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God’s Word for You

Malachi 4:5 the great and fearful day

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 13, 2021

In the previous verse, Malachi drew our attention to the past, to the Law of Moses. Now he connects the past with the future, to the time when God would send a prophet to announce the coming of the Messiah. Just as in the Transfiguration of Jesus, Moses and Elijah appear here at the end of the Old Testament to show the person of Christ to us all. On the mountain with the Lord in person, they were there to talk with Jesus about his departure, his crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension, “which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). Here they are brought by Malachi into our view to show that the whole of Scripture—Moses and the Prophets—are in complete agreement as to the will of the Lord and the work of Christ on behalf of all mankind. Anyone who rejects Christ rejects the entire Word of God. Whoever believes in Christ has all of the righteousness of Christ and a crystal clear conscience before God as his or her treasured possession.

5 Look! I am going to send Elijah the prophet to you before the great and fearful day of the LORD comes! (EHV)

There are three things that should be correctly identified in this verse. The content of the prophet’s message and his warning will come in verse 6. The word “Look!” (Hebrew hinney) is a finger pointing to something important, for us to see and not forget.

First: God himself would send a prophet before the great day of the LORD. The identity of that prophet is given here as Elijah, whose name is a sermon on the First Commandment: “My God is YAHWEH (Jehovah) the LORD.” Elijah appeared suddenly in the time of the kings, during the reign of Asa, the third king of Judah during the time of the divided kingdom, but preaching to the kings of the north, where people had fallen away from the true faith (1 Kings 17:1). It is that detail that is sometimes lost on us as we read: the prophet would come to those who had fallen away. The New Testament, and Jesus himself, explain that this Elijah that was proclaimed by Malachi was in fact John the Baptist (Matthew 17:11-13).

Today, in Jewish prayers and liturgy, the coming of Elijah still plays an important role. In a common after-meal prayer, Jews will say, “May God in his mercy send us the prophet Elijah.” This is sad and fearsome evidence that John’s preaching is lost on those ears, that Christ is rejected, and those prayers are not heard by God, who does not hear the prayers of unbelievers (Proverbs 28:9).

Second: The coming day of the LORD will be a great day. Luther: “It will magnify; it will give life, justify, save, etc.” The day itself will not do those things, but Christ will do them all on that day, and so it will be forever remembered as the day of Salvation for all with faith in Christ. Now are we to understand this as the day of Christ’s first coming, or his second coming? Malachi looks ahead to both, and both the advents of Christ are great days for believers. It would be arrogant and misleading to insist that this is one but not the other. We look to the ascent of Christ out of the water of his baptism and the beginning of his great ministry as the Great Day of the Lord, and we also look to the descent of Christ out of the clouds and the End of the World as the Great Day of the Lord.

Third: The coming day of the LORD will be a fearful, dreadful day. The Hebrew participle in this context preaches the law. This word, “fearful,”  can be a description of God when he comes, such as when he comes to destroy (Zephaniah 2:11), or in his awesome majesty (Job 37:22). It is also used of “a people feared far and wide” (Isaiah 18:2), and here the fearful is mixed with the divine appearance of everything associated with God, We might call it his terrible splendor. God will come to strike the world with judgment and destruction, and that will be the subject of the next verse, the final word of the Old Testament Scriptures.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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