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The Day of the Lord

Sometimes Old Testament prophecy is like an approaching mountain range. From a distance two mountains appear to be quite near each other. Once closer, however, one discovers that one mountain was near and the other still farther beyond. The distant perspective made it appear as if two separate peaks were actually joined together.

Zephaniah’s promise of the “day of the Lord” is similar. His message came in a period of spiritual decline among God’s people, and it was serious. It would be a day of “wrath,” “anguish,” “trouble,” “darkness,” and “gloom” (v. 15). Because of the people’s sin and wickedness, the “day of the Lord” would be a time of great judgment, not just for God’s people but for the whole earth: “In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed” (v. 18).

Shortly after Zephaniah’s prophecy, the Babylonians conquered God’s people, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and took the people into exile. In one sense, the promised “day of the Lord” had arrived. Nevertheless, like another mountain further beyond, another “day of the Lord” was still to come: the day of Christ’s return in judgment. Repeatedly in the New Testament, Christ’s return is described as “day of the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:2) or “the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). In that day, the ultimate fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy will be realized. Christ will return as judge of the whole earth, both the “living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; 1 Peter 4:5).

Despite this sober message, we can have hope. For those who belong to Christ, that day will also be a day of restoration and transformation. Scripture promises: “He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8).

Apply the Word

Scripture reminds us of the coming “day of the Lord” to encourage us to “live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11) and to await Christ’s return with watchfulness. Assess your priorities and commitments and make a resolution to refocus your heart around Christ and His will, confident that “he will keep you firm to the end.”

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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