THE DAY OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
2-2-58 7:30 p.m.
Now we turn to the first Thessalonian letter and the fifth chapter; 1 Thessalonians and the fifth chapter. And we read together the first eleven verses. First Thessalonians 5:1-11. We all have it? The first Thessalonian letter, the fifth chapter, the last chapter, reading the eleven verses; now let us all of us read it together, 1 Thessalonians, the last chapter, the fifth chapter, the first eleven verses. Now all of us:
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
[1 Thessalonians 5:1-11]
This is the conclusion of the apocalyptic passage Paul began in the thirteenth verse of the fourth, the preceding chapter [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. In that thirteenth verse and following, the last part of the fourth chapter, he writes of the coming of the Lord. First, the first thing that shall happen at the end of this day of grace will be the rising from the dead of our beloved in Christ, who sleep in Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:14-16]; then the translation of all of us who are alive at the time of the coming of the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. Then he begins to write in the next chapter “of the times and of the seasons” [1 Thessalonians 5:1]. When is this thing to come to pass? And he says, “Of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write unto you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail” – I noticed you all pronounce that “travail” – “travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness [1 Thessalonians 5:1-5], that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness,” that is, God has revealed to us the signs, the pointings that prepare us for this great and final day of the Lord. Now that is the subject for this night’s sermon and because I could not begin to encompass it in this one message, it will be the subject of the Sunday morning sermon this coming Lord’s Day, at eleven o’clock; The Day of the Lord. “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night” [1 Thessalonians 5:2].
Now, a glib, casual perusal of a verse like that would mean nothing to a lighthearted reader. But to a student of the Word of God, immediately, immediately that phrase fastens in attention, “the day of the Lord” [1 Thessalonians 5:2]; for Paul is referring there to a thing that is prophesied full and great in the Old Testament Scriptures [Joel 2:31], and a thing that is delineated in great detail in the apocalyptic discourses of Jesus [Matthew 24:3-31] and of the sainted John [Revelation 5-19].
There are two expressions in the New Testament, one “the day of Christ,” and the other, “the day of the Lord”; and they refer to two tremendous events. The day of Christ is something that comes suddenly, immediately; the day of the Lord is a denouement, a great period of time. We use that word “day” in three different senses. Sometimes we use it to refer to the light, daylight, day and night, the sunrise to the sunset, the day as distinct from the night. Sometimes we use that word “day” to refer to the revolution of the earth in twenty-four hours; a day, twenty-four hours, the complete revolution of the earth, day and night. Then sometimes we use that word “day” to refer to an extended period of time, like a man may refer to “the day of his youth.” Now that is the way the word “day” is used here: “the day of the Lord” [1 Thessalonians 5:2], it is a time of great judgment, the visitation of the wrath and fury of Almighty God.
Now I said there are two phrases here in the Scriptures, “the day of Christ” and “the day of the Lord”; and without exception all those phrases, in every instance, in all the passages is used consistently to refer to these great cataclysmic denouements by which God shall end the ages. Now “the day of Christ” refers to the Lord’s coming for His people. It is a day of resurrection. It is a day of the assembling of God’s people with Jesus. It is a day of our reward. “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man as his work shall be” [Revelation 22:12]. That is the day of Christ; and I say without exception, it is used to refer to that consummating rendezvous of God’s people with our Savior. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:8, he says, “Jesus shall confirm you to the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In 1 Corinthians 5:5, he will say “That the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” In 2 Corinthians 1:14, he will write that “We are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.” In Philippians 1:6 he will write, “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Then the tenth verse he writes again, “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ” [Philippians 1:10]. And he writes again in the second chapter and the sixteenth verse, “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, nor labored in vain” [Philippians 2:16]. The day of our seeing Jesus, the day of our translation, and of our resurrection if we fall asleep, the day of our meeting the Lord, and the great day when God shall give us the reward of the fruit and effort and toil of our lives: the day of Christ [is] a glad day, a glorious day, a happy day, a consummating day, a triumphant day, our great victorious day, the day of Christ.
Now, the day of the Lord is altogether different. It is a day of darkness. It is a day of judgment. It is a day of battle. It is a day of the wrath of God. It is a day of purging. It is a fearful and a terrible day. And whenever you see in the Bible “the day of the Lord,” it always refers to that; and we are plunged immediately into vast and extended passages of the Old Testament Scriptures. I haven’t the beginning of time were I to read for hours here tonight of all of the things that are prophesied by the day of the Lord. But I’m going to take time to read some of them for you, in order that you might have the sense, the feeling of what God means when He refers to “the day of the Lord.”
Now listen to Isaiah, the thirteenth chapter, beginning at the sixth verse:
Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt:
And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.
For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
I will make a man more precious than fine gold,
And on and on and on it goes, the terrible day of the Lord.
Then look again in Amos the [fifth] chapter, in the eighteenth and following:
Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! To what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.
As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.
Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
Take again another typical passage, from the prophet Zephaniah:
The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.
That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers.
And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as offal.
And on and on, the prophet Zephaniah; then the same thing again in Zechariah:
Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.
For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the woman ravished;
The great day of the battle of Armageddon! There’s no exception to that. Wherever in the Bible you find “the day of the Lord,” there do you find that time of awful tribulation, and distress of nations, that leads up finally to the battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:13-16], and the interposition of Christ in human history [Revelation 19:17-21].
Right now, a man can sin and he can blaspheme God, and he can mock the Lord, and he can do despite to the Spirit of grace, and he can trample underfoot the blood of the covenant [Hebrews 10:29], and he can smile at the threatenings of the preacher, and he can say “No” to the invitation; he can go his way and still live. And he can say, “Where is God? If there is a God, I defy Him to strike me dead. Where is the Almighty and the hell fires and the damnation of which you speak?” A man can do that today because this is a day of grace; it is a day of the longsuffering of God [2 Peter 3:9]. His arms are stretched out still. His hands are extended our way. It is a day of the privilege and opportunity, of repentance, of coming down that aisle and confessing Jesus as Savior. And however a man may do, however he may blaspheme and scorn God, God will do nothing: this is a day of grace. But there is a time coming when the wrath and the fury and the judgment of God will be visited upon sinful man [Zephaniah 1:15], and woe unto the world and to those who are not under the blood of the Lamb in that great and dark and Passover night! [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23].
Same thing as you could illustrate in the life of Jezebel: and Ahab and Jezebel stood in the presence of Elijah the man of God. And Elijah said, “And in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick up thy blood. And the dogs shall eat Jezebel by the gate of the city of Jezreel” [1 Kings 21:19, 23]. And the days passed, and Jezebel – I could imagine her scorn, her contumely, her arrogant pride as she looked with disdain and haughty demeanor upon Elijah the prophet of God – and the years passed, and Elijah went to heaven [2 Kings 2:11]. But the word of the Lord never falls to the ground, and no syllable God has ever spoken will fail of its course and its judgment.
And the day came when Jezebel tried – painted, beautiful, alluring, charming – to overcome the great Jehu. He stood and said, “Who is on my side?” And the eunuchs appear at the window, and he said, “Throw her down.” And they threw her down, and the trampling of the chariots and the horses as they passed over cut her to pieces; and the dogs ate her flesh by the gate of the city of Jezreel, according to the word of the man of God [2 Kings 9:30-36]. So it is in the awful day of the Lord; payday, someday. There is a time when God shall deal with men personally, dramatically, when God shall intervene in human history; and we call that the great day of the Lord [2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5].
Put them both together, the day of Christ and the day of the Lord, and you have the denouement of final human history. The day of Christ is the day for His people, caught up to be with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]; never see the darkness of that awful judgment and that great tribulation [1 Thessalonians 5:4], caught up to be with the Lord, the day of Christ. And that day of Christ is the end of the day of grace [2 Peter 3:9], and it’s the beginning of the day of the Lord [2 Peter 3:10]. The same moment does two things: it closes this hour and this day, and it opens the dread day of the judgment and wrath of Almighty God. Oh, what things, what things lie ahead for the human family and for the human soul! O God, who is equal to these things? How we need a Savior, Someone who can guard and keep and protect us, who can wash our sins in the blood of the Lamb, who can preserve us against that awful and final hour. Brother, are you saved? Are you saved? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? [Revelation 1:5]. If that awful day should come at midnight like a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:4], if it should come at sunrise, if it should come tomorrow, are we ready? Are we ready? Shall we escape the wrath and the flames and the fury of the judgment, the tribulation [Hebrews 2:3], the vials of wrath poured out from the hands of God Almighty? [Revelation 15:1-16:21].
Now, in this little moment that I have tonight, I wanted to take one of the Old Testament prophets who especially, especially is a prophet of the great day of the Lord. It’s the prophet Joel. He has three little chapters in his prophecy. They are written beautifully; he was a true poet. And he writes in clarity, with great, fine meter and stanza. He was a man of tremendous poetic insight and ability. Who was he? Nobody knows; he’s the first of the writing prophets. When you thumb through that Bible, Joel was the first one. Of all of the prophets who wrote, Joel was the first one. He lived about 800 BC, we suppose. Nobody knows who he is, where he came from; like Elijah, he just suddenly appears on the horizon of God’s history. And what he writes is a fury and a flame. If we could liken ourselves to travelers going through the Bible, when we came to Joel, it would be like suddenly coming to a great volcano that was erupting ash, and smoke, and fire, and flame, and sulfur. What he did was this: he took a great ravishing of the land; the locusts, then the drought. And taking that, he used it as a symbol and as a sign and as a prophecy of the great day of the Lord. In the first chapter of the book, he describes the great vast invasion of those billions and billions of locusts, scouring the land and making it bare like bones bleached in a desert; and then following that, the awful drought. And he likens that to the ravaging of the land by the invading army of the times of the Gentiles, one after another, the ravishing of the land [Joel 1:1-20]. Then in the second chapter, he turns to the great time when Israel shall be regathered in the land; and there is that invasion of the armies of the world and the great and final battle of Armageddon [Joel 2:1-32]. Then in the third chapter he describes the judgment of the nations; and in the third ending, with the future blessings of the people of God, when the Lord has triumphed over His enemies, when the horse and the rider are cast into the sea of blood [Joel 3:1-21]. Oh, this prophecy of Joel, the heavy and awful things that he was commissioned to say; his throat is brass, his breath is flame, his every word scorches and burns.
When you look at him and when you read, you wonder at such a man and such a prophecy. But look again: the word that he delivered was not a word that originated with him; he received it from God [Joel 1:1]. So it is with every true preacher of Christ: when the preacher stands up and points to the fearful judgment seat of God and the awful day when we stand before Him lost and undone, when he describes the awful fires of torment and of hell and pleads with the man to turn, if he’s a true preacher of Christ he doesn’t originate that. That’s no product of his own fertile and vivid imagination; he’s just recounting what God hath written in His Book. Except we repent and turn, we shall all perish [Luke 13:3, 5]. Hell is enlarged to receive us at our coming unless we are saved, unless we get right with God. “The word of the Lord that came to Joel” [Joel 1:1], he just repeated what God said.
Another thing about him: the message that he delivered broke his heart. As he prophesied the awful devastation of the people and the judgment of God, he cried, “O Lord, to Thee do I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned the [trees] of the field. The beasts of the field cry unto Thee: the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness” [Joel 1:19-20]. As he looked upon it, pity welled up in his soul. “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live: O turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11], no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
Then he pleads, he pleads for repentance: “Now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to Me with all your heart,rend your heart, and not your garments, with fasting and weeping and with mourning, come, come unto Me” [Joel 2:12-13]. Then he does that unusual thing of, “Sound the trumpet, sound the trumpet, gather together a solemn assembly, sanctify a fast, gather the people, assemble, gather the children” [Joel 2:15-16]. Then he names them, “even the little children, and those at the breast, come, come, and let the bride come out of her chamber, let the princes, the ministers of the Lord, weep before the porch and the altar, and let them say, Lord, spare Thy people, O Lord, and give Thine heritage not to reproach” [Joel 2:16-17]; pleading, pleading, pleading. Then the following: he enumerates the blessings if they will turn [Joel 2:18-27]. Isn’t that like the Lord? Every time there is an announced judgment of God – and that’s the sermon next Sunday morning – every time there is an announced judgment of God, there is also a lifting up of the voice of the Lord, warning against that great and awful day. And that’s what Paul is writing there, “of the times and the seasons, that we might know when the great day of the Lord approaches” [1 Thessalonians 5:1-11]. Never a judgment of God, a pouring out of the wrath and the fury of God, until first there is a warning from God that men might repent, and might turn, and might be saved. When the Lord destroyed the world by the flood, for a hundred twenty years righteous Noah preached and pled with men to turn and be saved; for a hundred twenty years before the flood came [Genesis 6:1-8, 17-24; 2 Peter 2:5].
When the Lord destroyed the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24-29], He said, “Shall I hide from Abraham this thing that I do?” [Genesis 18:17]. When Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans came, Jeremiah lifted up his voice, saying, “Repent ye, turn to the Lord.” Nebuchadnezzar came in 605 [Daniel 1:3-6]; Jeremiah lifted up his voice, crying, “Repent ye, repent ye, get right with God.” The Chaldeans came in 598 [2 Kings 24:11-14], and Jeremiah lifted up his voice, saying, “Repent ye, let us turn to the Lord.” The Chaldeans came the third time, in 587 BC [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30], and they didn’t need to come anymore. “The harvest past, the summer ended, and we are not saved [Jeremiah 8:20]. Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1].
It was so in the days of the Savior: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” before Titus came in 70 AD and destroyed the city and the nation, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” [Luke 13:34-35]. Always before the falling of the judgment of God, there is the voice of the prophet pleading for the people to turn and be saved; and it is so in the great day of the Lord. Paul writes, and this preacher is preaching on it this time and next time, “The great day of the Lord is at hand; turn ye, turn ye, repent ye and be saved” [1 Thessalonians 5:2, 6].
It is the message of our Lord tonight. Oh, what lies ahead, against which our hands are so feeble. The little flickering flame of our life can be blown out by just a breath of God. If we have any hope, it lies in Him; any salvation, it’s from His precious hands [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. “Except the Lord build the [house], they labor in vain that build it: except the [Lord] keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” [Psalm 127:1]. No man is strong until the foundation upon which his life is built is strong. And if his life is built on the sand, in the day of the flood and the wind and the rain, great is the fall thereof. But when a man builds his house on the rock, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and the rains descend and beat on that house, and it falls not; for it is built upon the rock [Matthew 7:24-27]. The great day of the Lord is at hand, who will turn and believe? Who will come and trust? Who will look up in faith to Jesus? “Lord, save, save, save!”
Would you tonight? Would you tonight? In this balcony around, down these stairwells; in the great throng of people on this lower floor, somebody you, “Tonight, in repentance and in faith I hide my soul in Jesus. I come. I come. Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart in faith to Jesus.” Would you take Him for all that He said He is, and for all that He has promised to do? “Here I come, here I am.” A family of you, put your life in the church. Or one somebody you, coming by letter, or baptism, or statement, however God shall say the word and open the door, would you come? While we stand and while we sing.
OF THE LORD, PART 1
I. Tremendous events are ahead, predicted
in both Old and New Testament
word “day” in Scripture
between dawn and sunset
of the earth in 24 hours
lengthened period of time – “the day of our youth”
“day of Christ”
Refers to reward of the saints at Christ’s coming for His own(Revelation 22:12, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 5:5, 2
Corinthians 1:14, Philippians 1:6, 10, 2:16)
The “day of the Lord”
Carries with it connotation of the wrath and judgment of Almighty God(Isaiah 13:6-12, Amos 5:18-20, Zephaniah 1:14-17,
a man may blaspheme, scorn, God seemingly do nothing
But a time is coming when wrath, judgment of God will be visited upon sinful
man(1 Kings 21:19, 23, 2 Kings 9:30-36)
expressions together refer to the climactic end of the ages
II. Tremendous Old Testament doctrine
especially a prophet of the great day of the Lord
Took a great ravishing of the land, locusts, then drought, and used it as
symbol, sign, and prophecy of the great day of the Lord
1. His message was from
2. The message he
delivered broke his heart (Joel 1:19-20, Ezekiel
3. He pled for
repentance (Joel 2:12-13, 15-17)
4. He enumerates the
blessings if they will turn(1 Thessalonians
Never a judgment of God until first a warning from Him that men might repent,
turn and be saved (Genesis 6:1-8, Jeremiah 8:20,
1. It was so in the
days of the Savior(Luke 13:34-35)
2. The message to us now (Psalm 127:1, Matthew 7:24-27)