Last Day Terms
Several terms are used to understand what theologians call eschatology, i.e. the doctrine of last things. Some of these are "the last days," "the day of the Lord," "the day of Christ," and "the day of judgment." For those of us who take the Bible seriously, it is necessary to study appropriate texts to help to define what these terms mean. Let's look at a few of those texts in the New Testament. (By no means is this study meant to be exhaustive. There is so much more to this subject.)
The Last Days (or Latter Days):
In his Pentecost sermon Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32 and applied this prophecy to the Messianic Era which he said was beginning to be fulfilled by the Holy Spirit-empowered Apostles, cf. Acts 2:15-21. Thousands of Gentile proselytes from all over the Roman world gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost and heard the Gospel in their own languages uttered by the Apostles. Peter told the crowd this was a sign of the "last days."
Hebrews 1:1-2 also helps us to understand that we are in the "last days" which began with the first coming of Jesus Christ. "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son, who He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe."
So, it is safe to say the "last days" (or "latter days") encompass a period of time beginning with the first coming of Christ and continuing through to his second coming -- including all of the events related to those comings.
The Day of the Lord, the Day of Christ, the Day of God, the Day of Judgment:
In contrast to the "last days," the "day of the Lord" and similar phrases relate more to the culmination of the extended "last days" period in which we presently find ourselves. Some aspects of the "day of the Lord," "the day of Christ," "the day of God" and the "day of judgment" are negative, and some are positive.
"For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead."
Acts 17:31 (This could be positive for some and negative for others.)
"But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger." Romans 2:5-8 (Again, this "day" is positive for some and negative for others.)
"Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." 1 Corinthians 1:7-9 (This is definitely positive.)
"…you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ."
2 Corinthians 1:14b. (Another positive usage.)
"…being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6, cf. 1:10, 2:16 (All these verses speak of a positive "day of Christ.")
"Now brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant
woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness." 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5 (Here we see both negative and positive aspects of the "day of the Lord.")
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 the "day of the Lord" occurs after the "man of lawlessness" is revealed whom the Lord Jesus will destroy when He comes -- and all those who are deceived by him. Believers will not suffer the same destruction -- but will be spared, cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-16. (So, there is both a negative and positive outcome of the "the day of the Lord.")
"…I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day." 2 Timothy 1:12b, cf. 1:18. (These are great positive references.)
"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:8 (What a glorious verse stressing God's blessings for those who long for Christ's coming "on that day!")
2 Peter 3:7: "By the same word the heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." (Undoubtedly negative.)
"Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness." 2 Peter 3:11-13 (So, the "day of God" brings destruction for the material universe -- but not for believers. Consequently, there is both a negative and positive outcome.)
"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears in not made perfect in love." 1 John 4:16-18 (As a consequence, believers can be confident in the day of judgment -- and not fearful of punishment. This is most positive!)
Jude 6: "And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home -- these He has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day." (Definitely a negative reference.)
In light of the above verses, it is fair to say the "day of the Lord," "the day of Jesus Christ," "the day of God," and the "day of judgment" have to do with the Final Judgment at which time all people of all time face the bar of God -- and perfect justice is applied. Indeed, all history looks forward to this "day" when all injustices of all time will be fairly judged. Thank God He will not allow injustice to remain forever! (Also, God's day of judgment has ramifications for the physical universe.)
So, the great Final Judgment passages of Scripture, John 5:25-29; Matthew 25:31-46; and Revelation 20:11-15 are closely related to the "day" passages which have been quoted.
As our Lord Jesus taught so plainly in Matthew 25:46, there are only two outcomes on the Day of Judgment: "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." -- both negative and positive.
It is important to keep in mind what our Lord Jesus teaches about the Final Judgment -- who is the Judge and what is the basis upon which all are judged: "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent Him. I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." John 5:21-24
There could be no better application than that which Peter has given us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming." 2 Peter 3:11b-12a. It is one thing to talk about eschatology and the meaning of related biblical terms: it is another thing to let the import of these truths shape our lives.