“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:10).
What is the day of the Lord?
This question arises as I come to preach on the final chapter of Peter’s second letter. It seems pretty clear from the context that it is the day of God’s righteous judgement when Peter writes in verse 7 about ‘the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly’.
But the question arises…is this the same as Christ’s Second Coming?
My answer is Yes and No.
Yes – because at Christ’s Second Coming there will indeed be the righteous judgement of God. And so Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3 certainly have their ultimate fulfilment in that final Judgement Day. There is no doubt that the Second coming of Christ is the Great Day of the Lord.
But, it seems to me that it is also ‘No’ because the ‘day of the Lord’ is not limited to that. That is because the Lord intervenes in judgement upon the world through history and brings vindication to his people. This is the age we are living in – the reign of Christ when all his enemies are being brought under the Lord’s feet (1 Corinthians 15:25). When we have the eyes of faith – we will see the day of the Lord as the Lord brings righteous judgement. The fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 is one such day.
The ‘day of the Lord’ is a key theme in the book of Zephaniah. I preached on that last October and spoke about this theme. The sermon may be found here (begins at 26.20 mark, unfortunately the recording did not transfer very well in the dubbing).
In Peter’s day, it seems to me that Peter and the early church are waiting in great expectation for the coming of the Lord to bring righteous judgement. A key part of the vindication was the prophetic word of the Lord Jesus about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (Mark 13 apocalyptic discourse). Michael Bird has an excellent discussion on this theme in the gospels in his systematic theology (ch 3.3 ‘The Return of Christ’).
Bird picks up on “the contentious issue of what is meant in the Gospels when Jesus refers to the Parousia of the Son of Man” as referred to in chapters like Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and Luke 12:40, 17:22, 18:8. He comments:
“While it is traditional to identify them as predictions of Jesus’s return, I’m persuaded that they refer to the destruction of the temple in AD70. On close inspection, the coming of the Son of Man sayings refer to a significant stage in the ushering in of the kingdom and the vindication of Jesus as the prophet sent to Israel. My take is that most if not all of the Son of Man Parousia sayings predict the vindication of Jesus and his followers when the temple fell to Roman legions in AD 70. This proved that Jesus was a true prophet and that Jesus’s followers were the new temple.” (p 322).
That was all part of their expectation and the church was vindicated – it was a ‘day of the Lord’ but the church was to quickly realise that there were other battles ahead and a waiting for the return of the Lord was to be part of the life of faith.
It seems to me that Peter himself is becoming aware of this ‘time extension’ as he writes his second letter. The fact that he refers to the Lord’s time frame of one day being as a thousand years to the Lord seems to point to this expansion in Peter’s mindset. Of course, Peter could have no concept of what the world would look like 1000 years on, let alone two thousand. For him it is simply an extraordinary length of time. And one which the Holy Spirit inspired him to note as he himself prepared to depart the earth.
Now in the 21st century, we are in the extraordinary position ourselves of being able to look back over the past two thousand years and to see the advance of the kingdom of God through history. In a sense the ‘days of the Lord’ are those days when the Lord raises his church from the dead. Resurrection is part and parcel of the church’s history – the Lord is the one who revives his people.
In one sense then, the Day of the Lord is connected to revival. But we need to remember Peter’s first letter where he reminds us that ‘judgement begins at the household of God’ (1 Peter 4:17).
This revival link draws me back to a quote I used in my Zephaniah sermon of the English preacher Dick Lucas. I think it came from a recent interview by Simon Manchester in our Sydney Anglican magazine Southern Cross. Dick encouraged us with these words:
“Although the church is at the present time hardly far from a dead or at best sick man, there is no reason for despair, for the Lord raises up his own suddenly, as he waked the dead from the grave. This we must clearly remember, lest, when the church fails to shine forth, we conclude too quickly that her light has died utterly away. But the church in the world is so preserved that she rises suddenly from the dead. Her very preservation through the days is due to a succession of such miracles. Let us cling to the remembrance that she is not without her resurrection, or rather, not without her many resurrections.”