“This is the day that the Lord has made, / I will rejoice and be glad in it.” These words of Psalm 118:24 often echoed through my rural church just after the hand-shaking time of fellowship just before the sermon, calling us all back into order from the lulliloo of brotherly love. But amidst the smiles, the hugs, and the candy swaps, did we know what we were singing?
The First Day(s) of the Lord
The biblical theme of the “Day of the Lord” runs from Genesis through Revelation; and whereas the old covenant believers met together on the Sabbath, we post-resurrection, new- covenant believers meet on “the first day of the week” (Matt. 28:1; John 20:1; 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), Sunday—or as we most often call it the Lord’s Day. But in the old covenant as in the new covenant, the “Lord’s Day” or the “Day of the Lord” always has one meaning—judgement. And yet, this judgement may not be as bad as it sounds. Let’s consider.
In Genesis 3, we see the first Day of the Lord. Following Adam and Eve’s infidelity, we are told in our English Bibles that “they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). Really, as scholars have pointed out for almost a half century, a better translation of this verse is probably found in your Bible’s footnotes: “they heard the sound of the LORD God coming in the Spirit of the Day.” In Genesis 1, God inspects everything at the end of six consecutive days and each time declares them to be penultimately good, finally pronouncing a “very good” at the end of day six over the totality of creation. Now, after the initial judgement, God comes to inspect Adam and Eve. Of course, as Sovereign Creator, He knows what they have done. Thus, He comes to them with a rushing wind, in a blaze of the Spirit’s glory, to pronounce that deafeningly negative judgment—not good. But that’s not the end. Indeed, there are more days of the Lord—plural!—in the Old Testament.
Genesis 6-9 is another example. The Spirit of God is grieved by the increasing wickedness and violence of humanity; thus, He promises to visit in judgement after a period of complete patience—namely, 120 years. After His patience, “that Day” arrives when the judgement of God rains down on the wicked in a flood of wrath (Gen. 7:11).
Only a few centuries after Israel’s exodus, exile is looming on the horizon because of Her rebellious and hard heart. Already rent asunder by foolishness, Judah, the less wicked Southern tribe, hears the following from Yahweh through the prophet Joel:
Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.Joel 2:1-2
Further, just before Jerusalem’s destruction, Judah is told that
The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.Zeph. 1:14-16
And this is just what happened to Israel in 586 BC when Babylon razed Jerusalem. There are a few other instances in the Old Testament, but this sums it up: when the Spirit of the Lord comes on “the Day,” you don’t want to be around, and you certainly do not want to be the reason why it is coming. But that’s just the problem: the Day of the Lord is unavoidable. Man does not get to choose when God shows up for inspection, and He has set times throughout history when He promises to do just that.
“The Day” Redux
This theme continues in the New Testament. Jesus Himself makes the explicit connection between the Day of the Lord at Noah’s flood and the Day of the Lord that He will bring on Jerusalem in AD 70 for their rejection, baptizing them with the Holy Spirit and then fire as He promised (Matt. 24:38; Luke 17:26-27). Peter amens Jesus and, in fact, connects it to Joel’s Day in Acts 2:20 at Pentecost, meaning that the Day of the Lord is not a simple, one-time event. It is a repeating pattern of judgement days that is leading to a final Day of Judgement (1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, 2 Peter 3:1-12). Indeed, a holocaust always follows a pentecost, the Spirit always comes as a comfort to the righteous but a judge to the wicked.A
With all of this in mind, let’s consider our weekly gatherings that we glibly term the “Lord’s Day.” Now do you see the implications packed into that phrase? When we gather week in and week out, we are coming together to be judged by God. Walking into the corporate worship of the Church, we are stepping into a judgement. Yahweh promises to meet with His people by His Spirit when they gather (Gen. 4:16; Exod. 33:14-15; Deut. 4:37; Deut. 12:7; Judges 18:6; 2 Kings 13:23; 17:18-23; Ezek. 48:35; Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 5:4; Heb. 12:18-24), and the thrice Holy God of Heaven and Earth is not One to show up without noting the state of those in His presence.
Practice Makes Perfect
Now, aren’t you edified and excited to come to church Sunday? Well, you should be! And here’s why: because the Church is not a collection of autonomous individuals consenting to worship God together and standing before God merely as a naked one with other ones. The Church is a collection of covenant persons (1 Cor. 12:27). That is, our selves are not erased but they are united. Though many, we are counted as one, for we are all one by water and Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12ff). Indeed, the Church is singularly the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:2; 5:23; Col. 1:24; 3:15). As such, God comes among us on the Lord’s Day and make a judgement by His Spirit, He is, in some way, judging the Son Himself. Thus, on Sunday, we are judged in Christ.
This is good news. For Christ Jesus is the Righteous One; and when judgement fell on the crucified Son, we see clearly know that turned out: He was raised from the dead, proving that there was no fault found in Him (Acts 3:13-14; Acts 17:31; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 8:1-4). Moreover, “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord. . . . delivered for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25). Baptized into his death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1ff), Jesus’ judgement was our judgement (Gal. 3:3); Jesus’ resurrection was our resurrection (Eph. 1:20); and Jesus’ ascension to the throne was our ascension to the throne (Eph. 2:6). Even so, Sunday after Sunday, when God comes down to judge, we are again declared to be righteous, justified, in the Righteous One.
For assurance of this, look no further than the fact that God feeds us. Food is fellowship (Matt. 9:9-13; Luke 10:38-42; 1 Cor. 10:21; Gal. 2:11-14), and God only eats with those whom He accepts in His presence (Rev 2:7; 2:17; 3:20). In this way, we are prepared week in and week out for our final inspection on the Day of the Lord, our final acquittal, and our final acceptance to the table of the Lamb forever (Rev. 19:7-9).
Each Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, we experience a miniature Day of the Lord that is preparing us for the last Day of the Lord. Accordingly, we are to become what we have been declared to be—namely, righteous. Our position in Christ must increasingly correspond to our practical likeness to Christ so that, at the final, eternal Lord’s Day in our newly resurrected bodies, what is true of us by faith will be true by sight.
Gage Crowder teaches literature and Bible at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. In addition to his studies at Birmingham Theological Seminary, he is a contributing member of the Huntsville Literary Association and the Academy of Philosophy and Letters. His poetry and prose can be found in the The Legend, Poem Magazine, the Birmingham Arts Journal, Panoply and elsewhere.
[A] David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), 70-82.
In Hebrew, the word ruach, which is the word behind cool in this verse, is usually elsewhere translated either wind or Spirit, referring to Holy Spirit. In our Greek New Testament, the word pneuma—like your pneumatic or air nail gun, gentlemen—has the same meaning.
Forty is often used in Scripture to signify a period of waiting or testing. Consider Israel’s four hundered years in Egypt, Israel’s forty years in the desert, and Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness—to name a few. The Lord offers the world one hundred and twenty years, which is a complete cycle of forties (3×40=120).
By this, of course, I am not referring to the once-and-for-all accomplishment by the death and resurrection of Christ but the ongoing application of our once-for-all justification through God’s continued acquittal of us by faith. Calvin says that some “stupidly believe,” having been once forgiven our sins, we don’t need “by continual forgiveness of sins” God’s mercy to “repeatedly acquit us.” See John Calvin, Institutes, 3.14.10-11.
The central ethical message of the New Testament is this: “become what you are in Christ.” Read Galatians 5:1, 5:25, Ephesians 5:8, Colossians 3:9-10, and Romans 6:2. Richard Gaffin, Jr., By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, 2nd ed. (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 78-81.