The Lord began His message through Malachi by telling His people, “I love you” (see 1:2). They were His chosen people, His “treasured possession” (see 3:17). In that loving context, the Lord approached some difficult subjects, asking (1:6), “Where is My honor?” The people were dishonoring Him with their insincere worship, their stolen tithes, and their broken marriages. The Lord was justified in His anger. He could have cut them off entirely, judged them into oblivion, and destroyed them altogether. But instead we hear His shockingly gracious appeal: “Return to Me and I will return to you” (see 3:7). That is our God, offering grace and a chance at renewal. And when we turn from our sin and return to Him, we find His arms wide open and His love undiminished.
At the end of this book of prophecy (chapter 4), on the last page of the Old Testament, the Lord gives His people two reasons to return to Him. First, because a day of judgment is coming (“Behold, the day is coming”, v.1; “the great and awesome day of the Lord comes”, v.5). The Day of the Lord is an event that the Prophets warned of repeatedly. Jesus predicted it, too, calling it “that day” and “the day of the Son of Man”. What is it?
The Bible teaches that all of human history is leading up to a singular event — a day — when Jesus Christ returns to the earth in His Second Coming. Jesus said (Luke 21:27), “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” The Apostle Peter indicated the same thing: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). That is the event described by Malachi, the day when the curtain will drop on world history and the Lord, who came the first time as Savior and Friend, will come again as King and Judge.
That day will “burn like an oven” (v.1), a reference to the judgment fires of hell, the place where the unsaved will spend eternity, those who have not turned to the Lord for salvation. It is a serious warning. The lost will be judged, but the righteous will be victorious: “you shall tread down the wicked” (v.3). This is the language of victory! Those who turn to the Lord will be on the winning side!
The second reason the Lord gives His people to return to Him is that a day of salvation is dawning. This chapter mentions two figures whose appearance will signal an age of grace and salvation: the “Sun of Righteousness” and “Elijah the prophet”.
The “Sun of Righteousness rising with healing in His wings” (v.2) is a beautiful reference to Jesus, who would arise to bring healing to every sin-sick soul who would come under the “wings” of His protecting grace. (Note: I remember when Jesus spread His wings of grace over me…how about you?) For every life broken by sin, Jesus is the healer. For every broken heart, Jesus is the healer. For every broken home, Jesus is the healer. If something in your life is broken, take it to Jesus today. He is the Sun of Righteousness who rises with healing in His wings!
But who is Elijah the prophet? According to the angel Gabriel and Jesus Himself, this is talking about John the Baptist, who came just ahead of Jesus to announce His coming and to urge people to repent of their sin and prepare to receive their Savior. Gabriel said (Luke 1:17), “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ [a direct quote from Malachi 4:6] and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Jesus said (Matthew 11:13-14), “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.”
So Malachi said that this prophet, whom we know to be John, would come to announce the dawning of a new day of salvation, an escape from judgment. Malachi said that John’s ministry (v.6) would be to turn people’s hearts away from sin and toward righteousness. (Note: the word “turn” in v.6 is the same word translated “return” in the Lord’s appeal in 3:7; it is a word of revival and restoration.)
Depending in the translation you are using, the last word of the book of Malachi — and the Old Testament is “destruction” or “curse”. But if you turn the page of your Bible you will find the New Testament and the story of Jesus, who came to reverse the curse and to undo the destruction! Hallelujah!!