While people are saying, “Peace and safety”, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
The present fear and uncertainty is as great, as palpable, and as widespread as most of us have experienced in our lifetimes.
Constantly updating – and sometimes contradictory – news is ubiquitous.
Every newscast contains it, often reporting nothing else. It dominates almost every front page; it fuels social media.
And every day, predictably, always this one thing: the repressive and uncertain consequence of the Coronavirus.
So, Bible-reading Christians around the world are rightly asking, “is this the Day of the Lord”?
I think the biblical answer is: no.
At least not quite yet.
Rather than a single day, the Bible speaks of the Day of the Lord as a decisive period when God will act to implement a portion of his redemptive plan. For those watching with vigilance, His fingerprints will be evident in a way not seen since the earthly ministry of Christ.
Although theologians don’t completely agree on all of the peripheral components, it seems clear that the Day will include:
1) the return of the Lord Jesus;
2) judgment on His enemies;
3) the establishment of His Kingdom; and
4) the ultimate re-creation of the heavens and earth.
A few days before His crucifixion, Christ predicted the total destruction of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. In response, His disciples posed 3 questions: Tell us, they said, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? (Matthew 24:3).
It seems they assumed all 3 events – the Temple’s demolition, the return of Christ, and the terminal point of this era – would be simultaneous. With the distinct advantage of hindsight, we know the razing of the Temple – at least the first time – occurred when the Roman army invaded Jerusalem in August of 70 AD.
After speaking of false Messiahs, grand deceptions, wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes, the Lord Jesus used the poignant – yet common – analogy of a baby’s birth: All these are the beginning of birth-pains (Matthew 24:8).
Paul picks up that metaphor 2 decades later when writing to the believers he had left behind weeks earlier after a clandestine night-time escape from the Macedonian city of Thessalonica: While people are saying, Peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
And, therein lies 2 important interpretive keys:
1) the Lord Jesus predicted waves of carnage, violence and destruction would lead up to His return like birth pains for a woman about to give birth. Contractions grow more frequent and intense as the moment of delivery occurs.
2) however, the Day of the Lord will dramatically occur precisely at a time when the soporific – and very temporary – effects of perceived peace and safety are in evidence.
In other words, we need to watch for calm rather than calamity.
For that reason, if I’m reading the signs accurately, my belief is that the Day of the Lord and the return of Christ is not quite yet.
We’ve had multiple global birth pains, many of which are remembered by our older family members and friends, occurring in the first half of the 20th century: WW1 (1914-18), the Spanish flu pandemic (1918-20), the Great Depression (1930s), WW2 (1939-45).
Not to be omitted is the Holocaust which destroyed close to 40% of the world’s Jewish population, resulting in the re-birth – after almost 19 centuries – of the nation of Israel in 1948, a key fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
And although we are seeing an unprecedented global lock-down, let’s remember to watch for peace and safety.
In short, perceived tranquility rather than tribulation.
And at the same time, let’s not be lulled into apathy.
The New Testament frequently uses the Lord Jesus’ analogy of a night burglar – stealthy, unexpected, sudden. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into (Matthew 24:43)
The Day of the Lord will strike when least expected.
Paul again to the Thessalonians: for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:2,4).
This warning from the Apostle Peter: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:10).
And the final uses of the thief analogy from John’s apocalyptic vision in the Revelation: Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you (Revelation 3:3).
And, Behold, I come like a thief! (Revelation 16:15).
Takeaway: the Lord’s people are to be vigilant, watchful, and alert for birth-pains, expectant and prepared as if for a thief.
And we are to be pursuing righteousness as we live for Christ.
May we be found faithful on the Day of the Lord!
~graphic by Jenny Kennedy-Olsen on freeimages.com