In churches that use a pericope system (a system of bible readings that can cover one to three years), this time of year, near the end of the Church year, is often dedicated to passages about Judgment Day. Judgment Day is definitely a part of the conversation if we want to be comprehensive in talking about life after death. Everyone will be a participant in Judgment Day, says the Bible, like it or not.
Judgment Day is a very prominent theme in Scripture, all of the Abrahamic religions and even within our secular society. Prominent or not, Judgment Day is largely misunderstood, especially with respect to the role it plays in a Christian’s existence.
So what do you think of when Judgment Day is mentioned? Is it destruction and mayhem? Is it a mass extinction event caused by natural catastrophe, nuclear war, or even intelligent robots? Our fears get embodied in Judgment Day themes, and in general, Judgment Day is something we fear. There are fearful events connected with Judgment Day for sure, but there is also hope and promise.
In our study of Judgment Day and Judgment Day-like themes in the Bible, we start with a phrase, “The Day of the Lord”.
The Day of the Lord
The first revelations about the coming of God’s judgment start in the Old Testament prophetic books. Here a phrase is coined, “The day of the Lord”. Immediately, we might conclude that “the day of the Lord” has to be Judgment Day. Without a doubt there is a connection, but it seems that there have been several such days with perhaps more to come. In each case, there is strong negative judgment carried out by God. Considering that God characterizes Himself as a God of love, why would the “day of the Lord” be a day of harsh judgment?
Several things are important to recognize about the character of God and His bringing judgments on the people of Earth. First, we must note that God is not quick to arrive at a day of Judgment, nor does He do so without a long time of warning. Bringing punishment is not God’s goal. Showing mercy, granting forgiveness and relenting from judgment are preferred by God. That said, God will bring judgment. We say that this is His “alien” character. It is contrary to His main character. But it is a part of His character and we would be wise to respect this.
Those who want to focus solely on God’s love for the purpose of dismissing judgment or denying hell, do no one a favor. Their logic about how God has and will operate is flawed. God does bring judgment, even permanent judgment on sin, but not without providing every opportunity for repentance and forgiveness.
Probably the first chronologically to speak of the “Day of the Lord” is Amos, though it seems to be a topic already understood by the people around him. He says in chapter 5:
Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
Apparently, people were looking forward to God’s judgment because they thought it would affect other nations and not them. But is this a reference to Judgment Day? Amos later explains, “I will send you into exile beyond Damascus”. In this case, “the day of the Lord”, is the Babylonian exile–a day when God will bring judgment on His disobedient people. So why talk about it here? The phrase is definitely used in a New Testament context to speak of Judgment Day. In other Old Testament references it could be so as well. Considering the use of “the day of the Lord”, it would appear that the Babylonian Exile was a type, or mini-version, of Judgment Day itself.
Isaiah also has language about the “Day of the Lord” that seems to be a double entendre. In chapter two he warns Israel about impending judgment on them because of their cultic practices, materialism and idolatry. Yet there are phrases here that are quoted in Revelation in regard to Judgment Day. In this case references to hiding from God in caves and underground. In chapter thirteen, the warning moves to Babylon. Their “day of the Lord” will come at the hands of the Medes, but Isaiah also speaks of the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light, both used in the New Testament about Judgment Day.