Advent Devotional | Day 23: Jesus and the Day of the Lord
Si Hesus at ang Araw ng Diyos
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming...
– Joel 2:1
The phrase “the day of the Lord” has two major uses in the Old Testament. The first is positive. It denotes a period where God will usher in a golden age for His people. In contrast to this use, the prophets often use the phrase to describe a dreadful day, one that people should not look forward to. The prophets usually use the phrase in a sarcastic way to castigate the Israelites for their over-confidence in the fact that they are God’s people. What is quite interesting is that the book of Joel employs the phrase in both its positive and negative uses.
In Joel 2, we see the negative meaning in the first half of the text and the positive in the latter part. The vivid but gloomy description of “the day of the Lord” in the first half of the chapter uses imagery common in the prophetic books. The “day of the Lord” means serious business and is a day that should make people afraid. This is reinforced by intense imagery of destruction, including people trying to flee but finding no escape.
As a person diagnosed with major depressive disorder, the reality of wanting to flee but finding no escape is a feeling that is familiar and real, especially during acute episodes. This is why it is common for people with major depression to have suicidal ideations. It often feels like the only escape or solution to one’s situation is to not exist. And there are many other circumstances in life that feel this way, utterly hopeless with no way out.
Joel 2, however, spells the way out from the reality of hopelessness, pointing to the Lord as the only possible solution to such a desperate situation. The prophet calls on people to “return” to God and to trust that His gracious and compassionate character will make Him relent, granting blessing instead.
Indeed, the appalling situation portrayed in the first half of Joel 2 is reversed in the latter half. There, “the day of the Lord” is no longer a day of great suffering but a day of glorious salvation characterized by blessings and abundance not just for the people but for the entirety of creation. Moreover, the people are described as having a new kind of revival with the Spirit of the Lord overwhelming humanity with His positive power.
Scholars have insightfully noted that, unlike other prophetic utterances involving the day of the Lord, there is no mention of a specific infraction or sin that caused God to bring the judgment that verses 1-17 describe. So, the clear call to return to the Lord puts things in relational rather than transactional terms. Return to the Lord whose character you know and, who knows, things could still change. Indeed, the new situation of tremendous blessing described in verses 18-32 is born out of God’s compassion and generosity towards his people. For the prophet, the blessing of “the day of the Lord” flows from God’s resolve to do Israel good and, through them, the world as well.
Hence, it is no surprise that the New Testament writers appeal to Joel 2 to talk about the implications of the Advent of Jesus. He is God’s agent to bring to fruition both uses of “the day of the LORD”—blessing and judgment.” On His first visit, He engaged the judgment sense of the “day of the Lord” by taking God’s judgment on sin upon Himself. Thus, He secured forgiveness through repentance for those who turn to Him and made possible the “here and now” blessing of the Spirit of God poured out as described in Acts 2:17-21 (using the words of Joel 2:28-32). At His second coming, He will bring final judgment on all that opposes His kingdom and rule but also the blessing of the promised newness of the “day of the Lord”. The creation will be restored to its life-sustaining glory, and, indeed, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32).
What a wonder to ponder during the Advent season as we remember one “day of the Lord” and long for another. In the Lord Jesus, people caught in realities of despair may find meaningful hope and salvation.
Dr Annelle Gumihid-Sabanal
Manila, the Philippines
Dr Annelle Gumihid-Sabanal is a Langham-published author who serves as Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Head of the Research Department at Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, the Philippines.