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The Day of the Lord — What Is It?

by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam

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The Scriptures have much to say about “the day of the Lord,” but precisely what is the day of the Lord?

Generally speaking, of course, it refers to the time when the day of man, or “the times of the Gentiles,” will be brought to an end and “the Lord alone shall be exalted” (Isa. 2:11,17). But will it include more than the actual return and reign of Christ? Will it include the prophesied tribulation period, during which God will bring Gentile rule to an end? We believe it will.

One pastor who teaches that the Body of Christ will go through the tribulation and that its Rapture to be with Christ will follow the tribulation, writes:

“The day of the Lord follows the tribulation and it is the day of the Lord’s wrath upon those who `know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (II Thes. 1:8). It comes as `a thief in the night,’ which is not so with the tribulation.”

But this interpretation does not take into account all that is said in Scripture about the day of the Lord—and contradicts some of it.

When our Lord returns to earth in person, “in flaming fire taking vengeance” and “punishing” with “everlasting destruction,” He will evidently dispatch His enemies forthwith. There is no evidence that this will cover a protracted period of time. Paul, describing the arrival of the day of the Lord in I Thessalonians 5:1-3 says nothing about the personal return of Christ, but he does describe a protracted period of suffering and trouble. Read this statement carefully:

“The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night, for when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

First, note that the phrase “thief in the night” is not used to describe suddenness, but unexpectedness. The thief plans his visit for the time when he will be least expected. This phrase is so used of our Lord’s return to earth in Matthew 24:43,44. But I Thessalonians 5:1-3 states that the “destruction” of “the day of the Lord” will also come as “a thief in the night.”

The Antichrist will have made a seven-year covenant with Israel and the world will enjoy three and a half years of “peace and safety.” Then, unexpectedly, he will break the covenant and defile the temple, plunging the nations into the most terrible time of trouble they have ever experienced (See Dan. 9:27; 12:1; Matt. 24:21).

Actually God will take over as the “great tribulation” breaks, letting the nations of the world bring their uncalled-for rebellion to a head.

Next, note the phrase, “as travail upon a woman with child.” When Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel “in the midst of the week”1 (Dan. 9:27), “destruction” will break out suddenly. This does not mean, however, that it will run its course in a moment. Rather, it will “come upon them” suddenly, and run its course “as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

The travail of a woman with child takes time. The birth pangs increase both in frequency and in intensity until the child is born.

This, we suggest, illustrates the “great tribulation” far more accurately than it does the actual return of Christ, for during the great tribulation the world’s troubles will indeed increase both in frequency and intensity “and they shall not escape.” This “destruction,” to take place during “the day of the Lord,” will overtake the world of the ungodly unexpectedly, just when they are congratulating themselves as having attained “Peace and safety” (I Thes. 5:3).

Now please think carefully. Will anyone be saying, “Peace and safety” at the close of the “great tribulation”? Will anyone rejoice in “Peace and safety” as the battle of Armageddon rages? How, then, can this passage about “the day of the Lord” refer only to the return of Christ after the tribulation?

But when we see that “the day of the Lord” begins with, rather than after the tribulation, all is in order.

As we know, the seven years of the tribulation will begin with the rider on the “white horse” (Rev. 6:1,2—evidently Antichrist cf. Rev. 19:11—the true Christ), who goes forth “conquering and to conquer.” Like Antiochus Epiphanes, he will “come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries” (Dan. 11:21). All will go well for him and he will bring to the world a kind of peace that will win him universal allegiance. “Peace and safety”! the world will exclaim.

But of the rider on the next horse we read: “and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth” (Rev. 6:4). Then follow war, famine and death (Vers. 3-8).

This “destruction” will come suddenly when, after three and a half years (“in the midst of the week”), Antichrist will betray Israel and break his seven-year covenant with them (Dan. 9:27), and will, like An-tiochus Epiphanes, desecrate the temple (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; Matt. 24:15; II Thes. 2:3,4).

There we have it! Our “post-tribulation” brethren say that “the day of the Lord follows the tribulation.” Paul, in I Thessalonians 5:1-3, makes it clear that the day of the Lord includes the tribulation. They have men in the closing, most terrible hours of the tribulation saying, “Peace and safety”! They have the Lord’s speedy judgment of the ungodly described by “travail upon a woman with child”!

No, the Rapture of the Body of Christ to be with Him will not follow the tribulation; it will precede it. Thus the Apostle Paul, after writing about the Rapture of the Body in I Thessalonians 4, continues in Chapter 5 with the word “But,” to show the disrelation of God’s prophesied “times and seasons” and “the day of the Lord,” from that blessed day for which every believer should be “looking,” “waiting” and “watching.”

“Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thes. 4:18), and “be not soon troubled” (II Thes. 2:2), for like the Thessalonian believers we are to “serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven…who hath delivered us from the wrath to come” (I Thes. 1:9,10).

THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS

As we have demonstrated, the prophesied day of the Lord takes us back to the middle of the Tribulation when the “peace and safety” that Antichrist brings, will be suddenly broken, and the horrors of the “great tribulation” will come upon this world “as travail upon a woman with child.”

With God’s help, we will seek further to show from Scripture that the “day of the Lord” takes us back even to the beginning of the Tribulation period, for the first three and a half years of the Tribulation are the introduction to the rest.

Here we must ask what will cause men to say “peace and safety”? II Thessalonians 2 gives us light on this.

In Verse 7 the Apostle says:

“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work, only He who now letteth [hindereth] will let [hinder], until He be taken out of the way.”

We take this to be the Holy Spirit in the Church. Not that the Holy Spirit will not be operating on earth during the Tribulation, but He will be taken out of the way as a restraining force when the Church is caught up to be with Christ.

Verse 8: “And then shall that Wicked [one] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.”

The “then” of Verse 8 is also used in a broad sense, for it is obvious that while the full manifestation of Antichrist will take place in the midst of the seven years of the Tribulation, his destruction will take place at the end of the seven years. Doubtless his manifestation will be a gradual matter, for when he sits in the temple of God, posing as God (Ver. 4), he will already have held sway for three and a half years. See what the Apostle says about this deceiver in Verses 9 and 10:

“Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders,

“And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.”

It should be observed that not all wars begin with a battle, and God here begins to wage war on this Christ-rejecting world by simply letting them believe the big lie that they have always wanted to believe. How could God state more clearly that He will begin to judge this wicked world than by removing the restraining influence and giving men up to Antichrist? And, as we say, this takes us back to the beginning of the Tribulation. This first part of the Tribulation ushers in the judgments of God for grace rejected.

Though God has sent a message of grace to all nations, they have turned a deaf ear to it. They do not wish to acknowledge their sin and their need of Christ. In John 5:40,43, we have the words of our Lord:

“Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.”

“I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.”

And this is exactly the case. The world has never received Christ, but when Antichrist comes they will go wild over him. He is described in the Book of Revelation as the rider on the white horse, going forth “conquering and to conquer.”

Well do we remember the days of Hitler as one nation after another fell before his armies. He indeed went forth conquering, and many feared that he would continue “to conquer” until the whole world was under his sway. This, thankfully, did not take place, but with Antichrist his conquests will continue until he dominates all mankind.

It is of the utmost importance here to notice that this is God’s judgment upon “them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.”

“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thes. 2:10-12).

This, then, is included in “the day of the Lord” in its broadest sense, for this is how God will begin to bring the day of man, or “the times of the Gentiles [nations],” to an end.

Thus we do not agree that “the day of the Lord follows the Tribulation” and that only His return to earth is “the day of the Lord’s wrath upon those who `know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.’” God begins to judge man by giving him up to Antichrist; then comes the “great tribulation,” the latter half of the seven years, and then our Lord’s return to bring to a speedy end that which began as “travail upon a woman with child.”

Thus, the day of the Lord, as it is spoken of in Scripture, may be referred to in a narrow sense, or in a broader sense. In its narrowest sense it refers to the reign of Christ on earth, but in its broader sense it includes the whole Tribulation period. As some theologians might put it, we have the day of the Lord proper, and the day of the Lord general, the latter including the reign of Christ and the Tribulation, when God begins to intervene in man’s affairs by giving him the Antichrist, the big lie men have always wanted.

Any who have not acknowledged their sin and have not yet trusted Christ as Savior should remember that while God is gracious and patient, He will not allow man to go on forever rejecting and insulting His Son. And when His anger is finally aroused it will be “the cup of His indignation, poured out without mixture.”

God is not the soft “do-gooder” of man’s conception. True, He is the very personification of love, but He is also the personification of righteousness and justice and truth and, in anger against love spurned, He will finally judge this world by giving men up to the kind of Christ they have always desired—Antichrist. They will perish “because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” and “for this cause God shall send them strong delusion,” by removing the restraints that have hindered the reign of Antichrist.

Since the Rapture of the Church could take place at any moment and bring to a close this dispensation of Grace, how important it is to trust Christ without delay, before it is eternally too late.

“The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into His hands,

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:35,36).

“…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2).

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…” (Acts 16:31).

“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;

“And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3,4).