The Day of the Lord
1 Thessalonians 5:1–3
Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. (5:1–3)
After a century that experienced the terror of two world wars, the horror of the Holocaust, the brutality of the Korean conflict, the hopeless futility of the war in Vietnam, as well as innumerable revolutions, riots, assassinations, and acts of terrorism, a crucial question is, Where (if anywhere) is history going? Does it have a purpose, goal, or meaning? Or is it merely an endless succession of events leading nowhere? How are we to live, work, play, and love amidst the chaos, confusion, and meaninglessness of life? In his book Christ the Meaning of History, Hendrikus Berkhof writes,
Our generation is strangled by fear: fear for man, for his future, and for the direction in which we are driven against our will and desire. And out of this comes a cry for illumination concerning the meaning of the existence of mankind, and concerning the goal to which we are directed. It is a cry for an answer to the old question of the meaning of history. ([Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], 13)
There are three popular contemporary views of history. The first is the cyclical view, which sees history as an endless circle, spiraling back through the same things over and over again. In the cynical words of the Preacher, "That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9). The cyclical view was popular among the ancient Greeks. Today it characterizes much of Eastern thought—especially Hinduism, with its continual cycle of death and rebirth (samsara). Through the influence of the New Age movement, it has also become increasingly popular in the West.
But the cyclical view evacuates any meaning or purpose from history, as John Marsh notes:
If such a view be true, then historical existence has been deprived of its significance. What I do now I have done in a previous world cycle, and will do again in future world cycles. Responsibility and decision disappear, and with them any real significance to historical life, which in fact becomes a rather grandiose natural cycle. Just as the corn is sown, grows, and ripens each year, so will the events of history recur time after time. Moreover, if all that can happen is the constant repetition of an event-cycle, there is no possibility of meaning in the cycle itself. It achieves nothing in itself, neither can it contribute to anything outside itself. The events of history are devoid of significance. (The Fulness of Time [London: Nisbet, 1952], 167)
A second view of history is that of atheistic naturalism. Unlike the cyclical view, this view sees history as linear and non-repetitive. But like the cyclical view, the naturalistic view assigns no meaning to history. History may be proceeding in a straight line instead of going around in circles, but it is not leading anywhere; it has no ultimate goal or purpose. Anthony Hoekema notes that according to this view, "No significant pattern can be found in history, no movement toward a goal; only a meaningless succession of events" (The Bible and the Future [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], 25). The celebrated British philosopher and vocal critic of Christianity Bertrand Russell admitted, "There is no law of cosmic progress. . . . From evolution, so far as our present knowledge shows, no ultimately optimistic philosophy can be validly inferred" (cited in Henry M. Morris, That Their Words May Be Used Against Them [Green Forest, Ark.: Master Books, 1997], 418). The zealous defender of Darwinism Richard Dawkins acknowledges, "Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection, although human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution" (cited in Morris, 412). Thus, human history is just one phase of the meaningless flow of evolutionary history. The influential evolutionary paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson put it bluntly: "Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind" (cited in Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993], 116). Such a hopeless, purposeless, empty view of history reduces man to insignificance, to nothing more than a "chance configuration of atoms in the slip stream of meaningless chance history" (Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1972], 18).
The Christian view of history stands in sharp contrast to the hopeless despair of the first two views. The Bible reveals history to be the outworking of the purposeful plan of the sovereign, creator God. Job confessed, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). Through the prophet Isaiah, God declared, "My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure" (Isa. 46:10), and "I act and who can reverse it?" (Isa. 43:13). Jesus Christ is the central figure in history; the Old Testament points to His coming, and the New Testament describes and expounds His life, death, resurrection, and second coming.
As history continues to unfold the eternally planned purposes of God, one event looms large on the horizon: the Day of the Lord. That event will mark the end of man's day, as God acts in judgment to take back direct control of the earth from the usurpers (both human and demonic) who presently rule it. It will be an unprecedented time of cataclysmic judgment on all unrepentant sinners.
Most preachers strive to be positive, affirming, and comforting, and hence rarely preach on God's wrath, vengeance, and judgment. But to ignore such truth is to "shrink from declaring . . . the whole purpose of God" (Acts 20:27). It is to forsake the preacher's responsibility to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2). Scripture repeatedly warns of God's judgment and the eternal punishment of unbelievers. Judgment was a major emphasis of both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. But the one who spoke most often about judgment was the Lord Jesus Christ. All true preachers must follow His example, as did Paul (cf. 1:10; 2:16; 4:6; 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:5–9).
Paul had preached the sobering truth about the Day of the Lord to the Thessalonians during his relatively brief stay in their city (2 Thess. 2:5). After he left, questions arose in their minds about both the Rapture and the Day of the Lord. Timothy likely conveyed those concerns to Paul when he returned from his trip to Thessalonica (3:2, 6). Having answered their questions about the Rapture in the previous passage (4:13–18), Paul now dealt with the Thessalonians' concerns about the Day of the Lord. From the blessed event of the catching away of the church, Paul turned to the horrible event that follows it—the destruction of the wicked rejecters of the Lord Jesus Christ. As it was in dealing with the Rapture, Paul's purpose in writing this section on the Day of the Lord was not primarily theological and eschatological but pastoral and practical.
Paul introduced his discussion of the Day of the Lord with the transitional phrase peri de (now as to). The apostle used that phrase frequently in his writings to signal a change of subject (e.g., 4:9; 1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12). Paul's use of the affectionate term brethren as a call to renewed attention also suggests a new topic (cf. 2:1, 17; 4:1, 13). In his discussion of end-time events, Paul turned from the Rapture (4:13–18) to a new subject, the Day of the Lord.
The phrase the times (chronos) and the epochs (kairos) refers in a general sense to the end times (cf. Dan. 2:21; Acts 1:7). Though the two words may be used here in an overlapping sense, there is a subtle difference in meaning between them. Chronos refers to chronological time, to clock time or calendar time. Kairos, on the other hand, views time in terms of events, eras, or seasons, such as the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). Taken together, the two terms suggest that the Thessalonians were curious about the timing of the end-time events. That both nouns are plural indicates that many different time periods (cf. Dan. 7:25; 9:24–27; 12:7, 11, 12; Rev. 11:2–3; 13:5) and events (e.g., the Rapture, the rise of Antichrist, the salvation of Israel, the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments, the Second Coming, the battle of Armageddon, the sheep and goat judgment, the binding of Satan, the millennial kingdom, the loosing of Satan and subsequent worldwide rebellion at the end of the Millennium, the Great White Throne judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth) make up the end times.
Specifically, the congregation wanted to know when the Rapture and the Day of the Lord would take place. As noted in the previous chapter of this volume, they were concerned that they had somehow missed the Rapture and were in the Day of the Lord (cf. 2 Thess. 2:1–2). In verse 4 of this chapter, Paul reassured them that they would not experience the Day of the Lord. (See the discussion of 5:4–11 in chapter 13 of this volume.)
But to their question as to when the Day of the Lord would come, Paul replied, you have no need of anything to be written to you. The Lord Jesus Christ gave a similar answer to His disciples; when they asked Him, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) He replied, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority" (Acts 1:7; cf. Matt. 24:36, 44, 50; 25:13). The Thessalonians did not need to know when the Day of the Lord would come; they already knew all that God intended them to know. To know when the Day of the Lord will come would foster spiritual indifference if it were still a long way off, or panic if it were coming soon. Being spiritually prepared for the return of Christ does not involve date setting, clock-watching, or sign seeking. God has chosen not to reveal the specific time of end-time events so that all believers will live in constant anticipation of them.
As he replied to the Thessalonians' questions about the Day of the Lord, Paul discussed three aspects of that momentous event: its coming, character, and completeness.
The Coming of the Day of the Lord
For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" (5:2–3a)
What the Thessalonians already knew full well was that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night—suddenly, unexpectedly, unwelcomed, and harmfully. It will be a terrifying shock to those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ. Akribōs (full well) describes careful, accurate, painstaking research (cf. Matt. 2:8; Luke 1:3; Acts 18:25). The Thessalonians knew for certain that the Day of the Lord will arrive unexpectedly. Obviously, then, the time of its arrival will not be revealed; no sane thief announces in advance what time of the night he plans to rob someone.
In the Olivet Discourse—Jesus' own sermon on His second coming—He used the imagery of a thief in the night to refer to the unexpectedness of His return: "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into" (Matt. 24:43; cf. Rev. 16:15). Like the Day of the Lord, the exact time of the Second Coming will not be revealed, though there will be signs that Christ's return is imminent (Matt. 24:4–33). Jesus put every generation on notice that they must live in expectation of His return and the events of the Day of the Lord that lead up to it.
The metaphor of a thief coming is never used to refer to the Rapture of the church. It describes the coming of the Lord in judgment at the end of the seven-year Tribulation period, and the judgment at the end of the thousand-year kingdom of Christ on earth (2 Peter 3:10). A thief coming is not a hopeful, joyful event of deliverance, but an unexpected calamity.
The important biblical term the day of the Lord describes God's cataclysmic future judgment on the wicked. It is mentioned explicitly nineteen times in the Old Testament (Isa. 2:12; 13:6, 9; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18 [2 times], 20; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:7, 14 [2 times]; Zech. 14:1; Mal. 4:5) and four times in the New Testament (cf. Acts 2:20; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10), and is alluded to in other passages (cf. Rev. 6:17; 16:14). It will be the time when God pours out His fury on the wicked; in fact, Scripture three times calls the Day of the Lord the "day of vengeance" (Isa. 34:8; 61:2; 63:4).
The Day of the Lord must be distinguished from the "day of Christ" (Phil. 1:10; 2:16), the "day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6), the "day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5), and the "day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:8); all of those terms refer to the time when believers will receive their rewards from the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:11–14; 4:1–5; 2 Cor. 5:9–10). The Day of the Lord must also be distinguished from the "day of God" (2 Peter 3:12), which refers to the eternal state.
The Old Testament passages dealing with the Day of the Lord often convey a sense of imminence, nearness, and expectation: "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near!" (Isa. 13:6); "For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near" (Ezek. 30:3); "For the day of the Lord is near" (Joel 1:15); "Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near" (Joel 2:1); "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision" (Joel 3:14); "For the day of the Lord draws near on all the nations" (Obad. 15); "Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near" (Zeph. 1:7); "Near is the great day of the Lord, near and coming very quickly" (Zeph. 1:14).
The Old Testament prophets envisioned historical days of the Lord that would preview the final, eschatological Day of the Lord. God often used providentially controlled circumstances, such as using one nation to destroy another, or natural disasters, as instruments of His judgment. But those historical days of the Lord were merely a prelude to the final eschatological Day of the Lord, which will be far greater in extent and more terrible in its destruction.
The Old Testament Day of the Lord passages often have both a near and a far fulfillment, as does much Old Testament prophecy. In Psalm 69:9 David wrote, "Zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me"; yet after Jesus cleansed the temple, "His disciples remembered that it was written, 'zeal for Your house will consume me'" (John 2:17). Psalm 22 has in view both David's suffering and the crucifixion of Christ. Isaiah 7:14 refers both to the historical birth of Isaiah's son and prophetically to the virgin birth of Christ. Similarly, Isaiah 13:6 points to a historical day of the Lord, while verse 9 of that same chapter has the final, eschatological Day of the Lord in view. Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11 describe a historical day of the Lord; Joel 3:1–14 the eschatological Day of the Lord. Obadiah 1–14 depicts the historical day of the Lord in which Edom was judged; verses 15–21 describe the eschatological Day of the Lord. Zephaniah 1:7–14 predicts an imminent, historical day of the Lord judgment on Judah, which was fulfilled shortly afterward in the Babylonian Captivity; 3:8–20 predicts the final Day of the Lord.
Summarizing the interplay of the historical and eschatological Days of the Lord in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, George Eldon Ladd writes,
The Day of the Lord was near because God was about to act; and the historical event was in a real sense an anticipation of the final eschatological deed. . . . The historical imminence of the Day of the Lord did not include all that the Day of the Lord meant; history and eschatology were held in dynamic tension, for both were the Day of the Lord. (The Presence of the Future [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976], 320. Italics in original.)
Unlike the Rapture, which will not be preceded by any signs, there will be several precursors that will herald the arrival of the eschatological Day of the Lord. They will not, however, reveal the specific time that it will come.
The first sign that the Day of the Lord is drawing near will be the appearance of an Elijah-like forerunner. In Malachi 4:5 the Lord declared, "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord." Like many other Day of the Lord prophecies, this one had a historical fulfillment in John the Baptist (Luke 1:17) and will also have a future fulfillment in the end times. Some have speculated that this forerunner will be one of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3). Whoever he is, he will herald the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the arrival of the Day of the Lord that precedes it.
Second, a worldwide rebellion against God and His Word will precede the Day of the Lord. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Paul reminded the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord (v. 2) "will not come unless the apostasy comes first." That apostasy will include a worldwide system of false religion. (See the discussion of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 in chapter 23 of this volume.)
Third, the Day of the Lord will not come until "the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God" (2 Thess. 2:3–4). The rise of Antichrist and his desecration of the temple (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Matt. 24:15) will precede the coming of the Day of the Lord. (See the discussion of 2:3–4 in chapter 23 of this volume.)
Fourth, the nations will begin to assemble in the valley of decision for the battle of Armageddon (Joel 3:2–14).
Fifth, dramatic signs in the heavens will precede the coming of the Day of the Lord; God "will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. . . . The sun and moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness" (Joel 2:30–31; 3:15; cf. Isa. 13:10; Matt. 24:29; Luke 21:25; Rev. 6:12–13; 8:12).
In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave another list of precursors to the Day of the Lord—a list paralleled in the first five seal judgments in Revelation. The Lord described these judgments as "birth pangs" (Matt. 24:8)—an apt analogy to the labor pains that come suddenly upon a pregnant woman and intensify until she gives birth. Just as a woman's labor pains warn her that her time to give birth is imminent, so these birth pangs should warn people that the Day of the Lord is near.
The first birth pang is a proliferation of false teachers, false prophets, and false religions. They will succeed in explaining away the signs so that people will not recognize that they point to the Day of the Lord. In Matthew 24:5 Jesus warned, "Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many." But the epitome of all of them will be the ultimate false prophet, the final world ruler, the Antichrist. He is known in Scripture by many names: the little horn (Dan. 7:8), the king who does as he pleases (Dan. 11:36–45), the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3), the son of destruction (2 Thess. 2:3), and the beast (Rev. 11:7; 13:2–8). This demon-indwelled individual will be a man of charisma, charm, persuasiveness, brilliance, authority, ruthlessness—and consummate wickedness. He will at first appear to be everything a desperate world longs for—a man who will unify the world under his leadership and usher in a short-lived era of global peace and prosperity. He will even make a seven-year pact with Israel (Dan. 9:27), promising to provide the security and protection that nation has always longed for. But halfway through that pact, Antichrist will reveal his true colors. He will put a stop to Israel's religion and desecrate the temple by setting himself up as God and demanding that the world worship him (2 Thess. 2:4).
The first of the seal judgments (Rev. 6:2) depicts Antichrist's rise to power: "I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer." The bow depicts Antichrist's power, but the absence of arrows and the fact that the crown was freely given to him indicate his victory will not come through war. Antichrist's victory will be a bloodless, political, ideological conquest, as the world turns to him to lead them through the unparalleled crisis of the time of Tribulation.
Antichrist's false peace will not last long, for the second birth pang is war. In Matthew 24:6–7 Jesus warned, "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." War on an unprecedented scale will characterize the Tribulation (Dan. 11:36–45), culminating in the unimaginable slaughter of the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:17–21).
The second seal judgment (Rev. 6:3–4) also depicts the devastating wars that will precede the Day of the Lord: "When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, 'Come.' And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him." War personified rides the red horse of battle and slaughter.
Adding to the misery and suffering caused by war will be the natural disasters associated with the third birth pang: "In various places there will be famines and earthquakes" (Matt. 24:7). The third and fourth seal judgments also describe the natural disasters that precede the Day of the Lord:
When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine." (Rev. 6:5–6)
That a denarius (one day's wages) would purchase only a quart of wheat (one day's supply for one person) and enough barley (low quality grain usually fed to livestock) to feed a small family for one day graphically depicts the famine conditions that will prevail.
The fourth seal pictures death on a scale unprecedented in human history:
When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Rev. 6:7–8)
The devastation caused by war and famine will result in a staggering death toll—one fourth of the earth's population.
The fourth birth pang describes the martyrdom of many of the Tribulation believers. In the midst of the devastation, slaughter, and horror of the Tribulation, many (Rev. 7:9) will be redeemed through the preaching of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:2–6), the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (Rev. 7), and the "angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people" (Rev. 14:6). Jesus warned those believers, "They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name" (Matt. 24:9). When the Lord Jesus Christ broke the fifth seal, John
saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. (Rev. 6:9–11)
The final birth pang, unlike the first four, is a positive sign. Jesus said in Matthew 24:14, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." As noted above, there will be vast numbers of people converted during the Tribulation as a result of the preaching of the two witnesses, the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, and the angel flying in midheaven.
Unbelievably, incomprehensibly, despite these obvious, unmistakable signs, most people will still be caught by surprise when the Day of the Lord comes. The terrible outpouring of God's wrath in judgment will happen while they are saying, "Peace and safety!" The only explanation for such a ludicrous, absurd response is that people will be deceived by false prophets. Jesus warned, "Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. . . . Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. . . . For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (Matt. 24:5, 11, 24). Those lying deceivers will dupe the world into believing that peace and prosperity are just around the corner, despite the ominous signs that the Day of the Lord is fast approaching.
The Old Testament prophets also encountered deceiving false prophets who scoffed at their warnings of impending doom. Jeremiah warned his countrymen, "Flee for safety, O sons of Benjamin, from the midst of Jerusalem! Now blow a trumpet in Tekoa and raise a signal over Beth-haccerem; for evil looks down from the north, and a great destruction" (Jer. 6:1). But in spite of Jeremiah's warning, the false prophets were "saying, 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14; cf. 8:11). In Jeremiah 14:13 Jeremiah complained, "'Ah, Lord God!' I said, 'Look, the prophets are telling them, "You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place."'" In verse 14 God replied, "The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds." Lamentations 2:14 notes, "Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles" (cf. Micah 3:5). God declared of the false prophets who plagued Israel:
It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, "Peace!" when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash, that it will fall. A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall; and a violent wind will break out. Behold, when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked, "Where is the plaster with which you plastered it?" Therefore, thus says the Lord God, "I will make a violent wind break out in My wrath. There will also be in My anger a flooding rain and hailstones to consume it in wrath. So I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the Lord. Thus I will spend My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it over with whitewash; and I will say to you, 'The wall is gone and its plasterers are gone, along with the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,'" declares the Lord God. (Ezek. 13:10–16)
In the end time, the false prophets will use "great signs and wonders" (Matt. 24:24) to mislead the world. As a result of their deception, life will go on with some semblance of normalcy, just as it did before the Flood:
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:37–39)
The false prophet, the associate of the Antichrist, will use signs and wonders to persuade people to worship the Antichrist: "He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men" (Rev. 13:13).
Unbelievers' susceptibility to the false prophets' deception is a sign of God's judgment on them. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10–12 Paul wrote that those deceived by the Antichrist will "perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." As a result, the sudden, unexpected coming of the Day of the Lord will sweep them away in judgment.
The Character of the Day of the Lord
then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, (5:3b)
Olethros (destruction) does not refer to annihilation, but separation from God (cf. 2 Thess. 1:9). It does not mean the destruction of being, but of well-being (cf. 1 Tim. 6:9); not the end of existence, but the destruction of the purpose for existence. God will accomplish the destruction of unbelievers by casting them into the eternal torment of hell (2 Thess. 1:9).
Revelation 6:12–17 graphically depicts the destructiveness of the Day of the Lord:
I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"
Acts 2:19–20 describes the Day of the Lord as a time of "wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come."
By using the term them (a reference to unbelievers), Paul reassured the Thessalonians that they will not face destruction. As he states plainly in verse 4, the Thessalonians will not experience the Day of the Lord; they will be raptured before it begins. (See the discussion of v. 4 in chapter 13 of this volume.) As noted earlier in this chapter, the Day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly on unbelievers. They will fail to heed the many precursors that should have warned them of its imminent arrival, just as labor pains coming upon a woman with child warn her that the birth of her child is imminent. (See the discussion of "birth pangs" above.)
The Completeness of the Day of the Lord
and they will not escape. (5:3c)
The tragic result of unbelievers' unpreparedness for the Day of the Lord is that they will not escape divine judgment. The use of the double negative ou mē stresses the comprehensiveness of the Day of the Lord, which will bring destruction on every unbeliever alive when it comes.
Believers should be comforted by the reality that they will be raptured before the coming of the Day of the Lord and not experience its horrors. Yet the knowledge that that event looms large on the prophetic horizon should also motivate them to evangelize the lost. The tragic reality is that those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ will experience God's temporal and eternal wrath. In the sobering, pensive words of the writer of Hebrews, "How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb. 2:3).
—MacArthur New Testament Commentary, The