There are many ways that humans have viewed the world. Often they form beliefs into systems that try to make sense of all the different aspects of human life. Are we karmic souls that move from life to life that will one day enter into a cosmic pool, as a drop of water joins the ocean? Are humans and animals and stars merely masses of chemicals that will decompose at death? Is there some all-powerful, objective God out there that has His own personality? Did He make us? Is He loving? Good? Is He just?
Humanity has come up with many answers to these questions. One of the easiest is to decide we can’t know, so why even try? Another answer is to say that everyone is right, and so it is wrong to decide that anyone else is wrong. That, of course, is just another way of demanding that one’s own point of view is right, but it sounds good!
What if one of the answers turns out to be true? What if God loves the human race and made Himself known to us? What if it matters whether we seek Him? What will we miss out on if we don’t?
One of the longest lasting, most profoundly influential ways of looking at the world came to the human race through the Jewish faith system. With the coming of Christ, new concepts were added that Christians believe gave a broader and deeper understanding of the plans of God. If they are right, then what they believe is true regardless if anyone else believes it or not…and what the God of the Bible says is going to happen is really going to happen.
Over many centuries, God gave the nation of Israel many remarkable promises about the future through His bold and fearless prophets. The Lord would raise up an Anointed One, a Messiah, who would be the Savior of the world. He would come and establish a Kingdom of everlasting peace.
But before that time could come, the Messiah would have some work to do. The sin of Adam and Eve plunged the universe under a terrible curse. The Messiah would have to make the way for radical transformation. It would have to be something that would change the twisted, tainted hearts of each of Adam and Eve’s children. It would also have to transform the rebellious condition of the nations that battle against the ways of the Most High God. The Messiah would also have to fix the devastated system of the natural universe. The time when the Messiah would come to pave the way for His Kingdom is called the Day of the Lord.
It is probably important to understand at this point that the word “day” in the “Day of the Lord” does not mean a twenty-four hour period. It means a certain time in history when specific things are going to happen. It could take years for all of these things to unfold in that period or “day”!
According to the Old Testament prophets, the Messiah would do great and mighty works in that time. In the power of God, He would cleanse the nation of Israel from its sin. The repentant will receive salvation and the oppressed will be set free. Their hearts will receive total transformation through the power of God’s Spirit. Meanwhile, the unrepentant wicked will come under God’s judgment and wrath. This is what the prophet Zechariah wrote about the coming of the Messiah to Israel:
“…I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on Me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great.”
The righteous will mourn in repentance and grief over the sufferings that the sins of the people have caused. The wicked will mourn because the time of their judgment had come. They had refused to repent, and the One they had pierced would fill them with dread. For he will come to cleanse His people, and He will no longer allow those who love evil to contaminate the nation with the curse and horrors of sin and shame. Yet the righteous…the repentant…will find themselves refined and glorious, like pure gold. They will be strong and able to do the right thing…able to give, able to serve, able to love. What an amazing world they will be able to create, with the Messiah as their leader. For them, the refining fire of judgment is a precious gift. This is what the prophet Malachi wrote:
“Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of gold and silver…so I will come near to you for judgment.”
Malachi 3:2, 5a
There are many verses like these in the Old Testament where God promised to come in fiery wrath and judgment against the sinful rebelliousness in Israel. In fact, God said that on the Day of the Lord, He would use other nations, those in rebellion against God, to judge the nation of Israel. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? Why would God use incredibly wicked nations to punish a nation that is much less sinful than they are? The book of Isaiah asks the same question.
In God’s perfect, wise plan, He will take advantage of the violent, warring wickedness of the other nations and use it for His own excellent, purifying purposes. He will take what is evil and use it for a greater good. He will move those nations to attack Israel.
Now, those evil nations will be in big trouble with God, too. God’s intentions are always righteous, He only does things that are in line with His perfect holiness. His judgment towards Israel is absolutely just. But those nations will act out with very different motives. They will attack Israel out of their own viciousness, greed, and fierce will to conquer. Though God will use them for His righteous plans, the motives of their hearts will be evil, and their sins against Israel will be great. Because of their great sin, God will judge them, too.
The prophets told of about this over and over again. Zechariah wrote:
“A day of the LORD is coming when…I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked…then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle.”
Zechariah 14:1a, 2a, 3
The Lord said through the prophet Joel:
“‘In those days…when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations…there I will enter into judgment against them concerning My inheritance, My people Israel, for they scattered My people among the nations… I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done.”
Joel 3:1, 2a, 2c, 4c
The prophet Zechariah wrote chilling images of what that judgment will be like:
“This is the plague that God will strike on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet…on that day the men will be stricken by the LORD with a great panic. Each man will seize the hand of another, and they will attack each other.”
Zachariah 14:12a-c, 13
There are more descriptions in these verses and others, and they are horrifying. But they are no more horrifying than the terrors that humanity inflicts on each other every day across the earth. The difference is that the horrors that God intends are just punishment for those who have committed evil and refuse to repent. They want to stay the way they are, savoring evil without fear and rejecting the goodness of God. Over and over again, the Bible tells of a great and terrible day when God would come in great judgment against the wickedness of the whole human race.
As massively epic and righteously dark as this judgment will be when the Messiah closes down human history as we know it, the Day of the Lord is not only about judgment. In fact, it is mostly about blessing. It will be a day of spectacular joy as every evil possibility, even death, is destroyed. All that will be left are the things that bring true happiness, peace, and light because all that will be left are the things of God. The Day of the Lord is only the beginning. It is the inauguration of a Grand New Hope that God is going to bring. But we will read more about that in the next story.