The Day of the Lord and the Tribulation

Many believe that the Day of the Lord will begin at the start of the tribulation. In fact, I saw this teaching being promoted in a Bible prophecy book on a table at my church.

Does the Bible really support the idea that the Day of the Lord will begin at the start of the tribulation? Find out in this article.

Day of the Lord As a “Thief in the Night”

Many people compare the Day of the Lord’s coming as a “thief in the night” by citing these verses:

“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)

The common view is that the Day of the Lord will come when everyone is not expecting it to arrive. Some people take it further by stating that the Day of the Lord can start at any moment because it will sneak up on us like a thief.

However, the Bible indicates that the Day of the Lord may not come as a “thief in the night” to everyone.

1 Thessalonians 5:2-4

The Day of the Lord will only come as a thief in the night to the wicked. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 implies that those “in darkness” (the wicked) will be overtaken by the Day of the Lord when it comes as a “thief in the night” to them (verse 3):

“(2) For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (3) 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. (4) But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)

If you are not “in darkness” the Day of the Lord will not overtake you as a thief according to verse 4.

Revelation 3

The idea that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night to only the wicked is also in Revelation 3. Christ told the church in Sardis that He will come as a thief to them if they do not watch (verse 3):

“(1) And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. (2) Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. (3) Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” (Revelation 3:1-3)

Conversely, Christ won’t come as a thief to the church in Sardis if they keep watch, receive, hear, hold fast, and repent (verse 3).

2 Thessalonians 2

2 Thessalonians 2 disproves the notion that the Day of the Lord can come at any time. Verses 1-4 state that the Day of Christ (a term synonymous with the Day of the Lord) cannot come until at least after the Antichrist reveals himself and claims to be God:[1]

“(1) Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, (2) That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. (3) Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (4) Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

These events have not taken place yet. Therefore, some things still need to happen before the Day of the Lord can come as a thief in the night to the wicked.

What a “Thief in a Night” Means

The Day of the Lord coming as a “thief in the night” means that it will come at a time when most won’t expect it. Most thieves prefer to work at night because it is a time when most people are not keeping watch over their property. However, some are not completely caught off guard when a thief comes because they remain vigilant at night.

The Bible provides information about what signs people need to watch for to know when the Day of the Lord is near. People who heed these signs will not be caught off guard.

The wicked are unlikely going to be aware of these signs because they are not grounded in God’s Word. The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night to them because they will be unaware that it’s coming until it is already too late.

Day of the Lord Signs

The first step to finding when the Day of the Lord will begin is to find out what signs precede its coming. Joel 2:31 and Acts 2:20 state that the sun shall turn dark and the moon shall appear as blood just before the Day of the Lord begins.

“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.” (Joel 2:31)

“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:” (Acts 2:20)

Therefore, we need to know when the sun and moon’s appearance will change to find when the Day of the Lord will begin.

The Olivet Discourse

Christ gave us a good idea of what we will see prior to the start of the Day of the Lord when He gave the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). Christ mentioned that one of the things we will see is the setting up of the abomination of desolation that Daniel wrote about:

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)” (Matthew 24:15)

The abomination of desolation that Daniel mentioned will arise at the midpoint of the 70th week of Daniel (3.5 years through the tribulation):

“And he [Antichrist] shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” (Daniel 9:27)

Christ then warned in verses 16-21 that “great tribulation” will begin after the abomination of desolation is set up:

“(16) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: (17) Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: (18) Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. (19) And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! (20) But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: (21) For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matthew 24:16-21)

Christ later proclaimed in the Olivet Discourse that the sun and moon shall darken (the signs preceding the Day of the Lord) immediately after the great tribulation ends:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:” (Matthew 24:29)

Therefore, Christ placed the start of the Day of the Lord after the end of the great tribulation and well past the midpoint of the tribulation.

The Sixth Seal

Similarly, the Book of Revelation does not mention the Day of the Lord until after the opening of the sixth seal. The opening of the sixth seal will lead to a change in the sun and the moon’s appearance like described in Joel 2:31 and Acts 2:20.

  • Unsurprising, Revelation 6:17 indicates that the Day of the Lord will arrive after the change in the sun and in the moon: “the great day of his wrath is come”:

“(12) And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; (13) And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. (14) And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (15) And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; (16) And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: (17) For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17)

When Will the Day of the Lord Begin

Thus, the Day of the Lord cannot begin at the start of the tribulation. The Day of the Lord cannot even begin at the midpoint of the tribulation. The Day of the Lord will begin after the end of the great tribulation and after the opening of the sixth seal.

A Day with the Lord & 1,000 Years

Some who try to guess when the Rapture and the tribulation will begin will use the concept that a Day with the Lord equals 1,000 years in their calculations. Those who promote this concept often cite Psalm 90 and 2 Peter 3:3-13, a chapter about the Day of the Lord. Here are the key parts from each text:

“(1) Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. (2) Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. (3) Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. (4) For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:1-4)”

“(8) But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (9) The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (10) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:8-10)

If you read these passages closely, you’ll notice that each passage compares a day with the Lord to 1,000 years. The recognition that a comparison is being made is critical because it means that a direct statement that “a day for the Lord equals 1,000 years” is not being made.

The author of Psalm 90 and the Apostle Peter used the comparison to convey the notion that the Lord’s timing is entirely different from our sense of timing. The Lord is eternal while our lives are relatively short, so a long time to us is not a long time to Him.

Therefore, I would caution you against accepting the calculations of date setters who equate a Day with the Lord to 1,000 years.

Final Thoughts

The onset of the Day of the Lord is often a misunderstood topic. I hope this article helped you to better understand when the Day of the Lord can actually begin.

Remember, the Day of the Lord cannot start at any moment or at the start of the tribulation. Many things still need to take place before we see the signs that relate to the onset of the Day of the Lord.

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Note

  1. I believe the Day of Christ and the Day of the Lord represent the same event but from different perspectives:
  • The Day of Christ relates to the righteous perspective as the righteous will become blameless and will be rewarded at that time (Philemon 1:6, 10, Philippians 2:14-17, 1 Corinthians 1:7-8, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14).
  • Meanwhile, the Day of the Lord relates more to the punishment of the wicked (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
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Wayne Croley
Wayne Croley

Hi! I’ve studied and written about Bible prophecy since I was a teenager. My goal is to make Bible prophecy easy for you to understand while avoiding the sensationalism seen elsewhere. I am the author of Prophecy Proof Insights on the End Times, a comprehensive book about the end times. I hold an M.B.A. and degrees in Managerial Economics and Political Science.