Malachi 4:1 – “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.
The last few verses of this book act as a summary. Previous truths are reiterated. Sinners are called to awaken from spiritual slumber. The righteous are encouraged to continue in the faith. And God promises a Day of Judgment for all; to punish some, reward others and vindicate the ways of God.
Behold… Take special note of what God is revealing here. It will be of vital importance to the reader.
…the day is coming… Which day is Malachi referring to? The first coming of Christ, or the second or both?
Right you are, it’s both! Actually, this is a great example of how God’s prophesies are true for every generation and often have multiple levels of fulfillment.
…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… Let’s begin with the generation of Israelites who first received this word from Malachi. For them, the first coming of Jesus (as Messiah) was still in the future. In fact, it was still almost 400 years in the future.
At that time, many of the Jews were practicing empty and vain worship of God. As we saw in our study of the gospel of Matthew, they relied on outward actions to justify themselves, when in reality their hearts were evil and corrupt.
John the Baptist came, calling them to repentance. Jesus followed, preaching the Kingdom of Heaven and calling the Jews to embrace him as the long promised Messiah. But as we know, the majority rejected him and chose to continue in wickedness.
Thus the wicked or unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day became enemies of God. They are spiritual ‘stubble’ or the useless part of the stem leftover after wheat is harvested. Stubble is good for nothing, so it is often burned. This is contrasted with those who believed in Christ, represented as wheat, which is stored up or saved in the storehouses of God.
In summary, God is saying that the Jews who rejected Jesus were spiritually dead and good for nothing; the coming of Jesus consumed them until nothing was left, much like a hot fire would consume stubble. Everything they trusted in was gone because it was a sham.
Psalms 21:9 – You will make them [unbelievers/enemies] as a blazing oven when you appear. The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.
I want to make another point on this issue. Each man decided for himself whether he would be wheat or stubble. For those who trusted in Jesus, the fire of his coming was not a furnace of destruction, but a refiner’s fire – it purged them, removing the filth of this world, making them pure and holy. So it is with all those who trust in Christ (I Corinthians 3:13-15).
Many biblical scholars see a literal fulfillment of this prophesy in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. At that time, the temple was indeed set on fire, and many of the stubborn Jews who rejected Jesus were burned up in that blaze. It can certainly be noted that everything they trusted in (the temple, the old covenant, the nation) was destroyed.
What about our own generation? The coming of Jesus as Messiah has passed into history, but his return as the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the judge of all the earth is still in the future.
Our generation faces the exact same choice the Jews did so long ago: What will we do with Jesus? Do we believe he is the Messiah, the Son of God who can atone for our sin, or is he just a prophet/good man?
Those who trust in Jesus during the age of grace are like wheat. Jesus will see that we are gathered together and placed in the store house of God, which is representative of us being saved and taken to heaven with him, at the end of time.
Matthew 13:41-43- The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father…
Meanwhile, all those who reject Jesus are again likened to stubble. They will be gathered and sentenced to the fires of hell at the conclusion of this age. In short, Christ is a consuming fire to those that rebel against him.
So, in some ways, nothing has changed. Jesus is the lynchpin upon which eternity rests. That was true back in the days he walked the earth, and it is still true now. What will you decide to do with Jesus?
… so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. This is a proverbial expression for total destruction.
The roots of a tree are unseen, delving deep into the earth. Even if you cut it down, the roots may still be alive. If so, they will send up new shoots in an attempt to re-grow the tree. This indicates that although the tree was cut down, there was still life within it (Job 14:7-9).
Branches are the part of the tree that bear fruit, and thus continue the species or lineage of the tree.
This is an analogy for mankind. The roots represent the ancestry of a group/family/nation of people (in this case, the wicked), while the branches represent future generations. When God cuts them off during the time of his judgment, they will be completed destroyed. There will be no root left to spring up again, nor will there be any branches to bear fruit or continue their lineage. They will be totally and completely destroyed; wiped from the face of the earth. This will be the outcome of the wicked.
Malachi 4:2 – 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.
While a promise of destruction awaits the wicked, a promise of life and healing awaits the righteous. Those who faithfully serve Christ, who fear/respect his name and give him the glory he is due, will find mercy and comfort at his return.
The phrase ‘sun of righteousness shall rise with healing it its wings’ is a metaphor. The rising sun diffuses both heat and light, bringing life to creation. All that is healthy in nature revives, prospers and bears fruit with the sun. At the same time, plants that have no depth of root are scorched and wither away.
Spiritually speaking, the Sun of Righteousness clearly refers to Jesus, the light of the world (John 1:1-9).
While the old covenant/law gave man a picture of God and his purposes, it was very dark and limited. When Jesus came bringing the new covenant, he illuminated the plans and purposes of God. Before he came we were blinded by darkness, but now we walk in the light (John 8:12).
Just as the rays of the sun bring life to the earth, so the gospel of Jesus brings mercy and spiritual life to his people. His presence provides his people with health, strength, joy, peace, safety, security and every good thing we need to prosper and bear fruit.
God’s people are destined to ‘go forth’, or to leave where they are at; to go to a new place and to be vigorous and prosperous, to engage in new business.
This promise had a partial fulfillment back in 70 AD, when the believing Jews were warned by Holy Spirit to flee Jerusalem. They did so, and found safety from the Romans in the land of Pella. By the mercy of God, they were spared from the horrors and destruction suffered by the unbelieving Jews who remained in Jerusalem. [We covered these events at length in our study of the gospel of Matthew. Please refer to that study for more information.] They went on to rebuild their lives and perpetuate their nation.
We can expect a complete fulfillment of this as well, at some time in the future, when Jesus returns to earth. At that time, the wicked will find their hearts failing with fear (Luke 21:26), while believers can lift up their heads in joy, as their redemption draws nigh (Luke 21:28). We can look forward to the day when we ‘go forth’ from this life to heaven, where we will forever be in the presence of God. Our existence in heaven will not be limited to sitting on clouds and playing harps. God has a great deal in store for us; we can expect to have a productive, vigorous existence in heaven, working for our Father.
At that time, we will be like calves, leaping as they leave the stall. In other words, we will be young, strong, full of life, satisfied, healthy, energetic, happy and content, well taken care of, joyful, ready for new adventures and ready to explore and discover a new world!
Malachi 4:3 – 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.
This statement represents a reversal of what has happened throughout the ages. To the faithful in every generation, it seems that the wicked prosper. And maybe they do. But it will not always be so. God assures his people that a day is coming when the wicked will be ashes (after the stubble is burned in the oven), and that the righteous (collectively the church) will then be raised up by the hand of God to be victorious over the ungodly.
While this assurance brings us hope, it should not produce arrogance or vengeance in the hearts of the righteous. It is our job to continue to pray for the wicked (Matthew 5:44-45), and share the light of the gospel message, hoping that all men will come to Christ.
This is going to occur in God’s perfect timing, which has not been revealed to us. We must live by faith until we see this promise come to pass. Many generations of the righteous have not only lived in faith for this day, but they have died without receiving the fulfillment (indeed, many have felt death through the hand of the wicked). No matter what our circumstances, we must hold firm to the promise of God and faithfully look for this day to come.
Malachi 4:4 –“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statures and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
At first this statement may seem a bit out of place, but when you consider this book as a whole, it makes perfect sense.
Earlier in this book, we found the Israelites asking ‘Where is the God of judgment? What profit is there in keeping/obeying his laws?’ God responds to their questions, telling them of the judgment that was to come. The Day of Judgment is an accounting for all mankind. The wicked will be destroyed, while the righteous will be rewarded. In view of that, the Jews should take a fresh look at the Law.
But the full meaning goes even deeper than this.
The true prophetic word of God was never really new revelation or new doctrine from God. Rather, the prophets were constantly calling the people back to a more perfect obedience to God’s laws – laws that had already been given through Moses. The words of the prophets never contradicted the Law that had already been given.
Now consider that after these words of Malachi, there will be no other prophetic words from God until John the Baptist. This equates to about 400 of ‘silence’ from God. In that interim where there would be no prophet, what could the people count on to keep themselves on the paths of righteousness? The Law, of course. So it was imperative that they took the initiative to examine the law themselves, and then to keep/obey God’s statutes and commands. It was vital that they continue to pass this information down from generation to generation.
Deuteronomy 29:29 – The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but he things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
The Jews who understood and kept the law in future generations, would be the best prepared to repent under the ministry of John the Baptist, and accept Christ as Messiah and Lord.
The Jews who were far from the law, were more likely to side with the blind and envious religious leaders and reject Christ, their only hope of salvation.
This call back to the Law probably touched the people of God very deeply. How did Israel regard the Law? For them, it was an integral part of their heritage. Of all the people groups on earth, God had chosen to be in covenant with them, and he had trusted only them with his laws. So, the law was something that separated Israel from all the pagan nations. It was a source of national pride for them.
So when God commands them to remember the law, it not only reminds them to refresh their knowledge, it is a reminder that they are a nation in covenant with God himself. They are in a position of honor; they are God’s chosen people. This was extra incentive for them to embrace and enforce the law, which they claimed to love.
This verse is also a reminder of the authority behind the law. It did not come from Moses, it came from God through Moses. Thus, God reminds them not to neglect the law, for it carries the full weight of his authority.
Not only are they to hold onto the Law, but they must expectantly look forward to the coming of the Messiah. His coming will be announced by Elijah.
Malachi 4:5-6 – “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.
We know that during the days of Jesus it was the universal opinion of the Jews that when Christ was upon the earth, he would be received by the learned and unlearned, both the high officials and the common people, and that Elijah should be the one to usher him in and anoint him. All the Jews of that day expected Elijah to come and restore all things.
But the prophesy of Malachi neither specifically states nor implies that Elijah the Tishbite would come in person. If anyone else came in the spirit and power of Elijah, that is, if anyone came to fulfill the same kind of spiritual role he did, then Malachi’s words would be fulfilled.
What was the ministry of Elijah? He came during a dark time in Israel’s history. God used him to ignite a national reformation to convert both fathers and children from their evil practices/idolatry/vain worship, and to restore a true sense of religion.
And what was the ministry of John the Baptist? Just like Elijah, God used him to ignite a national reformation; a call to repentance, to convert all the Jews from their evil practices/idolatry/vain worship, and to prepare them to receive Jesus as the Messiah.
Clearly, all the common people recognized that John was a prophet (Matthew 14:5, 21:26) and even the religious leaders thought he was Elijah (John 1:19-21). The angel Gabriel specifically states the John is the Elijah who was to come (Luke 1:16-17), and Jesus confirms his message (Matthew 11:10, Luke 7:27).
Matthew 17:10-13 – And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not… Then the disciples understood that he spoke unto them of John the Baptist.
We further notice the timing of the prophet – he would come before the great and awesome/dreadful day of the Lord.
Of course that is true of John the Baptist, who was six months older than Jesus and who began his call to repentance a couple of years before Jesus began his public ministry.
The time of Christ incarnate was indeed a ‘great and awesome’ or ‘great and dreadful’ day. It was great because he fulfilled the old covenant, ushered in the new covenant, wrought countless miracles, conquered Satan and sent us Holy Spirit.
But for the unbelieving Jews, it was a dreadful time of judgment. They had been warned to escape from the coming judgment (Matthew 3:7, 3:10) because Christ was about to gather the wheat into his barn and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12). As we have already noted, the coming of the Lord is a great and joyful day to those who embrace him, but a day of wrath and dread for those who oppose him.
So, John the Baptist was the ‘Elijah’ that was mentioned here in Malachi chapter four.
But is it possible that the Jews were correct on some level?
There is still a great and dreadful day coming, when the Lord Jesus will return to earth again, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. At this time, he will come as judge of the whole earth, bringing reward for those who love him and punishment for those who reject him. The events of his coming are detailed in the book of Revelation.
Revelation chapter 11 speaks of two witnesses who will prophesy and testify for a period of time (3 ½ years) during the great tribulation. While the two witnesses are not named, some scholars feel they might be Enoch and Elijah, the two men who did not die, but were translated to heaven. If this winds up being the case, then Elijah will indeed come again, just before the final great and terrible day of the Lord.
However, we don’t want to waste a lot of time in speculation. What we want to do is be ready for the coming of the Lord. We do this by repenting of our sin, asking Jesus to forgive us and fill us with his Holy Spirit. If we ask him, he will be faithful to make us a new creation, and write our names in the Lamb’s book of Life.
Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through him. To those who do come, he has promised eternal life with no more worries, pain, fear, heartache, disease or despair. If you haven’t given your life to him yet, what are you waiting for?
You can become a child of God today, right this minute, by praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:
Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner. I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin. I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior. I commit myself to you right now. Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life. Amen.
If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ!