The prophet Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and the book that bears his name is the concluding document of the Hebrew Bible. His ministry is located at some point after Ezra led the second movement of Jews back from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6), and Nehemiah’s second return to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13:6), thus possibly between the years 457-432 B.C.
One of Malachi’s prophecies reads:
Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, behold, he comes, says Jehovah of hosts (3:1).
The prophecy is clearly Messianic. Christ is depicted as the “Lord whom you seek,” and characterized further as “the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.”
In addition to the Lord Jesus, the ministry and message of John the Baptizer is mentioned as well. John is clearly the object of the “my messenger” portion of the prophecy. This is confirmed by the Savior himself when, referring both to Malachi’s prophecy and to John, Jesus said: “This is he, of whom it is written” (Matthew 11:10).
Let us consider several of the important points in this oracle.
- The source of the prophecy is “Jehovah of hosts” (3:1b).
- Jehovah will send a “messenger.” One subsequently learns that this “messenger” is designated as “Elijah” (4:5), yet not the literal Elijah (who had been gone from the earth for centuries), but one who would be “in the spirit and power” of the Old Testament prophet—John the Baptizer (see Luke 1:17; cf. Matthew 11:14; John 1:21).
- Malachi characterizes John’s ministry as one that would “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (4:6). This clause is a bit ambiguous. It may mean that the “children” (i.e., many of the Jews of Jesus’ day) would embrace the hope of their fathers by accepting the Messiah, and thus, in a manner of speaking, the patriarchs would rejoice at the fruition of God’s plan in their offspring (see Luke 1:16-17).
- For others, a terrible “curse” would come. Some see this as a hint of the destruction of Judaism by the Romans in A.D. 70, and perhaps a reference to the Judgment day.
There is a special point in 3:1, however, that deserves more detailed attention. In the text “Jehovah of hosts” declares that the special messenger (John) will prepare the way “before me.” Since John was preparing the way for Christ, would it not follow that the “Jehovah” of this context was Christ himself?
On the other hand, the speaker, “me” (in the first person) appears to be distinguished from “the Lord” who is coming to “his” (third person) temple. To further complicate this grammatical “maze,” there is the fact that when Malachi 3:1 is quoted in the New Testament (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27), in each instance Malachi’s first person, “me,” is changed to “you” (second person – “thee, thy” KJV, ASV), thus differing from both the Hebrew and Greek versions.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have altered the text to make the application of the prophecy find its fulfillment in Christ. There are two vantage points from which one might view this matter, and neither necessarily excludes the other.
First, with the coming of Christ there was a sense in which the Father had come (see John 14:9). Jesus was the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), the “very image of his substance” (Hebrews 1:3). Actually, the mission of the Two was “one” (John 10:30).
On the other hand, it is imperative that we acknowledge that Jesus himself may be designated as “Jehovah,” since the name depicts a self-existing, eternal One, and Christ is precisely that (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 8:58). In fact, there are several Old Testament texts that reference “Jehovah,” but in which Jesus clearly is the object of the name (see Isaiah 40:3; 44:6; cf. Isaiah 8:13 with 1 Peter 3:15).
This amazing prophecy is filled with gems of truth that are profound indeed. How utterly thrilling are the prophecies of the Bible — a genuine proof of its inspiration!