What will happen on “the day of the Lord”? Will we float on a little cloud forever? Will God completely destroy the material universe? This is part five of our “What the Bible Says About Heaven” series. In today’s post, I want to explore the phrase, “the day of the Lord” and its significance in understanding what the Bible says about heaven.
The word, “apocalypse” has come to mean the end of the world. However, the word originally meant, the revealing or uncovering of something hidden. For me, the Wizard of Oz always comes to mind. It is like an apocalypse when Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal that the “great and powerful wizard” was just a nervous old man.
The book of Revelation is one example of a biblical apocalypse. In fact, the first verse of the book says, “The revelation (“apocalupsis”) of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” Revelation is an apocalypse because the cosmic curtain that separates heaven and earth is drawn back and John is allowed to see the heavenly realm. The heavenly realm is the hidden place where spiritual forces of both evil and good operate.
Revelation belongs to a whole genre known as apocalyptic literature. In this genre, authors use signs and symbols to describe visions of heavenly realities. We can also see apocalyptic language in Daniel, Ezekiel, and even the words of Jesus. Apocalyptic literature was specifically used to encourage persecuted people to persevere faithfully.
We have come to associate an apocalypse with the end of the world because apocalyptic authors used end-of-the-world language to describe an end-of-an-era event. These prophets were reassuring their audience that their present reality would end relatively soon. God was coming to rescue them and punish the wicked who were harming them. This is what the day of the Lord was always about.
Multiple Days of the Lord
Israel’s Exodus from Egypt was one archetype of the day of the Lord (Exodus 15:1-18). God rescued his oppressed people and destroyed those who had harmed them. After the Exodus, the day of the Lord came many more times. Sometimes the day of the Lord meant Israel’s deliverance. However, when Israel was wicked and oppressive, the day of the Lord meant their destruction.
The day of the Lord was almost always described in end-of-the-world language, even when it was describing an end-of-an-era event (see Joel 2:1-11). Of course, if you lived through the destruction of a great nation, like Israel, Assyria, Jerusalem, or Babylon, you would likely describe it as the end of the world as well. Indeed, each time it happened, it was the end of that world.
“Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.”Isaiah 13:9–11 (ESV)
This end-of-the-world language helps us understand that there was always the expectation of the ultimate day of the Lord. A day for God to destroy sin and death eternally, so it never infects the world again. And a day for God to resurrect, exalt, and glorify his servants to live and reign with him forever. In other words, limited and local judgment always pointed forward to eternal and universal judgment.
This is why we can say about every apocalyptic vision and every prophecy, that while it had an immediate fulfillment in its context, it also has an ultimate fulfillment in the final work of Christ. Without Christ, and without the ultimate day of the Lord, all the prophecies of Scripture would only be fulfilled in a limited sense.
The Final Day of the Lord
Jesus and the apostles borrowed almost all of their language and imagery about the final day of the Lord from the Hebrew Scriptures. It isn’t that they took passages “out of context” or even repurposed them. These passages always pointed forward to a final and ultimate day of the Lord, a day the Messiah would bring to fruition.
Consider Peter’s description of the day of the Lord in 2 Peter 3:1-13. He compares it to the Genesis 6 Flood, “The world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:6). The world that existed during the days of Noah perished with the Flood. And the world that now exists will be “exposed” (2 Peter 3:10) to God’s fierce judgment. He will burn up all the works of the ungodly. The heavens and earth that will exist after the day of the Lord will be a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13; Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22).
There is also Paul’s description of the day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In the ancient world, when a king came into a city, the residents of that city would “meet” him on the road outside the city to celebrate his coming. Jesus’ Triumphal Entry is an example of this practice (John 12:13). Paul describes the day of the Lord as an ultimate Triumphal Entry. Jesus will “descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (vs. 16). And we will “meet the Lord in the air” (vs. 17), much like the people of Jerusalem met him during the Triumphal Entry.
In other words, from heaven, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
Heaven is the Storehouse for the Day of the Lord
The Bible describes heaven as a storehouse, a place to safely store things until it is time to use them. Heaven isn’t the place we are going on the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord will reveal what we have been storing up for ourselves in heaven.
Paul says to the disobedient, “Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). However, there are also those who are “rich in good works” and are “generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). These people “are storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).
Jesus commands us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
The day of the Lord is a day of judgment, resurrection, deliverance, redemption, and glorification. It is a “great and magnificent day” (Acts 2:20). It will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). On that day, all that is currently being stored up in heaven will be revealed.
The question is: What is being stored up for you?
I love you and God loves you,