The Day of the Lord: When, How and Why?

Part One — God Shakes the Earth
 

"Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty." (Isaiah 13:6)
 

Introduction

The purpose of this short series of articles is to contribute some new research towards the development of a truly Biblical Pre-Trib prophetic timeline. These articles are not meant to be taken as a challenge to the Pre-Trib position but are instead presented for the purpose of perfecting and strengthening the teaching of the Pre-Trib Rapture.

The Pre-Trib discussion concerning the timeline of prophetic events is currently dominated by terms such as 'seven-year tribulation' and 'great tribulation.' However, when we turn to the words of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Apostles, we find that the term most consistently used in reference to the end-times is 'the Day of the Lord.' The actual term 'seven-year tribulation' does not appear in Scripture, and elements of Daniel's 70th Week are not even referred to in the book of Revelation until chapter 11. When it comes to the term 'great tribulation' we find that it appears in Bible prophecy only three times, which helps to explain why Pre-Trib scholars remain divided as to what period of time it actually refers to. Some say it refers to the entire 70th Week (Fruchtenbaum), while others teach that it applies only to the second half of the 70th Week (Ice).

The current Pre-Trib view was systematically developed with a focus upon the 'seven-year tribulation,' and today everyone familiar with this prophetic model can explain when, how and why the 'seven-year tribulation' begins. It begins, we are told, with the signing of a covenant involving Israel and the Antichrist; it brings a period of 'false peace' for Israel; and both the Antichrist and the beginning of the 70th Week covenant is represented in the book of Revelation through the symbolism of the first Seal (Revelation 6:2). Additionally, almost as an afterthought, the first Seal is also given the distinction of marking the beginning of the Day of the Lord.

As far as most Pre-Trib scholars are concerned the dominant theme of the end-times is understood to be the 'seven-year tribulation,' and the 'Day of the Lord' is of only secondary importance. But what if this perspective is wrong? What happens when the Day of the Lord is viewed as the dominant theme of the Bible's end-times predictions, which the many references in the Old and New Testaments suggest? The result of this proposed change in perspective can be read in the study that follows, as we answer the questions of "When, How and Why?" regarding the Day of the Lord. In other words, what evidence can be provided that explains when the Day of the Lord begins in the book of Revelation? What does the Bible say concerning how this terrible 'Day' begins? Furthermore, why does the Day of the Lord even begin? What prompts God to finally 'break His silence' and intervene in human affairs in a decisive and catastrophic manner? Finally, after all of these questions are answered, I believe it then becomes clear exactly when the Day of the Lord begins in relation to the 70th Week of Daniel.

Before we move on let me be perfectly clear that the answer to this final question will be in harmony with current Pre-Trib scholarship. Through this study of the Day of the Lord a different route will be taken, but we will arrive at the same destination: the Day of the Lord begins prior to the start of the 70th Week of Daniel. Of course this also means that the Rapture of the Church occurs before the 'seven-year tribulation' of the 70th Week of Daniel, and the Pre-Trib Rapture is thus perfected, strengthened and preserved.
 

Characteristics of the Day of the Lord

Let's begin with the question of "How does the Day of the Lord begin?" A succinct answer to this question is provided by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3,

"Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape."

When we examine these words closely we see that Paul is simply re-stating the teachings of Jesus concerning the Day of the Lord, and there are at least seven common elements between Paul's message to the Thessalonians and the Olivet Discourse given by Jesus.

1. Paul says not to worry about "times and dates" when it comes to the Day of the Lord, while Jesus says that "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24:36).

2. Both Paul and Jesus (Matthew 24:43) compare the coming of the Day of the Lord to the coming of a "thief in the night," which is a comparison repeated by the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:10. This stands in contrast to the actual Second Coming of Jesus to the earth. The Day of the Lord will begin unexpectedly for unbelievers and is an unknown day, but the day of Christ's physical return will be a known day and will be entirely expected by unbelievers, and in fact militarily resisted, as shown in Revelation 16:13-16, 19:19, and Psalm 2.

3. Paul says that the Day of the Lord will be preceded by a worldly expectation of "peace and safety," while Jesus compares the time before the Day of the Lord to the carefree attitude of unbelievers prior to the flood (Matthew 24:37-39).

4. Paul says that the Day of the Lord will begin with "sudden destruction," and Jesus compares it with the sudden destruction of Noah's flood which surprised and destroyed the willfully ignorant unbelievers (Matthew 24:39).

5. Both Paul and Jesus use the metaphor of a pregnant woman. Jesus speaks of the signs that precede the Day of the Lord as the "beginning of birthpangs" (Matthew 24:8), while Paul speaks of the coming of the Day of the Lord as the sudden onset of the actual labor.

6. Going further into Paul's message in 1 Thessalonians 5 we find that Paul admonishes his readers saying, "So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled" (v.6), which parallels the warning from Jesus for believers to "keep watch" so as not to be surprised by the "thief in the night" (Matthew 24:42-44). We also find the admonition to "keep watch" for the coming of the Day of the Lord within a passage of the Olivet Discourse found in the Gospel of Luke:

"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:34-36)

In the passage above Jesus again speaks about the suddenness and unexpectedness of the coming of "that day" which, as always, can only refer to the apocalyptic 'Day of the Lord.'

7. The final common element within the teachings of Jesus and Paul regarding the Day of the Lord that we will examine is the possibility of escape. In the passage above Jesus says that those who faithfully watch and pray will be able to "escape" the events of "that day" and "stand before the Son of Man." Paul mentions escape in the negative sense, saying that unbelievers "will not escape" the unexpected coming of the Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:3). If we compare Paul's words and Luke 21:34-36 with Matthew 24:40-41, we see that those who are "taken" are those who "escape" the Day of the Lord to "stand before the Son of Man," whereas those who are "left" are those who "do not escape," who are left behind to face the wrath of the Day of the Lord.
 

Destruction from the Almighty

One element that appears to be highly stressed regarding the coming of the Day of the Lord according to Jesus and Paul is the fact that it will come with great destruction. The Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Joel also speak about the destructive nature of the Day of the Lord:

Isaiah: "Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. Because of this, all hands will go limp, every man's heart will melt. Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame. See, the day of the LORD is coming --a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger-- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it." (13:6-9)

Joel: "Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty." (1:15)

Isaiah reveals that the ultimate purpose of the Day of the Lord is to "destroy the sinners" of the world. Other prophets also mention this aspect of global judgment that is directed against the nations of the world:

Ezekiel: "The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy and say: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: "`Wail and say, "Alas for that day!" For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near-- a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations." (30:1-3)

Obadiah: "The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been." (1:15-16)

From all of these references we can see that the Day of the Lord will begin with great destruction and that it is a judgment aimed at the nations and the sinners of the world. Yet we still have not discovered exactly how this global judgment will begin and what form it will initially take.

Proponents of the predominant Pre-Trib view (Fruchtenbaum, Walvoord) place the start of the Day of the Lord at the opening of the first Seal, which they teach also marks the beginning of the 70th Week covenant of Daniel 9:27. We know that the 70th Week begins with a seven-year peace covenant, while the Day of the Lord begins with sudden destruction. How can these seemingly different events, beginning in radically different ways, begin at the same time? Where is the "sudden destruction" in the first Seal of Revelation?

There is really nothing in the Bible that explicitly connects the first Seal with the beginning of the Day of the Lord. This connection was made by early Pre-Trib scholars because of their focus on the 'seven-year tribulation.' Once it was decided that the first Seal represents both the Antichrist and the beginning of the 70th Week covenant these scholars were "painted into a corner," so to speak, and forced to conclude that the first Seal must also mark the beginning of the Day of the Lord. In the next section we will break away from this questionable emphasis on the first Seal and examine the Scriptures from a fresh perspective. In the end it will become clear that the Day of the Lord does not begin with a diplomatic or bureaucratic event such as the signing of the 70th Week covenant, but with the sudden and destructive outpouring of the wrath of God upon the entire world!
 

The Shaking of the Earth

When we examine the Old Testament warnings about the coming of the Day of the Lord we find that the catastrophic event that marks the beginning of that 'Day' is the shaking of the earth. The very first explicit Old Testament warning about the Day of the Lord is given through the prophet Isaiah, which is a message that should remind us of a similar passage in the book of Revelation:

"Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty! The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled)... The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear. Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth." (Isaiah 2:10-21)

Similar predictions of the shaking of the earth and the Day of the Lord are given again by Isaiah, and also by the prophet Joel:

Isaiah: "Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger." (13:13)

Joel: "For the day of the LORD is near... The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel." (3:14-16) 

It is clear that the Day of the Lord will involve the shaking of the earth, but how can we be certain that such an event marks the very beginning of the Day of the Lord? The answer comes when we examine another prophecy given by the prophet Joel. Both Joel's prophecy and the prophecy of Isaiah 2 are then shown fulfilled in the book of Revelation. First Joel's prophecy:

"The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD." (Joel 2:31)

There are actually three Biblical prophecies that must be fulfilled before the beginning of the Day of the Lord, but this is the one that helps us pinpoint the beginning of the Day of the Lord in Revelation. (The other two are Malachi 4:5 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3.)  Aside from Revelation, the only other time that a blood red moon is mentioned is in Acts 2 when Peter quotes Joel 2:31 after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I believe that Peter's strange reference to Joel's prophecy was made simply to indicate the duration of the Church Age. It began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and it will end just before the Day of the Lord begins after the sign of the blood red moon. Here is the fulfillment of Joel 2:31 and Isaiah 2 in Revelation:

"I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face 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 can stand?'" (Revelation 6:12-17)

Joel predicts that the sun will go dark and the moon will turn red like blood before the coming of the Day of the Lord. Isaiah predicts how the Day of the Lord will begin when he says that "Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth" (2:19,21). This shaking of the entire earth occurs as a result of the sixth Seal and is described by John in verse 14,

"The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place."

After the sixth Seal is opened the sky will go dark and there will be a magnificent meteor shower of falling stars appearing "like figs falling from a fig tree." Then the earth will tilt on its axis, changing the position of every mountain and island, and causing the fixed stars in the sky to appear to move overhead just like the letters on a scroll move as the scroll is rolled up. In other passages Isaiah gives further descriptions of this shaking of the globe that causes the sky to roll up like a scroll:

"The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is thoroughly shaken. The earth reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind; so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls--never to rise again. In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below." (Isaiah 24:19-21)

 

"Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it! The LORD is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter. Their slain will be thrown out, their dead bodies will send up a stench; the mountains will be soaked with their blood. All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree." (Isaiah 34:1-4)

The Day of the Lord will begin with the catastrophic shaking of the entire earth by the hand of God. Isaiah declares that "The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty" (2:12), and after the sixth Seal is opened and the earth is shaken the "proud and lofty" ("the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty"), along with everyone else, flee in terror to hide in the caves and hills. Then they cry out to the rocks in desperation and unmistakably declare that this great day has finally come:

"Fall on us and hide us from the face 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 can stand?" (Revelation 6:16-17)

 

Conclusion

The great and terrible Day of the Lord can be conclusively shown to begin after the opening of the sixth Seal of Revelation. Just as Jesus, Paul, and the Old Testament prophets predict, it will begin suddenly and destructively, and it will affect every single person on the face of the earth. The Day of the Lord will be preceded by Joel's sign of a darkened sun and blood red moon, and then it will begin with the shaking of the earth by God's own power. It will be an unmistakable display of God's "wrath and fierce anger" against an unbelieving and sinful world, and every person on the face of the earth will react in fear and know that God has acted.

 

Part Two: God Saves Israel