Famous Last Words (Mike Riccardi)

Malachi 4:4–6   |   Sunday, June 23, 2024   |   Code: 2024-06-23-MR


Famous Last Words

Malachi 4:4–6




Well we come this morning to the final passage in our sermon series on the Book of Malachi. And it’s been a wonderful study of this short prophecy—God’s final prophetic word to Israel before 400 years of silence.


And I mentioned, in our introduction to Malachi, that this is a book for those who are disappointed with God. And as ludicrous as that sounds when you’re in a proper frame of heart, we all know what it is to be disappointed in some circumstances of life, in which it seems like God’s promises just haven’t been coming to pass. Whether it’s waiting for the gift of marriage, or grieving over wayward children, or failure to gain victory over a besetting sin, or ten thousand other things, in one way or another, you begin to doubt whether God really does keep His promises—whether His Word really is trustworthy. I mean, you know that He does keep His promises, but for some reason, it seems like that’s not so in your case. And so you become disappointed with God.


And when that happens, it’s not like you renounce Christianity. You know better than that. You still go through the motions—church, fellowship, reading, prayer. But in all the outward spiritual activity, there’s an inward apathy—a lifelessness, a heartlessness. You allow doubts to creep in. You start thinking like an unbeliever. You start exalting your own reasoning above God’s revelation, and you begin the slide into unbelief.


We’ve seen, over these past months, that that was what was going on in Malachi’s day. After glorious promises of restoration from Haggai and Zechariah, in the 80 years that passed between those prophets and Malachi’s ministry, Israel had not seen those promises fulfilled. The Messiah hadn’t come. Jerusalem hadn’t been restored. The temple wasn’t magnificent. And so on the heels of all of these glorious promises of restoration, Israel began to wonder where God was, and when He was going to fulfill all these great promises.


And after years and years of waiting, and hoping, both the priests and the people became disillusioned. They began to distrust the faithfulness of God. They believed God let them down. And so they left off in their devotion to God and to obedience to His commandments. “God doesn’t seem to care about us anymore. Why should we care about Him? If He doesn’t keep His Word, why should we worry about keeping His Word?”


And in response, God sent them the prophet Malachi to rebuke Israel for their faithlessness. God comes to argue with His people. He comes to give voice to their complaints against Him, to engage them in debate, to demonstrate that their accusations against Him are unjustified, that His promises to them have not failed, that He will keep His covenant unto the glory of His own name, and that their disobedience, therefore, must be repented of if they would escape the fierceness of His judgment.


Review: The Six Disputations of Malachi


And Malachi does this, structured around six disputations. And those six disputations have a fairly recognizable formula, as we mentioned. God makes an assertion or sometimes an accusation against Israel; Israel responds with an arrogant, insolent rejection of what God has declared to them; and then God responds again with a rebuttal to Israel’s rejection. And that formula permeates the whole book. You can structure almost the entire prophecy by finding the phrase, “But you say,” or “Yet you say,” and then spying out God’s assertion, Israel’s rejection, and God’s rebuttal. And before we come to the final words of the book this morning, I want to spend a bit of time reviewing where we’ve been in the six disputations of Malachi’s prophecy.


The first disputation comes in chapter 1, verses 2 to 5, as Yahweh opened this prophecy of rebuke with a declaration of love. “I have loved you,” says Yahweh. “I have chosen you out from among all the nations of the world! I have set My covenant love upon you! I have established My covenant with You! I have made You My people! And you can see that I’ve loved you by comparing yourselves—returned from exile and in the land I’ve promised you—with the Edomites, who have been utterly destroyed! Compare the descendants of Jacob with the descendants of his twin brother Esau, and recognize: you deserve to perish as much as they did. And yet the only reason you’re here is because I have set my covenant love upon you! I’ve attached My name to you, and have promised to do you good!”


Before He confronts them with holy standard of His law, He comforts them with the gracious promises of the Gospel. As if He had said, “Every rebuke that I will issue to you comes in the context of the truth that you are still My people, and I am still Your God.” And we remarked upon how the God of Judah of Malachi’s day is our God today—that we are bound to Him by covenant just as they were. And so we learned that in our disappointment, in our discouragement, in our faithlessness and disobedience, God comes to us first with the Gospel assurance of His steadfast covenant love to us for Christ’s sake. “I have loved you, dear people! I have chosen you, in Christ, before the foundation of the world! And My grace will bring My promises to pass!”


God keeps His covenant. He keeps His promises. And therefore, even in our faithless disillusionment, we can trust Him, and find refuge in Him, and set our feet upon this rock—that the faithful God loves even His faithless people, because out of pure grace, Christian, He has put His name upon you. And because He has, He pursues your good with all the zeal and the fervor with which He pursues the honor of His own name.


The second disputation begins in chapter 1 verse 6 and runs all the way through to chapter 2 verse 9. And it is a scathing diatribe against the priests, who have become so disillusioned and apathetic in their spiritual convictions, that they have let the temple service of worship to God become empty, external ritualism. They have despised Yahweh’s name by despising Yahweh’s altar. They offered defiled sacrifices to the God of perfect purity and holiness—who is worthy of being worshiped with blameless sacrifices.


And we were reminded that, as Christians—New Covenant believers in Jesus, the Messiah—that we are, as the Apostle Peter says, “a holy priesthood.” We are a kingdom of priests of the New Covenant. And so our entire lives are to be offerings of spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ. The way we live, the way we serve, the way we obey or disobey—our praise and thanksgiving; our deeds of love and generosity to others—all of these things are described as sacrifices, as if we were priests ministering in the Holy Place—in the very presence of the Holy God Himself.


And therefore, we learned that we must not let our lives of worship become self-centered, and self-referential, but always and only directed to God above all, and always and only regulated by His Word. We don’t worship in a way that makes us comfortable; we worship in the way that God Himself requires—because this is about Him, and not us. We learned that our worship must not offer the blind, the sick, and the lame: not our leftovers, but our firstfruits; not what we can afford to spare, but the very best we have to offer. And we learned that our worship cannot be contemptible and begrudging, but it must come from a heart that is delighted by the grace of God to give to God what He is worthy of. Christians must communicate by our attitude, by our speech, and by our actions that the worship and service of the Lord is delightful, that He is lovely, and that a life lived in service to Him is the pleasantest life there is.


The third disputation comes in chapter 2, verses 10 to 16. In that passage, Yahweh rebukes Judah for betraying their covenant with God. They had “dealt treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of [the] fathers.” They had defiled themselves by intermarrying with the pagans. They had betrayed their covenant with their wives by pursuing unlawful divorce. And they had been offering blasphemous worship on the altar of God, seeking to bribe God with phony penitence and ostentatious displays of devotion.


And we learned from that that we ought to be faithful to our covenant vows to God—that we must put all treachery far away from us. We may not betray the temple of the Holy Spirit of God and defile ourselves by intermarrying with the enemies of the Gospel. We may not betray the Gospel of our salvation by pursuing divorce from our marriage covenant, and in so doing lie about the Gospel. We must hold our marriages in the highest esteem by prioritizing that sacred, covenant-keeping relationship between husband and wife, that so exquisitely pictures the covenant-keeping relationship between Christ and the Church. We must remember that God hates divorce, and that therefore we must do all we can to tell the truth about the Gospel in our marriages—that we keep covenant above all else, because Christ keeps covenant with His bride. And we learned that we may not betray the name of our God by blaspheming Him with corrupt, manipulative worship practices, as if somehow we could fool Him who searches the heart and tests the mind, in whose eyes no creature is hidden, but all things are open and laid bare.


The fourth disputation comes in chapter 2 verse 17 to chapter 3 verse 5. There, we get a window into Israel’s blasphemous, insolent accusations against God’s justice—that, because the wicked seem to prosper while God’s people face difficulty, God must care nothing for righteousness. He responds by prophesying the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will come in the fires of judgment on the Day of the Lord, to refine those who belong to Yahweh, and to consume those who are His enemies.


And we learned from this passage both of the horrors of divine judgment for those outside of Christ, and the glories of divine grace for those who are in Christ by faith alone. We learned that God will keep His Word to Israel, and after purifying two-thirds of the eschatological nation in the Day of the Lord judgments, He will bring His chosen remnant to salvation by faith in their Messiah, Jesus Christ. And we learned that because God is faithful to His promises—both to consume the wicked and refine the righteous—we who belong to Him ought never to blame God in unbelief for the trials we endure, because He is always just, and because those trials are His means of refining us into the image of Christ.


The fifth disputation begins with Judah accusing God of failing to keep His promises to them, as evidenced by the fact that God is keeping back a bountiful harvest from them, and as a result they’re suffering financially. They’ve rebuilt the city walls, they’ve rebuilt the temple, and they’re bringing the sacrifices—just as God has commanded them. But they protest that they don’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises. And they conclude, “Faithful obedience to Yahweh just doesn’t work! We obey, but the blessings just don’t come.”


God answers this objection by declaring that it is not that He has changed; God is unfailingly unchanging, and thus unfailingly faithful. And in fact, it’s precisely because God is immutable in His essence—and therefore immutable in His promises—that Israel is not consumed by His judgment. With Him there is no variation or shifting shadow, and therefore He is dependable, trustworthy, a rock for our faith and an anchor of the soul, on account of which those who trust in Him will never be consumed. On the contrary, it’s that the people had been consistently changing, variable, and faithless. God comes to them and explains: rather than continuing to turn aside from Him, they must turn back to Him in faithful repentance. If they do that, God promises that they will experience His promised blessings precisely as His Word has prophesied them.


And one key way repentance will manifest itself is that they stop withholding the money that rightly belongs to Him—even in a time of financial difficulty. In chapter 3, verses 7 to 12, we learn that Israel’s response to their straitened economic times was to hold back for themselves their first fruits, which belonged to God. And God says, “Withholding your tithes and offerings like that—contrary to the commandments of My covenant law—is robbing Me! You’re robbing Me!” Why? Because all that we have belongs to Yahweh. He is the giver of all good things, and so to keep what He reserves to be His is evidence that we don’t trust Him to provide for our needs. If His people would only trust Him—even with their meager resources—they would find that He would “open the windows of heaven” and pour out overflowing blessings upon them.


And then, finally, last week, we came to the sixth disputation, in chapter 3 verse 13 through to chapter 4 verse 3. And here again, Malachi gives voice to the people’s complaint against God: “It is vain to serve God,” they say. “The righteous aren’t rewarded, and the wicked aren’t punished! The pagans seem to have it very easy in this world, and here we are—Your people—and we’re suffering. What sense does it make to obey and to remain faithful to God if the righteous aren’t rewarded, and the wicked aren’t punished?”


And we saw that the response of the faithful is to come together and (1) repudiate the complaints of the treacherous, (2) to reaffirm their faith in God’s promises and the trustworthiness of His character, and (3) to resolve to walk in faithfulness no matter what the majority would say or do. When the treacherous complain of God’s injustice or faithlessness, the faithful respond by examining their own lives, confessing and repenting of sin, and renewing their commitment to trust in God’s character and walk obediently to His Word.


And supremely: they look ahead to the Day of the Lord, burning like a furnace, in which the evildoers will be set ablaze like chaff, but in which those who fear God’s name will be vindicated by the consummation of their salvation. And we learned that if the people of God would battle their envy of the wicked—who too often seem to have it so easy in this world that lies in the power of the evil one—we need only look at the present with the eye of eternity. We need only to come into the sanctuary of God, remember the law of His mouth, and, as Asaph says, to perceive their end. And to perceive our end: to remember that while they burn like chaff, we will be spared, and justified, and beatified, and treasured, and triumphant, as a result of our union with Christ, the coming King and Ruler of the world. They have their reward in full here on this earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But we have our reward in heaven, which will make amends for all.


And as we’ve reviewed the content of Malachi’s prophecy, in all of the arguing that God comes and does with His people, you hear the repetition of at least two key themes. And Malachi brings those two key themes to the front and center of this epilogue, as he sums up his message for God’s people, and prepares them to be without new revelation from God for the next 400 years. See if you can hear them. Malachi 4, verses 4 to 6: “‘Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. 5Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of Yahweh. 6He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.’”


In these final words of the Old Testament’s final prophet—the last words from Yahweh to His people for four centuries—Malachi sums up his message to God’s people in two key themes: (1) remember the law, and (2) look for the prophecy. Devote yourselves to remembering, and meditating on, and internalizing, and practicing the covenant law of Yahweh, delivered to you on Mount Sinai via Moses! Keep faithful to the covenant! And then: fix your mind upon the prophecy of the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. Look ahead to that day—of the judgment of the wicked, and of the blessing of the righteous—and live every day in light of that day!


Remember the covenant law, and look for the fulfillment of the Day of the Lord prophecy. This is the summary-message of Malachi. And it forms an excellent message for us—the New Covenant people of God—still in need of focusing all of our minds upon God’s Word and living faithfully to it, and still in need of living every day in light of the Day of Judgment, trusting in the fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecies of the coming of our Messiah. And we’ll work through those two key themes in the rest of our time together this morning.


I. Remember the Law (v. 4)


First: remember the law. Verse 4 again: “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.”


The “law of Moses” was a popular way that the Old Testament referred to the laws of the covenant made between God and Israel at Sinai, after He delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Sometimes that covenant is called the Mosaic Covenant, because it was Moses who received the revelation of God’s Words on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 through 24. For that reason, it’s also sometimes called the Sinaitic Covenant. Now, Mount Sinai was also called “Mount Horeb” in several places—Exodus 3:1, 17:6, and 33:6, and also throughout the early chapters of Deuteronomy as Moses delivers the law to the second generation. So, when Malachi 4:4 speaks of the law that God commanded Moses “in Horeb for all Israel,” it’s referring to the law of the Mosaic Covenant that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, or Mount Horeb.


And the “statutes and ordinances” that Malachi speaks of refer to “the stipulations of the covenant and the contents of God’s Law” (Verhoef, 339). After giving the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the first verse of Exodus 21 begins by God instructing Moses, “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them.” And that runs through chapter 23. And in Exodus 24 verse 3 we read, “Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of Yahweh and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which Yahweh has spoken we will do!’” And then in verses 6 to 8, Moses sprinkles them with what he calls “the blood of the covenant.” This ratifies the covenant and binds the people to covenant obedience before God.


The same phrase, “statutes and ordinances,” also appears in Deuteronomy 4 and verse 5, where Moses tells the second generation of Israel, preparing to enter the promised land of Canaan on the plains of Moab, “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as Yahweh my God commanded me.” Just a few verses later in verses 13 and 14, Moses says of God, “So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14Yahweh commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.” And you have in those verses all of these concepts running together: God declared to you His covenant, that is, the Ten Commandments—the summary of the whole Law—as well as the statutes and judgments by which they would live in the land that God had promised them.


So, there’s no mistaking it: Malachi is calling Israel to covenant faithfulness according to the Word of God as expressed in the Mosaic Law—the substance of the Mosaic Covenant. As one commentator observed, “Everything that the people and priests had been doing that displeased God and that was the subject of Malachi’s excoriations earlier in the book could be summed up as refusal to honor the Mosaic covenant. … The call of [this verse] is for renewal of obedience to the covenant of God” (McComiskey, 1391–92).


And the specific way Malachi calls for it here is by calling them to remember. So much of Yahweh’s instruction to Israel comes in the form of calls to remember the words and works of their God. In Exodus 13:3, Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand Yahweh brought you out from this place.” The fourth commandment, Exodus chapter 20 and verse 8, is “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” In Deuteronomy 4:10, Moses exhorts Israel, “Remember the day you stood before Yahweh your God at Horeb.” Deuteronomy 7:18: “Remember what Yahweh your God did to Pharoah and to all Egypt.” Deuteronomy 8:2: “You shall remember all the way which Yahweh your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years.” Joshua 1:13: “Remember the word which Moses the servant of Yahweh commanded you.” 1 Chronicles 16:12: “Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth.” And all throughout Psalm 119, verse 83: “I do not forget your statutes.” Verse 109: “I do not forget your law.” Verse 141: “I do not forget Your precepts.” And the final verse, 176: “I do not forget Your commandments.”


Why such an emphasis on remembering? Because we are so prone to forget! Because we set our minds on the things here below and not on the things above. Because as we take our gaze off of Christ as He’s revealed in Scripture, we mind the things of the flesh, and our sight of Christ grows dim, and fuzzy, and ill-defined. We are encumbered by the sins that so easily entangle us, because we live as if we belong to this world, and not as if our citizenship was in heaven, Philippians 3! not as if we were seated in the heavenlies in Christ, Ephesians 2! as if our life were not hidden with Christ in God in the courts of heaven, Colossians 3!


We must remember! We must rehearse the truths of the Word of God to ourselves every day. “These words, which I am commanding you today,” God says through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:6, “shall be on your heart. You shall…talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” If you are to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, Romans 12:2, you must saturate your mind with the Word of God by which your mind is renewed.


And more than that: to “remember,” zakar, does not simply mean to call something to mind or recover a fleeting memory. It means to bring something to the center of one’s mind and heart and then to act accordingly. So, in Numbers chapter 15, verses 39 and 40, God commands Israel to wear tassels on their clothing. He says, “It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of Yahweh, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God.” Psalm 103, verses 17 and 18, says, “The lovingkindness of Yahweh is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him… to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.”


This command isn’t as simple as, “Memorize the law of Moses.” Remembering is a pregnant concept that goes beyond simple recall and speaks of covenant faithfulness. Let the truths of Scripture be in the forefront of your minds and in the depths of your heart! Meditate on these truths! Marinate in them! Not so that you can win games of Bible trivia, but so that you can be ready to practice the Word of God, and live faithfully to the commands of Christ as you navigate life in this world! Dear people: we remember to do! Thomas Brooks, in his classic, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, sums up the point well when he writes, “It is not the knowing [man], nor the talking [man], nor the reading [man], but the doing man, that at last will be found the happiest man.” And then he quotes John 13:17, “If you know these things, blessed and happy are you if you do them.”


The time for prophetic revelation was coming to an end for Israel. There would be no prophet like Malachi, coming to proclaim God’s infallible and inerrant revelation, for the next four centuries. And so in the absence of new revelation from a steady stream of prophets, God’s final Old Testament prophet fixes the attention of the people of God on the Word of God that has already been revealed. Remember the law, dear people, because in the absence of what you might call “fresh revelation,” the Word that the Lord has spoken to you in His law is sufficient to guide you as you walk faithfully before Yahweh. That Word revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai is as fresh as the day it was revealed.


And that applies to us New Covenant believers in a big way. The Charismatic movement denigrates the Word of God by suggesting that if the people of God are not receiving regular revelations by the ministry of prophets like Malachi, well then all we have is a dry, dusty, dead letter in the Scriptures, which are not truly sufficient to guide us through the nuances and specifics of life in Christ. Malachi 4:4 says that’s absolute nonsense. He was preparing the people for four hundred years without new revelation. We’re living in a time of nearly two thousand years in which God is not giving new revelation through prophets today. And yet the message is the same: in the absence of new revelation, remember the Word which God has spoken to you! The Scriptures which God has revealed by the mouths of His prophets remain sufficient to lead you through every aspect of life in Christ.


And so, brothers and sisters, as you live life like Judah of Malachi’s Day—apart from new revelations from God, and waiting for the coming of Messiah to rescue His people and execute the judgments of the Day of the Lord—you remember the law. Remember the Word of God. Bind your heart to it, and let the Scriptures be the rule of your life every day of your life. Remember the Word of God. Memorize it. Rehearse it. Speak of it. Obey it. Model it. Teach it. Disciple in it. “For it is not an idle word for you,” as Moses says in Deuteronomy 32:47. No, “indeed it is your life.” Remember the law.


II. Look for the Prophecy (v. 5–6)


The second key theme with which Malachi summarizes and closes his prophecy  is, number two: look for the prophecy. And that comes in verses 5 and 6: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of Yahweh. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”


Now, these verses begin by God telling Israel that He is going to send them Elijah the prophet before the terrible Day of the Lord comes and judgment is poured out on them. But this causes us to confront some difficulty, because, on the one hand, the New Testament identifies this very prophecy of the coming of Elijah with the coming of John the Baptist, and, on the other hand, the Day of the Lord judgments did not in fact take place at the first coming of Messiah, but waits for the second coming. Let’s look into this a little further.


Here in verse 6, Malachi says that Elijah “will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their faithers.” Well, when we turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in the passage where the angel announces to Zacharias that he will have a son and name him John, we read in Luke 1:16, “And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God”—language that sounds much like our text. And then, the angel quotes Malachi 4:6 explicitly in the next verse, making the connection unmistakable. He says, “It is he [John] who will go as a forerunner before Him [the Lord God] in the spirit and power of Elijah”—and then our text—“to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children.” And so it would seem that Scripture is identifying Malachi’s prophecy of Elijah with the coming of John the Baptist to prepare the way before Jesus, the coming of Yahweh in the flesh.

And that seems strengthened by Jesus’ interaction with the crowds about John the Baptist in Matthew 11. Turn there with me. Jesus says, “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written [in Malachi chapter 3 verse 1], ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.’ Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” Verse 13: “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” Just a few chapters later, in Matthew 17, as the Lord Jesus is transfigured on the Mount of Olives in front of the disciples, they ask about the coming of Elijah. And in Matthew 17:12, Jesus says, “I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” So, does the New Testament reinterpret this prophecy of Elijah’s coming as John the Baptist’s coming?


Well, it’s not quite that clear, because in John chapter 1, and verse 21, the crowds ask John the Baptist, “Are you Elijah?” and he replies, “I am not.” And back in Matthew 17, after the transfiguration, just before Jesus says, “Elijah already came and they did not recognize him,” in the previous verse he says, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things.” So, Jesus says John is Elijah, and John says, “No I’m not!” Jesus says Elijah already came, right after saying that Elijah still is coming! How do we make sense of this?


Well, we need to remember something we spoke about in our sermon in the opening verses of chapter 3. The New Testament calls this present age in which we live a mystery. Paul calls it in Ephesians 3 “the mystery of Christ … which for ages ha[d] been hidden, … now made known through the church.” We have the privilege of living in the age of fulfillment, and recognizing that all the prophets foretold was to take place over the course of two comings of Messiah. But as they were writing, the prophets themselves saw the promises taking place in a single coming. And we took Isaiah 61:1–2 as an example, which speaks of “the favorable year of Yahweh” as the same event as “the day of vengeance of our God.” Messiah was going to come and strike down the enemies of Israel and set up the Messianic kingdom.


But we saw that when Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1–2 in Luke 4:17–21, and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus stops in the middle of the sentence. He says He’s come to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, but He says nothing about the day of vengeance of our God. Why? Because Yahweh’s favor was present in the Messiah calling all to receive salvation through faith in Him. But the day of vengeance was to wait until the second coming. And so both favor and vengeance were revealed to Isaiah, and to Malachi, but it was not revealed that more than 2,000 years would separate them.


And so John the Baptist was an Elijah-like figure—one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. And had it been the plan for Israel to receive her Messiah at His first coming, John the Baptist would have been all the Elijah they would have needed. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 11:14, “And if you are willing to accept it, John the Baptist is the Elijah who was to come.” But they weren’t willing to accept it. And of course that was in accordance with the decree of God, the plan of salvation through the cross, and the mystery of the Gospel going to the Gentiles. And so John the Baptist was like Elijah, who, in a time of spiritual perversion, fearlessly called the nation to repentance; who, when no other prophet had the courage, was stubbornly faithful to proclaim God’s Word even if he had to stand alone (cf. McComiskey, 1394). In that sense, Matthew 17:12, Elijah has already come.


But just as the great and terrible Day of the Lord’s judgment is coming—with the return of the Messiah from heaven at the end of the age—so also may we expect, Matthew 17:11, that Elijah is still coming! And many scholars believe, and I agree with them, that just as Moses and Elijah—mentioned here in Malachi 4 as a summary of the Law and the Prophets, Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the quintessential prophet—just as Moses and Elijah were the ones who appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, so also will they be the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation chapter 11 and verse 3, who will prophesy in the second half of the Great Tribulation. Elijah will come before the great and terrible Day of Yahweh, when the wrath of God’s judgment is poured out upon the whole earth.


And when he does, he will be a witness, testifying to Israel of the need for repentance and faith in their Messiah—the One whom they had pierced, and over whom they must mourn as for an only Son. And in this way, Elijah will “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” That is, that his preaching will be blessed by God, who will use it to effect that very repentance and faith that Elijah calls them to, and thus the children of Israel—the descendants of the ancient fathers, the ancestors of God’s covenant nation—will be restored to covenant faithfulness, so that they would no longer profane the covenant of their faithers, Malachi 2:10, as they had been doing. As a result, the wicked in Israel will be purged. God’s nation will be purified. The land will not be smitten with the curse, verse 6, but instead, as God says in Malachi 3:12, “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land.”


And so, Malachi tells Israel, look for the prophet Elijah, and set your hope on the fulfillment of the promised prophecy. In a manner of speaking, Elijah has come in the ministry of John the Baptist to reveal Jesus, mankind’s ultimate hope, the Messenger of the Covenant, our Refiner’s Fire! And look ahead to the coming of Elijah himself, who will testify to the day of judgment before the return of Jesus at the end of days. Live every day of your life in the light of that promised day of judgment, which will be a terror to the wicked, but the sweetest vindication of those who hide themselves in the person of Jesus the Messiah by faith alone.




And so: remember the law of Moses, and look for the prophet Elijah, who signals the fulfillment of the promised Day of the Lord. Dear people, it is no accident that the final words of the Old Testament culminate with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Because the One to whom the entire Old Testament points is the One who said, Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets!


In John 1:45, Philip told Nathanael, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth.” In Matthew 17, as we’ve said, the glory of the divine Son is revealed in the face of Christ, with both Moses and Elijah—the Law and the Prophets—standing as witnesses! In Luke 24:44, Jesus speaks of “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” In Acts 24:14, Paul testifies before Felix that he serves the God of his fathers—the Jews—“believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.” And in Romans 3:21–22, in that passage that is the beating heart of the Gospel, Paul says that in Christ Jesus, “the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”


You see, “the Law and the prophets were proclaimed until John” (Luke 16:16; cf. Matt 11:13.! And when John came in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God, he preached that baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He prepared the way for Jesus, who accomplished the very Good News that we preach: that though you are no less wicked than the treacherous Jews of Malachi’s day, you are as freely welcomed to this glorious Messiah as they were!


Friend, if you’re outside of Christ, if you are a stranger to the grace of Jesus, if you are an enemy to the God of righteousness, remember the Law. Remember that great and awful standard of statutes and commandments that God gave to Moses at Horeb—at Mount Sinai—when the mountain thundered and quaked, and the people begged Moses, “Don’t let God speak to us anymore! You speak to us, but this is too terrible for us!” If you’re outside of Christ, friend, His law quakes just as terribly for you today as it did for the people then. And His judgment is so certain. That judgment is held over your heads by the hand of the God whose enemy you have sworn to be! You would be nothing but perfectly foolish to sit here, in this place, in this company, and cling to death. Remember the law. It condemns you. You can’t obey! You can’t fulfill its demands! It levels you to the ground before the holiness of God!


But then what does it do? It chases you to the next command: Look for the prophecy. Look to the prophet who proclaims the Gospel in the light of certain judgment! the promise of the forgiveness of sins in Messiah Jesus—who accomplished perfect righteousness, who lived the life of perfect obedience that every one of us has failed to live; who earned the approval of His Father through His perfect lawkeeping; who bore the wrath and punishment of God in the place of guilty sinners; who rose again on the third day in victory over sin and death, promising that anybody who turns from their sins, who acknowledges that you are guilty before this holy God, have no hope of self-atonement, but put all your trust and all your hope and all your confidence on the shoulders of that perfect God-Man, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and seated at the right hand of God—that He will welcome you, and spare you as sons, and cover you in His righteousness, so that on the day of judgment, you see nothing but the Sun of Righteousness rising with healing in its wings!


Dear people: heed the message of Malachi. Heed the message of the whole Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets. Come to Christ. Repent of your sins and believe the Gospel. Be saved from the coming judgment.