The “Day of the Lord” in Paul’s Letters: what does it say about Jesus? [Studies in Thessalonians]

In 1 Thess 5:2 Paul speaks of the Day of the Lord, concerning which no-one knows the time. Later in 2 Thess 2:2 he speaks of the Day of the Lord and then says that it cannot be at hand since the great Apostasy and the Man of Lawlessness have not yet appeared. Let us focus on the “Day” terms.

Some students assume that a literal exegesis must lead to the conclusion that, for example, the Day of Christ is quite different from the Day of the Lord. In fact, a study of these phrases reveals that Paul uses such terms as Day of the Lord, Day of Christ, Day of the Lord Jesus Christ interchangeably, without intending to lend fine shades of meaning to each one. His readers did not need a decoder ring in order to “rightly divide” his letters, since all the “Day” references as variations of the “Day of Yahweh” from the Old Testament.

What is momentous from the standpoint of Paul’s christology is that the Day of Yahweh predictions find their fulfillment in the coming of the Lord Jesus; all of the “Day” references are therefore indirect but sturdy affirmations of Christ’s deity. Compare for example, “That day is the day of the Lord Yahweh of hosts, a day of retribution, to gain vindication from his foes” (Jer 46:10 NRSV, paraphrased by author) with 2 Thess 1:8b, 10a, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance…on that day.” Some scholars have suggested that when early gentile Christians used the Septuagint they mistakenly applied Yahweh passages to the Lord Jesus, since the LXX used “Lord” (kurios) to translate Yahweh and Adonai. But the apostle Paul cannot be confused on that score. He has a firm grasp both on the Hebrew text and the Septuagint; when he refers to Yahweh passages as predictions of the Lord Jesus, he is consciously implying that Jesus is Yahweh.

See especially the fine study of this phenomenon by Gordon Fee: Pauline Christology (2007); The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (2009).

The data from Paul’s epistles: Day of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:8); the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6); the Day of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14); or simply the “Day” (1 Cor 3:13; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:3; 2 Tim 1:12; 1:18; 4:8); Day of Christ (Phil 1:10; 2:16). Day of Christ is supported in 2 Thess 2:2 by the second corrector of the manuscript D, the Majority Text and the Textus Receptus (thus the KJV), but “Day of the Lord” has much better manuscript support.

Related posts:

Studies in Thessalonians series

The “Day of the Lord” in Paul’s Letters: what does it say about Jesus? [Studies in Thessalonians], by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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  1. […] The “Day of the Lord” in Paul’s Letters: what does it say about Jesus? […]

  2. Gary: I am glad that you do not accept the separation of the Rapture from the Second Coming. That clearly shows me that when you read the Bible, you do it without any preconceived idea or teaching.

    Four times, in John 6:39,40,44,54 Jesus clearly states that He will raise us at the “last day”.

    For spanish readers who normally read “Reina Valera 1960” version, the term “día postrero” sends them a wrong message about a day that is close to the end of times, but not the “final day”.

    By the way, I would like to send you a small article that I wrote (in spanish, I’m from El Salvador), so if you could e-mail please.

    • Thanks brother. I have emailed you my address, and will look forward to seeing your article.

      I am convinced of the truth of the viewpoint that the rapture and the second coming are the same event. This is sometimes called the post-tribulational rapture, although I prefer the term “historical premillennialism,” since it was the view of the 2nd-century church fathers.

      Nevertheless, I have to qualify your comment that when I read the Bible, I do so without presuppositions. All of us, myself included, have a preconceived set of notions when we read any text, including the Bible. The trick is allowing the Bible to alter our presuppositions, a process guided by the Spirit which may take a long period of time.

      In fact, I automatically distrust anyone who claims to read the Bible without preconceived ideas – that person is MORE likely to import his/her ideas into the Bible than the one who recognizes his/her ideas from the outset.

      Blessings! Gary

      • Thanks Gary. I agree with your point of view about preconceived ideas. That’s exactly what has been happening to me… that’s what I meant before, (sorry for my lack of clear explanation since English is not my native language…)

        Nevertheless, I have the feeling that the Lord is teaching “us” directly many things that are not exactly as they have been teached or preached, either in catholic or christian churches or elsewhere.

        What I mean by “us” is that the Holy Spirit is guiding all His children to search the scriptures very closely and I have found the results very rewarding for my life.

        I do believe that God is clearly helping us to come out of Babylon (Revelations 18), which has taken the world even more than we we might think or realized.

        Blessings,

        Alfredo

  3. Sounds great, Gary. Would love to see it. All the best.

    • Do you read Greek? The version I have has a lot of Greek in it, but I could trim it away from the “rapture” passage and send you some if you want it, let me know.

  4. I agree that the “Day” variances are all speaking of the same day. Do you see them refering to the Rapture or the Second Coming. Appreciate your time. Oh, and in 1 Cor 5:5 I see it is translated either Day of the Lord or Day of the Lord Jesus. Which do you believe is the better translation. Thanks again.

    • Hi Stan, The “Day” references seem to all point to the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation. That is one of the several reasons why I do not accept the separation of the Rapture from the Second Coming. If you compare Matt 24 with 1 Thess 4-5, they run parallel. They make the gathering of the saints from the four corners of the earth in Matt 24:31 and the gathering up of believers in 1 Thess 4:17 one and the same event.
      I used to believe in the pre-tribulational Rapture, but changed my mind after my own study of the text.

      • Gary,
        I really appreciate your quick response and thank you for clarifying ICor 5:5. Although I struggle with the rapture question myself, the problem I have with a Second Coming Rapture is that 1Thes 5 clearly says the Day of the Lord will come while they say “peace and safety”. This does not seem to comport with our Lord returning during the battle of Arm. and at the end of the Trib.

        • Very good, thanks. “Peace and safety” was a slogan of the Roman empire in Paul’s day. Even though people were ground under the empire, they worshiped the emperors as gods (there was emperor worship in Thessalonica when Paul wrote) and depended upon their protection. I think what is happening in 1 Thess 5, as in Revelation, is the deification of the state. The deluded do not enjoy peace in any real sense, but the illusion of it.
          You might enjoy Gundry’s The Church and the Tribulation, a book that is not too dense but is the best defense of the post-trib position ever since it’s publication in ’73. The Rapture Question, ed. by Reiter, is also very useful, they debate the major viewpoints. Also, when my commentary on 1-2 Thess is done, I’ll send you something from it, let me know.

    • You also asked about 1 Cor 5:5. The better manuscripts and other evidence indicates that “Day of the Lord” is the probable reading.


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