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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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DAY OF, is that important period which shall terminate the present dispensation of grace toward the fallen race of Adam, put an end to time, and introduce the eternal destinies of men and angels, Acts 16:31; 1 Corinthians 15:24-26; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; Matthew 25:31-46 . It is in reference to this solemn period that the Apostle Peter says, "The heavens and the earth which now exist are by the word of God reserved in store unto fire, against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men," 2 Peter 3:7 . Several eminent commentators understand this prophecy as a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem. In support of their interpretation, they appeal to the ancient Jewish prophecies, where, as they contend, the revolutions in the political state of empires and nations are foretold in the same forms of expression with those introduced in Peter's prediction. The following are the prophecies to which they appeal:— Isaiah 34:4 , where the destruction of Idumea is foretold under the figures of dissolving the host of heaven, and of rolling the heaven together as a scroll, and of the falling down of all their host as the leaf falleth off from the vine. Ezekiel 32:7 , where the destruction of Egypt is described by the figures of covering the heaven, and making the stars thereof dark; and of covering the sun with a cloud, and of hindering the moon from giving her light. In Joel 2:10 , the invasion of Judea by foreign armies is thus foretold: "The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble; the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining." And in Joel 2:30-31 , the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans is thus predicted: "I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come." God, threatening the Jews, is introduced saying, "In that day I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day," Amos 8:9 . The overthrow of Judaism and Heathenism is thus foretold: "Yet once and I will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the dry land," Haggai 2:6 . Lastly: our Lord, in his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, has the following expressions: "After the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken," Matthew 24:29 .

Now it is remarkable that, in these prophecies, none of the prophets have spoken, as Peter has done, of the entire destruction of this mundane system, nor of the destruction of any part thereof. They mention only the rolling of the heavens together as a scroll the obscuring of the light of the sun and of the moon, the shaking of the heavens and the earth, and the falling down of the stars: whereas Peter speaks of the utter destruction of all the parts of this mundane system by fire. This difference affords room for believing that the events foretold by the prophets are different in their nature from those foretold by the Apostle; and that they are to be figuratively understood, while those predicted by the Apostle are to be understood literally. To this conclusion, likewise, the phraseology of the prophets, compared with that of the Apostle, evidently leads: for the prophetic phraseology, literally interpreted, exhibits impossibilities; such as the rolling of the heavens together as a scroll; the turning of the moon into blood, and the falling down of the stars from heaven as the leaf of a tree.

Not so the apostolic phraseology: for the burning of the heavens, or atmosphere, and its passing away with a great noise; and the burning of the earth and the works thereon, together with the burning and melting of the elements, that is, the constituent parts of which this terraqueous globe is composed; are all things possible, and therefore may be literally understood; while the things mentioned by the prophets can only be taken figuratively. This, however, is not all. There are things in the Apostle's prophecy which show that he intended it to be taken literally. As,

1. He begins with an account of the perishing of the old world, to demonstrate against the scoffers the possibility of the perishing of the present heavens and earth. But that example would not have suited his purpose; unless, by the burning of the present heavens and earth, he had meant the destruction of the material fabric. Wherefore, the opposition stated in this prophecy between the perishing of the old world by water, and the perishing of the present world by fire, shows that the latter is to be as real a destruction of the material fabric as the former was.

2. The circumstance of the present heavens and earth being treasured up and kept, ever since the first deluge, from all after deluges, in order to their being destroyed by fire at the day of judgment, shows, we think, that the Apostle is speaking of a real, and not of a metaphorical, destruction of the heavens and earth.

3. This appears, likewise, from the Apostle's foretelling that, after the present heavens and earth are burned, new heavens and a new earth are to appear, in which the righteous are forever to dwell.

4. The time fixed by the Apostle for the burning of the heavens and the earth, namely, the day of judgment and punishment of ungodly men, shows that the Apostle is speaking, not of the destruction of a single city or nation during the subsistence of the world, but of the earth itself, with all the wicked who have dwelt thereon. These circumstances persuade us that this prophecy, as well as the one recorded, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 , is not to be interpreted metaphorically of the destruction of Jerusalem; but should be understood literally of the general judgment, and of the destruction of our mundane system.

But "it is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment." These two events are inseparably linked together in the divine decree, and they reciprocally reflect importance on each other. Death is, indeed, the terror of our nature. Men may contrive to keep it from their thoughts, but they cannot think of it without fearful apprehensions of its consequences. It was justly to be dreaded by man in his state of innocence; and to the unrenewed man it ever was, and ever will be, a just object of abhorrence. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which has brought life and immortality to light, is the only sovereign antidote against this universal evil. To the believer in Christ, its rough aspect is smoothed, and its terrors cease to be alarming.

To him it is the messenger of peace; its sting is plucked out; its dark valley is the road to perfect bliss and life immortal. To him, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain," Php_1:21 . To die! speaking properly, he cannot die. He has already died in Christ, and with him: his "life is hid with Christ in God," Romans 6:8; Colossians 3:3 .

With this conquest of the fear of death is nearly allied another glorious privilege resulting from union with the Redeemer; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and "not be ashamed before him at his coming," 1 John 2:28 . Were death all that we have to dread, death might be braved. But after death there is a judgment; a judgment attended with circumstances so tremendous as to shake the hearts of the boldest of the sons of nature. Then "men shall seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them," Revelation 9:6 .

Then shall come indeed an awful day; a day to which all that have preceded it are intended to be subservient; when the Lord shall appear in the united splendour of creating, of governing, and of judicial majesty, to finish his purposes respecting man and earth, and to pronounce the final, irreversible sentence, "It is done!" Revelation 21:6 . Nothing of terror or magnificence hitherto beheld,—no glory of the rising sun after a night of darkness and of storm,—no convulsions of the earth,—no wide irruption of waters,—no flaming comet dragging its burning train over half the heaven, can convey to us an adequate conception of that day of terrible brightness and irresistible devastation. Creation then shall be uncreated. "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," 2 Peter 3:10 . The Lord shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 , arrayed in all the glory of his Godhead, and attended by his mighty angels, Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31 .

All that are in the grave shall hear his voice, and shall come forth, John 5:28-29 . Earth and sea shall give up the dead which are in them. All that ever lived shall appear before him, Revelation 20:12-13 . The judgment shall sit; and the books shall be opened, Daniel 7:10 . The eye of Omniscience detects every concealment by which they would screen from observation themselves, or their iniquity. The last reluctant sinner is finally separated from the congregation of the righteous, Psalms 1:5; and inflexible justice, so often disregarded, derided, and defied, gives forth their eternal doom! But to the saints this shall be a day of glory and honour.

They shall be publicly acknowledged by God as his people; publicly justified from the slanders of the world; invested with immortal bodies; presented by Christ to the Father; and admitted into the highest felicity in the immediate presence of God for ever. These are the elevating, the transporting views, which made the Apostle Paul speak with so much desire and earnest expectation of the "day of Christ."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Judgment'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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