Could we have some help to distinguish the four days of Scripture: man’s day (1Cor 4:3), the day of Christ (Phil 1:10), the day of the Lord (1Thes 5:2), and the day of God (2Peter 3:12)? Help would be appreciated regarding their commencement, course, and consummation and if any of them coincide or overlap.
We can begin answering this question by stating these expressions do not refer to a 24-hour day. In Hebrew and Greek, the word “day” has a range of meanings: from part of a day, a 24-hour period, to a longer period of time that is marked by a particular unifying character (e.g., “the day of salvation” in 2Cor 6:2 and “the day of eternity” in 2Peter 3:18, Darby).
Perhaps the least familiar is man’s day; but an examination of the phrase in context is helpful to our understanding. Paul states “it is the very smallest matter that I be examined of you or of man’s day” (1Cor 4:3). Other translations interpret the phrase as “man’s judgment” or “any human court.” The literal translation preserves the contrast that Paul is drawing between “man’s day,” in this chapter, and “the day” in chapter 3:13. Paul is not just contrasting the present with the future; he is also contrasting man’s day – the present period in which things are judged by man’s standards – with a future day when Christ will determine the criteria for judgment. So, the day of the Lord, day of Christ, and day of God direct our attention to the judgment and administration that applies in each of these periods.
The Old Testament prophets speak frequently of the day of the Lord (e.g., Isa 2:12; 13:6; 13:9; Jer 46:10; Ezek 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obad 1:15; Zeph 1:7, 14; Zech 14:1; Mal 4:5), and their descriptions are well summarized by Zephaniah: “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly … that day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness; a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers” (1:14–16). This period, so vividly evoked in prophecy, will be marked by Jehovah’s judgment upon Israel and the nations, and by the direct divine administration of earth.
The commencement of the day of the Lord is described in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3: “The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, ‘Peace and safety;’ then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” It will commence silently and stealthily, breaking upon mankind in a time of apparent security. The apostle’s use of labor pains as a simile for the throes that will enfold the globe is significant. It is the same word used by the Lord Jesus when He spoke of “the beginning of sorrows” that would mark the first three and a half years of the Tribulation (Matt 24:8). So the day of the Lord will commence at the same time as the Tribulation: perhaps when the Lion of the tribe of Judah takes the sealed scroll (Rev 5:7).
Peter provides us with the detail of the duration and conclusion of the day of the Lord. Using very similar language as Paul he reminds his readers that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2Pet 3:10). So, the day of the Lord extends from the beginning of the Tribulation, through the Millennium, and on to the moment when God will fold up the heavens and the earth like a worn out garment (Heb 1:11-12).
It is Peter, too, who tells us about the day of God. In the same chapter he looks beyond the day of the Lord into eternity: “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2Peter 3: 12-13). This is one of the few glimpses we get into the eternal state, into “the day of eternity” (2Peter 3:18, Darby). In that day, Christ will have delivered the kingdom up to His Father, and “God shall be all in all” (1Cor 15:28).
Thus, in the three days we have considered we have a chronological sequence through time, extending from the present (man’s day), through the Tribulation and Millennium (the day of the Lord), and on to the eternal state (the day of God).
For the day of Christ, the Apostle Paul uses a number of terms to describe a coming day of review (1Cor 1:8; 3:13), reward (2Tim 4:6-8), rejoicing (Phil 2:16), and rest (Phil 1:6, 10). These are the “day of Christ” (Phil 1:10; 2:16), the “day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6), the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor 1:18), the “day of the Lord Jesus” (1Cor 5:5), and “that day” (2Tim 1:12; 4:8). It is significant that only Paul speaks of this day. Like the doctrine of the Church, the day of Christ is unknown in Old Testament Scripture – it applies only to those who are “in Christ.” Just as the Church is a heavenly body, the day of Christ is a heavenly day. Its character stands in stark contrast to the terror associated with the day of the Lord. It is looked and longed for.
Scripture gives us little explicit detail as to the timing of this day. However, it is clear, from the features mentioned above, that it must take place after the Rapture, and before the Church appears with Christ in manifestation. It seems that the day of Christ will run throughout the period of the Tribulation, but with a heavenly, rather than an earthly focus. In this day, the judgment seat of Christ and the marriage of the Lamb will take place.