Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Study on the Timing of the Snatching Away, Part 2 (The Day of the Lord and the Coming Indignation)

The Day of the Lord 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:1 Paul wrote, “Now concerning the times and the eras, brethren, you have no need to be written to, for you yourselves are accurately aware that the day of the Lord is as a thief in the night -- thus is it coming!” It should be noted that the subject of this passage is not merely a continuation of that which was covered in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 (which is the snatching away of believers from the earth to meet Christ in the air). The expression Paul used in 1 Thess. 5:1 (de peri, “now concerning”) was his typical way of introducing a new subject for his readers (see, for example, 1 Cor. 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; 1 Thess. 4:9). Paul’s use of this connective thus suggests a change in topic. At the same time, it’s possible that the subject of the day of the Lord naturally followed in Paul’s train of thought (this would especially be the case if, as we’ll see in part 3, Paul understood the day of the Lord to be the next “big event” in God’s plan, following the snatching away).

Now, it is evident from what Paul said in the above verses that he had previously taught the Thessalonians on the subject of the day of the Lord while he was with them in person. Consequently, everything that he went on to say concerning this subject should be understood as either supplemental information, or a review of what he expected them to already know (or perhaps some of both). Unfortunately, we don’t have the benefit of having had Paul personally teach us on this subject. Thus, apart from what Paul wrote about it (which is not very much), any additional information on the “day of the Lord” must be derived from the rest of scripture. So what exactly is the day of the Lord? 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the expression “the day of the Lord” is literally “the day of Yahweh” (with "Yahweh" being the divine name that pertains most directly to God's covenant relationship with Israel, in contrast with his non-covenant relationship with the rest of the nations). Since, in the Greek scriptures, God's covenant name "Yahweh" is replaced with the more general term "Lord," the Hebrew expression "the day of Yahweh" becomes "the day of the Lord" (or "the Lord's day"). However, keeping in mind that God's covenant name "Yahweh" is part of the original Hebrew expression will, I believe, help us to better understand what the ultimate purpose and focus of this future "day" will be.  

It is also important to keep in mind that the expression "day of Yahweh"/"day of the Lord" can refer to several periods of time, both past and future. Examples of past “days of Yahweh” involve God's bringing judgment upon unrighteous nations through the instrumentality of other nations (such as the divine judgment of Egypt by means of Babylon). Examples of such historically fulfilled judgments can be found in the following verses: Amos 5:18, 20; Lam. 1:12; 2:1, 21-22; Ezek. 7:19; 13:5; 30:3; Zeph. 2:2-3; Jer. 46:10. Although involving localized national judgments, these past “days of the Lord” can, in general, be understood as foreshadowing and anticipating a yet-future era when God will decisively intervene in the affairs of this world to bring a final end to the misrule of mankind (as well as that of the unseen, wicked celestial beings by which mankind is unwittingly influenced), and establish his kingdom on the earth.

In 2 Peter 3:10, we read of a future day of the Lord that will include not only the chain of events with which this present eon will be consummated, but the entirety of the next eon as well (an eon which will ultimately conclude with the present earth and heavens being destroyed by fire): “Now the day of the Lord will be arriving as a thief, in which the heavens shall be passing by with a booming noise, yet the elements shall be dissolved by combustion, and the earth and the works in it shall be found.” In this verse we find Peter "zooming out," so to speak, and providing his readers with a "big picture" view of the day of the Lord. A.E. Knoch remarks on this verse as follows: “The day of the Lord, though it lasts for more than a thousand years, is treated as though its arrival is to be immediately followed by its end, in harmony with the preceding paragraph. It will come as a thief (1 Thess. 5:2). It will close with the great cataclysm (Un. 20:11; 21:1) which ushers in the day of God, the new creation.” 

The day of the Lord – in its broadest and most complete sense - is, therefore, not to be understood as a single, literal day. Rather, it will be an extended period of time (i.e., an epoch). In addition to what Peter wrote, we also find in Zechariah 14 that the day of the Lord will include not only the cataclysmic events with which this present eon will terminate, but also the next eon as well (we’ll return to this important passage from Zechariah a little later on). This future period of time will be characterized, first, by increasingly more devastating judgments/calamities on earth, which will make known to the inhabitants of the earth God’s power and sovereignty, as well as his disapproval of, and opposition to, sin and unbelief. This time is usually described as a period of distress, affliction and darkness (Joel 2:1-2; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph.  1:14-15). In short, the opening of the day of the Lord will be a period characterized by God’s “indignation” (or “wrath”). But what is God’s indignation? 

Based on various passages in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, “indignation” (or “wrath”) is one of several words used by the authors of scripture (including, but not limited to, “anger” and “fury”)[1] to refer to the just response of God to the disobedience and unbelief of his creatures, and which involves punishment inflicted, or retribution exacted, for wrongdoing. In other words, it is the response of God to sin and unbelief that involves “vengeance.” Paul makes this connection between God’s indignation and vengeance clear in Romans 12:19: “Being at peace with all mankind, you are not avenging yourselves, beloved, but be giving place to His indignation, for it is written, ‘Mine is vengeance! I will repay!’ the Lord is saying.[2] 

We know that God’s indignation has been expressed in many ways in times past through various calamities and plagues on earth, both on a collective and an individual level.[3] Such examples of God’s indignation being manifested against the wicked include the worldwide flood of Noah’s day (Gen. 6-8), the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19), the ten plagues which preceded the exodus (Ex. 7-12; cf. Psalm 78:43-49), the destruction of Korah and his company (Num. 16), and the curses with which God threatened Israel for disobedience/breaking covenant (Deut. 28:15-68; 29:27-28). As with these and many other past times and events, the day of the Lord will (initially) be a time period during which God’s indignation is manifested against the inhabitants of the earth.

Now, Amos 5:18-20 emphasizes that “darkness” will be the complete nature of the day of the Lord as far as the wicked and rebellious are concerned. It will bring no blessing for them. But just like a literal Hebrew day - including the days of creation (Gen. 1:4-6) - the day of the Lord will be twofold in nature, consisting of a time of “darkness” (“evening”) and a time of “light” (“day”). The day of the Lord will begin with a period of worldwide affliction, distress and calamity. However, it is to be followed by a much longer period characterized by worldwide peace, prosperity and the dispelling of ignorance and deception with God’s truth, with the earth becoming “filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). 

The “light” part of the day of the Lord will begin after Christ has returned and destroyed the enemies of God’s earthly people (Joel 3:17-21; Zech. 14:6-9), and will be the nature of the day of the Lord during the millennial reign of Christ (when, in fulfillment of the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6, the kingdom is finally restored to Israel). This positive and blessing-filled aspect of the day of the Lord is, of course, a subject of great importance; however, for the purpose of this study, we will be focusing on the aspect of the day of the Lord that will be characterized by “darkness” (calamity and affliction). 

It needs to be stressed that the expression “day of the Lord” is not the only expression used by the authors of scripture to refer to this future period of time. Other expressions include “the day of the Lord’s sacrifice” (Zeph. 1:8), “the day of the Lord’s rage” (Zeph. 1:18), “that day” (Isa. 2:11), “in those days” (Joel 3:1), “the great day” (Jude 6), “the day of visitation” (Isa. 10:3), “the day of his hot anger” (Isa. 13:13), “the day of vengeance” (Isa. 34:8), a “day coming for the Lord” (Zech. 14:1), a “unique day” (Zech. 14:7), “the day of judging” (2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7), “the great day” (Jude 6) and simply “the day” (Heb. 10:25). 

In Revelation 1:10 (CLNT), the apostle John wrote that he “came to be, in spirit, in the Lord's day.” It is commonly assumed by readers of scripture that the “Lord’s day” is a reference to Sunday. However, nowhere else in scripture is Sunday referred to as the “Lord’s day.” Instead, it is referred to as the “first day of the week.” Had John intended to inform us that it was Sunday when he wrote, he likely would’ve written, “on the first day of the week” (or if it had been Saturday, he could’ve written “on the Sabbath”). Instead, John wrote that he “came to be, in spirit, IN (not “on”) the Lord’s day.” 

If John had in mind here the future period of time during which God will begin intervening in world affairs to judge the inhabitants of the earth and restore the kingdom to Israel, his wording makes much more sense. John would be saying that, by means of a vision (“in spirit”), he came to be in the future day of the Lord, and saw what was going to take place during this time. If this is so, then the implication is that this future “day” will include all of the prophesied events and judgments that John subsequently describes as leading up to Christ’s return (as well as the events taking place afterword, until the passing away of the present heaven and earth).

In response to the position that John had in view the future day of the Lord (as an extended period of time whose beginning will involve the judgments/calamities prophesied in Revelation), it may be objected that John used the adjective form of the word “Lord” here (translated “Lord’s”) rather than the noun (as in the more common expression, “day of the Lord”). However, the meaning is essentially the same in both expressions. In the Hebrew language in which the Old Testament was written (and with which John, being a Jew, would’ve been familiar), the only way to write or say “the Lord's day” in Hebrew would've been “the day of the Lord,” since this language had no adjectives. [4]

A Day Assigned by God

In Acts 17:30-31, Paul declared to the Athenians that a “day” has been assigned by God, in which God is “about to be judging the inhabited earth in righteousness by the Man Whom he specifies...” It can, I believe, be inferred that the “day” of which Paul was speaking here does not refer to something beyond the return of Christ at the end of this eon. Paul's message to the Athenians is that God - although formerly “condoning the times of ignorance” (i.e., idol worship) - was “now charging mankind that all everywhere are to repent.” Paul then provides the reason: a day of judgment has been appointed by God for those dwelling on the earth. But if Paul believed this day of judgment would involve those who had lived and died before he spoke (i.e., while God was “condoning the times of ignorance”), then there would be no good reason why this message of repentance to the nations (which, in the context, is simply turning from idols to the true God) should “now” be proclaimed (rather than being proclaimed to the nations from the beginning of human history).

In view of this argument, I submit that the day of judgment of which Paul spoke should best be understood as involving only those who will be alive on the earth at a certain time – i.e., the inhabitants of the earth (hence Paul’s words in v. 31, “the inhabited earth”). This means that the “day” in view is a day that, from the relative perspective of Paul (in contrast with the absolute perspective of God), could have begun during the lifetimes of those to whom he was speaking. It has to be understood as an “imminent” event in the sense that, from our relative, limited perspective, it could begin during the lifetime of any generation, without warning. Although God knows the exact time that this appointed day of judgment will begin, we do not. Thus, as far as Paul knew, the generation living at the time he spoke could have (relatively speaking) been the generation that saw the commencement of the day of judgment. Of course, we now know in hindsight that, since it’s been nearly 2,000 years since Paul spoke these words to the Athenians, this day of judgment wasn’t going to begin during the lifetimes of those to whom he spoke. But since Paul didn’t know this (only God knew), he spoke as if it could have. 

If Paul did, in fact, have the day of the Lord in view in Acts 17:30-31, then it would follow that God’s judgment of the inhabited earth at this time will, in some way, be accomplished through the agency or mediation of his Son, Jesus Christ. This is consistent with Christ’s words in John 5:22-27, when he declared that the Father “has given all judging to the Son,” and that God “gives Him authority to do judging, seeing that He is a son of mankind.” It is also consistent with the fact that, in Revelation, all the various calamities that are prophesied as coming upon the inhabited earth during the time preceding Christ’s coming in his kingdom are the result of Christ’s opening a seven-sealed scroll given to him by God (Rev. 5-6).

The “Narrow” Day of the Lord

It needs to be emphasized that there are two different senses in which the future day of the Lord is spoken of in Scripture: a “broader” or more complete sense, and a “narrow” or more limited sense. According to the more limited sense in which the day of the Lord is referred to in scripture, the time in view is the literal day when Christ comes in his kingdom with all his messengers, returns to earth and completely destroys the enemies of Israel. This “narrow” day of the Lord is described in Joel 2:31 and Malachi 4:5 as “the great and awesome (or “magnificent”) day of Yahweh.” Malachi speaks of this day as “burning like an oven,” and as resulting in “all the arrogant and all evildoers” being “set ablaze” and becoming “stubble” (Mal. 4:1). 

Because this “narrow” day of the Lord will bring such a decisive, permanent change to the world, Joel referred to the place where the grand climax of God’s judgment will fall on rebellious mankind as “the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). Concerning the “narrow” day of the Lord spoken of by Joel, E.W. Bullinger noted that, “It is called 'the great and terrible day of the Lord,' as though it were the climax of the whole period known as 'the day of the Lord'” (The Apocalypse or “The Day of the Lord,” p. 248). It may be helpful to the reader to view the “narrow” day of the Lord (the day of Christ’s return to the earth) as the pivotal event by which the day of the Lord in its broadest and more complete sense (which will be considered in greater depth below) is turned from “darkness” to “light.”

John refers to the day of Christ’s coming to deliver Israel and destroy her enemies as “the great day of God, Almighty” (Rev. 16:12-16). In this passage, we find that this day will not come until after the “kings of the earth” (including the wild beast) and their armies have gathered in Israel for the “battle of Armageddon” (which will not take place until after the “sixth bowl” of the “fury of God” is poured out on the earth). This is further confirmed by Joel 3:9-16, which indicates that it is only after the armies of the nations have gathered in Israel (in the “valley of decision”) that “the day of the Lord” is “near.” Joel also tells us that this climactic day will be preceded by certain cosmic signs: the sun’s being turned to darkness and the moon to blood (Joel 2:31; cf. Acts 2:20 and Rev. 6:12-17). 

According to Christ, the eon-ending event which these cosmic signs will herald will be his coming “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30). We are further told that, on this day, “every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7; cf. Matt. 24:27), and that “his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east” (Zech. 14:4). Thus, after the “wild beast” and the “kings of the earth” have gathered for battle in the land of Israel, the event which marks the start of the “great and awesome day of the Lord” is the return of Christ to the earth, when he is “seen a second time” by those who will be awaiting him (Heb. 9:28). It is this event which results in the swift destruction of the wild beast and those under his command (Rev. 19:11-21), and thus prepares the earth for the establishment of the kingdom of God. 

The Time of “Great Affliction” and the Beginning of the (Broad) Day of the Lord

According to the broader and more complete sense in which the day of the Lord is referred to in scripture, this period of time will include not only the events leading up to and climaxing with the return of Christ at the end of this eon, but the entirety of the coming eon as well. However, the aspect of the “broad” day of the Lord that I will be focusing on for the remainder of this article is that which will be characterized by God’s indignation or “wrath.” This time of coming indignation will, I will argue, begin no later than 3½ years prior to the eon-concluding day of Christ’s return. 

We know from the Hebrew Scriptures that the “dark” part of the future day of the Lord will be a time of unparalleled distress and devastation (Zeph. 1:14-18; Joel 1:5; 2:1-2). A time of unparalleled distress is also described in Jeremiah 30:5-7: “These are the words that the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace. Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor? Why has every face turned pale? Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it.” 

The prophet goes on to quote God as saying that he will “make a full end of all the nations” among whom Israel will be scattered on this day, but that he will not make a “full end” of Israel. However, God then declares concerning Israel, “I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished” (v. 10). In other words, this future day of affliction will not only involve destruction for the nations, but it will involve “distress,” “discipline” and “punishment” for Israel. From what is revealed elsewhere (e.g., Zech 13:8-9, 14:1-3), it would seem that this time of affliction will begin with the nation of Israel being the primary object of God’s indignation (as a means of preparing and purifying them for Christ’s return), followed by God’s indignation falling upon the nations that God will use to afflict Israel. 

Daniel 12:1 also speaks of an unparalleled time of trouble: “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” Notice that in both Jeremiah and Daniel we find a period of severe distress prophesied that will involve the salvation/deliverance of certain Israelites living at the time.

Echoing these prophecies, Christ, too, spoke of a future time that will be characterized by unparalleled distress and affliction (Matt. 24:21-22) - a time period so severe that, were it to continue indefinitely (rather than the days being “cut short” or “discounted” by God), Christ declared that “no flesh at all would be saved.” Mark’s account reads, “…for in those days will be affliction such as has not occurred from the beginning of the creation which God creates till now, and under no circumstances may be occurring. And, except the Lord discounts those days, no flesh at all would be saved. But because of the chosen, whom He chooses, He discounts the days” (Mark 13:19-20). In other words, this period of unparalleled affliction will be so severe that, were it to continue beyond the boundary that God has set for it, all life on earth would be exterminated. When we compare Christ words from his Olivet Discourse with the above verses from Jeremiah and Daniel, a reasonable conclusion to draw would be that they are all referring to the same future time period. 

The key to determining when the time of great affliction described in Matt. 24:21 and Mark 13:19 will take place is provided by Christ in his Olivet Discourse: it will commence around the time of the occurrence of what Christ called the “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15-22; Mark 13:14). This crisis event will involve a certain wicked world ruler (popularly referred to as the “Antichrist”) putting an end to temple sacrifices, his sitting in the temple of God, and his setting up an image in the temple to be worshipped (Dan. 9:27; 11:36-37; Rev. 13:4-8, 11-17; 2 Th. 2:3-4). And from Daniel 9:24-27 (cf. Dan. 12:11) we know that this temple-desecrating act of the “man of lawlessness” (as Paul calls him) will occur at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th heptad. That is, this pivotal event will mark the 3 ½ year division of this final seven-year period. We can therefore conclude that the unparalleled time of “great affliction” refers to the last half of this final “week,” and is thus 3 ½ years, 42 months or 1,260 days in duration (or what is also referred to as “a season, seasons, and half a season”). 

It is during this period of time that we’re told the “dragon” (Satan) will persecute “the woman” and “her seed” (Rev. 12:6, 13-17). We’re also told that, during this period, the “wild beast” will be allowed to exercise authority over the entire earth and make war on the saints (Rev. 13:5-8; cf. Dan. 7:23-25; 12:1, 7). The persecution of the woman and her seed by Satan, and the persecution of the saints by the “wild beast,” are not two separate events. It will be through the instrumentality of the "wild beast" that Satan will carry out his malevolent intent during this 3½ year-long time period. Since (as was demonstrated in part one) Christ’s coming in his kingdom and return to earth will take place at the end of these 3½ years, it follows that this time of unparalleled affliction will begin 3½ years before Christ’s return, and continue uninterrupted until this climactic event takes place. This fact is confirmed by Matthew 24:29-30, where Christ declared that the celestial events signaling his glorious return (on the “narrow” day of the Lord) will take place “immediately after” this time of great affliction.

The Day of Vengeance of Our God

As noted earlier, God’s indignation is the response of God to sin and unbelief that involves “vengeance,” and is that which will characterize the beginning of the day of the Lord (i.e., the initial "dark" time of this future epochal "day"). We also noted that there are different expressions used in scripture to refer to this period of time. In the book of Isaiah, this future time of judgment is sometimes referred to as the “day of vengeance” (Isaiah 34:8; 35:4; 61:2; 63:4; cf. Jer. 46:10 and Micah 5:15). In Luke 4:17-20 we find that Christ, while in the synagogue, stood up and read from Isaiah 61:1-2 (where it was prophesied that “an acceptable year of the Lord, and a day of vengeance for our God” would be heralded by one who had the Spirit of God). Significantly, Christ left out of his quotation the reference to the “day of vengeance of our God.” Such a conspicuous omission as this would likely not have gone unnoticed by those listening. 

After he finished reading, Christ rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. As everyone stared at him intently to see what he would say next, Christ then declared that what he had read was fulfilled in their hearing (v. 21). From this it can be inferred that the rest of the passage – the part involving the “day of vengeance of our God” - will have a future fulfillment, and that it was for this reason that Christ abruptly stopped reading in the middle of the verse. But is there any evidence that this “day of vengeance” will include the last 3 ½ years of Daniel’s 70th week of years? I think so - and interestingly enough, the evidence for this is (partly) provided by Christ himself, later on in Luke’s account. 

In Luke 21:20-27, we read that Christ told his disciples: “Now whenever you may be perceiving Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that her desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee into the mountains, and let those in her midst be coming out into the country, and let not those in the country be entering into her, for days of vengeance are these, to fulfill all that is written. Yet woe to those who are pregnant and to those suckling in those days, for there will be great necessity in the land and indignation on this people. And they shall be falling by the edge of the sword and shall be led into captivity into all nations. And Jerusalem shall be trodden by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun and the moon and the constellations, and on the earth pressure of nations in perplexity, at the resounding of the sea and the shaking, at the chilling of men from fear and apprehensiveness of that which is coming on the inhabited earth, for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then they shall be seeing the Son of Mankind coming in a cloud with power and much glory.”

Notice the part I have in bold above: “…for days of vengeance are these, to fulfill all that is written.” Now, recall that, in Luke 4:17-20, Christ stopped reading from Isaiah just before the prophet referred to the “day of vengeance” (and then declared that the portion he had read was “fulfilled” in the hearing of those who were listening to him). Well, here in Luke 21:22 I believe we find a clear allusion to the portion of Isaiah 61:2 that Christ deliberately omitted in Luke 4:17-20: “…for days of vengeance are these, to fulfill all that is written.” It may be asked, “To fulfill all of what that is written?” The most reasonable answer that I believe can be given is, “The remainder of the verse that Christ quoted while in the synagogue, which refers to the ‘day of vengeance of our God.’” Clearly, Christ understood this future period of time to be the “day of vengeance” referred to in Isaiah. 

It may be objected that Christ used the plural “days” rather than the singular “day.” But rather than undermining the position being advanced in this article, this fact further confirms it: the “dark” part of the future day of the Lord (which will involve indignation and unparalleled affliction) is not literally a single day, but an extended period of time. (i.e., 3.5 years). In support of this is the fact that, in Luke 17:22-31, Christ referred to this same period of time as both the “days (plural) of the Son of Man” and as the “day (singular) in which the Son of Man is unveiled.” And significantly, the time period that Christ had in view is one in which the people in view will have to flee the area in which they live in order to escape a coming judgment: “In that day, he who shall be on the housetop and his gear in his house, let him not be descending to pick it up. And let the one in the field likewise not turn back to that behind him. Remember Lot’s wife…” That Christ had in view the same time period as that of which he prophesied in Mathew 24:15 is clear when we compare the two verses: “Let him who is on the housetop not descend to take away the things out of his house. And let him who is in the field not turn back behind him to pick up his cloak.” This verse (among others) indicates that the “day in which the Son of Man is unveiled” is equivalent to the time of “great affliction” referred to in Matthew 24:21.

This is further confirmed by the fact that the passage I quoted above (Luke 21:20-27) is from Luke’s account of Christ’s Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25 and Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36), and is parallel to what we read in Matt. 24:15-22 and Mark 13:14-20 (a comparison of these three passages should make this clear). It should be noted that some believe the above prophecy concerning Jerusalem’s being “surrounded by encampments” and “trodden by the nations” was fulfilled nearly 2,000 years ago, during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD under General Titus. Those who hold to some variety of the eschatological position known as “Preterism” believe that the prophecy concerning Jerusalem’s being “trodden down by the nations” was fulfilled completely. Still others (i.e., those who hold to some version of “Futurism”) believe that this prophecy began to be fulfilled in 70 but continues to be fulfilled today (according to this latter view, v. 24 is seen as referring to a span of time that has lasted nearly 2,000 years). 

In contrast with both of these views, I don’t think this prophecy –either in part or in whole – has yet been fulfilled.[5] Although the tragic events of 70 AD can certainly be understood as foreshadowing what is yet to come, this is not, I don’t think, the event that Christ had in view here. Luke 21:20-24 is, instead, a prophecy that pertains to a yet-future event – an event that had earlier been prophesied in the book of Zechariah. In Zech. 13:8-9 and 14:1-4, we read: 

“And it will come to be that in all the land, averring is Yahweh, two divisions in it shall be cut off and shall decease. Yet the third shall be left in it. And I will bring the third into the fire. And I will refine them as silver is refined. And I will test them as gold is tested. It shall call in My Name, and I shall answer it. I will say, ‘My people is it.’ And it will say, ‘Yahweh is my Elohim.’ Behold, a day is coming for Yahweh, and your loot will be apportioned among you. Yet I will gather all nations to Jerusalem for battle, and the city will be seized, and the houses rifled, and the women, they shall be ravished. And half the city will go forth into deportation. Yet the rest of my people, they shall not be cut off from the city. Then Yahweh will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights in a day of attack. And His feet will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives, Which is adjoining Jerusalem on the east.” 

The striking similarities between the above passages from Zechariah 14 and Luke 21 cannot be mere coincidence. Both passages prophetically describe Jerusalem as coming under siege and being occupied by the enemy forces attacking it; in Zechariah 14:2 those coming against Jerusalem are explicitly said to be “all the nations,” whereas in Luke 21:20 the involvement of all nations at this time can be inferred from the verses that follow. Both passages foretell that many of Jerusalem’s citizens will be forcefully removed from the land. Both passages also end with a description of events that will take place at the conclusion of the eon, when Christ returns to establish the kingdom of God on the earth. Given these shared prophetic facts, a reasonable conclusion to draw would be that both passages are referring to the same future time period.

Moreover, it is clear from Zechariah’s prophecy that the event being described will take place during the future (broad) day of the Lord. In this passage the day of the Lord is referred to as “a day coming for Yahweh,” and is then repeatedly referred to in the remainder of the chapter as “that day” (significantly, this “day” includes events which will clearly take place during the millennial reign of Christ; see Zech. 14:8-21). From this fact alone we can conclude that the events prophesied by Christ in Luke 21:20-24 (which we’re explicitly told by Christ will involve “indignation”) will take place during the earlier part of the day of the Lord – specifically, during the final 3½ years of Daniel’s 70th week. It is the same period referred to by Christ as “the day in which the Son of Mankind is unveiled.”

As we’ve noted previously, the future day referred to as a time of “distress for Jacob” (as prophesied in Jeremiah 30:5-10) will involve the discipline and punishment of Israel (“I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished”) as well as the punishment of the nations through which Israel will be punished by God. The various tragic events described as taking place at this time (i.e., the seizing/taking of the city of Jerusalem, the rifling of the houses, the ravishing of the women and the deportation of half the city’s inhabitants) should be understood as evidence that God is judging the people of Israel at this time. Notice that God said that HE would gather all nations to Jerusalem to battle. And according to Zech. 13:8-9, this time of judgment will involve not only distress for those living in Jerusalem, but will also involve the majority of Israelites “in all the land” – i.e., “two divisions” or “two-thirds” - being “cut off” (killed). However, we’re also told that a remnant (“the third”) will be “refined” and “tested” (13:8-9). By means of this judgment upon Israel and the severe trials it will involve, God will not only punish Israel for their wickedness and unfaithfulness (resulting in the “cutting off” and “decease” of the majority), but he will also restore a remnant of Israelites to proper covenant relationship with himself (cf. Ezek. 20:30-44). 

That Luke 21:20-24 (and thus Zech. 14:1-2) refers to the future 3½ years of “great affliction” is further confirmed by what Christ said concerning Jerusalem’s being “trodden down by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). When we compare Christ’s words in v. 24 with what John wrote in Revelation 11:1-2, we find just how long this “treading” of Jerusalem by the nations will last: “And a reed like a rod was given me, and one said, “Rouse, measure the temple of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. And the court outside of the temple cast outside, and you should not be measuring it, for it was given to the nations, and the holy city will they be treading forty-two months.” The reader will no doubt recognize this measure of time: “forty-two months” is yet another reference to the last 3½ years of Daniel’s 70th week – i.e., the time of “great affliction,” when the “wild beast” is “given authority to do what it wills,” and to “do battle with the saints and to conquer them” (Rev. 13:5-7). Not only is this forty-two month time frame inconsistent with the nearly 2,000 years “ongoing fulfillment” interpretation of this passage, it is contrary to the “past fulfillment” view of preterists as well (we know from history that Titus controlled Jerusalem completely after only six months of siege, from February to August of 70 AD).  

Now, given that Luke 21:20-24 should be understood as referring to events taking place during the final 3½ years preceding Christ’s coming in his kingdom at the end of the eon (as described in verses 25-28), consider now what Christ declared to his disciples in verses 34-36:

“Now take heed to yourselves, lest at some time your hearts should be burdened with crapulence and drunkenness and the worries of life's affairs, and that day may be standing by you unawares, as a trap, for it will intrude on all those sitting on the surface of the entire earth. Now be vigilant, on every occasion beseeching that you may be prevailing to escape all these things which are about to occur, and to stand in front of the Son of Mankind.

What is “that day” which Christ spoke of as intruding on “all those sitting on the surface of the entire earth?” Recall that, in Luke 17:22-31, Christ referred to the same period of time (a time when the people in view will have to flee the region in which they live in order to survive a coming judgment) as both the “days (plural) of the Son of Man” and as the “day (singular) in which the Son of Man is unveiled.” In the context of Luke 21:34-36, the “day” in view is the period of time that will include all of the things (“all these things”) that Christ said were going to occur, and which those alive at the time will have to “escape” if they want to be able to “stand in front of the Son of Mankind.” This being the case, the “day” that will be “standing by” certain people “unawares, as a trap” (i.e., those whose hearts will be “burdened with crapulence and drunkenness and the worries of life’s affairs”) will include what is described in verses 20-24 – i.e., the “days of vengeance” that will “fulfill all that is written,” and the “indignation” that will be on the Jewish people during this time. This future day is, in other words, the day of the Lord, which will initially be characterized by God’s indignation upon the inhabitants of the earth (the focus of God’s indignation being on Israel first, then on the rest of the nations).

Part 1:

[1] This is evident from verses such as Deut. 29:27-28, where we read, “Hence the anger of Yahweh grew hot against that land so as to bring upon it all the malediction that is written in this scroll. So Yahweh plucked them up off their ground in anger, in fury and in great wrath, and He flung them into another land as it is this day.” Here, the expression, “in fury and in great wrath” is an example of the figure of speech known as Hendiadys (i.e., “the combination of two or three things to express the same meaning”), and is intended to give emphasis to the words, “in anger.”   

[2] In the next verse, Paul gives examples of actions that are meant to be understood in contrast with a response that involves “vengeance”: “But ‘If your enemy should be hungering, give him the morsel; if he should be thirsting, give him to drink, for in doing this you will be heaping embers of fire on his head.’”

[3] Consider, for example, the following survey of all the appearances of the word “wrath” in the ESV.

[4] Another example of using the adjective form of a noun instead of the noun itself is found in 1 Corinthians 4:3, where Paul refers to “man’s day” (which likely refers to the time of human history transpiring prior to the day of the Lord). Here, the adjective form of “man” is used rather than the noun. However, in the Hebrew it would be written as “the day of man.” Although the emphasis is slightly different in the two expressions, the essential meaning is the same. Consider also the frequent use of the Greek adjective “eonian” rather than the expression “of the eon.” Again, in the ancient Hebrew language in which the Old Testament was written, an expression like “eonian life” would have to be written as “the life of the eon” (using the Hebrew noun, olam). But in the Greek, the meaning can be expressed in two different ways (using either the noun or the adjective form of the noun). The reason John wrote the “Lord’s day” (using the adjective form of Lord) is probably due to the fact that he wanted to put the emphasis on the word “day” (thereby emphasizing the time period in which he was, in spirit, present).

[5] A more thorough defense of this understanding of Luke 21:20-24 would require a much lengthier study than I’ve intended this one to be. Two good articles defending this position can be found via the following links:

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