Digging Deeper into Scripture: Malachi 4:1–6

There is a danger to adopting an attitude toward the end of the world that falls at one extreme or the other. One person may be so unconcerned about the return of Jesus Christ, allowing the days, months, and years of life to pass with barely a thought about sin, judgment, condemnation, and hell. Such a person is a fulfillment of the seed that is scattered among thorns, as Jesus explains in the parable of the sower (see Matthew 13). On the other hand, another person could be so consumed with the end of the world that he or she pursues questions the Bible does not answer regarding Judgment Day.

Many false teachers and much heresy has come from these kinds of pursuits. Instead, the Lord would have us take a balanced approach to the end of the world by being diligent in the study of what God tells us and peaceful regarding what He does not.

This month’s reading from Malachi addresses the end of the world. Given that we are approaching the end of the Church year, it is a great opportunity to address it!

The Book of Remembrance

It is vital to note the context of our passage from Malachi. In Malachi 3, our Lord addresses the Book of Remembrance, a record of those who “feared the LORD and esteemed His name” (v. 16). We find references to similar books in Daniel 12 and Revelation. Malachi explains that the Lord will spare everyone whose name is written in this book and that there will be a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The Lord continues in Malachi 4:

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. (v. 1)

It would be troublesome to read this verse and conclude that our works determine where we spend eternity. In John 3, Jesus explains that there is salvation with Christ and condemnation without Him. So “the arrogant and all evildoers” are those who have, in their pride, rejected the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and instead embraced the wickedness of sin. Notice the complete destruction that will befall these people. God tells us that this eternal death is permanent and irrevocable. The Bible is replete with references to the everlasting nature of hell, and Jesus refers to a “great chasm,” over which no one can cross, in His Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:26).

God’s Comfort for Remaining Faithful

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.  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. (Malachi 4:2–3)

These words provide profound comfort for Malachi’s listeners and those who have suffered for faith in Jesus Christ. There will be a time of vindication. For the Israelites who trusted in the Messiah to come, it was the perpetual harassment of foreign invaders. For John’s readers in the Book of Revelation, it was the persecution of Rome: unfair taxation, rejection, confiscation of land, theft, imprisonment, and murder. Many suffer this way today. For most living in the United States, it is mockery, contempt, and rejection. God’s message remains the same: Remain faithful and receive a crown of life.

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. (Malachi 4:5–6)

This Elijah is none other than John the Baptist, who heralded our Savior, Jesus Christ. Although John’s message was often one of sharp rebuke, we recognize the amazing grace of God to send such a figure. God could have justly allowed John’s hearers to continue ignorantly into destruction. Some did, rejecting the call to repentance.

When Will the End Come?

Perhaps the most common question I am asked regarding the return of Christ is “When will He return?” We do not know. We do know that we are living in the end times. This period began when Jesus ascended into heaven. It will culminate when Jesus returns. The thousand years Revelation refers to is not an exact thousand years. It is a length of time known only by God. During this time, Satan will be bound, limited by God’s power from attacking and destroying the Church on earth. There will be a time when Satan is released. The question remains whether we are living in that time of intensification. What remains most important for Christians is what Jesus has done for us. He won the victory over sin, death, and the power of Satan for us on the cross. We receive this victory through faith. Whether Jesus returns tomorrow or in a million years, our salvation is secure.

Scripture: ESV®.

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Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

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