13.3.1. When Does the Day of the Lord Dawn

A point of confusion arises when determining when the Day of the Lord begins. Some of the passages concerning this period appear contradictory
  1. Paul indicates that the day comes unexpectedly during a time of relative peace and safety: “The day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. for when they say ‘peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them” [emphasis added] (1Th. 1Th. 5:2-3). Peter also indicates the unexpected and sudden arrival of the day: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:10).
  2. The proclamation by the earth dwellers in response to the cosmic signs of the sixth seal indicate they understand the Day of the Lord has already begun. “Hide us . . . for the great day of His wrath has come and who is able to stand?” (Rev. Rev. 6:16-17+).
  3. Jesus indicates that cosmic signs occur immediately after the tribulation of those days, (Mtt. Mat. 24:29).
  4. Joel says dramatic cosmic signs precede the sixth seal: “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” [emphasis added] (Joel Joel 2:30-31).
  5. Zephaniah says silence in heaven will indicate that the Day of the Lord is “at hand” (Zep. Zep. 1:7). There is one-half hour of silence prior to opening the seventh seal (Rev. Rev. 8:1+).
The first two passages imply that the Day of the Lord begins early in the judgment process—prior to the opening of the seventh seal (Rev. Rev. 8:1+). The last three passages imply that the Day of the Lord must begin after the sixth seal, possible with the opening of the seventh seal. If Paul is correct, then the Day of the Lord cannot begin at a time when severe judgments have already been poured out and the earth is reeling from their effects. From Paul’s passage, it would appear that the Day of the Lord could not begin after some of the seals have been opened because the first four seals result in worldwide war, bloodshed, famine, disease, and death. One could hardly describe the situation on earth after the first six seals as being one of “peace and safety.” But how can we account for the statements of Joel and Zephaniah which seem to imply that the Day of the Lord would begin later—at the opening of the seventh seal or even later? Answering this question is more important than it might seem because understanding when the Day of the Lord begins is an important aspect of understanding the timing of the rapture. If God’s wrath is poured forth on the Day of the Lord, then the church is taken up prior to the day. If the day begins with the opening of the first four seals by the Lamb (Rev. Rev. 6:2-8+), then the church is taken up prior to that point (a pretribulational rapture). If the day begins with the opening of the seventh seal (Rev. Rev. 8:1+), then the church could be on earth during the first six seal judgments (a pre-wrath rapture).1 The pretribulation rapture view holds that God’s wrath begins with the opening of the first seal (Rev. Rev. 6:1+), whereas the pre-wrath rapture view holds that none of the first six seals involve God’s wrath and that His wrath only begins with the opening of the seventh seal. Therefore, pre-wrath advocates argue that the Day of the Lord does not begin until the opening of the seventh seal. Both positions believe the church is spared from God’s wrath and will be taken up prior to the Day of the Lord, but differ in their understanding of when the Day of the Lord begins. Regarding the seemingly contradictory statements of Paul, Joel, Zephaniah, and John: how do we solve this “bible difficulty?” For one, we remember the Golden Rule of Interpretation: that Scripture interprets Scripture. The Word of God is given by the Holy Spirit and so is self-consistent. Whatever “contradiction” we see must be a result of our lack of understanding. So which is it? Does the day come as a thief, unexpectedly upon a relatively tranquil world? Or does it come after dramatic cosmic signs and the first six seals wreak worldwide havoc? The answer appears to be . . . both! In understanding the various uses of the phrase Day of the Lord, Showers identifies both a broad and a narrow sense:

The biblical expression “the Day of the Lord” has a double sense (broad and narrow) in relationship to the future. The broad sense refers to an extended period of time involving divine interventions related at least to the 70th week of Daniel and the thousand-year Millennium. . . . Concerning this broad sense, A. B. Davidson wrote: “Though the “Day of the Lord,” as the expression implies, was at first conceived as a definite and brief period of time, being an era of judgment and salvation, it many times broadened out to be an extended period. From being a day it became an epoch.” . . .in the narrow sense it refers to one specific day—the day on which Christ will return to the earth from heaven with His angels.2

Thus, the phrase, Day of the Lord, can denote the entire period from when the initial judgments of God are first manifested (at a time of relative peace and safety) through the end of the Millennium (the broad sense) or it can denote the specific day upon which Christ physically returns to earth to destroy the armies gathered against Him (Rev. Rev. 19:11-21+). When Paul refers to the day coming “as a thief . . . when they say peace and safety,” he is referring to the Day of the Lord in its broad sense. There will be no warning—there is no prophetic precondition that warns of the coming of the Day of the Lord in its broad sense—it is imminent. When the earth dwellers react to the cosmic shaking of the sixth seal, they understand the Day of the Lord to already be in progress—the broad definition. Peace and safety are long gone—having been taken by the previous seals—and with these cosmic disturbances, it has become evident that it is God Himself who is behind the global disruption. When Joel indicates that cosmic signs occur “before” the Day of the Lord, he is speaking of the narrow sense—the precise 24-hour period in which Jesus Christ will return to earth physically in judgment (Rev. Rev. 19:11-21+).3 When Zephaniah speaks of silence in heaven indicating that the Day of the Lord is “at hand” (Zep. Zep. 1:7 cf. Rev. Rev. 8:1+), he too uses the phrase in its narrow sense:

Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; for the day of the LORD is at hand, for the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests. And it shall be, in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with foreign apparel. (Zep Zep. 1:7-8)

Notice Zephaniah’s emphasis on a sacrifice attending the Day of the Lord. A sacrifice which involves kings and princes. This speaks, in an eschatological sense, of the very day on which Jesus returns physically to earth and defeats the armies gathered against Him (Rev. Rev. 19:17-19+). This can also be seen in the statement made by John concerning the spirits of demons which gather the kings of the earth “to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” [emphasis added] (Rev. Rev. 16:14+). This is long after the opening of the first seal, the sixth seal, and even the seventh seal. The Day of the Lord begins, in its broad sense, when peace and safety is taken from the earth (possibly during the opening of the first seal, certainly by the opening of the second). By the time of the sixth seal, the world is already in chaos, but the cosmic disturbances make plain even to the earth dwellers that God’s wrath is already in progress. The cosmic signs of the sixth seal and the silence before opening the seventh seal precede the Day of the Lord in its narrow sense—they occur before the final intervention of Jesus in the final destruction of His enemies prior to establishing the Millennial Kingdom. When these uses of the phrase are understood, we see that the day begins in the broadest sense when “peace and safety” are taken away when the day comes as a “thief in the night.” It is our belief that this occurs no later than the opening of the second seal. We disagree with the pre-wrath rapture position which holds that God’s wrath, and the Day of the Lord, does not begin until the opening of the seventh seal. We believe that God’s wrath is associated with all seven seals and that the church will be taken up before this time. See Rapture.

Notes

1 Marvin Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990).

2 Renald E. Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995), 35,39.

3 The problem of cosmic signs prior to the day can also be resolved by realizing that there are numerous cosmic signs associated with the period of the end and the cosmic signs of the sixth seal, although probably the most dramatic to that point, may not be the first.