"(10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10, NASB95)
For those opposed to God the “day of the Lord” is not a good thing. This term or terms similar to it are used numerous times in the Old and New Testaments, and it could refer to either a near future judgment or a far future judgment or both. But when it is used judgment is included, and those who stand opposed to God are caught off guard when it comes. Ultimately all of these judgments will culminate in two remaining judgments. The first is at his return to establish His millennial kingdom and then another at the end when the final judgment is pronounced and evil is ended.
Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the near and the far because the cycles of rebellion in Israel were so cyclical that God intervened more than once to bring both the surrounding nations and His people into judgment as all of the judgments pointed to a great and final judgment. The end was not to be lost sight of in bringing about the present. An example of this can be seen in Isaiah’s pronouncement of the not yet powerful again nation of Babylon as recorded in chapters 13 and 14. Here are just a few of the verses:
“The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. Lift up a standard on the bare hill, raise your voice to them, wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles. I have commanded My consecrated ones, I have even called My mighty warriors, My proudly exulting ones, to execute My anger. A sound of tumult on the mountains, like that of many people! A sound of the uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathered together! The Lord of hosts is mustering the army for battle. They are coming from a far country, from the farthest horizons, The Lord and His instruments of indignation, to destroy the whole land. Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will fall limp, and every man’s heart will melt. They will be terrified, pains and anguish will take hold of them; They will writhe like a woman in labor, they will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame. Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light. (11) Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. (12) I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold and mankind than the gold of Ophir. (13) Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts In the day of His burning anger.” (Isaiah 13:1–13, NASB95)
Oh, what a day! In 539 B.C. this great nation fell, or at least changed hands. The problem is that when Babylon fell that it fell quietly and seemingly overnight. Here is how the events leading up to it transpired according to the record of Daniel as he interpreted for King Belshazzar the handwriting on the wall.
“Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENĒ, MENĒ, TEKĒL, UPHARSIN.’ “This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENĒ’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. “ ‘TEKĒL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. “ ‘PERĒS’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom. That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain.” (Daniel 5:25–30, NASB95)
A note in one of my study Bibles describes that night this way: “One ancient account alleged that Persia’s General Ugbaru had troops dig a trench to divert and thus lower the waters of the Euphrates River. Since the river flowed through the city of Babylon, the lowered water enabled besiegers to unexpectedly invade via the waterway under the thick walls and reach the palace before the city was aware. The end then came quickly, as guards, Belshazzar, and others were slain on Oct. 16, 539 B.C.” (The MacArthur Study Bible)
So, did Isaiah get some bad information or was he speaking of some other event? Clearly Babylon fell and it eventually disappeared as a once great nation, but its influence remained as it permeated much of culture. Babylon has also become symbolic of evil and even the rise of a great nation of evil (whether eventually real or figurative), and when Christ returns this great evil will be destroyed seemingly just as quickly as the early Babylon changed hands. Chapter 14 of Isaiah help to clarify the prophecy when we see words of Israel’s restoration that resemble other descriptions of that day following the tribulation period when Christ comes to establish Israel once again under His personal 1,000 year or Millennial reign.
We see this final judgment pronounced once again in Revelation as three angels speak from God. “And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”” (Revelation 14:6–11, NASB95)
Then sure enough, “Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.” (Revelation 16:17–21, NASB95)
And then, “After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.” I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. “Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. “To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.’ “For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. “And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’” (Revelation 18:1–10, NASB95)
Then in Revelation 19 we read of our Lord’s return. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”” (Revelation 19:11–16, NASB95)
What follows in chapter 20 is Christ’s thousand-year reign, which is followed by His final defeat of Satan, and then the great white throne judgment—the day when those whose names were not found in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire.
These are the great days of the Lord which will come upon those who live with a blatant disregard for God will find come upon them as a thief. Chapter 21 of Revelation begins with these words, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.” (Revelation 21:1, NASB95)
The mockers will talk to us as if we are fools, but we know better. Our Lord will return and when He does it will not go well. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.” (Revelation 21:1, NASB95)