~by Randy Bushey
…for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
…not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
As we’ve discussed in our Bible preaching series Faith in Affliction, Paul was not reluctant – unlike us? – to teach the infant Thessalonian believers about the return of Christ and related events.
Clearly, the Apostle believed unwaveringly that in withstanding the persecution activated by their recent coming to Christ in faith, knowing about the promised return of the Saviour would be a source of encouragement and accountability to these suffering saints.
And so, in the verses above, Paul referenced the day of the Lord.
The specific concept of the day of the Lord spans several prophets in the Old Testament (OT) and the writings of Peter and Paul in the New (NT).
All point to a time of divine intervention and judgment.
In OT Israel and Judah, the theological idea involves multiple facets representing good news for Israel. “The expression ‘the day of the Lord’ was used by the prophets to indicate the time when the current state of affairs will be replaced by the Lord’s intended order of things.” 1
Included are predictions of destruction of the nations identified as enemies of Israel and Judah, together with the deliverance and blessing on Israel, Judah and other nations.
The OT suggests dramatic cosmic signs will accompany that time: The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD (Joel 2:31).
God would use that day to glorify His Name: The Lord alone will be exalted in that day…(Isaiah 12:17).
He will restore His theocracy with Jerusalem as His global capital: The LORD will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and for ever (Micah 4:7).
But then, a relatively obscure OT minor prophet throws a wrench into the works.
Amos, an 8th century BC sheep-breeder and herdsman-rancher prophesied at a time of national stability, prosperity and expansion for Judah and Israel.
As the Hebrew people anticipated the great future day when God would deal in wrath with their enemies, Amos added a dimension – unwanted and unexpected – to the puzzle: the day of the Lord would inflict judgement on Israel and Judah, too!
Amos was “repudiating the popular notion that the ‘day of the Lord’ was a day of national blessing only”. 2
He warns by way of ominous metaphor: Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light…Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light— pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? (Amos 5:18, 20).
Those who syncretize idolatry with observance of the Law of Moses – even though assuming ethnic protection as descendants of Abraham – would be targets of His wrath on that day, says the Prophet.
Like other Bible prophecy, it appears that the day of the Lord predictions often had an immediate fulfillment, which then foreshadowed a greater, ultimate, still-future and ultimate fulfillment to conclude our present age.
For example, Joel correlates the current locust plague judgment with the inception of the concluding future day of the Lord.
One theologian summarizes this way in addressing the body of relevant OT prophetic utterances:“…it seems necessary to distinguish between a primary day – one of intervention by Yahweh with limited effect – and a secondary day – one of universal cosmic judgement.” 3
The Reformation Study Bible notes, “Every OT judgement is also a ‘day of the Lord’ and anticipates that final day’.” 4
Consequently – and centuries later – the NT recognizes the day of the Lord as eschatology – firmly in the domain of “end times” events.
That “day” is a series of events falling like dominoes, but triggered by the 2nd coming of the Lord Jesus.
“The result of this is that there may be numerous ‘days of the Lord’ before the day of the Lord that will inaugurate a new order that will never be at risk or destabilized.” 5
Rather than being a single 24-hour period, the phrase appears to suggest an era – a season of God’s final dealing with mankind, activated by the return of the Lord Jesus to defeat His enemies and usher in the final phase of the Kingdom of God about which He constantly preached.
“His return would mark the beginning of the time or day of judgement, after which the faithful would inherit the kingdom of God”. 6
And subsequently, the day of the Lord will conclude with the destruction of the physical world according to the plan devised by the Tri-Une God before Creation: 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).
Takeaway: The Apostle Paul – twice in the Thessalonian correspondence – used the analogy of a thief in conjunction with the day of the Lord in general and Christ’s return in particular.
-…for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
– But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:4).
Paul’s cautionary metaphor serves as a stark reminder that the day of the Lord initiated by Christ’s return will be sudden, unexpected, and will occasion loss for those unprepared.
Are you ready?
1 A Survey of the Old Testament, Andrew Hill & John Walton, Zondervan, 2000, p.523.
2 ibid, p.482
3 Anchor Bible Dictionary, article by K.J. Cathcart, volume 2, Doubleday, 1992, p.85.
4 Reformation Study Bible, R.C. Sproul, General Editor, Reformation Trust, 2015, p.1545.
5 A Survey of the Old Testament, p 524.
6 Anchor Bible Dictionary, article by Richard Hiers, volume 2, p.76.
graphic from freebibleimages.org