This entire chapter details the awesome and awful "Day of the Lord," a day of judgment for sin, idolatry, injustice, and following after other gods. Living at the same time as the prophet Jeremiah, this book is much shorter but equally as clear in its message: Jerusalem, Judah, and surrounding areas will be judged, but Israel will ultimately be saved. Like all the Old Testament prophets, however, Zephaniah was ultimately unsuccessful in turning the hearts of the people back to the Lord. They persisted in their stubbornness and rebellion until God's judgment was poured out upon them. As Luther pointed out, "They relied continually on the claim that they were, and were called, God’s people; and whoever preached that God was angry with them had to be a false prophet and had to die, for they would not believe that God would leave his people. It was then as it is today: all who teach that the church errs and sins, and that God will punish her, are denounced as heretics" (Luther's Works, Volume 35). As in Zephaniah's and Luther's times, so it is today in the church--we must not rely on our status as "Christians" alone to ensure our salvation nor should we feel no trepidation about altering the message of Scripture to align with the whims and desires of our post-Christian culture so that we might fit in and receive cultural acceptance. Instead, we must stand firm, in spite of the message's unpopularity, clinging to the true hope we have of salvation and lives that may be truly transformed only through the gospel of Christ.
As a bit of a spoiler, by the time we get to chapter three, we will clearly see God's restoration and kingdom coming--his people will be finally restored. Ultimately, this book is one of warning for the faithless but hope and comfort for the faithful.
Most of the fathers in the early church viewed Jesus' words at the end of this passage (vv. 57-59) as pointing to our sinfulness and need for reconciliation with God. The writing of Cyril of Alexandria is typical of the fathers' understanding of how we might apply this teaching to our own lives. As usual, we are driven to Christ as our only comforter and hope. "Without exception, all of us on earth are guilty of offenses. Wicked Satan has a lawsuit against us and accuses us, because he is the enemy and the exactor. While we are on the way, before we have arrived at the end of our present life, let us deliver ourselves from him. Let us do away with the offenses of which we have been guilty. Let us close his mouth. Let us seize the grace that is by Christ that frees us from all debt and penalty and delivers us from fear and torment. Let us fear that if our impurity is not cleansed away, we will be carried before the judge and given over to the exactors, the tormentors, from whose cruelty no one can escape. They will exact vengeance for every fault, whether it is great or small" (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke).