The Day of the Lord

Dr. Brian Allison

Have you heard of one of the latest behavioural disorders – the 'Jerusalem Syndrome'? Apparently, some of the people who are traveling to Jerusalem believe either that they are a divinely, appointed messenger of God, or that they have a timely, special message from God. The Jerusalem Syndrome may be a form of religious delusion. Apparently, this syndrome will become more widespread as we approach the year 2000. Some are predicting that many people will go to Jerusalem and believe that they have been sent there to do the Lord's work and prepare the world for the end times. These people apparently will prophesy concerning future events. However, let me remind you that we have the full revelation of God in the Bible. God has already supplied us with all that we need to know concerning the end times. God has made it perfectly clear what will transpire at the end of history.

In 1 Thessalonians, we have various references to the parousia (the coming) or the second advent of Jesus Christ. When Christ returns to the earth (and He will most definitely return one day), the dear departed souls who have died in Christ will accompany Him. At His return, the bodies of the dead will be resurrected; and those who are resurrected unto eternal life will be caught up to meet Christ in the air; and those who are alive and remain until the coming of Christ, will also be caught up to meet Him in the air. All the redeemed will be transformed and glorified, and will gather together. Loved ones will see those who, years before, will have passed away in Christ. So, when Christ comes again, it will be a day of rejoicing, celebration, and happiness. However, it will also be a day of sadness, weeping, and sorrow. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 reads, "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 birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."

Some future events

These particular verses are a continuation of the theme in 4:13-18. Whereas in chapter 4, we have a high note with respect to the coming of Christ, trumpeting the glorious day of resurrection and blessed reunion, the beginning of chapter 5, on the other hand, sounds the somber note of Christ's return. Certain future events will transpire, coinciding with, and preceding, His return – "Now as to the times [general course of the future] and the epochs [special or specific events], brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you" (5:1). Apparently, these believers at Thessalonica had been well-taught concerning future events. The apostle Paul had instructed them concerning what was to transpire prior to the coming of Jesus Christ. Thus, 2 Thessalonians 2:5 reads, "Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things [that is, these things concerning what would transpire, in a general way, prior to, and coinciding with, the return of Christ]?"

So, Paul says, in effect, "Brethren, you have no need for me to remind you again of the future through a letter, for you already know, in a general and accurate way, what will take place." Now, the question is this: What will be that general course of the future? What will be some of the specific events that will precede, and coincide with, the coming of the Lord? Well, confining our thoughts to the Thessalonian data, we discover that one thing that we may expect is a great apostasy. 2 Thessalonians 2:3a reads, "Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the return of Christ] will not come unless the apostasy comes first." Prior to the coming of Christ, there will be various ones who will have made a profession of faith in Christ, various ones who will have attended Church, various ones who will have enjoyed Christian fellowship, various ones who will have indicated loyalty to Christ, who subsequently will have fallen away from the faith. The implied truth is that there will be a great tribulation (affliction and persecution) prior to the coming of Christ; a tribulation that will sift the hearts of those who have professed faith in Christ. My Christian brothers and sisters, let us not be surprised that as we move closer to the end of history, there will be a sifting in the Church; and because of affliction and persecution, those who at one time professed faith in Christ, will deny Him and return to the world (only the elect will persevere).

This future tribulation will coincide with the appearance of the antichrist, the son of perdition, the man of lawlessness. We read again, "Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [Christ's return] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness [the antichrist] is revealed, the son of destruction [the one who is destined to eternal destruction], who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God" (2 Th. 2:3,4). So, when the antichrist comes (who will most likely be the embodiment of Satan himself), he will assume the form of a political, religious leader, and he will demand universal allegiance and worship. He will exalt himself, and present and portray himself as being divine, identifying himself in some way with the Church of God (the holy temple). We further read in 2 Thessalonians 2:9,10, "The one whose coming [and that is the same term in the original that is used of Christ's coming - parousia] is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs [miracles] and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." When the antichrist comes on the world scene, he will demand unreserved obeisance, and in the failure to render this, he will persecute and destroy. Those who fail to bare the mark of the beast on their forehead and on their hand (i.e., render relentless obedience) will fall prey to the wrath of the antichrist. The Thessalonian believers had been taught these things. So, Paul says, "Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you."

The day of the Lord

The Thessalonian believers did not know the exact day nor hour of the coming of Christ – "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night" (5:2). It will come unexpectedly. Notice that with this verse, Paul identifies the coming of Jesus Christ with the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is an Old Testament concept that is carried over into the New Testament. For instance, Amos 5:16ff. reads, "Therefore, thus says the LORD God of hosts, the Lord, 'There is wailing in all the plazas, and in all the streets they say, "Alas! Alas!" They also call the farmers to mourning and the professional mourners to lamentation...'Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, for what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion, and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall, and a snake bites him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?'" The day of the Lord will be a day of great calamity and misfortune. Notice the vivid symbolism. There will be no brightness or light, but rather darkness and gloom. Of course, as we consider other passages in the Old Testament, we realize that there will be no brightness or light, but rather gloom and darkness, because the luminaries – the sun and the moon – will no longer shine, indicating that life and existence, as we now know it in the earth, will come to an end. So, Isaiah 13:6 reads, "Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty;" and verses 9ff., "Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud, and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless."

The day of the Lord will be a day of judgement; it will be a day of punishment; it will be a day of utter destruction; it will be a day of weeping, mourning, and gnashing of teeth. God will vindicate His righteousness and establish His justice. We have a foreshadowing of this day with the example of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by means of fire and brimstone – a graphic picture of the final judgement to come. God will come in the person of Jesus Christ and He will exterminate sinners, and establish His eternal kingdom. 2 Peter 3:10 reads, "But 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 its works will be burned up." The day of the Lord will be marked by a cosmic conflagration. The world will be consumed by flames of fire, and sinners 'will be turned into hell' (Ps. 9:17), and the creation will be purified. Recall the apocalyptic portrayal in Revelation 6:12ff., "And I looked when He [Christ] broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?"

Again, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 reads, "For you yourselves know full well [you know accurately] that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." When Christ returns with consuming fire, the inhabitants of the earth will least expect it. It will be a day when affairs will be going on as they have normally gone on; and people will be surprised. They will be unprepared; that day will come upon them stealthily – 'like a thief in the night'. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus teaches, "But 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 which were before the flood [before the universal judgement of God] they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage [continuing normal life activities], until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken [in judgement], and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken [in judgement], and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will" (Mt. 24:36-44).

We do not know when Christ will return, but we do know that He will most definitely return; and with that knowledge, we are to be ready, lest that day come upon us unexpectedly. We are to be ready by living holy lives; we are to be prepared by living obedient lives. We cannot say, 'Well, maybe I will seek the Lord tomorrow;" or, "Maybe I will get things right with God next week." You may not have the time you are bargaining on. When people least expect it, the Son of Man will return; and at that time, it will be too late to change. At the point of Christ's return, everyone's destiny will be fixed for eternity. There will be no second chances. Are you ready? If the Lord were to come today, in the next hour, would you be ready? As sure as you are reading the words on this page, many will be unprepared for His coming, when He comes like a thief in the night.

False security and utter destruction

When Christ returns, many will be living in false security, thinking that all is well, and that everything is fine, and then complete upheaval and devastation will come – "While they are saying, 'Peace and safety!' then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child" (5:3a). Think of the man suffering from prostate cancer (or the woman suffering from breast cancer) who goes to the doctor, and the disease is caught just in time. Consequently, he thinks that all is well. When he returns for his six month checkup, he receives a clean slate – all is well; and he says, "Peace and safety, everything is fine." After a year, he complains of discomfort in his side and visits his doctor; and not only is the cancer in his liver, but throughout his whole body. He had been living in false security.

Similarly, many people will be enjoying prosperity and happiness. Perhaps the world will be enjoying few international conflicts; perhaps poverty and crime will be significantly reduced. These circumstances will create a false security. Then destruction will come upon them suddenly; or, a better translation is this, 'then sudden destruction will come upon them'. That term 'destruction' may be translated 'ruin'. It is the same word used in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, a verse which also furnishes us with further insight into this impending destruction, "And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction [same word], away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." Those who are unprepared for the coming of the Lord will be banished from the presence of Christ and turned into hell. This term 'destruction' does not point to annihilation, nor to obliteration, but rather to excruciating and inconceivable pain and torment.

This destruction will come upon those who are unprepared like birth pangs upon a woman with child. That is, there will be not only great pain, but (as this simile infers) this great pain will be unavoidable. Thus, we further read, "And they shall not escape" (1 Th. 5:3b). No one will escape the coming judgement of God. Notice specifically who these condemned ones are, these ones who will be unprepared and thus will receive God's wrath. We read in 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9a, "Dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal [damnation or] destruction."

My non-Christian friend, it is not easy to present a message like this. I take absolutely no delight in writing the above words. Jesus is coming again to bring full redemption to His people, and His full wrath to sinners. My friend, you must believe that. My design herein is not to scare you, but rather to warn you; and if you do not believe and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and if you do not know God in a personal and accurate way, you will suffer eternal destruction, banished from the presence of Christ at His return. When that judgement comes, you will not escape it. As sure as you are reading these words, you will not escape the judgement of God. However, if you respond now to the Gospel, you will avoid that coming judgement. If you respond now, you will be delivered then. My non-Christian friend, I plead with you to repent of your sins, and to believe that Jesus Christ is your Saviour and Lord Who will deliver you from the wrath to come. Jesus is coming again.