“Blow the horn in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the residents of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; in fact, it is near — a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and total darkness, like the dawn spreading over the mountains; a great and strong people appears, such as never existed in ages past and never will again in all the generations to come…The Lord makes his voice heard in the presence of his army. His camp is very large; those who carry out his command are powerful. Indeed, the day of the Lord is terrible and dreadful — who can endure it?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever had a day whose coming you dreaded? A few years ago I got a speeding ticket—the only one I’ve ever gotten and even it was accidental because I missed a sign in a stretch of road where the limit kept changing from 55 to 45 and back. And, like any ticket, mine came with a court date. Boy, did I not want that day to come. The walk of shame to the judge’s bench to learn the punishment for my crime was not something I was looking forward to experiencing. What Joel says here suggests that the day of the Lord is one whose coming should fill us with a similar sense of dread…only worse. Why?
Why should the idea of the day of the Lord fill anyone with dread? The general thought is that the Old Testament day of the Lord corresponds to the day Jesus returns to claim His kingdom. What could be dreadful about Jesus returning. Won’t that be a good day? Shouldn’t we look forward to and celebrate that day?
Well…it depends. On the one hand, for followers of Jesus—or, in Joel’s context, those who were faithful to the covenant—it absolutely will be a wonderful day. We’ll come back to explore that idea in more detail in a few days. But for now, of course we should cheer the return of our Lord. He will right every wrong and restore all that sin has destroyed.
On the other hand, when Jesus returns, it won’t be for saving, but for judging. As a song I once heard referencing 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 puts it, “Next time He’s coming on a cloud with a shout, and no one’s going to get in His way.” He’s going to return in His unfiltered, divine glory. Every single reference to that image in the Scriptures is uniform in describing it as terrifying. Passages like this one and several throughout John’s Revelation describe His return as being accompanied by a series of cataclysmic events that will be enormously describing of human life—wars, earthquakes, floods, fires, disease, and so on.
So then, which is it? The fact is, we don’t like tension like this. We want tension resolved. Either Jesus’ coming needs to be a good thing or a scary one, it can’t be both. Right? Well again, that depends. On what? On whether or not you’ll be glad to see Him.
For those who are His, it will be a day of rejoicing and gladness. Even amid the destruction we will be overjoyed to see our Lord finally coming to claim what is rightfully His. Revelation makes clear that we will be protected from some of the worst of it, but even when we aren’t, we will be resurrected on the final day He arrives and so our physical death in the last wild days leading up to that point won’t matter. (That’s not so say the ones remaining won’t still mourn our loss, but when He comes, all morning will be turned to dancing.)
For those, however, who have spent their lives denying Him and refusing to follow Him, His return will not be a good day at all. It will instead be a cosmic confirmation of the fact that they were wrong. They bet on the wrong horse. They took the wrong path. Everything they counted on in making the decisions they made was false. And now they’re going to have to pay the price for it. Oh, what a steep price that will be.
The real determining factor as to whether or not the day of the Lord will be one of joy our terror, then, is whether we will be the beneficiaries of it or the victims of it. Have we spent our lives denying Him and living however we please, or have we committed ourselves to Him and experienced the world’s hatred for it? Have we been the ones guilty of committing injustices, or the ones who have been hurt by the injustices of others? Have we spent our lives following Him or not?
Israel here was not living a life of faithfulness and righteousness? The recent locust plague may not have been an act of judgement from God, but that didn’t mean His judgment wasn’t coming if they stayed on the path they were walking.
Listen: that recent hard session you faced was likely not the judgment of God, but that doesn’t mean His judgment isn’t coming if you are walking a path of rebelliousness and refuse to leave it. This kind of warning isn’t meant to scare you or me or anyone else…well, actually, it kind of is. The prospect of judgment should be an unnerving one. But, the promise of life we have in Christ is incredible beyond words. This life is available to anyone who wants to live it. No one has to be subject to judgment. Grace is available to everyone. Line in such a way that Jesus’ return will be an exciting day, not a scary one.