There are some who maintain that the Day of the Lord will be a literal twenty-four hour day, mostly those holding to a variant of posttribulationism, as well as amillennialism.
They require that all the events associated with God’s eschatological wrath must occur within a single day when Christ comes back. This forced “accordion” interpretation is not necessary since prewrath teaches that the Great Tribulation is “cut short.” The seven-year period will not be cut short; rather, only the persecution of the Great Tribulation will be cut short, allowing natural sufficient time for God’s wrath to be poured out after the Great Tribulation for the remaining part of the seven-year period and shortly beyond.
The Hebrew term for “day” in this expression is yôm. This term in our context takes on a richer and larger scope of meaning rather than a mere literal 24-hour day. Yôm contains about a dozen different meanings in the Old Testament, so context plays an important role. It does refer to a literal 24-hour day when it is associated with a number (e.g. “three days”) or other qualifiers such as “full day,” “each day,” “every day,” “a full day,” “the Sabbath day,” and so on. In contrast, the prophets often used “day” to denote the epochal time when God would break into history in glory and judgment, bringing the ungodly to account. They describe this eschatological period as decisive, yet complex, unfolding over time. Indeed, the book of Revelation reveals that even the fifth trumpet judgment by itself is said to last five months (Rev. 9:5, 9). In short, the Day of the Lord will be God’s judgment and vindication that will be decisive–Yahweh will sovereignly possess that day.
The following points are more considerations that militate against a literal twenty-four hour day interpretation:
(1) The origin of “day” in “Day of the Lord” likely emerged from the ancient notion that a sovereign could be victorious in a single day. Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 352. It eventually morphed into the connotation of an epoch as we see in the Old Testament prophets.
(2) There are instances that the expression “Day of the Lord” and its variants do not refer to the eschatological judgment; instead, they refer to a near judgment, such as the judgment on Jerusalem from the Babylonians. For example, Ezekiel 13:5 contains the expression “Day of the Lord”; yet, this is in the context of the captivity of Judah. And we know that the Babylonian invasion on Judah and Jerusalem lasted much longer than a mere twenty-four hour day. Another example is a variant of the “Day of the Lord” that is found in Lamentations 2:21-22: “the day of your anger” and “the day of the LORD’s anger.” Again, this is in the context of the Babylonian invasion and captivity of Jerusalem; yet, the singular “day” was clearly understood by the prophet to figuratively refer to an epoch–not a mere literal twenty-four hour day.
(3) The eschatological expression “that day” can frequently refer to the aspect of the Day of the Lord that contains millennial blessings. In those contexts, it is clearly a figurative expression denoting an epoch of blessings, not a twenty-four hour day.
(4) The single verse that is often cited for support for the twenty-four hour day interpretation is: “But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light” (Zech. 14:7 KJV). However, the term “one day” should be better properly translated “unique day” or “never-ending day.” This is the rendering of most modern versions. For example: “And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light” (Zech 14:7 ESV, emphasis mine). See also the NIV and NASB for the same rendering. In other words, translators recognize that the context suggests this new era will be unique in redemptive history. It will be the new established conditions that will be ongoing. Thus, rendering and interpreting it as “one day” misses the oracle’s point entirely.
In addition, the most authoritative Hebrew lexicon, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, lists yôm (“day”) containing ten different meanings depending on its context. It is noteworthy that the lexicon does not include the instance of Zechariah 14:7 under the category of “day of twenty-four hours”; instead, it places it under the semantic rubric “day of Yahweh,” thereby suggesting a special sense of the word rather than a mere twenty-four hour day. Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, and M.E.J. Richardson, eds., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Accordance electronic edition, version 3.0. (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 2:400. Moreover, the Hebrew term for “one/unique” is ʾehad, which, in this particular verse according to the lexicon, means “never-ending day.” Koehler, Baumgartner, and Richardson, HALOT, 1:30.
There is a last appeal to make this a twenty-four hour day by noting that the verse ends with, “in the evening there will be light.” The mention of “evening” is supposed to indicate the day is literal. The problem with this is the verse is located in a central section (vv. 6-9) figuratively describing the new and ongoing (not limited to a single day) conditions when the Lord will rule as king: “On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one” (Zech. 14:6-9 ESV). The italics are mine, noting the figurative language describing the continuous nature of God’s kingdom. To argue here that the Day of the Lord is limited to a single day is untenable. Another verse that is sometimes appealed to is Isaiah 10:17: “The light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One will become a flame; it will burn and consume the Assyrian king’s briers and his thorns in one day.” This verse is weak support, since it is not speaking of the universal Day of the Lord’s wrath; instead, it is specifically a judgment upon “the Assyrian king.” See Isaiah 10:5-19, especially v. 12, for this Assyrian context.
(5) In Isaiah 34:8, “day” is paralleled with “year,” connoting a figurative effect, indicating a period of time is in view: “For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion” (Isa. 34:8 ESV; cf. Isa. 61:2). “Day” and “year” are not to be taken literally–they are poetic.
(6) The apostle Paul did not conceive the Day of the Lord as a literal twenty-four hour day. Soon after writing the first epistle to the Thessalonians, he received word back that many of them were being deceived by some who taught that they were experiencing the Day of the Lord. If it were a literal twenty-four hours, it would be unintelligible for Paul to write back a few months later in his second epistle, arguing that they were not presently experiencing the Day of the Lord.