What is the Day of the Lord?

what is the day of the Lord

[UPDATE 10/8/2022] An expanded lesson on the “Day of the Lord” can now be found at Prophecy Course.

Have you ever been in trouble? I mean BIG trouble?

The kind of trouble that makes your mouth go dry, your heart race and plants a rock in the pit of your stomach?

The kind of trouble that will ABSOLUTELY alter your future should it come to pass?

Our lesson of woe and wonder today begins in the Book of Acts…

Jesus walked the earth for 40 days after His resurrection and rose to heaven through the clouds over Mt. Olivet. Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 in the upper room in Jerusalem with a sound like roaring wind and tongues of fire. Full of the Holy Spirit, the disciples emerge preaching the Good News in a cacophony of languages, reaching the Jewish masses visiting Jerusalem from many different nations for the feast of Pentecost. The crowd is amazed and caught in wonder, though some mock in disbelief, accusing the disciples of drunkenness.

“But Peter, stands up with the eleven, lifts his voice, and says to them, ’15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.* 16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;'” (Acts 2:15)

* Each new 24 Jewish day began at sundown (or around 6pm.) That is why the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown. Our Roman days begin at midnight. Jewish Daytime began at sun-up (around 6am); and ends at 6pm for counting hours. The first hour is therefore 7am; the second hour is 8am; the third hour is 9am, the sixth hour is noon or 12pm; and so forth. (Carolyn Hurst. Nov 8, 2019. What Hour is That? Retrieved from https://www.passiontoknowmore.com/post/2016-1-19-what-hour-is-that.)

Acts 2

17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:

19 And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:

Joel 2

28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.

31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.

And this is where we will pitch camp today, friends.

The Day of the Lord

There is a common notion that the day of the Lord is the same as the day of Christ, when Jesus returns to earth at the end of days, but we are mistaken if we think there is only one day of the Lord.

The “day of the Lord” is Jewish apocryphal language; an idiom for expressing a cosmic “lights out” from God.

Usually we see this expressed in the form of an invading army. Judgment and wrath from above, God Himself is coming for you and there is nowhere to hide.

Clouds are key. Why? Because mortals do not walk among the clouds. God manifested Himself to Israel in the clouds in Exodus, in the wilderness, in the tabernacle and in the temple.

In Old Testament and New, clouds are considered to be the visible evidence of the invisible presence and power of God.

So, out of the mouths of two or three witnesses…

The prophet Zephaniah–when referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah in 586BC–probably has one of the best definitions of the day of the Lord in chapter 1:14-15:

14 The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hastes greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.

15 That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness,

In Isaiah 13:9-11, we see judgment coming to Babylon at the hand of the Medes fulfilled in 539 BC:

9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.

10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.

We also hear similar language in Isaiah 5:30, God’s warning to Israel through the prophet Isaiah: “And in that day, they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.

More Old Testament Examples of the Day of the Lord

Isaiah 2:12, judgment over Israel: “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:”

Amos 5:18-20, judgment over Israel: “Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.”

In Nahum 1:3, we have judgment coming to Nineveh at the hands of the Babylonians and Medes, as fulfilled in 612 BC: “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. You will see a connection between the desolation described in Nahum and the desolation described in Joel.

In 2 Samuel 22:7-10, we see David singing about the day God delivered him out of the hand of Saul and his armies: 10 He bowed (parted) the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet.

Other translations say “thick darkness” was under God’s feet. The NIV says “dark clouds.” We also see this same language used in in David’s Psalm 18 about the same event.

Jeremiah 46:10 and Ezekiel 30. The prophets lament judgment coming to Egypt at the hand of the Babylonians. Per Ezekiel 32:7: 7 And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. (Read Ezekiel 32 and see the depth of judgment language here!)

Finally, still more Old Testament examples of the day of the Lord can be found in: Zechariah 14, Obadiah and Isaiah 34 (judgment over Edom), Lamentations 2:22, and Malachi 4:5-6 (foreshadowing the fall of Israel by 70AD.)

Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21

The Olivet Discourse is probably one of the most abused and misunderstood passages of Scripture. In Matthew 24, we have the words of Jesus as He stands on the Mount of Olives and prophesies judgment over Jerusalem and the nation of Israel, which we know climaxed with the destruction of the temple by the hand of Rome in 70 AD—40 years later, within a Biblical generation—just as our Lord said it would.

29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

New Testament examples of the day of the Lord include Acts 2, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 6:12-17.

Matthew 26, Luke 17: Jesus Coming in the Clouds

On the night Jesus was betrayed, Caiaphas, Jewish high priest, asked Jesus if He was the Messiah:

Mt 26:63 But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, “I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

64 Jesus said to him, “As you’ve said. Nevertheless, I say to you, Hereafter shall you see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

Caiaphas tears his robes in a great sign of offense and declares blasphemy and our Lord is led off.

Here Jesus is reminding Caiaphas of Daniel 7:13: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him…”

In effect, Jesus is saying, “Not only am I the one Daniel saw, but I’m coming back to judge you.”

By the way, our hallelujah moment comes immediately after Daniel 7:13 where verse 14 states: “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Amen!

Prophecy Course Bible study

A Proper Response to Divine Judgment

So, what would be a proper response to the impending doom of divine correction?

Now when they heard this, they were pricked (katenygesan, pierced, cut) in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37 KJV)

I don’t know about you, but in years prior, whenever I read this, I just imagined the crowd felt bad. Pricking your finger hurts a little. I think other translations probably do a better job of handling the reality of the moment.

The word is katenygesan, pronounced kata-nee-yee-san, which the New American Standard Bible translates as “pierced.” The NIV says “cut.” I don’t think they were having an “Aw, shucks, we missed it” moment that day!

To say this is a big “Oh NO” moment for the Jews would probably be an understatement. In an instant, they recognized the fulfillment of Messianic prophesies and understood there was yet a promise of judgment coming down upon the heads of the nation of Israel.

God promises two outcomes in the book of Joel: judgment of the wicked and foolish at the hands of a powerful invading army—and—salvation for the humble and wise.

What is Your Katenygesan Moment?

So, when it comes to the day of the Lord—a day of darkness and trial—it’s a day we don’t want to meet.

If you’ve been on the planet for at least a couple decades, you’ve probably had a personal oh-no moment by now; maybe not from impending divine judgment but certainly from trial. Many of us by now have experienced that personal katenygesan moment where we’ve been cut to the heart. It’s that place where we see our life’s future potentially taking a hard-left turn and it’s not good.

Maybe you’ve learned an important relationship in your life was ending and you never saw it coming. Or you simply couldn’t believe it when it finally did.

Maybe you’ve been confronted with financial hardship, not knowing how you were going to feed your family, pay your bills or keep a roof over your heads.

Maybe you’ve been taken by surprise by bad medical news, either for yourself or for a loved one.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time and felt powerless to stop the momentum of a decision you knew in your heart was wrong.

Myself, I was surprised to be confronted by the threat of prison one day.

On my way into the office one morning, several years ago, I received a call from a restricted number. Turned out, the call was from one Agent Smith from the FBI—the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He told me they were running an investigation and they had some questions for me. When I pulled up to their unmarked office building, I took the elevator to the second floor and a woman behind a sheet of bulletproof glass told me to take a seat in an empty room with a table, a couple chairs and a camera. About 10 minutes later, the agent comes in and proceeds to explain they’re doing an investigation on a couple folks I had entered into a real estate transaction with years prior. After much questioning, I’m told I can go home but that—if they choose to prosecute me—I would likely go to prison.


Well, while I didn’t know Jesus very well at the time, I still had enough of a relationship with God to know I was firmly in His hands. There wasn’t much I could do for some dealings I had made in relative ignorance years before; if I was going to prison, I was going to prison! I went home and told my wife. Needless to say, she was not pleased. We had four children under the age of seven and she wasn’t looking forward to being a single mom!

What to Do?

So, when the future you’ve imagined for yourself seems to be disappearing into a puff of smoke and thick darkness—the big question we have to ask is, “What shall we do?”

Peter has our answer in Acts 2…

38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward (corrupt) generation.

A promise of escape wrapped in a warning of judgment. What does Peter say to do first? Let’s break it down…

1. Come to the End of Yourself (Repent)

I saw a comic recently that illustrated the two attitudes toward God’s will in our lives:

Two people are walking along and they both see a rail that runs alongside the path. There’s a sign on the rail that says, “Don’t cross.”

They have two different responses:

The first person sees the rail and heeds the instructions.

The second person scoffs at the instructions and says: “Hah! You’re not gonna fence ME in!” They leap over the rail only to find out there is no ground on the other side of the rail.

The first person calls after the one falling, “That wasn’t a fence! It was a guardrail!”

Folks, I offer for your consideration that maybe we aren’t as smart as we think we are. Maybe God knows more about how we were originally designed. Maybe humility and not leaning on our own understanding is the beginning of wisdom in the Lord…

So, what does it look like to repent?

In Joel 2:12-27,

12 Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:

13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repents him of the evil. (or, “he relents from sending calamity” per the NIV.)

Do you see the key words here? Do you see the pattern? Must be important if God is going to repeat it.

2. Turn to Your Father

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)

Accept God’s promises. We have BOTH promises of blessing and promises of judgment.

Jesus taught that apart from Him, we are withered branches ready for the fire. (John 15) You are free to disagree with that, but you’re not arguing with me; you’re arguing with Jesus.

We see this again explained in Joel 2…

32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.

That is a promise from our Father for deliverance from incoming wrath, amen? So if we do all this, we arrive at…

3. God’s Response to Right-Heartedness

18 Then will the Lord be jealous for his land, and pity his people.

19 Yea, the Lord will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:

20 But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.

I believe this is referring to the Roman army in 70AD. Keep in mind, scholars believe the book of Joel to be written about 830BC—almost 900 years before the fall of Jerusalem!

If you’re familiar with Deuteronomy 28, you know the first third of the chapter outlines a list of blessings Israel will experience with living in right relationship with our Creator. But the rest of Deuteronomy 28 contains the myriad of curses that they bring upon themselves should they choose to walk in rebellion, including pestilence, famine, earthquakes, war, cannibalism, etc.

As we know from first-century historians like Josephus, many of these curses came to pass during the war of the Jews and the Roman siege on Jerusalem.

The Faithfulness of God

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)

Well, we know how history played out…

3,000 souls were added to the Judeo-Christian church that day and more were added daily. The people witnessed many signs and wonders through the Spirit-empowered apostles and many sold their possessions. (Acts 2:41-46)

By 64 AD, an exodus of Christian Jews began to move from Jerusalem:

“The people of the Church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war to those in the city who were worthy of it to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella. To it those who believed on Christ traveled from Jerusalem, so that when holy men had altogether deserted the royal capital of the Jews and the whole land of Judaea…” —Eusebius, Church History 3, 5, 3

“So Aquila, while he was in Jerusalem, also saw the disciples of the disciples of the apostles flourishing in the faith and working great signs, healings, and other miracles. For they were such as had come back from the city of Pella to Jerusalem and were living there and teaching. For when the city was about to be taken and destroyed by the Romans, it was revealed in advance to all the disciples by an angel of God that they should remove from the city, as it was going to be completely destroyed. They sojourned as emigrants in Pella, the city above mentioned in Transjordania. And this city is said to be of the Decapolis.” —Epiphanius, On Weights and Measures 15

Accept His Love

So, just to be clear, if you see someone claiming the day of the Lord in Acts 2/Joel 2 is all about the rapture or Jesus’ return to set up His millennial kingdom, you can be sure they don’t clearly understand the ancient Jewish concept of divine judgment.

I never heard anything more from the FBI. No summons to court to testify. No men in black suits showing up at my front door. To kill the suspense, I eventually called the agent. He said they had no plans on prosecuting me at that time but he assured me he would call if he needed anything else. This was answered prayer for both my wife and I.

Folks, I want us to recognize this: there were more than 3,000 people in the crowd that day. That crowed consisted of two types of people. The first heard the words of the disciples, knew what the Scriptures said and realized they were in the middle of prophetic fulfillment. The second type dismissed the disciples, dismissed the supernatural evidence of prophetic fulfillment around them and walked away unchanged.

Brothers and sisters… I don’t know what “oh no” moments you’ve been through. I would tell you—I can promise youwhen you accept Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf, to pay for your error, to pay for your bad choices, to pay for your inability to fix you, everything and everyone around you…

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter the brokenness you’ve planted in your own life. You have a choice, right now, to turn back to your Holy Father who loves you and knows you better than you know yourself.

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P.S. Is the ‘day of Christ’ in 2 Thessalonians the same as the ‘day of the Lord’?

I don’t think so. Consider the shift between the Lord’s end-of-days return mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4 and the day of the Lord judgment mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5. We see Jesus do the same thing between Matthew 24 and Matthew 25 as He moves between the judgment of Israel into the judgment of the world.

But more on that later…

Prophecy Course Bible study

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What is the Day of the Lord? by Matthew Schoenherr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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