“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
As we come to the final chapter of the final book of the Christian Old Testament – Malachi – it is abundantly clear that the exodus from Babylon has failed, and what is needed is a new and ultimate exodus. One that deals once and for all with the problem of sin, and which can enable the covenant people of God finally to live in obedience with Yahweh. And so as we saw yesterday Malachi, in the midst of witnessing to the priests especially, and the people more generally, suddenly bursts out with the promise that God would send two new messengers: one who would prepare the way for that new exodus, and a second who is The Messenger of the covenant – Yahweh himself. The final chapter of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, essentially reiterates this promise, but with a dreadful, and shocking twist.
After centuries of waiting for the promises made to Abraham to be made manifest, and for the promises made to David that his throne would last forever, the message that it was finally going to take place would presumably be one of sheer joy. And yet it is not. Malachi describes it as “The great and awesome Day of the Lord”. This expression, along with the allusions to fire and stubble, have caused many to assume it is talking about the last coming of Christ at the end of time. However, this is not the case.
It is not too dissimilar to what we saw on Day 23. There we looked at Daniel chapter 7 and saw that the reference to “one like a Son of Man” coming to the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom refers not to the end of time, but to the ascension of the Messiah, when the Priest/King, after the order of Melchizezek, sits down at the right hand of God (in fact, at the end of time, the order is the other way around, and whereas in Daniel 7, God the Father hands the Kingdom to his Christ, in 1 Corinthians 15 we read that the victorious Christ hands the completed Kingdom back to the Father: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). Malachi’s prophesy has in mind a similar time-span.
Remember that Malachi is prophesying not to the world, but to the disobedient priests and people in Judah. Note also that his use of the phrase “The Day of Yahweh” would have been familiar to these hearers as representing judgement upon a nation. For instance, when Isaiah prophecies the doom of Babylon, he describes it like this:
“Behold, the Day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it” (Isaiah 13:9)
Jeremiah uses the same destruction-language as he prophesies against Egypt:
“That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge himself on his foes” (Jeremiah 46:10)
What Malachi has in mind is therefore not the end of the world, but the judgement of the nation of Israel. But it is a twofold judgement: firstly, to those who refuse to heed the call of repentance, the Day of Yahweh shall be one of utter destruction. Malachi tells them they will be left with “neither root or branch”. This is perhaps an allusion to Isaiah 11, which we looked at on Day 20. There God promises that one shall come who is both a branch from the root of Jesse, and the root of Jesse himself. Malachi uses the imagery therefore as a symbol that those who refuse the call of the two coming messengers shall be cut off from both the promises going back to Abraham, and from the fulfilment of them (both John the Baptist and Jesus confirm this when they imply that the unbelieving Jews have no part in Abraham (see Luke 3:7-9 and John 8:39-47)). All this was fulfilled in the judgment of AD 70, when the armies of Rome utterly destroyed Judah, Jerusalem and the Temple of God, leaving not one stone upon another.
Yet the Day of Yahweh is also a vindication for those who are obedient to the voice of the first messenger “crying in the wilderness”, who points the way to the new exodus through The Messenger. To them, it shall be like a new dawn, as the Sun of Righteousness comes upon them to bring healing, forgiveness, and mercy as he ushers in his new Kingdom. It is the Light of the World which Isaiah spoke about centuries before:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3).
When would this Day of Yahweh come? Malachi tells us that Elijah the prophet would herald that day, and the Gospel writers leave us in no doubt who this refers to. For instance, the angel of the Lord tells Zechariah that his son, John, would go before The Messenger of the covenant “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Jesus is even more explicit saying that of John the Baptist that, “I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:13).
When does the Sun of Righteousness rise with healing in his wings? Is it his incarnation? Is it his resurrection? Is it his ascension and progressive rule at the right hand of the Father? Just as the sunrise brings with it first a glimmer of light penetrating the darkness, then single rays of light beginning to shine through, before finally coming up and flooding the world with light, each stage of the rising of the Sun of Righteousness brings with it more light to flood the world and chase away the works of darkness, and more healing for the nations of the world.
And so all we have covered throughout this series – from the promise of a seed to crush the serpent’s head to the promise of blessing to the whole world given to Abraham; from the promise that God would raise up a king to sit on the throne of David to the promise that the Son of David would build the House of God; from Isaiah’s promise of the Child/Son, to the promise given to Daniel and the captives in Babylon of the everlasting Kingdom of God – all these promises were finally about to come true. Or were they? Only another 400-odd years of waiting …