Grace Theological Journal 6.2 (1985) 231-246.
1985 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
[Copyright © 1985 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
digitally prepared for use at
THE PROPHET'S WATCHWORD:
DAY OF THE LORD
RICHARD L. MAYHUE
The biblical phrase Day of the Lord" is a key phrase in
understanding God's revelation about the future. The NT writers' use
of this phrase rested upon their understanding of the OT prophets. A
survey of the OT indicates that it was used by the prophets when
speaking of both near historical and future eschatological events. The
NT writers picked up on the eschatological use and applied the
phrase both to the judgment which will climax the Tribulation period
and the judgment which will usher in the new earth.
* * *
THE phrase "Day of the Lord" (DOL) embodies one of the major
strands woven throughout the fabric of biblical prophecy. With-
a clear understanding of DOL, the pattern of God's plan for the
future is obscure.
DOL appears in four uncontested NT passages (Acts ,
I Thess 5:2, 2 Thess 2:2, and 2 Pet ). However, OT prophets
actually wrote more about DOL. The OT provided the basis for
whatever Peter and Paul understood about DOL. Beecher argued that,
All doctrines in regard to the millennium, the second coming of
Christ, and the final judgment depend greatly on the passages in the
New Testament that use the formulas, "the day of the Lord," "the day
of our Lord," "that day," and the like; such passages, for example, as
2 Pet. iii:10, I Thess. v:2, I Cor. 1:8, v:5, 2 Cor. i:14, 2 Thess. i:10,
2 Tim. i: 12, Matt. xxv:13, etc. The meaning of these passages is, in
turn, greatly dependent on the relations that exist, both in ideas and in
phraseology, between them and the texts in the Old Testament that
speak of "the day of the Lord," that is, "the day of Jehovah."
Necessarily, the study of these places in the Old Testament will be
profitable, both in itself and for the light it throws on New Testament
l W. J. Beecher, "The Day of Jehovah in Joel," The Homiletic Review 18 (1889)
232 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Accordingly, this study will first evaluate the OT data concerning
DOL. The pattern that emerges will then be used as an aid in the
interpretation of the NT uses of this phrase.
Many contrasts appear which at first seem to be contradictory.
In various DOL texts contemporary history is in view (Isa 13:6, Joel
), but in other texts there are predictions that clearly relate to the
future (2 Thess 2:2, 2 Pet ). Most passages speak of God's
judgments, but some are tied closely to God's blessing (Zech 14:1-21).
Sometimes DOL is used of a time when the nations will be punished
(Obad 15), but at other times it is used of the punishment
); yet it seemingly leads to
Messiah as her king (Zech 14:1-21). A survey of the literature written
on DOL reveals a plethora of opinions on how to reconcile these
diverse observations. These following examples illustrate some of the
Is the DOL fulfilled historically or eschatologically? Bess writes,
"It must be made clear that the expression 'the day of Jehovah' is
throughout Scripture an eschatological term. It may not be inter-
preted as predictive of a time
but now having had its historical fulfillment.2 However, Payne
argues that DOL is such a broad term that only context can determine
its precise meaning in a given passage.3
Is DOL a twenty-four hour period or longer? Licht suggests that
God will act suddenly and decisively in a single day.4 But Saucy
concludes that, "The day of the Lord. . . represents the whole series
of events beginning with the outpouring of God's judgment during
the Great Tribulation and continuing until the final transformation
with the new heavens and new earth (2 Peter ).5
Does DOL involve judgment or blessing? Trotter demands that
DOL always refers to the execution of judgment upon the earth,6 while
Davidson affirms that the DOL is not primarily a day of judgment but
a day of joy, even though judgment always accompanies it.7 Yet
2 S. H. Bess, "The Book of Zephaniah, A Premillennial Interpretation" (unpub-
lished Th. M. Thesis: Grace Theological Seminary, 1953) 37.
3 J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Grapids: Zondervan,
4 J. Licht, "Day of the Lord," EncJud5. 1388.
5 R. L. Saucy, "The Eschatology of the Bible," in The Expositor's Bible Commen-
tary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979) 1. 107.
6 W. Trotter, Plain Papers on Prophetic and Other Subiects (
Inglis, n.d.) 287.
7 A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament (
MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD 233
Pentecost believes that the OT passages "reveal that the idea of
judgment is paramount.8
Because of these and other questions, this work will examine the
biblical meaning of DOL in order to discern whether (1) DOL is always
used to refer to the same event or if it is used of several events and
whether (2) DOL has already occurred, or if it will occur in the future,
or if DOL is used of both past and future events. While this study of
the Dies Irae9 does not answer all the questions, it is hoped that it will
provide a stimulation for further research and thinking.
OLD TESTAMENT DATA
The phrase "day of the Lord" appears nineteen times10 in the OT.
The Hebrew phrases hvhy Mvy and hvhyl Mvy are both translated DOL.
The LXX translates DOL as h[me<ra kuri<ou. The expression occurs
only in six minor and two major prophets.11
Obadiah relates the family feud between
Obadiah's use of DOL. First, was Obadiah written early (ca. 845 B.C.)
or late (ca. 587 B.C.)? Second, does Obadiah deal only with the
foreign plunder of Palestine OT does the scope of the prophecy extend
to a future eschatological end?
8 J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958) 230.
19 This term was used in the liturgy of the medieval church to describe the DOL.
Thomas of Celano thus entitled his poem which depicts God's judgment. See
10 Some erroneously conclude that there are twenty occurrences by adding Zech
14:7. A. J. Everson ("Days of Yahweh," JBL 93  330) writes, "eighteen texts
properly form the basic evidence." He then elaborates in n6 the nineteen texts that this
writer has cataloged. H. W. Robinson (Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament
58:5, 61:2, Jer 46:10; Lam 2:22; Ezek 7: 19; Zeph 1:18; 2:2; and 2:3 to the nineteen basic
texts. These, for the most part (excepting Isa 58:5), seem to refer to DOL but do not use
that precise terminology. L. Cerny (The Day of Yahweh and Some Relevant Problems
philological and historical vantage. He includes twenty-nine texts by adding Zeph 1:8
to Robinson's list.
11 The texts and writing dates are as follows: Obad 15 (ca. 845 B.C.), Joel 1:15; 2:1,
11, 31 (Heb 3:4); (Heb ) (ca. 835 B.C.), Amos (2 times), 20 (ca. 755 B.C.),
Isa ; 13:6, 9 (ca. 720 B.C.), Zeph 1:7, 14 (2 times) (ca. 630 B.C.), Ezek 13:5; 30:3 (ca.
580 B.C.), Zech 14:1 (ca. 520 B.C.), and Malachi 4:4 (Heb ) (ca. 450 B.C.). The dates
follow the chronology of H. E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament
Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1968).
12 The writer will not treat the historical context and literary structure for each
book. Only where these areas are particularly helpful in understanding a DOL text will
they be mentioned.
234 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Scholarly opinion is divided on the date of Obadiah. It must be
insisted, however, that Obadiah was writing before the fact of judg-
ment, not after it occurred. I believe that Obadiah was written early
and contains the first mention of DOL in the OT.13 Later prophets
who used DOL looked to Obadiah as the initial prophecy concerning
Was the scope of the judgment envisioned in Obad 15 near
future or far future? There are those who would posit that all of
Obadiah was fulfilled in the near future no later than the time of
Nebuchadnezzar. For example,
refers to the Babylonian conqust of Idumea.15 However, others would
extend the fulfillment of v 15 beyond the 6th century B.C. Allen
makes the general assertion that its scope goes beyond 587 B.C.16
Feinberg is more specific and suggests that the time will be just before
the establishment of Messiah's kingdom.17
Obad 15 is the pivotal verse in this book whose theme is the DOL
experienccd first by
singularly applied to
likelihood Nebuchadnezzar's plunder. However, the language of
vv 15-21 points to the far future and the establishment of God's
kingdom. There are at least five indications of this. First, the text of
vv 1-14 deals with
include all of the nations. Second,
pattern for future nations (v 16). This is an expansion of the scope of
the prophecy from a national to an international matter. Third, the
destruction of the nations (v 16) is an eschatological event. Fourth,
before and during the millennium. Fifth, it is stated that the kingdom
will be the Lord's (v 21). In one sense the kingdom is always the
13 See also W. C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (
Zondervan, 1978) 47; C. F. Keil,
The Minor Prophets (
365; T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956) 203; and C. von
Orelli, The Twelve Minor Prophets (Reprint; Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1977) 82,
162. Kaiser notes that the other three options are: (1) during Ahaz's reign, 743-715
14 Keil, The Minor Prophets, 365.
Adams, and Co., 1845) 195. Kaiser (Towards an Old Testament Theology, 188) points
to the Maccabean period.
16 L. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (
Eerdmans, 1976) 160-61.
17 C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1976) 128.
MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD 235
Lord's, so what does Obadiah mean? Evidently Obadiah refers to the
time when the King himself, Jesus Christ, sits upon the throne of
David in Jerusalem and rules internationally with a rod of righteous-
ness and wrath. Kaiser notes,
As for the fulfillment of this prophecy, Obadiah combined in one
picture what history split into different times and events. . . . Hence the
day of the Lord ran
throughout the history of the
that it occurred in each particular judgment as evidence of its complete
fulfillment which was near and approaching. . . having near and distant
events, or multiple fulfillments, all being part of the single truth-
intention of the author with its
more immediate victory over
the distant total victory
To summarize, Obadiah makes several contributions to the
biblical pattern. It combines the near view (with particular reference
vv 15-21). It predicts judgment and destruction of all the godless
(vv 15-16, 18). The restoration of
(vv 17-21) but is not evident in the near. The near is a preview, taste,
and guarantee of what the far will involve in a lesser to a greater
logical flow. Finally, the establishment of God's kingdom is its end
DOL is mentioned five times in Joel (, 2:1, , , and
). The details in each passage are similar, but enough differences
occur to suggest that Joel begins with a very narrow historical sample
(a locust plague) and expands it to include a universal, eschatological
application. Unless the interpreter understands this logic and the
generic nature of this prophecy, Joel is unintelligible. In 1898 Terry
The exposition of Joel has been confused and rendered unintelligible
by some because of their dogmatic prepossession of the idea that "the
day of Jehovah" can only mean one definite and formal act of
judgment at the end of all human
history. But a true prophet of
would see a great and terrible day of Jehovah both in a plague of
locusts and a destructive invasion of hostile armies that spread the
terror of conquest over land and cities.19
18 Kaiser, Towards an Old Testament Theology, 188-89.
19 M. S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1898) 173.
236 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
More recently George Eldon Ladd felt the same tension. He explained
that, "It is practically impossible to determine where the description
of the natural disaster ends and that of the eschatological enemies
There are three basic interpretations of the scope of Joel's
prophecy. In the first, which might be called the allegorical/eschato-
logical, the locusts of Joel 1 and 2 are
interpreted to be
enemies in general. Some particularize the four kinds of locusts.21
Second, in what might be called the historical/eschatological view,
Joel 1:1-2:17 refers to locusts while refers to future human
invaders.22 The third view is more complex and could be described as
the historical/near eschatological/far view. According to this ap-
proach, the locusts in Joel 1 are real. A near future invasion under
the figure of locusts is the subject of Joel 2:1-17. Joel 2:18-27 serves
as a transition from the near to the far. Joel looks to an
eschatological end.23 I believe this third view is correct.
Themes used by Joel in his description of DOL are picked up by
later prophets. The following may be noted:
Joel Destruction cf. Isa 13:6
Joel 2:2 Day of Darkness cf. Zeph 1:15
Joel 2:2 Day of Clouds cf. Zeph 1:15, Ezek 30:3
Joel 2:2 Thick Darkness cf. Zeph 1: 15
Joel 2:11, 3:4 Great cf. Zeph 1:14, Mal 4:5
Joel 2:31, 3:3-:4 Cosmic Disturbances cf. Isa 13:10
Joel 3:4 Terrible cf. Mal 4:5
The locusts of Joel are real locusts or grasshoppers which had
recently played havoc with
ravaged and the harvest ruined.24 This vivid evidence of destruction is
the basis for Joel to warn the nation that repentance is needed lest the
DOL soon come with even greater destruction (). The message of
Joel 1 is that natural disasters like locust plagues are mere harbingers
of imminent divine destruction.
20 G. E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 68.
21 E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (reprint;
Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 248.
22 W. K. Price, The Prophet Joel and the Day of the Lord (Chicago: Moody, 1976)
38; and Otto Schmoller, The Book of Joel, in Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed.
P. Lange (reprint;
23 H. Hosch ("The Concept of Prophetic Time in the Book of Joel," JETS 15
 32-33, 38) presents this threefold model. This writer's own thinking was
confirmed by Hosch.
24 The similar havoc wrought on
MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD 237
The warning of impending disaster and the past experience of the
locusts in Joel 1 are used in Joel 2 to describe the future destruction
caused by an invading human army. This could refer specifically
either to the Assyrians in 701 B.C. or the Babylonians in 605 B.C., or it
could refer generally to both. Joel 2 supplies further details involving
the uniqueness (2:2), destruction (2:3), and military emphasis (2:4-11)
of DOL. These impending disasters were used by Joel as the basis of
an appeal for repentance (-17).
As Joel's prophecy proceeds it grows in its intensity and scope.
Joel 2:18-27 functions as a transition from the near view to the far
view. The events that Joel predicts in 2:28-32 will be spectacular.
There will be an outpouring of God's Spirit upon all mankind
(2:28-29). Cosmic disturbances will flash God's greatness from the
skies (-31). Repentance will be available to everyone (2:33, cf.
Most significant in is the statement that the great cosmic
signs will be a prelude to DOL ("before the great and awesome day of
the LORD comes"). This seems to limit DOL in time to the very end
of the eschatological tribulation period if Joel , Matt 24:29
and refer to the same event. The DOL experience at the
end of the eschatological tribulation will contain unmistakable mani-
festations of God's greatness. There will be both physical disturbances
(cf. 2 Pet ) and spiritual revival. Judgment and repentance are the
main themes which are stressed. It should additionally be mentioned
that Peter referred to this prophecy in his great Pentecost sermon
(Acts 2:16-21). Also Paul cites Joel 2:32 in Rom 10:13 as he
emphasizes the way of salvation.
Joel 3:14-16 climaxes Joel's DOL prophecy as it describes an
international judgment in the presence of God (3:2, ). It seems to
anticipate a number of NT passages, including Matt 13:41-43, 49-50;
24:37-41; 25:31-46; 2 Thess 1:9; and Rev 14:17-20. All that the
locusts of Joel 1:1-14 previewed will come to its final, climactic end
3:18-20 outlines the results of DOL.
Like Obadiah, Joel is a locus classicus for the study of the DOL.
combines a near, narrow perspective relating to
) with a far, wider perspective relating to the nations (; ).
According to Joel, DOL involves judgment and destruction of the
godless (). The restoration of
(-20) but is not evident in the near. The near () is a preview,
taste, or guarantee of what the far will involve (3:2, 14). Finally, Joel
views the establishment of God's kingdom as the goal of DOL
238 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
The DOL prophecy of Amos 5:18, 20 needs to be understood in
its historical setting. The prophet wrote to the northern ten tribes
() and to King Jeroboam,
predicting their future exile to
(; ; 7:9; ).
Amaziah, the priest of
and attempted to send Amos back to
judgment conflicted with Amaziah's message of peace and prosperity.
It was to Amaziah and those like him that Amos addressed his words
in , 20. The people were doing evil () but nevertheless
believed that the Lord was with them (). God was not accepting
their hypocritical sacrifices and worship (). God demanded
righteousness and condemned this hypocrisy (-24).
These self-righteous Israelites longed mistakenly for the day of
Yahweh's return which in their view would bring them blessing and
prosperity. Amos's description of DOL was diametrically opposed to
this view (-20). According to Amos, DOL is not a day of delight
but of darkness--a day of gloom not gladness. On this point Ladd
The prophets often anticipate a divine visitation in the immediate
future; therefore, they speak of the Day of the Lord. Amos's contem-
poraries entertained bright hopes of political security and economic
prosperity, which they called the Day of the Lord. Amos shattered this
shallow nonreligious hope with the announcement that the future holds
disaster rather than security.
Judgment will fall upon
the neighboring peoples;
but it will also fall upon
their sins. Fire will destroy
"The Lord roars from
It is therefore the Day of the Lord (-20). God has indeed visited
judgment upon them (3:2).25
The day that Amos envisioned was the fall of
(2 Kings 17). Amos stresses the inevitability of this destruction
(-20). In Amos, DOL is not used to portray the eschatological
expression of God's judgment. However, Amos does anticipate God's
intervention on behalf of
Amos emphasizes only the near expectation of DOL. Ezekiel seems to
follow the same pattern, as will be noted later.
25 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 66.
MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD 239
Isa is the first mention of DOL in Isaiah's prophecy. This
chapter emphasizes the future establishment of God's kingdom
the present sinful state of
reckoning (-22). The prophet appears to look beyond the near to
the far future in the judgment emphasis of 2:10-22, just as he had
looked to the eschatological kingdom in 2:1-4. There are several
indicators of millennial conditions in 2:1-4 (cf. Rev. 20:1-6). Mt.
(2:1-2) in order to seek God's word (2:3). God will judge between the
nations and war will be no more (2:4-5). This eschatological emphasis
in 2:2-4 makes it reasonable to conclude that eschatological judgment
is in view in -22, rather than to
God's chastisement of
DOL is described by Isaiah as a time of universal humiliation for
all who are proud (, 12, 17). In contrast, the splendor of God's
majesty (, 19, 21) will be displayed and the Lord alone will be
exalted in that day (, 17). Isaiah's portrayals of DOL here should
be interpreted as referring to that time immediately preceding the
establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth. It is a day when God's
majesty will be outwardly manifested (, 19, 21), and the popula-
tion will be driven in terror to caves for protection (, cf. Rev
The timing and terminology of Isa 2:21 are strikingly similar to
the description of the sixth seal in Rev 6:16-17. If these passages are
correlated, it can be concluded that the sixth seal is a part of DOL and
occurs at the end of the Tribulation. The correlation also confirms
that Isa 2:12 refers to the far future. As will be noted later, Zech 14:1
and Mal 4:5 also emphasize only the far eschatological implications
Isaiah 13 is the next chapter to be considered. It is an oracle
his instrument of indignation for the destruction
This reminds one of Habakkuk's dismay that God would do such a
thing (Hab 1:2-4). The DOL was near in the mind of Isaiah (13:6),
although it would not come for over one hundred years. It would be a
day of destruction, terror, and pain (13:8). There is little doubt that
this refers to the near eschatological event
However, there is good reason to believe that Isa 13:9-16 speaks
of DOL implications for the far future. The near emphasis returns in
26 E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 1. 123, n 45
suggests that Isa is eschatological.
240 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
where the end of
described in 13:9-16 is shown by the cosmic disturbances (, 13;
cf. Matt 24:29; -13; Joel ) and the universal judgment of
mankind (; cf. -12). Ladd accurately describes the interplay
of the near and far views:
These two visitations, the near and the far, or, as we may for con-
venience call them, the historical and the eschatological, are not
differentiated in time. In fact, sometimes the two blend together as
though they were one day. Isaiah 13 calls the day of the visitation of
(13:4-6), he will stir up the Medes against
men are to "wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from
the Almighty it will come!" (13:6). This historical Day of the Lord is
painted against the backdrop of the eschatological Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord will bring disaster to the earth and a disruption of
the heavenly order (13:9-13). Judgment will fall both upon the world
of nature and upon men (13:7) when God punishes the world for its
evil and the wicked for their iniquity (). Here is a picture of
universal judgment. The Day of the Lord is the eschatological judgment
of mankind; but the two are seen as though they were one day, one
visitation of God.27
Isa 13:6, 9 is therefore similar to other passages previously noted
which portray the DOL in one context as both a near historical and a
far eschatological happening.
This seventh century B.C. prophet predicted God's judgment
(1:7) that is offered to God by the priest
with a broad, universal perspective (1:1-3), and then narrows his
focus to the immediate situation of
to the universal in -18. That 1:4-13 is limited to the near future
terminology. Yet 1:1-3 and 1:14-18 speak of a far, eschatological
destruction of the whole earth (especially 1:2-3, 18). Thus it is clear
that like Obadiah, Joel, and Isaiah who preceded him, Zephaniah
also includes both the near and far eschatological views in one
In vivid terms, Zephaniah 1:14 portrays DOL as a day of wrath.
He further describes it as characterized by trouble and distress,
27 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 67.
MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD 241
destruction and desolation, darkness and gloom, clouds and thick
darkness, and trumpet and battle cry. The five pairs effectively specify
what is involved in DOL wrath. The sin of
be the reason for this judgment (1:4-6, 9,18).
It may be concluded that Zephaniah skillfully weaves two strands
of prophecy--the near future and far eschatological. At times the
strands appear as one, but careful study shows that they are dis-
tinguishable. Once again Ladd's summary may be noted:
Zephaniah describes the Day of the Lord (1:7, 14) as a historical
disaster at the hands of some unnamed foe (-12, 16-17; 2:5-15);
but he also describes it in terms of a worldwide catastrophe in which all
creatures are swept off the face of the earth (1:2-3) so that nothing
remains (). Yet out of universal conflagration emerges a redeemed
remnant (2:3, 7, 9), and beyond
judgment is salvation both for
(-20) and for the Gentiles (3:9-10).28
Ezekiel wrote in the midst of the near DOL judgment (13:5). He
was taken captive to
(1:2). Ezekiel 13 was written in 592 B.C., six years after the second
phase of a three phase deportation which was finalized in 586 B.C.
Here Ezekiel prophesied against false prophets (1-16) and proph-
etesses (17-23). They had prophesied from their own hearts (13:2)
and preached an imaginary 'peace' when in fact there was no peace
(). Ezekiel indicts them for being like foxes among ruins (13:4).
Instead of fortifying the wall, they tunneled underneath it.29 They
plastered the wall with whitewash in order to give the wall the
appearance of strength (-15). Yet God's judgment (described as
rain, hail, and wind) would tear down the wall (-15). Ezekiel
was the only prophet who wrote during his experience of the near DOL.
Jeremiah looked back on
cried out in terms reminiscent of DOL prophecies (Lam ). It seems
best to understand DOL in Ezekiel 13 as a reference to the time from
the beginning of
in 586 B.C. Ezekiel 13, like Amos, speaks only about the near (in this
case, present) DOL.
Writing later on in 570 B.C. (29:17), Ezekiel noted a DOL with
diah's prophecy against
historical verification for the Egyptians that what Ezekiel wrote
would come to pass. God's instrument was to be Nebuchadnezzar,
28 Ibid.. 67.
29 Keil. Minor Prophets. 165.
242 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
but also all of the nations aligned with her were to be toppled
The far eschatological application to all nations is never explicitly
made in Ezekiel as in Obad 15-21. Yet Feinberg suggests that such an
application may be assumed. The day of God's
may be identified in principle with that day when he will call all
nations to account.30 Jer 46:1-26 deals similarly, yet in greater detail,
with the fall of
Zechariah is the first post-exilic prophet to speak explicitly of
DOL. Because the Assyrian and Babylonian judgments were history,
Zechariah's entire prophecy deals with the far eschatological expecta-
tion. His subject in chap. 14 is DOL and its subsequent results. The
chapter states that things will get worse (14:2, 5) before they get better
(14:1, 14). God will then intervene against the nations and fight on
Armageddon (cf. Joel 3, Matthew 24, Revelation 19) to establish his
millennial kingdom and to claim his rightful place on the throne of
David. Zechariah 14 should be read in the light of Obad 15-21; Joel
; Isa 2:12; 13:9; and Zeph 1:14.
Some have mistakenly interpreted Zechariah 14 in a non-eschato-
logical manner. Leupold views it in a figurative continuous historical
sense describing NT times.31 Laetsch believes that the passage is
fulfilled in the Roman papacy.32 However, it must be insisted that
nothing in history has yet come remotely close to fulfilling the cata-
clysmic and conclusive events which Zechariah predicts (14:6-11).
It is taught by some that DOL is a time of both judgment and
blessing. The phrase 'that day' in Zechariah 14 is cited as evidence of
this. The phrase appears seven times in Zechariah 14. In vv 4, 6, 13,
and 21 it describes God's judgment, while in vv 8, 9, and 20 it does
not really describe the blessings of DOL but rather events subsequent
to DOL. In DOL contexts Joel 2:18-30 and -21 also speak of
restoration and blessing for
DOL--not a part of it. Several observations support this view. First,
every OT DOL passage speaks in a context of God's judgment upon
never involved blessing. Third, not all of the passages that deal with
30 Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, 173.
31 H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Zechariah (reprint;
32 Laetsch, The Minor Prophets, 465.
MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD 243
DOL in the far eschatological realm mention blessing (cf. Isa ;
Isa 13:9; Zeph 14:1). Finally, DOL is always described as a day of
God's anger and wrath, not a day of God's blessing. Thus it may be
concluded that DOL is the time when God intervenes as the righteous
judge to impose and execute his decreed punishment. After the
eschatological DOL fulfills God's judgments, God will reign on earth
and bless his people. The blessings which are an attendant feature of
DOL are chronologically consequent to it, not inherent within it.
The great and terrible day of Mal 4:5 (cf. Joel , 31; Zeph
) is described in 4:1-3. It is clearly a day of judgment, as the
references to furnaces, fire, chaff and ash clearly show. It points to
the end of the eschatological tribulation period when the wrath of the
Lamb and Almighty God will poured out (cf. -17, ).
God's servants the prophets spoke of DOL as both near historical
and far eschatological events. In many passages there is a movement
from the near to the far DOL. This relationship between near and far
can be seen in Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah and Zephaniah.
mented, "the prophets thought of the day of Yahweh as generic, not
occasions which would occur once for all, but one which might be
repeated as circumstances called for it.33 Kaiser, who has been influ-
climactic and the sum of all the rest. Though the events of their own
times fitted the pattern of God's future judgment, that final day was
nevertheless immeasurably larger and more permanent in its salvific
and judgmental effects.34
DOL prophecies were fulfilled in various ways. These included
the Assyrian deportment of
the Assyrian invasion of
the Babylonian exile of
Zeph 1:7; Ezek 13:5), (4) the Babylonian defeat of
B.C. (Ezek 30:3), (5) the demise of
(6) the eschatological judgments of the tribulation period (Obad 15;
Joel ; ; Isa 2:12; 13:9; Zech 14:1; Mal 4:5).
Specific fulfillments of DOL prophecies are detailed in Scripture.
But the question arises whether there are DOL events which are not
34 Kaiser, Towards an Old Testament Theology, 191.
244 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
specifically named as such in Scripture. This is a difficult question
because God has certainly intervened in human affairs on more
occasions than the prophets specifically outline. The Genesis flood
and the destruction of
in point. On the other hand, some seem to view every disaster in
history as a DOL event. The solution to the question is to understand
that the prophets were calling for present repentance in light of both
a near historical judgment and an ultimate eschatological judgment.
Feinberg provides a biblically balanced approach to this problem:
"Some have interpreted the significant phrase [DOL] to mean any time
in which God's judgments are experienced on earth. Although such
an interpretation will allow for all the references to be included under
it, nevertheless it empties the words of their well-known eschatologi-
The prominent theme of every DOL prophecy is God's judgment
of sin. The blessings of God's reign are subsequent to and a result of
the DOL, but they are not a part of it.
Imminency often characterizes DOL. In Joel 1:15; 2:1; Isa 13:6;
Zeph 1:7; and Ezek 30:3, near historical fulfillments are prominent.
The far event is described as "near" in Obad 15; Joel 3:14; and Zeph
1:14. In the prophets' minds, the event was certainly coming and
would one day occur in the indeterminate future. DOL judgments are
poured out on individual nations, such as
the nations according to Obad 15 and Zech 14:1. Tasker has written
this lucid summary:
The expression "the day of the Lord" at the time of the rise of the great
forward as the day of Jehovah's final vindication of the righteousness
of His people against their enemies. One of the tasks of the prophets
was to insist that in fact "the day of the Lord" would be a day on
which God would vindicate "His own righteousness" not only against
the enemies of
Lord" throughout Old Testament prophecy remains a future reality,
though there were events within the history covered by the Old
Testament story which were indeed days of
judgment both upon
and upon the surrounding nations which had oppressed her.36
Ladd has eloquently stated the historical-eschatological tension
which pressed and pulled at the prophet. His comments are worth
35 Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, 172.
36 R. V. G. Tasker,
The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God (
MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD 245
In all of these prophecies, history and eschatology are so blended
together as to be practically indistinguishable. Sometimes, however, the
eschatological Day stands in the background on the distant horizon.37
The prophets viewed the immediate historical future against the back-
ground of the final eschatological consummation, for the same God
who was acting in history would finally establish his Kingdom. There-
fore, the Day of the Lord was near because God was about to act; and
the historical event was in a real sense an anticipation of the final
eschatological deed, for it was the working of the same God for the
same redemptive purpose. The historical imminence of the Day of the
Lord did not include all that the Day of the Lord meant; history and
eschatology were held in a dynamic tension, for both were the Day of
the Lord. This bond was broken in the apocalypses. Eschatology stood
in the future, unrelated to present historical events. The God of
eschatology was no longer the God of history.38
The DOL is a biblical phrase used by God's prophets to describe
either the immediate future or the ultimate eschatological consumma-
tion.39 It is not a technical term in the sense that it always refers only
to one event in God's plan.
It may designate a divinely-sent locust plague (Joel ) or the
providential fall of
18; 2:1); and in one given context it may describe first a judgment and
then a corresponding deliverance (compare with the above prophecies
Joel , 18 and Zeph 3:8, 11, 16; cf. also Obad 15, 17; Zech 14:1,
DOL is used to describe several events and is limited only by its
mention in biblical revelation. Each appearance of DOL must be
interpreted in its context to determine whether the prophet expected
the immediate historical act of God or Yahweh's ultimate eschato-
logical visitation.41 DOL is not bound to a definite time duration. It
could last only for hours or it could continue for days. Only context
can determine DOL longevity, and even then only general approxima-
tion can be made.
37 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 68.
38 Ibid., 320.
39 Beecher (The Prophets and the Promise, 130) defines a generic prophecy as one
which "regards an event as occurring in a series of parts, separated by intervals and
expresses itself in language that may apply indifferently to the nearest part, or to the
remoter part, or to the whole-in other words, a prediction which, in applying to the
whole of a complex event, also applies to some of its parts."
40 Payne, The Imminent Appearing of Christ, 60.
41 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 74.
246 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Contribution to NT Studies
Theology is a descriptive term applied to a systematization of
biblical data. Therefore, it should be continually subject to change
and sharpening where Scripture warrants. DOL is one aspect of
theology which needs meaningful review and rethinking. A refined
understanding of the OT DOL data bears fruit for NT studies.
As a result of this study of DOL in OT, I suggest that there are
two periods of DOL yet to be fulfilled on earth: (1) the judgment
which climaxes the tribulation period (2 Thess 2:2; Rev 16-18), and
(2) the consummating judgment of this earth which ushers in the new
earth (2 Pet -13; Rev 20:7-21:1). I would also suggest that DOL
will occur only at the end of the tribulation period, not throughout its
duration, and that DOL will occur only at the end of the millennium,
not throughout its duration.
This study concludes where an attendant study should begin.
That study would examine DOL in the NT in the light of what has
been learned from the OT. In my view, the traditional dispensational
definition of DOL beginning at the pretribulational rapture and ex-
tending throughout the millennium42 or beginning with Christ's second
coming and extending through the millennium43 needs to be modified.
The insight gained from the OT use of DOL provides a basis for a
more accurate interpretation of Acts , 1 Thess 5:2, 2 Thess 2:2
and 2 Pet and a stronger defense of both premillennialism and
42 D. E. Hiebert (The Thessalonian Epistles [Chicago: Moody, 1971] 211) states
that "the day of the Lord is inaugurated with the rapture of the church as described in
4:13-18, covers the time of the great tribulation, and involves His return to earth and
the establishment of His messianic reign." Also E. Schuyler English, ed. (The New
Scofield Reference Bible, 1372) has a note which says "It will begin with the translation
of the church and will terminate with the cleaning of the heavens and the earth
preparatory to the bringing into being of the new heavens and the new earth."
Press, 1909] 1349) believed that "The day of Jehovah (called, also, "that day" and "the
great day") is that lengthened period of time beginning with the return of the Lord in
glory, and ending with the purgation of the heavens and the earth by fire preparatory
to the new heavens and the new earth (lsa 65:17-19; 66:22; 2 Pet ; Rev 21:1)." See
also L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary, 1948) 4. 398 and
V. R. Edmond, "The Coming Day of the Lord," in Hastening the Day of God, ed, by
John Bradbury (Wheaton: Van Kampen, 1953) 233. For other notable examples see
G. N.. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom (Reprint; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1957) 410
and H. C. Thiessen. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology
Eerdmans, 1952) 507.
44 I concur with the words of C. E. Mason, Jr. (Prophetic Problems and Alternate
discussion among those of the premillennial, dispensational viewpoint and is of the
conviction that much of our thrust has been blunted by arbitrary and stylized
distinctions which are not a valid part of the view. In addition, there seems to be a
hesitancy to debate such matters lest one be thought suspect in the house of his friends
if the result of his study should lead to the sacrifice of a sacred cow."
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com