In the Christian Bible the concluding chapter in the Book of Malachi contains the final words of the Old Testament. It would be 400 years before God spoke to Israel again and then His purpose would be to announce the birth of the Messiah. But in Malachi 4 He left Israel with the most important choice in their national history.
The Day Of The Lord
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go out and frolic like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty(Malachi 4:1-3)
In Jeremiah 30:11 the Lord had said the purpose of the time of judgments that we know as the Great Tribulation will be to completely destroy all the nations among which He scatters His people. But He will not completely destroy them. He will only discipline them with justice, he will not let them go entirely unpunished. Here He’s saying that those who survive will be those who revere His name. At the end of the judgment they will emerge with great joy, like young calves being released from the stall in which they were born. Isaiah put it this way;
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12).
What a day that will be. Never again will they be at the mercy of their enemies, for God will be their strength and their shield.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel” (Malachi 4:4).
This was the Lord’s reminder that the way to be found among those who revere His name is to keep His laws. Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai. He was drawing them back to the purpose of His message, which was to call attention to their disobedience.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6)
It’s Your Choice
I’ve found that very few commentators really grasp the full meaning of these verses. The Lord was saying that when Elijah came they would be given a choice. They could either use his coming to return to the Lord or else they would suffer the destruction of the nation.
To see the importance of this, we have to understand that Elijah’s ministry was not one of improving family relationships. It was one of preparing people for the coming of the Lord. Therefore, the phrase “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” has to have a deeper meaning than it would appear to have at first glance.
To find it, we have to realize that while Malachi was addressing the same people through out, he called them the parents in the first part of the phrase and the children in the second part. It sounds confusing to our way of thinking but if you’ll bear with me, you’ll see it all works out.
In Matthew 18:3 Jesus explained what turning the hearts of the parents to their children meant. He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Little children are considered to be innocent. It’s not that they don’t sin, but their sins are not counted against them. To enter the Kingdom, the parents had to become like their children so that their sins would not be counted against them. The only way they could do that is to have all their sins forgiven, and that’s exactly what Jesus came to do for them.
Now for the part about turning the hearts of the children to their parents. The word translated “parents” also means “forefathers”. This part means they had to return to the ways of their forefathers who were obedient to the Lord, who followed all His ways and were blessed.
During their time in the wilderness, the Lord had told them,
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).
They agreed and were given a nation of their own and a life that was the envy of everyone who heard of it.
So in plain language here’s what Malachi 4:5-6 means. The Lord was going to send Elijah to introduce the Messiah to Israel. They would have to accept Him as the “Sun of Righteousness” with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2) who would forgive their transgressions and cover their sins, making them as innocent as children in the Lord’s sight. And they had to return to the ways of their forefathers who had promised to obey the Lord and do everything He said. Otherwise the land would be cursed.
This was a choice for them to make, and the way they chose would determine the course of history for thousands of years to come. There’s a reason why so many Old Testament prophecies seem to treat the 1st and 2ndComings as if they were one and the same. It’s because if Israel had chosen differently they would have been. And even though God knew how Israel would choose, the prophecies had to be stated in such a way as to be true no matter which choice they made. Otherwise Israel could have justly accused Him of not giving them a choice at all.
Elijah And John The Baptist
The arrival of John the Baptist could have been the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6. When the angel Gabriel came to John’s father in the Temple to announce his birth, he said,
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.
And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13,17).
Could God have been any more obvious? Gabriel stood in the His Temple and quoted from Malachi 4:5-6 to announce that John the Baptist would minister in the spirit and power of Elijah.
And yet thirty years later, when the officials in Jerusalem sent representatives to ask John if he was Ejijah, he said, “I am not” (John 1:21). Was it already too late for them to recognize the sign and accept him? Or was John speaking prophetically, knowing that they would ultimately reject him?
It appears John was speaking prophetically, because early in His ministry Jesus indicated there was still time to make the right choice. Speaking of John, He said,
“And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matt. 11:14-15)
(The phrase, “whoever has ears let them hear” means, “Listen up! This is important!)
Later, Jesus and three of His disciples came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, where the disciples had just received word from God Himself that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. But they had been taught that Elijah would precede the Messiah. If Jesus was the Messiah where was Elijah? They asked Him about it.
“Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist (Matt.17:10-13).
Well, you know the rest. Having rejected Elijah, they also rejected the Messiah just as Jesus said they would, and the “or else” clause from Malachi 4:5-6 kicked in. The land was struck with a curse that ended in the nation’s destruction.
Don’t Count Them Out Just Yet
Some say this was the end of Israel forever, that when they rejected the Messiah God transferred all His remaining promises from them to the Church. But both James and Paul told us otherwise.
For the last 2,000 years there has been a pause in the fulfillment of Israel’s prophetic destiny while the Lord takes from among the Gentiles a people for himself. This was revealed by James in Acts 15:12-14. James also said after He had done this the Lord would turn His attention once again to Israel and rebuild David’s fallen tent so that the remnant of men could seek Him (Acts 15:16-18).
The particular wording James used literally means the Lord will take out of the Gentiles a people for Himself for the purpose of carrying them away. I believe it was a reference to the rapture of the Church, and since it will happen before the Lord turns again to Israel, it means the rapture will precede Daniel’s 70th week.
(Daniel’s 70th Week is the final seven years of a 490 year period of time set aside for Israel to fulfill all the remaining promises the Lord made to His people (Daniel 9:24-27). It was interrupted after 483 years by the execution of the Messiah, leaving 7 years for future fulfillment).
Paul confirmed this, saying Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in, after which Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-27). Once again a literal understanding of the words Paul used is helpful.
Paul employed two nautical terms in this sentence. In his time the phrase “full number” referred to the number of personnel required to man a ship before it could set sail. The phrase “has come in” means the ship has arrived as its intended destination. From this, we understand that the Church will have to reach a pre-determined number before we can depart. Once that number is reached we will “set sail” for our intended destination, which Jesus identified as “my Father’s house” in John 14:2-3. At that time the hardening Israel has experienced will be removed, and the interrupted process of Israel’s salvation will resume.
These two passages also reveal that just as the coming of Elijah was meant to be a sign to Israel, the re-birth of Israel is meant to be a sign for the Church. As long as there was no Israel, we couldn’t tell how close the end times might be. But now that there is an Israel again that’s no longer the case. Isaiah 11:11 speaks of regathering God’s people into the Land a second time before the End of the Age. The first was after the Babylonian captivity, and the second began in 1948 and continues. That means the end of the age is very close, and the rapture is even closer.
Elijah And Israel
But let’s get back to Elijah and Israel. Is there unfinished business between them? Two hints in the book of Revelation indicate that there is.
The first is in Rev. 11:3, where the two witnesses are introduced. This will happen just before the Great Tribulation, which begins on Earth in Rev. 13. Malachi 4:5 says Elijah will come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. The timing of both prophecies is the same.
When they appear, the two witnesses will prophesy for 1260 days. They will have the power to shut up the heavens so that no rain will fall during the time they are prophesying, and the power to turn water into blood and strike the Earth with every kind of plague (Rev. 11:6). Elijah had the power to prevent rain (1 Kings 17:1) and from James 5:17-18 we learn that the duration of the drought he prayed for was 3 ½ years. This is the same span of time as the ministry of the two witnesses. Of course Moses is the one most clearly identified with turning water to blood and causing plagues. Therefore, I believe he and Elijah will be the two witnesses.
In Rev. 14:12 we’re told that Tribulation believers will be required to obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Remember, this is the meaning we gave to the phrase “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers” from Malachi 4:6. With the rapture, the Age of Grace will come to an end and God will reinstate the Old Covenant with Israel to complete the final seven years of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. During that time believers everywhere will have to keep the commandments and remain faithful to Jesus to maintain their relationship with God.
What’s The Meaning Of This?
Israel missed the sign God promised them, made the wrong choice, and suffered the destruction of their nation. But in Malachi 3:6, the Lord said, “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob are not destroyed.” As both James and Paul said, Israel will get another chance and this time they’ll choose correctly. They’ll say,
“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” ( Hosea 6:1-3)
Gentiles also get two chances. One is to become part of the Church. The only way to do that is to believe that Jesus died for our sins according the the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. By this gospel we are saved. Otherwise we have believed in vain (1 Cor. 15:1-4). To those who choose to become part of the Church, the Lord made a promise to rescue us from the coming wrath of the end times judgments (1 Thes. 1:10).
The second is to wait until the Church is gone before choosing. You won’t get all the blessings promised to the church, and you’ll have to endure the worst series of judgments in the history of the world, but you will inherit eternal life.
I think we can agree that choice number one is the right one. But just as the coming of Elijah was the critical sign to Israel, the re-birth of Israel is the critical sign to the world. They were both intended as a final warning that the time for making the right choice carries an expiration date. The world is in the final moments of grace. If you haven’t made the right choice, do it now while there’s time.