The Righteous Spared, the Wicked Destroyed (Malachi 3:13-4:6) January 30-31
In Malachi 3:13-15, we again see the people having the attitude expressed in 2:17—that God rewards evil and punishes righteousness. But as the rest of chapter 3 and chapter 4 show, this notion is utterly false. The righteous will ultimately receive great reward. And those who persist in wickedness will be destroyed.
God presents the righteous, those with a proper fear of Him, in verse 16. Here it says that they "spoke to one another"—demonstrating the regular fellowship and communication that God's people are supposed to have with one another. God takes great interest in the fellowship of His people, listening to what they have to say. The implication of the end of the verse is that their conversation revolved around Him and His ways. And for their proper attitude and practice, God says that they are written up in a special book of remembrance before Him. He of course needs no records for recollection, so this is perhaps more for our encouragement. God further states that those who fear Him will be His special treasure and that they will be spared from destruction when it comes (verse 17).
God certainly draws a distinction between the righteous and the wicked—as the final outcome will make clear (verse 18).
Chapter 4 describes what will befall those who persist in rejecting God and His ways. They will be completely burned up and reduced to ashes (verses 1, 3), utterly annihilated during the reign of Christ (see also Matthew 10:28). This truth may surprise those who anticipate that the wicked will be tormented forever in a fire that never goes out. In spite of its widespread acceptance, that doctrine doesn't come from the Bible. (For more information, request, download or read online our free booklet Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?).
Blessing is again promised to the faithful, for whom "the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in His wings" (verse 2). Many reject this as a messianic reference because the figure is not used in the New Testament. However, since the word "sun" here would seem to denote the source of righteousness, then God is most likely intended. It employs a simple metaphor, comparing the comforting warmth that the rising sun brings upon the cold earth to the comforting healing that the Messiah brings upon a world cut off from God. And His arising on the world to bring healing is certainly the mission of God the Son, Jesus Christ. As for healing in the wings, Christ is compared to "a bird whose comforting wings bring healing to the chicks that gather underneath (see Ps. 91:1-4)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Malachi 4:2). Jesus, Himself used this analogy in Matthew 23:37.
In verse 3 of Malachi 4, the righteous are shown to be ultimately victorious over the wicked.
The Coming Elijah (Malachi 3:13-4:6)
In closing, the book's message calls on readers to remember the law God gave through Moses (verse 4) and then describes the coming of Elijah in the future (verses 5-6). As stated in the Bible Reading Program's introduction to Malachi, the New Testament shows that John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy in part, preparing people for Jesus' first coming. However, Jesus stated that another Elijah was still to come (Matthew 17:11)—apparently to prepare the way before Jesus' second coming.
This Elijah, we are told, would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers lest God strike the earth with a curse—that is, wipe out its inhabitants. In an end-time setting, the people to be prepared are those being brought into the Church of God. So the mission here would seem to involve the building up of families—teaching parents the importance of loving and properly rearing their children as well as providing godly training for the Church's young people, turning their hearts to their parents. Yet there may be more intended by the prophecy.
In the context of John the Baptist's mission, turning the hearts of the children to the fathers is specifically interpreted in Luke 1 to mean turning "many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God" and turning "the disobedient to the wisdom of the just"—again, to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (verses 16-17). This may be why immediately before giving the Elijah prophecy in Malachi 4, God says to remember the law He gave through Moses (verse 4). It could be, then, that the "fathers" in the prophecy are the patriarchs and prophets, whose hearts' desire was for their descendants to be blessed through obedience to God, which they taught. The coming Elijah would then direct the "hearts" (or hearts' desire) of the patriarchal fathers to the children by proclaiming the wisdom and instruction of the fathers about obeying God to the disobedient descendants of Israel in his generation—as the original Elijah did in his day among the Northern Kingdom of Israel and as John the Baptist did in his day among the Jews of Judea. Thereby, the Elijah would in turn direct the hearts of many of these "children" to the "wisdom of the just"—to obeying God. This is the work that God's Church is to be carrying out today, as it preaches the gospel to the entire world and cares for those whom God calls.
With the close of the book of Malachi, we come to the end of the Prophets section of the Old Testament. We turn next to the Writings section. Having already read many items from this section, we will pick up those we have missed.