpose of mankind or the meaning of history if we just read the Word of God, the Holy Scripture.
But to sum it up and simplify it, history is headed toward what the Bible calls the day of the Lord, the day of the Lord. That is a technical term used in Scripture to define the final judgment, the final judgment. It is called the day of the Lord because it is the end of man’s day, man’s day.
We’re living in man’s day. Obviously we are under the power of Satan and his demons, but still we operate with a measure of freedom in this world to create our own environment. This is man’s day, man is in charge. Man is in charge essentially at every level. This is the kingdom of man within the kingdom of darkness, which is under the ruler Satan. This is man’s day. You can look at history and see what man has made of it.
But what is coming is the Lord’s Day. It will be a day of cataclysmic judgment. That judgment will fall on who have not repented of their sins and embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior. What you do with Jesus Christ is the determiner of your eternal destiny.
Now in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, and this is the epistle of Paul that we’re looking at, he introduces to us in the opening three verses this term “the day of the Lord.” Let me read those verses to you. “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.” There in verse 2 we are introduced to the day of the Lord. That’s where history’s going.
The day of the Lord is not a popular theme for preachers. It should be, but it isn’t. Preachers want to make people feel good. They want to affirm people. They want people to believe that they are loved, even by God. They want to bring comfort. So it’s not popular to preach on wrath, or vengeance, or judgment, or condemnation, or hell; but it is essential. The day of the Lord is coming, and obviously is nearer than it has ever been.
Now Paul was faithful to preach the day of the Lord. He had been in Thessalonica a relatively brief period of time. We don’t know exactly how many weeks, but maybe a few months, nothing more. And in that brief time of presenting the gospel to pagans in that city in the Roman Empire, Paul had taught them about the day of the Lord. He had warned everyone about the day of the Lord. His ministry was to preach the gospel, and that encompassed a warning to those who do not believe the gospel of the inevitable coming day of judgment.
So obviously had he taught them this, even in the brief time that he was with them, that it appears several times in his letter back to them. Look at 1 Thessalonians 1, verse 9: “You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”
In preaching the gospel to them he told them about the wrath to come - eternal wrath, the day of the Lord, and subsequently following the day of the Lord, eternal punishment in the lake of fire. He told them that so that they were waiting for His Son from heaven who would come to rescue them from the wrath to come. You could say they were waiting for the snatching away, and they were waiting to be rescued from God’s final day of the Lord’s wrath. Again, in chapter 2 and verse 16, he refers in that verse to people filling up the measure of their sins, and the wrath of God coming upon them in the most severe way to the utmost.
In chapter 4 and verse 6, again he says, “The Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” This was essential to his ministry of preaching the gospel - to warn people about the wrath to come.
Chapter 5, where we are, look at verse 9: “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, the gospel comes to those who are told about the coming wrath and want to know how to escape it.
Over in 2 Thessalonians chapter 1, verse 5, Paul says to this same group, “This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment, so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints.”
Very strong language. That second letter just very, very brief, and he takes up a large chunk of that letter to warn about the coming wrath of God on all who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. So he was a faithful pastor. Even with a brief time in Thessalonica, he made sure they understood that salvation saved them from not just a lack of purpose in their life, but eternal wrath.
As we saw last time, in chapter 4, verses 13-18, believers will be snatched out. The Lord is going to meet us in the air. The next event on God’s prophetic calendar is the snatching of the church. Those that are dead, their bodies will come out of the grave first if they’re believers; and those that are alive will be caught together with them and taken to heaven. We meet the Lord in the air. This is not the Lord coming to earth to judge, this is not the Lord coming to earth to set up His kingdom - there’s no judgment in that event. That event is mentioned in John 14 and 1 Corinthians 15, and this passage 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. No judgment; that’s the snatching out of the church that we talked about in previous messages.
We will be snatched and kept from the hour of wrath, the hour of judgment. That is the next event. And Paul wanted to tell these Thessalonian believers that they would be rescued from that; whether they were dead or alive they would be taken up in that rapture, so that, verse 18 says, He could comfort them, because some of them were sad, thinking that the believers who died would miss that event. And the Lord told them through Paul, “No, the dead will rise first in their glorified bodies, and the rest of us will be joined to the Lord in the air; and we’ll go to heaven to be with Him in the place that He is preparing for us now.”
That is the snatching of believers, all believers across the face of the globe. There’s no sign for that event; there’s no timing for that event; there are preliminary events. It’s what we call imminent - it could happen at any time. And believers since New Testament times have been living in anticipation of that event.
You say, “That’s two thousand years.” Yes, but that’s on a human side. “In God’s kingdom, a day is as a thousand years,” Peter says, “and a thousand years as a day.” “And why is God waiting?” you say. He’s waiting until all the elect redeemed have come to faith.
So we saw that the believers will be taken out. Then what happens? What about all the unbelievers that are left in the world? We pick that up in chapter 5, verse 1.
“Now as to” - that’s a transitional phrase. He is using it quite frequently in his writings to show that we’re moving to a new subject. Now we’re going from the rapture - or snatching - of the church to the day of the Lord. We’ve gone from the comfort that comes to believers to the discomfort that ought to come to nonbelievers who are faced with this reality. This is the final wrath; this is where history is going.
The Lord began human history when He created Adam and Eve. He’s in control of it; it has a terminus point. Right now it’s in the control of man. This is man’s day as he functions within the kingdom of darkness led by Satan. But soon will come the end of man’s day and the beginning of the Lord’s Day, the day of the Lord.
Now in the passage we’re going to be looking at - verses 1-11 - over the next few weeks, there are three features that Paul wants us to understand. The Lord’s Day: its coming, its character, and its completeness. For now, we’ll just talk about its coming; okay, that’s obvious.
Verse 2: “You yourselves know full well the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.” It’s so interesting that he says in verse 1, “You have no need of anything to be written to you,” and then he doubles back and says it again, “You yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come.” So on a negative sense, he says, “You don’t need more information.” On a positive sense, he says, “You are fully well informed.”
“Brethren” - he’s talking to believers. He’s introducing them to an understanding of the day of the Lord. He says, “I don’t need to tell you any more than you already know.” We’ve already shown you in this letter that they knew about the wrath to come. They knew about the vengeance of God, the wrath of God that was coming upon unconverted sinners, and they were aware of that; and that was part of the gospel appeal, that they didn’t want to be caught in that final judgment, that everlasting perdition and punishment. So Paul moves to the next eschatological event. After believers are taken up to be with the Lord in heaven, what happens on earth is the day of the Lord begins.
Now back to verse 1. It is basically described as “the times and the epochs.” Those are plurals: “the times and the epochs.” There are some people who take a simplistic view that history just goes on – these are Christian people – just goes on, and at one moment, one point in time, Jesus comes and takes us to heaven, judges the ungodly, and that’s all it is. It’s just one great second coming event. This clearly indicates that is not an accurate interpretation, because involved in the day of the Lord are the times and the seasons – very specific times, plural: days, weeks, years, even centuries. The times, that’s chronos: chronological time, calendar time, clock time.
So this event is going to have times: a day, a week, a month, a year, a century, even a millennium. All of that is going to be seen in the book of Revelation as John is given the revelation of the full extent of the day of the Lord from the time it begins until the time it ends. And he speaks of it sometimes in days, sometimes in weeks, sometimes in months, sometimes in years, and even in a millennium.
So this is not a single event. The coming of the Lord and the day of the Lord is an event with many events inside of it. And we would know that as well, not only from the times, but the epochs. That’s kairos. That means time not in the sense of chronology, but time in the sense of epochs or events. So there will be many times and many events.
In this day of the Lord that is coming there will be a beginning point, which is the snatching away of the church, the rapture of the church. There will be the time of tribulation that comes on the earth. There will be the time of great tribulation, which is the last three-and-a-half years of the seven-year tribulation. There will be the rise of Antichrist and the false prophet described in the book of Revelation. There will be the salvation of Israel also described in the book of Revelation. There will be sealed judgments that begin to be broken in Revelation chapter 6. And out of the seventh seal will come seven trumpet judgments. Out of the seven trumpet judgments will come seven bowl judgments. And all of these judgments are described: they are epochs, they are aspects, they are features of the second coming times.
There also will be the return of Christ. And when Christ comes back there will be the battle of Armageddon, a bloodbath that will take place centered in the country of Israel. There will be the sheep and the goats judgment described by our Lord. There will be the binding of Satan and demons for the duration of the millennial kingdom; there will be the release of them at the end to gather a final rebellion; there will be destruction of that rebellion. There will be the great white throne after the millennial kingdom. There will be the final dispatch of Satan and his angels and all unbelievers to the lake of fire. And then there will be the complete destruction of our entire universe, followed by the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. All of those are the epochs inside the times that make up the day of the Lord, the return of Christ.
The question that comes to our minds always, and it came to the disciples’ minds, is, “When is this going to happen? How long do we have to wait?” The disciples, who were sitting with Jesus looking at the city of Jerusalem before His crucifixion, sitting, looking from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount, heard Jesus say, “This is going to be destroyed. This whole thing is coming down. Not one rock will be left on another.”
And in response to that, the disciples came to Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age?” They always wanted to know when, when, when, when. “What do we look for?” In Acts, again, chapter 1, they said in verse 6, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
We get very preoccupied with time. “When is it going to happen?” Paul says in verse 1, “You have no need of anything to be written to you. You don’t need to know that. You don’t need to know that. You’ve been taught as much as there is to teach.”
He used that same phrase, by the way, in chapter 4, verse 9: “As to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.” Here he says the same thing again: “You yourselves know full well, you don’t have any need of anything to be written to you.” So not only did they know all they needed to know about the love of God, they knew all they needed to know about the wrath of God. In 2 Thessalonians 2:5 he says, “While I was with you, I was telling you all these things.” Every faithful preacher necessarily is a judgment preacher.
But they always wanted to know the time. Matthew 24:36, our Lord said, “No one knows the time.” He repeated it again in Mark 13, “No one knows the time.” And in Acts 1:7, “It’s not for you to know the times and the epochs.” He used the same exact phrase that appears here in Acts 1:7 - the chronos and the kairos.
The Father has fixed these in His own authority. No one knows but the Father in heaven; we just need to know it’s coming. They don’t need to know when it’s coming. Every generation needs to live in the light of the reality that it could come at any time. We should live in expectancy and anticipation. We should be warning people all the time of what is coming.
So let’s talk about the first point: it’s coming. It’s coming. Verse 2: “You yourselves know full well” – akribōs, good word; means “perfectly,” “completely,” “accurately,” “exactly,” “precisely.” Again, this is an indication that Paul had taught them about the wrath to come. Even though he was with them only a few months and they were Gentiles, he made sure that he told them why they needed salvation, and it wasn’t just to fix up their life. It was to rescue them from the wrath to come.
And he reminds them and us that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. He warned them and he said, “A thief doesn’t announce his arrival, a thief doesn’t give you warning: ‘I’ll be there between 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning. Make sure you unlock the door, open the safe, put the jewelry on the floor.’ The thief does not announce his arrival. He comes in the night when you don’t expect him to come. The day of the Lord is like that thief.” God is not a thief, but He comes when not expected.
In 2 Peter 3:10, it takes us all the way to the end of the millennium, and it says even there, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and all its works will be burned up.” That’s the destruction of the whole universe at the end of the millennium. The Lord will even come in that day at an unknown moment.
The rapture is at an unknown moment. The second coming of Christ at the end of the seven-year tribulation to start His kingdom is at an unknown moment. And even the final coming, when the entire universe melts in an atomic implosion, that too is at an unknown moment. Each of those is something unexpected like a thief coming in the night unannounced. The point of all of this in keeping this from us is so that every generation would live in the light of the possibility of that reality in their own time.
Back in Matthew 24, verse 36, our Lord says of that time in the future, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” It just means life was going on as usual. Marriage is a plan for the future. They were living as if they had a future.
They didn’t understand. In the days of Noah, they didn’t understand until the Flood came and took them all away. So will the coming of the Son of Man be. It’s going to be that unexpected, and that specifically is a reference to His return to earth, not the snatching, but at the end of the tribulation, His return to earth. Even that is going to be at a time no one knows. There’s always this call to readiness.
And by the way, the coming of Christ to earth, seven years at least after the snatching, is pretty well laid out. I mean, we know from the rapture to the return of Christ with His saints. We go to heaven with Him. We stay with Him, marriage supper of the Lamb; we receive our rewards. We come back when He returns.
That’s what it’s talking about in Matthew 24. That moment is unknown even though there are many details laid out before that second coming. For example, in Matthew 24 our Lord tells them in verse 5, before that happens, “Many will come and say, ‘I am the Christ,’ – you’ll have false Christs, verse 6 – “shall have wars, rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, earthquakes.”
Much of this is described in more detail in the book of Revelation. Verse 11, “False prophets.” “Lawlessness,” verse 12. “The gospel of the kingdom at the same time will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, then the end will come.” Also during that time of tribulation there will be an event called the abomination of desolation in verse 15, described in detail in the book of Daniel when there’s a desecration of the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. And that’ll start a persecution of the Jews, who have to flee to the mountains, verse 16 says.
Verse 24 talks about more false Christs, false prophets. “And then immediately,” verse 29, “after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, powers of heaven will be shaken. And the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn and see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet; they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” Those are the people who’ve been saved during the tribulation. There’ll be people from every tongue and tribe and nation saved during that time, that seven-year period of the day of the Lord.
So even when you have events that lead up to it, to the very hour, the very moment is unknown. And that’s by divine design, so that we warn everyone of the imminence of these events that it could happen any time. It’s not pushed off into some nebulous tomorrow.
Listen to Revelation 16:15, “Behold,” says the Lord, “I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.” In other words, metaphorically you’d better have your clothes on, be ready when He comes. A thief in the night when unexpected.
Now let me give it to you again simply. The next event on God’s clock is the snatching away of believers. After that, all the believers are gone; all that are left on the earth are unbelievers. And then the day of the Lord begins to break out, described in general terms in Matthew 24 - also in Luke’s parallel passage - and described in detail in Revelation 6-18; and that’s the day of the Lord breaking out on earth. Now we want to understand something of the character of this day of the Lord, so let’s look at it.
The day of the Lord appears four times in the New Testament: Acts 2:20, in this passage, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, and 2 Peter 3:10 which I referred to a moment ago. But it appears nineteen times in the Old Testament; that’s its greatest usage. And whenever a Bible writer, New or Old Testament, speaks of the day of the Lord, it’s always the same, always the same. So listen to what Scripture says about the day of the Lord.
Isaiah 2:12, “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up, and it will be brought low.” Isaiah 13:6, “Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand.” Isaiah 13:9, “Behold, the day of the Lord comes cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate.” Jeremiah 46:10, “For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that He may avenge Himself on His adversaries.”
Joel 1:15, “For the day of the Lord is at hand, it shall come as destruction from the Almighty.” Joel 2:11, “For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible.” Joel 2:31, “The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Amos 5:18, “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord, for what good is the day of the Lord to you?” Amos 5:20, “Is not the day of the Lord darkness and not light?”
Malachi 4:5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Zephaniah 1:14, “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near and hastens quickly! The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter.” Zephaniah 1:15, “That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
Six times the day of the Lord is referred to as the day of doom. Three times it is referred to as the day of vengeance. Revelation 6:17 calls it “the great day of His wrath.” Always refers to cataclysmic judgments by God on sinners. It is the culmination of God’s fury and wrath; it is climactic. God’s wrath operates in life all the time through natural expressions: “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” You live a certain kind of life, you reap a certain wrath.
There is cataclysmic wrath in the world today brought about by natural phenomenon, like earthquakes and fires and tsunamis and floods and those kinds of things that catapult people into eternity. There is the wrath of God in Romans 1 where people choose to reject God, and He gives them over to immoralities - homosexuality, a reprobate mind. That is the wrath of God released on a culture.
But those elements of God’s wrath come generally through natural means. Day of the Lord wrath in its ultimate form is supernatural; it is supernatural. The New Testament calls it, Luke 17:24, “His day.” This called the day of wrath, “the day of wrath and revelation” in Romans 2:5. “The great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:14). First Peter 2:12, “day of visitation,” when God visits in judgment. Always a time of the fury of God released on those who reject His Son.
Now it is to be distinguished – and you have to mark this – it is to be distinguished from other New Testament days: the day of Christ. There is the day of Christ in Philippians, there is the day of the Lord Jesus in 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, and there’s the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8); that’s different. The day of Christ, in any of those forms, always has to do with believers meeting Christ. So when we’re snatched out of this earth and taken to heaven, that’s the day of Christ, when we’re with Him and He rewards us and gives us our eternal inheritance. The day of Christ always looks at the believer before his Lord, at the bema where we receive the reward for what we’ve done for Him.
So before the day of the Lord there’s the day of Christ for believers. After the day of the Lord there’s one other phrase, and it’s “the day of God,” “the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12), and it’s referring to eternity. After God creates a new heaven and the new earth, it is the final and forever day of God. He reigns and rules. So the day of Christ for believers; the day of God, when God rules in eternity; and in between, all the judgments fall under the day of the Lord. Always, always something to fear.
Listen to Ezekiel 30, verse 3, “For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near.” Joel 2:1, “The day of the Lord is coming;” it is at hand. Joel 3:14, “For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” Obadiah 15, “The day of the Lord is upon all the nations and is near.” Zephaniah 1:7, “The day of the Lord is at hand, for the Lord has prepared a sacrifice.” Zechariah 14:1, “The day of the Lord is coming.” Prophets always spoke of it as near, at hand.
Now you say, “Well, that was a long time ago and a long time before the actual day of the Lord.” And so, I want to help you with that. The day of the Lord is always a cataclysmic judgment by God. But the prophet saw a near and far aspect to the day of the Lord.
We don’t have time this morning to do it, but if you look at Joel sometime you will find that Joel opens talking about a day of the Lord that is historic - the invasion of the Assyrians that occurred about a hundred years after the prophecy in 701. And this was a time of horrific judgment. God used the Assyrians to punish idolatrous Israel. Joel also talks about the day of the Lord that came on Judah, the southern kingdom, 605-586.
So in the first couple of chapters Joel talks about the historic day of the Lord. But when you come into chapter 3 of Joel’s prophecy, something very, very different is going on. I will just read you a few verses.
Verse 9: “Proclaim this among the nations: prepare a war; arouse the mighty men! Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up! Beat your plowshares into swords, your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am a mighty man.’ Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down, O Lord, Your mighty ones. Let the nations be aroused and come to the valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. And the sun and moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness. The Lord roars from Zion, utters His voice from Jerusalem, the heavens and the earth tremble. But the Lord is a refuge for His people.” That’s the far eschatological day of the Lord.
So Joel saw in chapters 1 and 2 a historic preview of what that final day of the Lord would look like. Obadiah, exactly the same thing. One chapter, the first fourteen verses looking at the destruction of Edom, the nation that came out of Esau - a destruction that came about a hundred years later through a coalition of enemy nations. And then in verse 15, Obadiah leaps forward to the final judgment of all the nations in that final day of the Lord.
Zephaniah does the same thing. In chapter 1, he talks about the coming Babylonian exile of Judah, which is about fifteen years after his prophecy. And then in chapter 3, starting in verse 8, he just launches, does Zephaniah, into the final eschatological day of the Lord. So the prophets looked at those historic judgments as previews of that final one.
Isaiah does exactly the same thing. Chapter 1, he talks about the Babylonian exile about a hundred years later. And in chapter 2, starting in verse 12, he moves to the final day of the Lord.
So you have previews throughout the prophetic writings of the Old Testament of what that day will be like. The eschatological day stands in the background at a distant horizon from the historic event. The day of the Lord was near, because God was about to act. And He acted in historical events, and they were all in anticipation of Him acting in that final eschatological event, which is described in far more grandiose, comprehensive, destructive terms. This day of the Lord is going to come, verse 2, just like a thief in the night, unexpectedly, suddenly, unwelcomed, and doing damage, harm. It’s going to come in the night.
What about us? I love verse 4: “You, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief.” We’re not there; we’ve been snatched out. We’re not there. But many souls will be. Paul told his people not only about the good that was going to happen to them, but the horrors that were going to come on the world.
That’s how you preach the gospel. The good news is only ultimate good news, existential good news, eternal good news, if the consequence of rejecting it are also eternal, right?
Father, we thank You this morning for sending Your Son the first time to die on the cross and pay the penalty for our sins, to provide eternal life for us, and salvation - forgiveness of sins, heaven, glory. And we lift up our voice and say, “Gloria in excelsis deo, glory to You in the highest.” Thank You for giving us the gift of peace with You and peace in our hearts. Thank You for saving us from the day, Your day, the day of the Lord. Thank You that our hope is in the day of Christ, when we meet with our Bridegroom and celebrate our eternal union in bliss with Him.
We pray, Lord, that we will all understand this and apply it to our hearts. Those of us who are believers, give us a new, loving boldness to proclaim the truth about what awaits sinners, so that the gospel of salvation and deliverance and rescue has ultimate meaning. And may, at the same time, we live in the wonderful hope that we will not be part of that. We’re not of the darkness; we’re of the light. May we live with the ever-present reality that You could come at any moment; and we want to be found, when You come, diligent, faithful, abounding in every good work, to receive a reward that we can then cast at Your feet in loving gratitude.
Open hearts today from Your Word being heard. Open hearts today to come to Christ, the only Savior, the only Deliverer, the only ark of safety from coming judgment. Help us to let the world know that all things do not continue as they are. Judgment is coming, and the only way to be prepared is through believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Do that work in hearts, we pray, with thankful and grateful souls. We offer You our praise.
We are worthy of that judgment, but we are not standing in our own worthiness. We stand in the worthiness of Christ, who covers us with His righteousness, having paid the penalty for our sins. And so, our hearts are comforted because of the truth that we know. But we also must realize that the terror of the Lord persuades men. May we persuade people to embrace the gospel by showing them the terror of the day of the Lord, inescapable other than through Christ, in His name we pray. Amen.
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