This evening we are concluding our short Advent walk through the prophet Malachi. Tonight we will be discussing Malachi 3-4 which is pregnant with Messianic eschatology. Chapter 4 has two major divisions: the coming fire of the Lord and the bringing together of Moses and Elijah.
Malachi 4:1-3 speaks of the coming day of the Lord where the arrogant and evildoers will be burned to ashes like stubble in the field and the righteous will rise like the sun, leap like calves, and tread the evildoers underfoot. Jesus will use similar imagery in the parable of the wheat and the tares. (Matt. 13:24-30). In reading these verses, we often try to determine whether am I the arrogant evildoer (or at least is my neighbor) or am I the God-fearing righteous? The answer to that question is “yes.” In his book, The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observes:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
The Scripture is clear, that not only have all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23, 5:12) but that all also bear the image of God himself. (Gen 1:26, Wis. 2:23). Therefore, one way of reading Mal. 4:1-3, is in the same way we read Mal. 3:2 concerning the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ soap. The day of the Lord isn’t one of separating good and evil people but of separating the good and evil within a person. The evil within you is burned off so that the good within you may rejoice.
Malachi 4:4-5 references Moses and Elijah. In Jewish eschatology, Moses and Elijah are always paired as both men met and spoke with God on God’s holy mountain. (Exodus 19, 1 Kings 19). Malachi tells his audience to (1) look back and remember Moses who is the person through whom God established his relationship with Israel and (2) look forward to the second coming of Elijah (since Elijah was assumed into heaven (2 Kings 2:11)) who will bring that relationship to its perfect culmination. In Jewish thought, Moses and Elijah are the bookends of Jewish religious history. Malachi’s vision is brought current in Jesus’ Transfiguration to show that the prophesied day of the Lord is present in Jesus. (Mark 9).
The final two verses of the prophet, Mal. 4:5-6, are specifically applied to John the Baptist in the Gospels. Jesus directly applies Mal. 3:5 to John the Baptist in Mathew 11:11. While the angel that appears to Zachariah directly applies Mal. 3:6 to his recently conceived son. Luke 1:17.
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves, and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking to Jesus. Mark 9:2-4