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 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.”
Jeremiah 46:10, judgment over Egypt.
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” and the NIV says “dark clouds” were under God’s feet. We also see this same language used in in David’s Psalm 18 about the same event.
Ezekiel 32:7, the prophet laments judgment coming to Egypt at the hand of the Babylonians: “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!)
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.
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.
So, every time you see someone claiming the day of the Lord in Acts 2/Joel 2 is all about the rapture and/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.