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  • Writer's pictureMichael Filipek

What Is the Day of the Lord?

Updated: Mar 8

The Judgment of the Day of the Lord

The Day of the Lord is a Biblical term that, within Bible prophecy discussion, is often either not defined at all, or is defined in a way that limits its scope in a way inconsistent with its actual usage in scripture. What is the basic definition of the Day of the Lord, according to its scriptural usage? Put simply, the Day of the Lord denotes God’s times of intervention in human history. As the Creator of the universe, God had specific purposes in mind for its creation – and as a result, when the sinful tendencies of mankind interfere with the sovereign plan of God, there is a point at which He intervenes in order to accomplish these purposes.

Old Testament scholar and theologian J. Barton Payne described the Day of the Lord as follows.

The comprehensive phase, by which the Old Testament describes God’s intervention in human history for the accomplishment of His testament is yom Yahwe, “the day of Yahweh.” … The “day” is thus characterized by an observable accomplishment of the general aims of divine providence. It refers to that point in history at which the sovereign God lays bare His arm on the behalf of His testament and of its heirs… [1]

Similarly, theologian Renald Showers defined the Day of the Lord in the following way.

In the Scriptures the expression “the Day of the Lord” (together with other synonymous expressions, such as “that day, the day of God,” etc.) is strongly related to God’s rule of the earth and, therefore, to His sovereign purpose for world history and specific events within that history. The Day of the Lord refers to God’s special interventions into the course of world events to judge His enemies, accomplish His purpose for history, and thereby demonstrate who He is – the sovereign God of the universe. [2]

The scriptures clearly indicate that its mentions of the Day of the Lord (like much of the Bible’s prophetic content) often focus on a near-term or local application, as well as a future ultimate eschatological sense. In an article on the Day of the Lord in The Popular Encyclopedia Of Bible Prophecy, Richard L. Mayhue writes:

A survey of the prophets indicates the term [Day of the Lord] was used in reference to both near historical fulfillments and far future eschatological events. [3]

We can take note of these usages in the Old Testament books of the prophets where the term “Day of the Lord” appears – including Obadiah, Joel, Amos, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Malachi – showing how these authors spoke of the Day of the Lord in both a near-term historical sense but also a far-term future eschatological sense that clearly transcended any immediate local application.

In the past “Days of the Lord,” God typically used foreign nations to execute His sovereign interventions against His enemies – in the form of war and military invasions. For instance, He raised up Assyria to invade, conquer, and exile the apostate Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 700s BC, as we see in, for example, Amos 5:18-20. God also similarly raised up Babylon to bring His judgment against the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the centuries to follow – as we see in passages such as Lamentations 1-2, Ezekiel 7:19, 13:5, and Zephaniah 2:2-3. He also used Babylon to bring judgment against Egypt and its allies in the 500s BC, as shown in Jeremiah 46:10 and Ezekiel 30:2. In similar fashion, Medo-Persia was later used to judge Babylon for its wickedness, as we see in Isaiah 13:6 and 9.

The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem

But these past historical interventions are just foreshadows of the future ultimate Day of the Lord – in which God will intervene not only by using human instruments to execute His divine wrath, but He Himself as the risen Messiah, Jesus Christ, will actually arrive on the scene and fight against His enemies, bringing about His earthly reign – the Millennial

Kingdom. George Ladd wrote:

The prophets viewed the immediate historical future against the background of the final eschatological consummation, for the same God who was acting in history would finally establish his Kingdom in the future. [4]

When we get to the New Testament, we then see that the New Testament writers consistently interpreted these Old Testament prophetic “Day of the Lord” texts in light of this ultimate eschatological fulfillment to take place in the future, and connected them with the noteworthy end-time events that Christians today refer to as the Tribulation and the Millennial Kingdom. These both are major eschatological events that consummate the age of human rule over the earth and usher in the judgments and blessings of God as He brings about His sovereign purposes for the earth.

Showers provides a number of scriptural indicators that require the Day of the Lord to apply most ultimately to this future culminating time period where God brings about one final intervention in human history.

First, Isaiah 2:10-22 describes a Day of the Lord that will involve the sixth seal described by the Apostle John in Revelation 6:12-17. Because this sixth seal will take place during the [future] 70th Week of Daniel 9, the Day of the Lord that will involve that seal must also take place during that future time period.
Second, Isaiah 34:1-8 and Obadiah 15 describe a Day of the Lord when God will judge all nations or Gentiles of the world. None of the past Days of the Lord involved divine judgment of all the nations. Up to this point in history, there has not been a judgment of all nations during the same time period. In light of this, we must conclude that the Day of the Lord of Isaiah 34 and Obadiah must be future.
Third, Joel 3:1-16 and Zechariah 14:1-3, 12-15 refer to a Day of the Lord that will involve God’s judgment of the armies of all the nations of the world, when those armies gather in Israel to wage war against that nation and the city of Jerusalem and when the Messiah comes to war against them. According to Revelation 16:12-16, those armies will not begin to gather until the sixth bowl is poured out during the [future] 70th Week of Daniel 9. In addition, Revelation 19:11-21 indicates that Christ will wage war against them when He comes from heaven to earth. This, too, forces the conclusion that the Day of the Lord of Joel 3 and Zechariah 14 is future.
Fourth, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Apostle Paul referred to a Day of the Lord that was future beyond the time when he wrote his epistle and that would bring sudden, inescapable destruction upon the unsaved of the world. That Day of the Lord had not taken place before Paul wrote his Thessalonian epistle, and it seems evident that nothing of its nature has transpired since. Thus, the Day of the Lord of 1 Thessalonians 5 is also future. [5]

It is also crucial for us to recognize that just as the historically-fulfilled “Days of the Lord” were not necessarily literal, twenty-four-hour days (but rather periods of judgment), our interpretation of the future ultimate eschatological Day of the Lord also cannot be limited to a twenty-four-hour day. Rather, scripture clearly describes it in its broadest sense as a prolonged period of time. John Walvoord, one of the most prominent Dispensational scholars of the twentieth century wrote:

According to the Bible, the day of the Lord is a time when God deals in direct judgment of the world in contrast to a time of grace when he does not. There were frequent days of the Lord in the Old Testament when God dealt with Israel because of their straying and would bring in an invader or would introduce drought or famine or some other catastrophe. These periods had a beginning and an ending, but obviously were more than a twenty-four-hour day. It was an extended period of time, long or short, depending on the circumstances. [6]

And so, we can readily understand the ultimate eschatological nature of the Day of the Lord in scripture. It has both past historical and ultimate future applications – but always refers to the periods of time when God Himself intervenes in history in order to bring about His sovereign plan for the world.

In the next several articles on this topic, as we uncover deeper nuances of how this concept is expressed in the Bible, our concern will not involve the past historical applications, but instead will look deeper into the future, ultimate, eschatological Day of the Lord.


[1] J. Barton Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1962, pp. 464-465.

[2] Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Come! Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 1995, p. 30.

[3] Richard L. Mayhue, “The Day of the Lord,” in The Popular Encyclopedia Of Bible Prophecy, eds. Tim Lahaye and Ed Hindson, Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2004, p. 73.

[4] George Ladd, The Presence of the Future, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974, p. 68.

[5] Showers, pp. 31-32.

[6] John Walvoord, “The Day of the Lord,” in Journal of Ministry and Theology, 4:2, Fall, 2000, p. 10.

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