The Day of the Lord
Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. But before we get into that, I wanted to show you some charts that may help you visualize the various Rapture positions we discussed over the past two weeks. I noticed last week that some of you were having a hard time understanding the various views, and I know that pictures of this kind of thing can be very helpful.
Let’s start in the top right-hand corner with the posttribulational viewpoint. Now, you can see there’s a little subtitle that says “historic view”; posttribulationalists like to refer to their view as “historic premillennialism.” It’s one of those cases in which the name you chose is also an argument for your position. So those who hold to this view claim that this was the position of the early church. Is that true? Well, yes and no. We won’t get into that today, but I figured I should explain the name, since you might hear it again.
Now, let’s talk about what this view teaches. First, I want you to notice that they teach the Second Coming as a one-stage event. Notice that all of the other positions on this chart have two sets of arrows, indicating that they believe the Second Coming is a two-stage event. But the historic premil position teaches that the Second Coming is a one-stage event. Like I said last week, Christians are raptured up to meet Christ, and then they immediately turn around and come back down to the earth for the Battle of Armageddon. And all of this takes place at the end of the Tribulation, otherwise known as “Daniel’s Seventieth Week.” Are there any questions about that?
Okay, now let’s go down to the bottom left viewpoint. Notice that now we are getting into the positions that view the Rapture as a two-stage event. According to the midtrib view, the Rapture takes place at the midpoint of the Tribulation. In the book of Daniel, the Tribulation is divided up into two 3 ½ year periods. So the midtrib view puts the Rapture right smack in the middle. We won’t get into the various arguments for that, but that’s what they teach. Does that make sense? By the way, this viewpoint was never very popular, and it is even less so today.
The midtrib view has essentially been replaced by the prewrath view, which you see on the bottom right. This view places the Rapture somewhere in the middle of the second half of Daniel’s Seventieth Week. Both the midtrib view and the prewrath view have always been sort of like mediating positions between pretribulationalism and posttribulationalism. On the one hand, they would see evidences of a two-stage coming; but on the other hand, they would see evidence that Christians are going to be on the earth during at least part of the Tribulation period. So they try to find some kind of middle ground by placing the Rapture in the middle of the tribulation.
Now, notice the key distinctions between the pretrib view, the midtrib view, and the prewrath view, other than the obvious, which is the timing of the Rapture. What is the other key distinction between these three views? It is the duration of God’s wrath prior to the Second Coming. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 as well as 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and Revelation 3:10 are clear that Christians are not appointed unto wrath. God promises to deliver us from wrath and to keep us from His wrath. But we will see very clearly today that the Day of the Lord is a time of God’s wrath. Also, we are going to see in later on from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 that the means of our deliverance from wrath is the Rapture. So if you can figure out when the wrath begins, that will help you to determine the timing of the Rapture. Most pretribulationalists believe that the entire Tribulation period is a time of God’s wrath. Midtribulationists would restrict God’s wrath to the second half of the Tribulation. Prewrath advocates would restrict it even further to the last part of the second half of the Tribulation.
Of course, that brings us to our last view in the top left, which is the view we all our most familiar with, and that is the Pretribulational Rapture viewpoint. According to this view, the Second Coming takes place in two stages with the Rapture occurring prior the onset of the Tribulation. Are there any questions about those things?
Now, how are we going to spend our time together today? Rather than dive into 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, I wanted to take a week to study the Day of the Lord. How many of you are familiar with that term–the Day of the Lord? Now be honest; how many of you could give me a definition of that term? I’m sure my memory is faulty in this, but I can’t remember ever hearing a sermon preached on this topic. And yet, it is all throughout the Bible! The number of references to “the Day of the Lord” or “that day” or “the last day” or “the day of Christ,” etc. throughout both the Old and New Testaments is absolutely staggering!
The topic of this passage is clearly the Day of the Lord. But I want you to notice how Paul introduces this topic at the end of 5:1. He says, “You have no need that I should write to you.” In other words, what? Paul is assuming a level of familiarity when it comes to this issue on the part of his audience. Frankly, he is assuming a level of familiarity that I did not have prior to studying for this lesson. I had to go back to the Old Testament and read the key texts that deal with the Day of the Lord in order to feel like I had an adequate understanding of what Paul was saying in this passage. And since most of you just confessed that you couldn’t define the Day of the Lord if you had to, that would probably be wise for all of us to do!
So we’re going to do a lot of Bible reading this morning. We’re going to read some extended passages of Scripture, and then we’ll pull it all together at the end. Let’s start with Isaiah 2:5-21 (Isaiah 2:5-21)
What are a couple of things you noticed from this passage? First, who is it directed towards? (Judah and Israel; in other words, God’s people, as opposed to the surrounding nations) God’s people in Isaiah’s day were very prosperous, but they were also very arrogant and they had given themselves to idolatry. So Isaiah warns them about a “Day of the Lord”–in other words, impending judgment upon the nation if they do not repent! However, did you also notice how the topic expanded, especially in the second half of the passage? For instance, in v. 12, Isaiah says that the Day of the Lord will come upon everything proud and lofty. Also, in v. 17, he says that “the loftiness of man” (or mankind) “shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men” (in general) “shall be brought low.” And in v. 19, God says that He is going to shake the entire earth! So what we have here is a prophecy of impending judgment upon Israel in Isaiah’s day that will also typify an even greater judgment upon the whole world. Does that make sense? That is very important.
Before we move on, there is one more thing about this passage that I want you to notice. Did you notice the chorus about hiding in the caves and rocks from the terror of the LORD (vv. 10, 19, 21)? Does that remind you of anything? The exact same language is used to describe the sixth seal judgment in Revelation 6:15-17! It says, “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Many pompous individuals have throughout history have not blushed to speak against the God of the Bible. But there is coming a day in which these same types of people will literally run for the hills and pray for death rather than having to face the wrath of the Lamb.
So hopefully you see where all of this is headed. Was God going to judge Israel during Isaiah’s lifetime? Yes. But the prophets also unfolded a bigger picture or a pattern of God’s judgment that points forward to the end of human history. All of this is subsumed under the title “the Day of the Lord,” and it is referred to as a time of God’s wrath in Revelation 6:17.
Alright, let’s go now to our second Day of the Lord passage. Flip forward to Isaiah 13:1-16 (Isa 13:1-16). Now, our last passage was directed towards God’s people? But who is this passage directed towards? This prophecy is against Babylon. In fact, if we were to read on through the end of the passage, Isaiah gets very explicit about who God will use to judge the Babylonians; it is the Medes, according to v. 17. But again, notice that like the Isaiah 2 prophecy, this one also expands to picture something much bigger than the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. God says in v. 7 that He will punish who? – the world for its evil! The judgment upon Babylon in 539 B.C. prefigures a worldwide judgment at the end of time.
However, the city of Babylon will also figure prominently in that final judgment, as well! Babylon is very important in Revelation 17-19! In fact, the entire chapter of Revelation 18 is dedicated to its fall. Verses 1-2 say, “After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven…. And he cried, mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen!” And this continues to be the topic of discussion right up until the Second Coming is described starting in 19:11. So the fall of Babylon in Isaiah 13 points forward to Revelation 17-19 and events that take place during the last part of the Tribulation. You see, from the tower of Babel onward, Babylon typifies worldliness and civilization’s bent to turn mankind into a god. Babylon is Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress–a city of enormous wealth in which a person can do or be whatever he wants! Babylon is incredibly arrogant; she thinks that she can never be destroyed. But when God lifts His almighty hand against Babylon, she will be decimated in an hour and will never be rebuilt!
Back to Isaiah 13. What is God’s mode of judgment according to this passage? I want you to notice three things: first, there are cosmic disturbances (v. 10). Second, there is the language of the heaven and earth being shaken, which is perhaps a reference to an earthquake (v. 13). However, the prevailing means of judgment throughout this passage is war. You see this in vv. 1-5, and you see it in vv. 14-16. And according to the passage, these wars will desolate the entire land and make a mortal rarer than fine gold. It’s a chilling description, isn’t it?
We must never, ever underestimate the power of God’s wrath. We often focus on God’s love, but the Bible is clear that our God is also a God of fierce anger. If He has not judged unbelievers yet, it is only because of His mercy. But when His judgment falls, heaven and earth will shake.
Now, do these descriptions of darkness, earthquakes, and wars remind you of anything in the New Testament? They should remind you of Matthew 24:29-30, which says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven….” And they should also remind you of numerous descriptions of cosmic disturbances, earthquakes, and wars throughout the book of Revelation. For instance, Revelation 6:12-13 says, “…behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. and the stars of heaven fell to the earth….” Also, Revelation 8:12 describes the fourth trumpet judgment by saying, “Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened.” And Revelation 16:18-19 describes the seventh bowl judgment saying, “…and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth…. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.”
So I hope that you’re getting the point here. The Day of the Lord includes what major eschatological event? (the Tribulation)
Before we move on from Isaiah 13, there are three more things I want you to see from this passage. First, I want you to see that the Day of the Lord is described three times in this passage as a day of God’s wrath or anger (vv. 3, 9, 13). Second, I want you to see that it is described as a day that is “at hand” or immanent (v. 6). This idea of the Day of the LORD being immanent shows up at least seven other times in other Day of the LORD passages! You see, God’s message to sinful humanity is this: “Repent, because God’s judgment is at hand!” It’s like this Day of the Lord is hanging over their heads, and they should expect the hammer to fall at any moment.
This description of the Day of the Lord coincides perfectly with what Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. In our next study together, we will see that Paul says the Day of the Lord will come suddenly, like “a thief in the night” and that he refers to this event in terms of God’s wrath.
The third thing I want you to see from this passage is the metaphor of labor in v. 8. The New Testament writers pick up on this metaphor and use it to describe the Tribulation period. For instance, Matthew 24:8 says, “All these are the beginning of sorrows.” And that word “sorrows” could also be translated “birth pains.” Also our passage in 1 Thessalonians says, “…destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.”
This metaphor of birth pains is appropriate when it comes to the Tribulation. Why? Because there is a seven-year period of severe judgments ramping up into the climactic judgment, which is the Second Coming of Christ and the Battle of Armageddon. Does that make sense?
Let’s go now to our next Day of the LORD passage, Ezekiel 13:1-16. There is some debate about whether this passage is describing the end times Day of the LORD, but the phrase “Day of the LORD” is used in v. 5, and I think it is absolutely clear that this passage at least foreshadows end times events. We won’t take the time to read this whole passage, but I want you to notice two key ideas in it. First, who is this prophecy directed against? (Hint: the answer is in v. 2.) This is a prophecy against the false prophets of Israel. And what were these false prophets saying according to v. 10? They were saying, “Peace!” (And this idea comes up again in v. 16.)
Now Ezekiel is prophesying from Babylon. The first wave of conquest has already taken place. But somehow, these false prophets are able to seduce the people into thinking that everything is going to be alright. “Babylon isn’t going to get you.” But even more significantly, their message to the people is that God isn’t going to get you. “So you don’t have to worry! You can just keep on sinning and having a good time, because everything is going to be okay.” Do you see how seditious these false prophets were?
And yet, this isn’t just an Old Testament problem, is it? In fact, I want you to see how 1 Thessalonians 5:3 describes the coming Day of the Lord. It says, “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.” Just like in Old Testament times, many people are deceived today into thinking they have nothing to worry about. That is why we must warn them! That is why we must be like Ezekiel and Isaiah and all of the other Old Testament prophets and warn them about sin and impending judgment! It’s not kind for a doctor to tell someone he’s well when in fact he has stage four cancer! May God give us boldness to go out into the world and warn people!
The theme of false prophets also shows up in other New Testament passages. For instance, Matthew 24:11 says, “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” And v. 24 says, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” 2 Thessalonians echoes this same warning but also goes on to connect the deception to one particular individual. It says in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” Of course, who is the lawless one in 2 Thessalonians 2:9? It is the Antichrist. Revelation 13 describes the rise of the Antichrist and his cohort, the false prophet, who is able to do incredible signs and uses a mark on the hand and on the forehead in order to coerce everyone into worshipping the beast.
So the Day of the Lord will be characterized by false prophets.
I’d like to take you to one more Day of the Lord passage this morning. Turn to Amos 5:18-20 (Amos 5:16-20).
The main thing that I want you to notice from this passage is that the Day of the Lord is referred to three times as a time of great darkness. This reminds us of the ninth plague upon Egypt. It also reminds us of the fifth bowl judgment in the book of Revelation. Revelation 16:10 says, “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness….”
But Paul also capitalizes on this imagery in 1 Thessalonians 5, when he repeatedly contrasts “sons of the light” and “of the day” with those who are in darkness. He says that we belong to the realm of light, so we shouldn’t sleep or get drunk. In other words, we shouldn’t be spiritually apathetic or sinful, but instead, we should remain sober and watchful. Our lives should be characterized by spiritual sensitivity and discipline. We’ll talk more about that later.
But for now, it’s time to wrap it up. We just looked at four of the twelve Old Testament passages that deal with the Day of the Lord. That does not include other passages that refer to it simply as “that day” or any of the New Testament passages! We didn’t even touch some of the most important Day of the LORD passages in the Old Testament like Zechariah 14 and just about the entire book of Joel! So I hope you see the prevalence of this topic throughout Scripture! The Bible has a lot to say about eschatology and a lot to say about judgment! Also, just in case there was any doubt in your mind about the connection between the Old and New Testaments, this lesson should settle that doubt. Isn’t it amazing how all of these various authors speak with one voice? Do you know why that is? It is because behind all of these various authors there is one primary Author of Scripture, and that is God Himself. So the amazing unity of all of these passages should remind us that the Bible is truly God’s Word and that all of these prophecies will definitely come true.
Meditating on passages like these helps us to remember how wicked our sin is and how much we have been forgiven. It also helps us to see worldliness for what it truly is–rebellion against God that will be punished someday. And it motivates us to warn the lost of impending destruction.
But besides those pastoral concerns, the reason that we put our study of 1 Thessalonians on pause for a week to study this topic is that you need this background knowledge in order to understand 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. As it relates to pretribulationalism, you need to understand that the Day of the Lord is an extended period of wrath that includes some if not all of the Tribulation. But also, in order to relate to the Thessalonians’ concerns in this passage, you needed to feel the tone of these Old Testament texts that speak about impending judgment. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 is all about how Christians are to live and how we are to feel in light of this teaching. We are to feel comfort, because God has promised to keep us from Day of the Lord wrath. But we are also to remain sober and watchful as we wait for the coming of Christ. So that is what we will talk about the next couple times that we meet.