The Day of The Lord Unveiled
Judah had asked, “Where is the God of justice?” With sarcastic skepticism, the nation had questioned whether God was even available to take just action against the wicked and provide justice for the righteous.
In answer to Judah’s question, Malachi whisked the nation down the corridor of time to unveil the great and terrible “day of the LORD,” a time when God will bring terrifying destruction on the wicked and triumphal deliverance to the righteous.
It will not only be a day of judgment on Israel’s enemies but on the wicked within the nation as well. For this reason, Malachi makes a final appeal for Judah to repent of her sin and be reconciled to God.
The Wicked Eliminated
Malachi assured Judah that severe judgment would come upon the wicked, “behold, the day cometh, that shall burn like an oven” (v. 1). This is the “day of the LORD,” a time when God will directly intervene in the affairs of man. It will take place after the Rapture of the Church and will cover the time of the Tribulation, concluding with the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 6-20).
This judgment is described as a burning “oven” which will destroy the wicked like dry stubble (v. 1). So complete will be this judgment that “neither root nor branch” (v. 1) will be left. This is not teaching the annihilation of the wicked, for they will be resurrected to stand before the Great White Throne Judgment (Dan. 12:2; Rev. 20:11-15). After they are judged, they will be cast into the Lake of Fire to suffer conscious torment forever (Rev. 14:10-11; 20:14).
The Worthy Exalted
God promises to deliver the righteous in the “day of the LORD.” Those who fear His name (hold it in reverence) shall have the “Sun of righteousness” arise upon them “with healing in his wings” (v. 2). When the Lord returns, His brightness (2 Th. 2:8) shall destroy the wicked but bring light and life to the righteous. Light is like a laser; it can be used to destroy or to heal. What is meant by the phrase “Sun of righteousness” (v. 2)? Is this a reference to God the Father, Christ at His Second Coming or simply righteousness shining forth like the sun during the Kingdom Age? The metaphor applies to all three. The righteousness of both God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son will shine upon the believer during the Kingdom Age. Christ, who is called the “day star” (2 Pet. 1:19) and the “bright and morning star” (Rev. 2:28; 22:16), will shine upon the righteous (Isa. 60:2) as an everlasting light (Isa. 60:19-20).
The effects of Christ’s ministry will be twofold. First, He will bring spiritual (Zech.12:10) and physical healing (Isa. 35:5-6) for those who enter the Kingdom. Second, His glory will beam throughout the whole earth permeating it with righteousness (Isa. 11:4-5). This will result in the righteous going forth “like calves of the stall” (v. 2). They will become fat as a young calf who is driven from his stall to romp in the field and feast upon the lush green pasture provided for his growth and satisfaction.
This righteous remnant who are strengthened and encouraged by the Lord’s return will fight with Him to destroy the enemies of Judah (Zech. 14:14; Mic. 4:13; 5:89). The wicked will become, as it were, “ashes under the soles” (v. 3) of the righteous. The word “ashes” (v. 3) aptly describes Christ’s enemies, for when He destroys the armies gathered against Jerusalem (Zech. 14:2), their flesh will be consumed while they stand ready to fight the Lord (Zech. 14:12).
In that day God will silence His critics who claimed He prospered the wicked (2:17) and ignored the privation of Judah (3:13-15), for in that day the wicked will be dashed “in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:9) and mashed as if they had been put through a winepress (Isa. 63:1-6).
The Worthy Exhorted
In the final paragraph, Malachi admonished Judah to “Remember God’s law” (v. 4). The Law had been given on Horeb (v. 4) in power and great glory (Ex. 19:11,16). They were to heed the statutes (ordinances) in their religious life (v. 4; Ex. 24:12-31:18) and the judgments which governed their social life (v. 4; Ex. 21:1-24:11), for it was the Law that would keep Israel in a right relationship with God.
This reminder is important for a number of reasons. First, the Law expressed God’s will for the people. Second, not just any law was to be followed, only that given by Moses. Third, they were commanded to “Remember” (v. 4) the Law, which meant they must not only reflect upon what they had learned, but live the principles as well. Fourth, the message was needed since Judah had totally ignored the Mosaic Law (2:8; 3:7). Fifth, it would be another 400 years before God would speak to Judah – not until John the Baptist broke the silence did the nation hear from Heaven again (Mt 3:1-3). Sixth, unless the nation heeded the message, she would not escape the wrath of God’s judgment.
So often the believer will take a mental trip when the pastor admonishes him to remember and apply the principles of Scripture to his life. This is unfortunate, for only by recalling the principles and applying them is the individual able to live in submission to God’s will.
The Work Of Elijah
Malachi declared that God would send “Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD” (v. 5). Just who is this Elijah?
Some want to link Malachi 4:5 with 3:1 and teach that both prophecies were fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. They argue that the language of these passages link them (“Behold,” “I will send,” “prepare the way,” and “he shall turn the heart”), and both prophecies are followed by the Lord’s return.
Although John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus (Mal. 3:1; Isa. 40:3; Mt. 3:1-3), he said, “I am not [Elijah]” (Jn. 1:21). True, Jesus claimed that John the Baptist was the Elijah who should come, but He qualified His remarks with, “if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, who was to come” (Mt. 11:14). Jesus was saying that if the Jewish people had received John’s message, they would have received Him as the Messiah; thus, John would have fulfilled the Elijah prophecy in Malachi 4:5. But since Israel rejected Jesus’ Messiahship, this prophecy awaits future fulfillment.
John the Baptist cannot be the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5 for the following reason. After John’s death (Mt. 14:1-2), Jesus acknowledged that Elijah the prophet must come to restore all things (Mt. 17:11) before His return. John the Baptist did not restore all things at His coming; thus, another prophet is yet to come in the spirit of Elijah.
Others do not look for a literal Elijah but for another prophet who will come in the spirit of Elijah. They hold this position for the following reasons. First, when Jesus said, “Elijah is come already, and they knew him not” (Mt 17:12), He was not referring to a literal Elijah but to John the Baptist who came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Mt. 17:13). Second, if a literal Elijah were to appear before Jesus offered the Kingdom to Israel, then Jesus did not offer the Kingdom, for Elijah did not come. But this was not the case. Jesus did offer the Kingdom to Israel, thus the reference is not to a literal Elijah but to another prophet yet to come in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Still others hold that Elijah must personally come to prepare the way for Christ’s Second Coming as stated in Malachi 4:5 and Matthew 17:11. There are a number of supports for this position. First, Rabbinic Judaism teaches that Elijah will come personally (not just in spirit and power) before the Messiah’s coming. Tradition teaches that he is recording the good works of the righteous in order to speed the day of Israel’s redemption. In the “day of the LORD” he will overthrow the wicked nations who have persecuted Israel and also bring about the resurrection of the dead. The hope is that Elijah will come during Passover. A place is prepared at the seder table with a large cup of wine (Elijah’s cup) at his place setting. The front door is opened to welcome the spirit of the prophet. If Elijah were to visit the home, then the Jewish family would know that Messiah’s coming was very near. Second, Jesus confirmed that Elijah must first come to restore all things (Mt. 17:11). Third, the witnesses in Revelation 11 have a similar ministry to that of Moses and Elijah. The witnesses are called prophets (Rev. 11:10) who are able to prevent rain from falling, turn water to blood and hurt the earth with plagues (Rev. 11:6) as did Moses and Elijah. Fourth, both Moses and Elijah are mentioned together in Malachi 4:4-6 and the mount of transfiguration passage (Mt. 17:3). Fifth, Elijah did not suffer physical death during his life; thus, he could very easily return as one of the witnesses to experience death (Rev. 11:7).
Scriptures teach that Elijah must return “before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD” (v. 5). This is a time when God will pour out unprecedented wrath upon the earth (Mt. 24:21; Rev. 8-19). If these days were not shortened, no human life would survive on earth (Mt. 24:22).
The coming Elijah is to have a ministry of reconciliation, resulting in a turning of “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (v. 6). This will take place when the two witnesses preach the gospel of the Kingdom (Mt 24:14) during the Tribulation. Many unbelieving Jews will repent of their sins and be reconciled to God and family. They will again embrace the faith of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the prophets. This reconciliation will prepare Israel for the restoration to be accomplished when the Messiah returns (Acts 3:21). Although these believers will escape the wrath of God, many will suffer from the wrath of man during this time. The Antichrist will try to destroy them since they will not worship him (Rev. 6:9-11; 7:9-14).
Malachi earlier had confronted Judah with the same ministry of reconciliation, when God said to her, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you” (3:7). The words “return” (3:7) and “turn” (4:6) come from the same Hebrew word which means to restore. In his day, Malachi had hoped that the children (Judah) would return to their fathers’ faith (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), but there is no indication they ever did (Mal. 1:2; 2:4; 3:3-4).
Failure to heed God’s warning would result in the earth being smitten with a curse (v. 6). The word “curse” is different from the one previously used (1:14; 2:2; 3:9) and means to ban or set apart under a ban for utter extermination.
A person, city or thing could be put under the curse. All the cities destroyed by Joshua were cursed (Dt. 13:12-15; cf. Ex. 22:19) as well.
If repentance were not forthcoming, Judah would be put under a curse – set apart for extermination. Malachi 4:6 was fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and Judah ceased to exist as a nation (Dt. 28:49-68). The same curse will be experienced by the nations when Christ destroys them at His Second Coming (Mal. 4:3; Rev. 19:15).
Since the Book of Malachi ends with a curse, the Jewish people repeat verse five after reading verse six, so the last words on their lips will not be a curse upon their people. The same is done when reading Isaiah, Lamentations and Ecclesiastes.
The curse was placed at the end of the book for a reason: People will usually remember the last thing they read. The Jewish people were to remember that their refusal to be obedient to God’s will would result in judgment. But they could be delivered from the curse by repenting of their sin and being reconciled to God.
Today man lives under the curse of sin and can be delivered from God’s judgment only through Jesus the Messiah. Jesus, “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1), was made a curse for man to deliver him from the curse of sin. By His crucifixion upon a tree, Christ redeemed both Jew and Gentile from the curse of the Law so the blessing of salvation might be experienced by all who receive Him as Messiah (Gal. 3:13-14).
The people of Judah had spurned God’s love, despised His name, desecrated His Temple, defiled their marriages and defrauded Him in their giving. They deserved to be cursed and destroyed. But, as the Old Testament drew to a close, God still expressed His love for Judah and, with an outstretched hand, beckoned the nation to come back to a place of forgiveness and fellowship.
Lest we think that the above description is true solely of Judah, we need but look at the Church today or, in fact, our own lives. So much of what has been said concerning Judah can be said about the Christian.
One must be reminded that “a book of remembrance” (3:16) is being kept by God of each believer’s works. After studying the indictment against Judah, how does your record measure up in God’s book? Have you spurned Gods love? desecrated His house of worship? defiled your marriage? defrauded Him in giving? You too can repent of your sin and come to a place of forgiveness.
Throughout the Book of Malachi God was searching for a man and a people who could unreservedly worship and serve Him. I am reminded of the words spoken to D. L. Moody in 1872 by Henry Varley, “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.” Moody responded, “’By God’s grace I want to be that man!”
As the day of the Lord’s unveiling draws near, are you willing to be the man or woman whom God can use?