The way in which the Old Testament revelation comes to a close ought to be a matter of supreme interest to believers. After thousands of years of God revealing His plan of redemption through His prophets, He spoke one final word of revelation through the Old Testament prophet Malach prior to the 400 year period of inter-testamental silence. The book of Malachi has certainly not been the recipient of the same amount of attention as is true of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel; nor has it found it’s place as one of the foremost loved of the minor prophetic writings. Hosea, Joel, Jonah, Zechariah and Zephaniah have all been given a great deal more airtime. In fact, there are not all that many substantive commentaries written about Malachi’s curtain closing prophecy. “Malachi is often denigrated as a second-rate piece of prophetic literature.”1
Malachi wrote at a time when Israel had been restored from their exile-judgment in Babylon; and yet, at a time when Israel was already turning away again from the LORD. O. Palmer Robertson explains:
Seventy-five years after these early restoration prophets (i.e. Haggai and Zechariah), Malachi appeared on the scene. The circumstances of his day were entirely different than the initial state of things at the time of Israel’s restoration. A priesthood was actually functioning in offering sacrifices regularly at the restored Temple. The people who had returned from exile with such high hopes had settled down to a humdrum routine. Elements of the lifestyle of the non-Israelite community had been absorbed by the people. Even complaints about the inactivity of their God were being voiced.2
The structure of the book covers a multitude of themes ranging from worship, marriage, and work. There is, however, a clear focus on Gospel and Law, blessing and cursing, redemption and judgment in the final chapter of the revelation given before the coming of the Lord in the Person of Jesus.
What is most fascinating about the final chapter of the Old Testament is the way in which God reminds Israel of the past and sets before them the future consummation as it centers on the Redeemer and His saving work. John Murray helpfully explained the retrospective/prospective nature of the message of the final chapter of the OT:
Malachi writes, “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments” (Mal. 4:4). It is surely of the greatest weight that the long line of Old Testament prophetic witness should come to its close with so insistent an appeal for devotion to the law of Moses, the Lord’s servant, and that the intertestamentary period should be bridged, as it were, by the retrospective and the prospective, the appeal to Moses, on the one hand, and the promise of the resumption of the prophetic voice in him than whom there should not have arisen a greater, namely, John the Baptist, on the other (cf. chap. 4:5).3
Looking far into the future, Malachi brings the reality of judgment before the eyes of the newly restored Israelites, in order to bring them to a place where they would see their need for the more imminent coming of the Redeemer into the world for redemption. In Malachi 4:1 we learn that “the God who is right will make people right because He will heal all wrongs, and make everything wrong right, and if it won’t be made right He will banish it.”4 The Redeemer would be “the Sun of Righteousness” (4:2) who would be preceded by “Elijah” (4:5). We know from our Lord Jesus that John the Baptist was the “Elijah to come” (Matt. 11:14) of whom Malachi spoke. John existed to point men to Jesus. If men would heed John’s call to repent, and they would embrace Jesus as the Savior of sinners, they would be healed. “The Sun of Righteousness” would come “with healing in His beams.” Concerning the promise of “the Sun of Righteousness,” Jonathan Edwards noted:
Malachi prophesies of the beginning of this gospel day as the rising of the Sun. “The day cometh,” says he, and “the Sun of righteousness shall arise.” Hitherto, the church had been without the light of the Sun any otherwise than as reflected as it were from the moon and stars. It was a long night from the fall of man to the coming of Christ, and the prophets thereof joyfully foretold of the glorious day and the Sun’s rising after such a long night of darkness.
The light of the prophets, that were as it were the stars of that night, went out sometime before the Sun arose. And Malachi, being the last of those stars that we have any account of the life of, the verily Prophet, when he was about to withdraw his shining, soon after which there were to shine no more such stars, he comforts the church under this cessation of their former, small, twinkling lights, with foretelling of the approach of day when the Sun of righteousness would arise; when, instead of the stars, they should have the light of the Sun itself, which should be immensely more glorious than of all the prophets or old testament stars. This day includes the whole time of Christ’s kingdom after his coming, from its first setting up at his first coming till its consummation at his second coming.5
The final word of God to the covenant people in the Old Testament is a word of hope. Herman Hoeksema explained:
With this beautiful promise, standing at the close of the Old Testament prophecy leaves the Church of the old dispensation, enveloped as yet by the darkness of the night of sin and death, but steadfastly facing the East, and eagerly scanning the horizon for signs of the coming dawn. For the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.6
It is fitting that the Lord closes the Old Testament revelation out with such a rich reference to the coming Christ. Jesus Himself taught His disciples that “all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). How can we not expect that the period of preparation and anticipation should end with a focus on the One who is Himself the fulfillment of all things?
When we move from Malachi into the New Testament we find many significant references to “light” with regard to the Person and work of Christ. In his prophetic song about the coming Redeemer, Zechariah said, “the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). The aged Simeon also used the figure of “light” to denote the significance of the birth of Jesus when he prophesied saying, “My eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples–A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). It is, no doubt, significant also that a star led the wise men to the place where the Sun of Righteousness dwelt. Jesus spoke of Himself as “the Light of the world”–which is as much as if He said explicitly that He was “the Sun of Righteousness.” The Sun served as the greatest natural object by which the glory of Christ could be illustrated. The apostle John declared that Jesus “was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). Elsewhere John explained that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”
It seems significant that when “the Sun of Righteousness” was suffering for the sin of His people at Calvary “the [physical] sun was darkened” (Luke 23:45). In order for the “healing beams” of “the Sun of Righteousness” to be directed to His people, the Son Himself had to fall under the dark night of God’s judgment. It is in this way that believers now anticipate being with “the Sun of Righteousness” in glory, and seeing the glory which the Father has given Him on account of His finished work. Edwards remarked:
The future appearance of Christ in his glory at the day of judgment, that will be most pleasant and joyful to the saints, will be dreadful and amazing to those that have rejected Christ. At the day of judgment, the Sun of righteousness shall appear in its greatest glory; Christ shall then come in the glory of his Father, and all the holy angels with him. In the morning of that day, this Sun shall arise and shine forth with rays inconceivably bright.
He shall shine with a brightness far exceeding the brightness of the natural sun, even so much that the sun shall be turned into darkness before it. It shall appear dark in comparison of it.
This shall be the most joyful and pleasant sight to believers that ever their eyes beheld. It will be a thousand times more refreshing to them than ever was the sight of the rising sun to them that have wandered in a wilderness, through the longest and darkest night. The sight of [it] will fill their souls with unspeakable gladness and rejoicing. It will be a bright day to the saints. The beams of that glorious Sun that will then appear will make it bright. The earth will be lightened with his glory, and the light of his glory that the world will then be filled with will be a sweet light to them. That brightness that the disciples saw on the Mount when Christ was transfigured before them was some resemblance of it: that was most pleasant to the disciples, so that they said it was good to be there, and were for building tabernacles that they might dwell there; and Peter calls [it] an “excellent glory” that they saw there (2 Peter 1:17).7
1. O. Palmer Robertson The Christ of the Prophets (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004) p. 391
2. Ibid., p. 390
3. John Murray “The Attestation of Scripture” The Infallible Word (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing)
4. Taken from a sermon preached by William Still on Malachi 4.
5. Jonathan Edwards “Christ, the Spiritual Sun” Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742 (WJE Online Vol. 22) (Yale University Press)
6. Herman Hoeksema The Mystery of Bethlehem (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1944) p. 18
7. Edwards “Christ, the Spiritual Sun“