The Last Writings of the Old Testament Prophets
1"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the Lord Almighty.
4"Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
5"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
Here we have come to the final chapter written by the final prophet of the Old Testament times. It is a chapter full of promises, both good and bad. It concludes the Old Testament writings by looking ahead to the major events of the future. It speaks of both comings of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. "We should view these final words with solemnity of heart, for chapter 4 gives us the last message of the Old Testament prophets. After this prophetic word, the heavens were silent for four centuries until the voice of John the Baptist was heard calling Israel to repentance in view of the coming of the Messiah" [Feinberg, 266].
First, the Lord, through Malachi, speaks of the Second Coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ: "‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them’" (vs. 1). At the second coming of the Lord, He will come in wrath to bring His judgment on the world. The Lord (Himself) begins the description of His second coming with the word, "Surely", in order that there may be no doubt about the veracity of what He is saying. Certainly, whatever the Lord says is perfect truth. Yet, it seems that many people need an extra amount of convincing when it comes to the fact that the Lord will come in wrath to judge the world: "Surely the day is coming." "Some cannot believe what they read here; therefore, they teach that all people will, somehow, be saved. A God of love, they reason, cannot condemn anyone to an eternal punishment. But this reasoning incorrectly pits God’s love against His justice. Such universalism cannot be supported by the Scriptures. Rather, Scripture tells us, God’s prior judgments are but foretastes of what will come in the final day as the totality of God’s wrath will finally be felt" [Kaiser, 486]. To put it bluntly, "the wicked will all be ignited like dry stubble after a hot summer" [Ibid.].
Why is this judgment necessary? Because God is righteous and just. He has established His law. He has commanded His creatures to obey it. He has even provided a way of salvation for those who have not obeyed. So, for those who disobeyed His commandments, and who have rejected the great gift of salvation that He has offered through His Son, there will be judgment. If there was not judgment, God’s attribute of righteousness would be tainted. The absence of judgment would make God out to be a liar, and would make the many portions of God’s Word that speak of judgment untrue. Judgment is promised. Universal salvation is a lie of the devil. "Because God is unchanging in His holiness and justice, it follows that the inevitability of His judgment upon the wicked is unchanging also. The final chapter of Malachi virtually shouts for us to see this, for it begins, ‘Surely the day is coming…’ The judgment may be postponed. For the most part it has been postponed for the long years of human history—postponed but not forgotten. Delay is not elimination. Judgment will come" [Boice, 263].
Now, God is gracious in that He has warned us of this judgment. We can choose to ignore His warnings, to pretend that they are toothless warnings, or we can respond to the warnings and turn to God for forgiveness of sins. "The prospect of the day of judgment is a powerful stimulus to awaken sinners from their fatal slumber, and to stir up believers to increased diligence in the work of the Lord" [JFB, 727]. Many preachers of God’s Word avoid speaking of God’s wrath. They think that they are doing God a favor by depicting Him as a nice old man, who is forgiving of everything, who would never lift a finger to hurt anyone. But such preachers do a great disservice to their hearers, and greatly misrepresent the character of God. For God is not tolerant of any sin. God hates sin. There is but one way to escape the wrath of God, and that is to believe in and accept the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made by dying for our sins on the cross. All those who do not take advantage of this one way of salvation will see God’s wrath, possibly in this world, certainly in the one to come.
In this chapter of Malachi, there is not only bad news for the ungodly, there is good news for God’s people: "But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall" (vs. 2). "Nothing in Scripture outlines with greater demarcation the vastly different lots of the believing and unbelieving when the Lord comes to judge the earth" [Feinberg, 267]. The day of wrath, which will "burn like a furnace" for the ungodly, will bring "the sun of righteousness" for the godly. Destruction is not the lot for the godly, but rather "healing". This is the salvation that God has in store for His people in the last days, when they will go to Him in a twinkling of an eye. Then, they will be freed from the human bodies that so limit them, and "will go out and leap like calves released from the stall" (vs. 2).
The godly will be a part of the Lord’s armies in the last days: "‘Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,’ says the Lord Almighty" (vs. 3). This is confirmed also in the book of Revelation. The Lord promises: "To him who overcomes and does My will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from My Father" (Rev. 2:26-27). And later, the Lord’s army is described: "The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean" (Rev. 19:14).
In light of His promises concerning the end-times, the Lord next gives His people an exhortation that will be valuable to them: "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel" (vs. 4). The best preparation for the coming of the Lord is to "remember the law."
This exhortation to "remember the law" is also important to be given here through the prophet Malachi in light of the fact that Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. There was to be a prophetical silence of 400 years after Malachi. The people needed to heed this last exhortation of Malachi because there would be no prophets to remind them to "remember the law" until John the Baptist came on the scene.
Next, the Lord speaks of the end of the prophetical drought, when He would send a prophet to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord: "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" (vss. 5-6). This prophecy was to be fulfilled by a precursor to the coming of the Lord for both of His comings. Thus, it was partially fulfilled by John the Baptist, and will be ultimately completely fulfilled by another precursor, possibly Elijah himself, before the second coming of Christ. Before John the Baptist was born, an angel visited his father and spoke to him concerning John, citing this prophecy in Malachi: "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). However, John the Baptist did not completely fulfill the prophecy in Malachi. Jesus said concerning John: "And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come" (Matt. 11:14). Jesus came first to offer the salvation of God to the children of Israel. But the children of Israel, by and large, were not "willing to accept" Jesus as their Messiah. This rejection of Jesus rendered necessary a second coming of the Messiah. In Malachi, the Lord says that Elijah will come "before that great and dreadful day of the Lord." Of course, John the Baptist did not precede the "great and dreadful day of the Lord", the outworking of God’s wrath, but rather, the great and wonderful day of the Lord, when He came to earth to bring salvation to all who believe in Him. Perhaps (if I may speculate), the phrase "great and dreadful day of the Lord" refers to the two comings: the first coming of the Lord was a "great" day, in that He brought salvation; the second coming will be a "dreadful" day, when He will execute the wrath of God.
Now, John the Baptist was not Elijah; rather, he came with the "spirit and power of Elijah" (John 1:17). It could be that in the final fulfillment of this prophecy that a man will come in the "spirit and power of Elijah." However, it could also be that Elijah himself will come. Elijah was one of the very few humans who did not experience the death of his body (he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, see II Kings 2:11). This may suggest that Elijah’s work is not finished. If indeed Elijah himself comes before the day of God’s wrath, his ministry will be much the same as it was when he first lived. "The ministry of Elijah to Israel had been one of calling apostate Israel back to the Lord whom they had forsaken. He will come again in order to avert the curse of God from Israel" [Feinberg, 269]. As the prophecy says: "He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" (vs. 6).
I find it interesting that the symbol used here representing obedience to God is when "the hearts of the fathers" are turned "to their children", and the "hearts of the children" are turned "to their fathers". Paul does a similar thing when he sums up his catalog of the sins of man: "They invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Rom. 1:30-31). A godly society has loving families. Conversely, morally bankrupt societies have dysfunctional families. If you can’t show love for your own family members, then you can’t love anyone, much less love God through obedience.
It is significant that the final word in the book of last Old Testament prophet is "curse". For those who don’t accept the New Testament revelation as the Word of God, this is a harsh ending for the Bible. "The book of Genesis shows how the curse entered the human race, and Malachi indicates the curse still threatens" [Feinberg, 269]. "From early times attempts have been made to avoid the harsh ending of the book. Greek manuscripts placed verse 4 after verse 6, while Hebrew liturgical use led to the repetition of verse 5 after verse 6. Hebrew Bibles continue to print verse 5 a second time at the end of the chapter" [Baldwin, 251]. It would indeed be sad news for mankind if the last word in the Bible was "curse". A better solution than rearranging verses to avoiding this harsh ending is to read on! Open up the book of Matthew and read the good news of the coming of Jesus. See how God has provided a way for us to escape the curse of death! In fact, to counteract the last word from the Lord ("curse") to the last Old Testament prophet, Jesus begins His ministry with the word, "Blessed" (see Matt. 5:3).