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  • Writer's pictureMichael Filipek

The Double Sense of the Future Day of the Lord


Jesus releasing Day of the Lord judgments

In addition to the two-fold nature of the future Day of the Lord that we examined in the previous article, an equally important awareness is that it also has a “double sense” – it is both broad and narrow in terms of its duration.


The broad sense refers to an extended time period that begins with the Rapture (a key insight that lies outside of the scope of this article series), and then covers the post-Rapture/pre-Tribulation gap period, the Tribulation period, and the Millennium. The narrow sense refers to one specific and climactic day of ultimate significance – the day that involves Christ’s actual physical return to the earth at His Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation.


We’ve also provided the following chart in order to present a visual aid of both the Day of the Lord’s two-fold nature (darkness/judgment + light/blessing) and double sense (broad + narrow).


The two-fold nature and double sense of the future Day of the Lord

This key and fundamental insight of a “double sense” is often ignored, misunderstood, or overlooked by many Biblical commentators. However, we should point out that for the present context of our study, it will be an essential concept to understand correctly. So, let’s begin to carefully examine this issue.


First, we must recognize that just as we today often use single words in a variety of ways in common language, single words in scripture are also used in a variety of ways. For example, consider all of the ways the word “apple” may be used in English. You may be referring to an actual fruit. You may be referring to a computer (the brand Apple, Inc.). You may be referring to New York City (nicknamed the “Big Apple”). Or, you may be using the term figuratively (the “apple” of your eye). You may even be referring to the laryngeal prominence on the front of the human neck (called the “Adam’s apple”).


Word usage in the Bible is no different. We understand how a word is being used by the context. Furthermore, a basic hermeneutical (interpretive) guideline is that the Bible is the best interpreter of itself. We can often rely on scripture itself to define the parameters of how a given term is used, and therefore, how we are to understand it. This is especially true of the term “day,” and therefore, by extension, “the Day of the Lord.” Concerning this issue, Walvoord writes:


The word “day” is used in the Bible in various ways. Sometimes it is used to refer to daylight; for instance, the hours between dawn and sunset. Sometimes it is used to refer to a twenty-four-hour day. The Jewish day began at sunset and continued to the next day at sunset. That also is referred to as a day. Sometimes the word day is used in the Bible as a period of time, just as we use it in English. We speak of the day of our youth; what do we mean by that? We do not mean that we were young only one day, but we mean the extended period of time in which we were young. [1]

So, we should recognize that the word “day” in scripture has both a narrow sense (meaning an actual twenty-four-hour day, or sometimes even just the daylight period of it) and a broad sense (meaning an epoch or extended period of time). Genesis 1:5 is a clear example of the narrow sense of the word “day.”


And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. -Genesis 1:5

This verse speaks of the daylight period of a literal twenty-four-hour day, and also the evening and morning, or darkness and light segments of a literal twenty-four-hour day. If you continue reading Genesis Chapter 1, the verses to follow tell us about the next six days of creation in which God brought His work to completion. But then in Genesis 2:4, we read the following summary.


These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made. -Genesis 1:5

As we clearly see in the verses between Genesis 1:5 and 2:3, the text informs us that God performed the creation in seven literal twenty-four-hour days. Yet, Genesis 2:4 sums up these “narrow-sense” creation days as a “broad day” period. In other words, it refers to the whole creation week period figuratively, as a “day.”


Psalm 59:16 is another example of “day” being used in a more unconstrained, figurative sense, as to mean “a period of time.”


But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble. -Psalm 59:16

Here, the Psalmist was not trying to convey that his trouble was confined to a literal twenty-four-hour period, but rather that God has been his defense and refuge during any and all periods of trouble in his life.


The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary confirms this understanding, providing the following definition of the Biblical word day (the Hebrew word yom).


Day, used both in the particular sense of a natural day, and in the general sense of a set time or period of time. … Day is often used by sacred writers, in a general sense, for a definite period of time – an era or season, when something remarkable has taken place or is destined to do so. [2]

Many modern prophecy commentators are quick to recognize the narrow sense of the Day of the Lord, understanding the obvious scriptural emphasis on the climactic, literal twenty-four-hour day that will involve Christ’s return. On this culminating day of the judgment phase, He will return to the earth with His bride the Church, defeat His enemies, and rescue the righteous remnant of Israel. However, these commentators often miss the broad sense of the Day of the Lord, not recognizing that scripture clearly uses this term to describe a wider period of time that encompasses all of the major eschatological events the Bible foretells (from the Rapture to the end of the Millennial Kingdom). This usage is similar to the way we might use the term “Christmas” in our modern culture. Christmas has both a broad sense and a narrow sense. When referring to Christmas, we often mean the entire Christmas season. But yet, there is also that one, specific, climaxing day – Christmas Day, December 25th.


A somewhat similar Biblical example is the Passover. According to Leviticus 23:5, the specific day of Passover is to be the 14th day of the first month. However, we also learn that the Passover season as a whole involves a broader period that involves the selection of a Passover lamb on the 10th, the Passover Seder that takes place on the 15th (which begins the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread), and the Feast of First Fruits that takes place on the first Sunday following Passover. These can all connotatively be referred to as the Passover season – and yet, there is that one denotative, specific day of Passover, which is the 14th, when the lambs are killed.


In fact, a study of the Passion Week chronology in the gospels reveals that the Bible also uses the term “Unleavened Bread” in this way also. Sometimes it denotatively refers to the actual day when the feast or Seder took place (the 15th), but other times it is used more connotatively to refer to this entire festival week. Many commentators have ended up in error by not maintaining a precise understanding of the connotative and denotative usages of Biblical terms – and as a result, the Bible will appear contradictory.


Like the two-fold nature of the Day of the Lord, this understanding of the double sense of the Day of the Lord is also a concept well-recognized by scholars of all eschatological persuasions. For example, John Walvoord recognized the broad period of the Day of the Lord as beginning with the Rapture and extending until the end of the Millennium.


When the rapture occurs, this work of God [the Church] will be brought to its close and the Day of the Lord will begin. … the period in general would extend from the rapture until the end of the millennium. [3]

Renald Showers also noted the broad and narrow sense of the Day of the Lord.


We should note that the biblical expression “the Day of the Lord” has a double sense (broad and narrow) in relationship to the future. The broad sense refers to an extended period of time involving divine interventions related to at least the 70th week of Daniel and the thousand-year Millennium. … The narrow sense refers to one specific day – the day on which Christ will return to earth from heaven with His angels. [4]

In similar fashion, A.B. Davidson stated:


Though the “Day of the Lord,” as the expression implies, was at first conceived as a definite and brief period of time, being an era of judgment and salvation, it many times broadened out to be an extended period. From being a day it became an epoch. [5]

So, again, we should recognize that the Day of the Lord’s double sense is not some new or deviant belief. Rather, it has been long recognized by careful Bible interpreters.


In the previous article of this series, we examined a number of prophetic passages from the Old Testament prophets that demonstrated the reality of the Day of the Lord as a prolonged period consisting of a darkness/judgment phase and a light/blessing phase. That understanding also substantiates the claims of this article, in which the double sense is our current topic. In that article, we showed scriptural evidence that the Day of the Lord in one sense is broad in its duration. But we will now focus our attention on the scriptural support for the other sense – a narrow period of one specific day of culmination.


The existence of a specific climaxing day is clear in light of a careful examination of the prophetic body of scripture. Many scriptures can be presented that focus on this day that we call the Second Coming, the climax of the darkness/judgment phase, in which the Lord returns to destroy His enemies. Let’s examine several.


Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. -Zechariah 14:1-4

This excerpt seems to clearly focus its identification of the Day of the Lord on the events of the narrow sense (the literal twenty-four-hour day in which the Second Coming proper occurs and the Lord defeats the enemies of Israel).


A similar example is found in Joel 3. In this chapter, it is obvious that Verses 12-16 focus on the narrow period of the Day of the Lord (the actual twenty-four-hour day of Christ’s return). It reads:


Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats 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. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: -Joel 3:12-16

We also find a prime example in Amos 5:18-20 (which we also noted in the previous article), in which the text explicitly denies that there is any light found for the wicked during the Day of the Lord.


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? -Amos 5:18-20

Clearly, this refers most specifically to the narrow sense of the Day of the Lord, as it focuses on darkness and judgment. We’ve just spent time showing the many Biblical mentions of the light/blessing phase of the broad period. Either the Bible is contradictory, or this passage in Amos must be understood to be focusing specifically on the wicked who experience the narrow sense of that Day. This turns out to be a potent confirmation that scripture uses two senses to describe the Day of the Lord. Clearly, this context of darkness is addressed to a specific audience, which Verse 1 of this chapter demands to be the unbelieving nation of Israel on earth during this time of judgment.


We can also note that the Old Testament has a special term used to describe this narrow period. We find this term in Joel 2:31, as Joel foretells the darkening of the heavenly bodies prior to the coming of the “great and terrible Day of the Lord.”


The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. -Joel 2:31

This also is a potent confirmation that the Bible speaks of two senses when it describes the Day of the Lord. A reading of Revelation and other prophetic passages foretell the celestial phenomena (such as that which is mentioned in this verse) that will take place during the Day of the Lord. Since Joel here described the Day of the Lord as following these celestial events, are we to then believe that they, as well as the other judgments are not part of that Day? Without recognizing the double senses of the Day of the Lord, one would be forced to adopt such a conclusion.


It is clear that the “great and terrible Day of the Lord” is a special term the Old Testament uses to specifically describe this narrow period – the climaxing day of the Second Coming. We find a similar expression in Malachi 4:5.


Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: -Malachi 4:5

Similarly, when Malachi writes that God will send Elijah before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord, it should be understood to mean that Elijah would return prior to the narrow Day – not prior to the broad Day. Elijah will likely return as one of the Two Witnesses in Revelation (11:3-12, et al.), which takes place during the Tribulation period (part of the broad Day).


The understanding that this term (“the great and terrible/dreadful Day of the Lord”) is a reference to the culminating day when Christ returns to earth in power and glory goes all the way back to the interpretation of the ancient Jewish rabbis, as preserved in The Babylonian Talmud. Tractate Shabbath, Folio 118a tells us plainly:


This is understood to refer to the advent of the Messiah. [6]

Referring to the Joel 2:31 passage, Bible scholar E.W. Bullinger rightly observes that this “great and terrible” day is the narrow day, or the culminating day of a broader period.


It is called “the great and terrible day of the Lord,” as though it were the climax of the whole period known as “the day of the Lord.” [7]

Similarly, Renald Showers wrote:


We should note that the Scriptures apply the expression “the great and terrible day of the Lord” to the narrow Day, not the broad Day. The implication is that the narrow Day will differ from the rest of the broad Day, not only in duration, but also in significance. Although the earlier part of the judgment phase of the broad Day will involve a great outpouring of divine wrath upon the domain of Satan and mankind, the narrow Day will be the grand climax of that judgment phase. [8]

And so, we should understand that the narrow period of the Day of the Lord (the great and terrible Day of the Lord) is the grand day of climax of the judgment phase of the wider broad Day period.


Conclusion


Throughout our three-part review of the Biblical presentation of the Day of the Lord, we have noted several important aspects that will be critical for us to understand this subject. First, we noted that the Day of the Lord refers to the times of God’s divine interventions into the course of human history in order to judge sin, judge His enemies, accomplish His purposes for mankind, and display His sovereignty as the God of the universe.


Second, we recognized that the Day of the Lord is applicable to past historical events in which God intervened in history, but even more notably to a future grand climax of human history in which this final and ultimate Day of the Lord is anticipated. Unlike the past events where God primarily intervened by using human instruments, this final eschatological Day of the Lord will climax in the actual, physical return of Jesus Christ to earth to judge and defeat His enemies.


Third, we noted that the future Day of the Lord has a two-fold nature. First, there will be a phase characterized by darkness and judgment. This phase will involve the time period beginning with the Rapture, the post-Rapture gap period that follows it, the Tribulation period, and will culminate with the Second Coming. A significant recognition is the fact that the Rapture is the opening event of the broad Day of the Lord (which is outside the scope of this article series). While the saints are being raptured in glory, the darkness/ judgment phase of the broad Day immediately falls on the wicked inhabitants of the earth.


Following this darkness/judgment phase, there will be a second phase characterized by light and blessing. This phase will involve the Millennial reign of Christ on earth. Figuratively, this compares to an actual twenty-four-hour day in the sense that it involves a period of darkness followed by a period of light.


Fourth, we then noted that the future Day of the Lord has a double sense in terms of duration. In its broad sense, it refers to a prolonged period beginning with the Rapture, the post-Rapture gap period that follows it, the Tribulation period, and the Millennial Kingdom. But in its narrow sense, it refers to a specific day of culmination in which Christ returns in glory to judge His enemies. This narrow period is sometimes called “the great and terrible Day of the Lord,” referring to the time immediately surrounding the Second Coming. It is the climactic day that separates the darkness phase from the light phase.


At the root of most misunderstandings of eschatology is a deficient understanding of how the Bible self-defines its own terms. Since the Day of the Lord by definition describes God's program for the end times, then understanding all of these aspects is invaluable for equipping us with a sound understanding of the chronology of Biblical eschatology. It will help us avoid the common pitfalls that so frequently hinder a sound understanding of the end times.


 

[1] John Walvoord, “The Day of the Lord,” Jan. 1, 2008, Bible.org. (https://bible.org/seriespage/5-day-lord - Retrieved 3/27/22)

[2] Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison, Chicago: Moody Publishers, rev. 1988, pp. 1283, 1286.

[3] John Walvoord, The Nations, Israel, and the Church in Prophecy, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988, p. 86.

[4] Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Come! Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 1995, p. 35.

[5] A.B. Davidson, “The Theology of the Old Testament,” in International Theological Library, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936, p. 381.

[6] The Babylonian Talmud, London: Soncino Press, 1938, “Shabbath,” 118a, in footnote, p. 580.

[7] E.W. Bullinger, The Apocalypse or “The Day of the Lord,” London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1935, p. 248.

[8] Showers, pp. 36-37.


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