A Pure People

The question posed in 2:17 sets the stage for this section of Malachi. This attitude of accusation toward God is repeated in 3:13-15. Those that accuse God of indifference or injustice have seen virtually nothing of their own sin and have, therefore, no sense of the infinite patience of God. Without a view of personal sin combined with gratitude in the expectation that only sovereign mercy can grant refuge from sure and eternal destruction, salvation will not enter a sinner’s heart or be his portion in the day of judgment.

I. The God of Justice will Come

A. The Forerunner

1. Office – Messenger: Even as the writer of this book is names Malachi, meaning “My Messenger,” so will the forerunner of the Messiah be the peculiar messenger of Yahweh. As this book has pointed to specific sins and given a serious call to repentance, so will the forerunner bring a message of repentance. John the Baptist knew himself to be the “voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He knew that the one that came after him was to be preferred before him for, in truth, he was before him, referring to the preexistence of the one he announced as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

2. Work Prepare the way (Cf. 4:6)

 He would preach a message that forgiveness of sins was only possible in the presence of repentance from sin. This is reiterated in 4:5, 6 using the reconciliation of parents and children as a manifestation of the intimacy and depth of true repentance.

Not repentance alone, however, can justify God in the forgiveness of sins, so the forerunner would infuse this message with his pointing to the Lamb of God, the sacrificial death of the Christ, in whom we “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7).

B. “The Lord whom ye seek” The God of justice for whom you have asked.

1. The identity – Verse one has identified the Lord as the same one that is sending the messenger. “I . . . my . . . me.” The God who is speaking to the Jerusalemites through Malachi and who will send “malachi” (the Hebrew for my messenger) is the one coming, “The Lord whom ye seek.”

2. He will be recognized by his posture toward the Temple as one of possession- “will suddenly come to his temple.”

His presentation in the temple in Luke 2:22, 25-27 with  Simeon’s recognition of the babe as the Lord’s Christ, salvation (30), a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and “the glory of your people Israel.”

His masterful and authoritative teaching in the temple as a boy of twelve – Luke 2:46-50

His clearing of the temple on two different occasions: Early in his ministry in John 2:13-16 which prompted questions concerning his authority to do such a thing; late in his ministry Matthew 21:12 -17 and Mark 11:15-19 that helped seal the Pharisees and Scribes’ intention to kill Jesus.

His body which in John 2 he said he would raise in three days, an assertion coming immediately after a question about his authority over the temple; this stands as a strong personal conviction that his incarnation fulfilled temple typology.

His church, which is a “holy temple in the Lord” in which God dwells by his Spirit with Jesus Christ Himself as the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20-22)

3. The Messenger of the covenant.- Jesus is the messenger of the covenant

In Leviticus 26:40-45, the Lord gives a message, a summary of his covenant with the forefathers and reminds the people of both the blessings and the curses attached to it. The arrangements of the New Covenant also are implied in that passage (“I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God”).

In Jeremiah 31:31-34 the Lord highlights his message of the utter failure of Israel to abide by the terms of the covenant and the necessity of his taking on the task of fulfilling it both in their own hearts as well as in his promised blessings.

By his death the Messenger of the covenant consummated the actions necessary for initiating the New Covenant of true spiritual change and certain forgiveness of sins.

The writer of Hebrews gives a straightforward application of the sacrificial death of Christ as the fulfillment of this covenant in Hebrews 10:12-18 and incorporates that fulfillment into a benediction in 13:20, 21.

“In whom you delight” – If the Lord indicates by this phrase one of the results of the work of this “Messenger of the covenant,” then he says in earnest that the result of his work will be a true delight and relish for the beauty of the holiness intrinsic to this covenant, already experienced by the elect remnant in Israel. (See David in Psalm 27:4 – “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” To the ones that so worshipped (3:16) this promise would be a great relief and joy; to those that were scowling about God’s apparent partiality, this would be said in sarcasm and would imply a solemn warning that their truculent and sullen attitude would reap a harvest of judgment.

II. The Effect of His Coming

A. The Day of His Coming includes both his first and his second coming. Hebrews indicates (1:2) that the coming of Christ inaugurated the “last days.”

1. It is possible that the first question, “Who can endure the day of his coming?” refers to the events of Jesus earthly life that began the process of sorting out true believers from mere sham religionists that Jesus called “hypocrites” and “white-washed tombs.” John recorded, “There was a division among the Jews because of these words;” that is, Jesus’ claim to have power to lay down his life and to take it up again. The appearance of Jesus was indeed the dividing line among “his own” who received him not and the few that saw him as the Christ, the Son of God who alone was the “way, the truth, and the life.”

2. The second “Who shall stand when he appears?” could refer to the wicked who “will not stand in the day of judgment” (Psalm 1:5). This occurs when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8).

B. He will refine and purify his people –Verses 2b-7

1. The Sons of Levi here stand as a type of the church, now the “chosen race, a royal priesthood.” (1 Peter 2:9). Instead of performing so corruptly and offering polluted sacrifices, they themselves will be purified and “they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” They will present their bodies as living sacrifices as an act of spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). They will be filled with the “fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:11) and this will “be pleasing to the Lord,” (Malachi 3:4) for it will be done “to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:11).

2. He will purify them by the word of truth to love the brethren from a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22)

3. He will purify them by trials of various sorts (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:1-5) and with the skill of the superb silversmith or goldsmith will refine his people through trial to have a faith that is tested and proven (1 Peter 1:6, 7)

4. Verse 5 – He will refine his people by separating them from all manner of worldly perversion and wicked covetousness. These life styles are based on a deadness of soul to the holiness and glory of God. These from whom this holy priesthood is separated live in the framework of those described by Paul as having no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:18). In this life separation from these things should occur on the basis of personal conviction arising from sanctification (Romans 6:22) and the discipline of the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

5. He will refine his people for he is faithful to his covenant – “I, the Lord do not change”.

When left up to their own resolution, the covenant promises of God could not be given to the people (Leviticus 26:14-17) because of their consistent disobedience. But God had made a promise that he would certainly accomplish, and, therefore, because he does not change, he will execute the promise. So he swore in Psalm 89:34-37 “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.”

The call still is for a return to God and the way of conformity to his will, but none will do this without the power operative in the New Covenant. Psalm 102:25-28 shows that the immutability of God is the foundation of the saints’ security.


III. The Fear of God: 3:16-18 – Even within this nation consisting largely of disobedient and unruly complainers, God has a remnant.

A. Those who feared the Lord began to hear this message, recognize its truth, and heed its call to respond. They were in conversation with one another over these matters. They justified God and not themselves. They recognized that God’s threats arose not from peevishness but from holy love and that all his expectations were right and based on the goodness of his rule over the whole world. In short, they exercised faith—trust in the righteousness of God.

B. Their names are recorded before him in a book of remembrance.

1. God claims them as his own –“They shall be mine.” They belong to no one else for he has set his love on them from eternity according to “his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9) and bought them with a price. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).

2. They are called his treasured possession. This constituted the purpose of redemption, that is, “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).

3. In the day of judgment, they will be spared “as a man spares his son who serves him.”

The language here is quite startling for Romans 8:32 says, “He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all . . .” shows that, at one pivotal and immensely pertinent point, for a redemptive purpose, God did not spare his own Son who served him. But the event of submitting himself to the wrath of his Father was the last, the finishing and most crucial, element of the Son’s obedience and service to the Father. Thus, he spared him not, in order that he might spare us; and, he spared him not in order that he might raise him from the dead and place all enemies under his feet. The Son served the Father with no reservation all the way to the end, and finally, though he spared him not during the last course of the Son’s service, he spared him and honored him by making him the first born among many brethren.

Verses 3:18-4:3 – The entire world will see the infinite difference that the true “fear of God” makes.

The God-fearers are righteous and those that do not fear God are wicked.

God fearers serve God and the wicked do not.

The wicked will be punished without mercy and will feel the indignation of the wrath of God and will have no relations to console them, no reserve of fortitude or determination to strengthen their minds, no sense of hope that all will be over after a time, no connections either before or behind them that will provide a bridge of respite. All is lost forever in a great fire of merciless and perfectly just goodness.

God fearers (“for you who fear my name”) will see the glory of the one whose righteousness has fitted them for the enjoyment of the presence of God in eternity (“the sun of righteousness shall rise”). The righteousness that ushers them before judgment with no guilt is not their own but imputed to them from the one, the Son who was spared not, who lived and died in their stead.

“With healing in his wings” – He will give them new bodies that have no present or possible deterioration and are prepared for an eternity of energetic and joyful praise and the most exquisite and pure pleasures of spiritual and heavenly life. All remaining darkness of mind and corruption of soul will be removed so that personal holiness will engage us to the unalloyed “splendor of holiness” in which we will “worship the Lord” (Psalm 29:2)

So uninhibited will be the joy of God-fearers that even the destruction of the wicked will not interrupt the exuberance of both soul and body in the presence of the sovereign Redeemer and just Judge. Those who fear his name will be leaping like calves released from the stall while the destruction of the wicked forms the ground upon which their feet leap.

This will give no pause, no hesitation, no lamentation for it is seen immediately as that which the Lord Himself has done: “On the day when I act” (4:3) All the redeemed will take the side of God in that day and will fully concur in his just judgment as a great manifestation of his glory. This will be seen as fully consistent with the emptying of stored-up wrath on his Son as the source of an unending stream of mercy to those that “feared the Lord and esteemed his name.”

“Hallellujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants. Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’” Revelation 19:1-3.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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