by Barry Newton
Few things wreck havoc upon communication like faulty assumptions. Whether a work colleague erroneously impugns another’s motive or a husband and wife inaccurately believe they share the same values, faulty assumptions destroy good communication.
We should not be surprised, therefore, that if in our study of God’s word we assume we understand when we do not, our comprehension will be muddled. Do we assume “The Day of the Lord” or “The Lord’s Coming” always refers to the same event?
The Old Testament provides a rich background for understanding these phrases. For starters the statement, “the LORD rides on a swift-moving cloud and is coming to Egypt,” served to introduce an oracle of judgment against Egypt (Isaiah 19:1). Similarly, “the day of the LORD is coming – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate” (Isaiah 13:9) announced God’s certain judgment upon Babylon (Isaiah 13:1,17-19).
What we consistently discover about the day of God’s coming is that it describes a time when God would intervene in human affairs. While God’s actions involved judgment, he also rescued and blessed (Isaiah 13:6; Zechariah 14:1; Ezekiel 13:5; Obadiah 15-18; Joel 2:28-31). Sometimes God’s people were even confused about what God’s intervention really meant for them (Amos 5:18-20)!
Since God has repeatedly exercised his sovereignty over nations either crushing them or saving them, we would be thinking biblically if we claim that God has come a great number of times throughout history.
When reading the New Testament describing the Lord’s coming, this ought to cause us to ask, “what event is this?” Each individual context determines authorial intent.
• Revelation 2:5,16; 3:3 – Churches are warned to repent in order to avoid Christ’s judgment upon them.
• Matthew 24:30 – Jesus seems to be describing Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans.1
• Revelation 1:7 – John introduces a theme heralding the Lord’s judgment on Rome’s political and religious power.2
• 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:2 point squarely to that final day of the Lord when the resurrection occurs.3
1/See Matthew 24:32-35, also comments parallel to Matthew 24 in Luke 21:20,24-33.
2/Consider how Revelation, which identifies the opposing forces of evil with the political power of Rome (Revelation 17:3,7-8,9-14,18), ties together the nearness of the prophetic fulfillment with the Lord’s coming (Revelation 1:1,3; 2:25; 3:11; 22:6-7,10,12,20).
3/On the one hand, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3 and for the second context the statement “and our being gathered to him” in 2 Thessalonians 5:1.