Teaching Jesus in the Old Testament: Malachi 3:1–2

The den of our home features a set of large windows. Aside from the aesthetic beauty of their shape and design, the windows also let in a more-than-ample amount of glorious sunshine throughout the year. Little compares to napping in the easy chair with beams of solar warmth pouring over you. The only downside to so much light is that the illumination mercilessly reveals the dust all over the furniture and television and even floating through the air. I just dusted yesterday! Light is glorious except when it reveals imperfections.

The Lord speaks to His people through the prophet Malachi in the fifth century before Christ regarding a similarly thorough revelation.

Malachi 3:1–2

Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

Who is the messenger?

First, the Lord refers to the messenger, John the Baptist. Indeed, John will reveal the sins of the people as sunshine reveals dust, holding them accountable with words such as “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” and “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7, 9). More importantly, John serves as Jesus’ herald, the one who announces the coming of another one far more important. John’s job (aside from baptizing our Lord) was to convict his hearers of their sins and point them to Jesus Christ as the solution. John is the last prophet of the Old Testament, proclaiming that Jesus is the promised Savior, the fulfillment of God’s covenant with His people.

Who is accountable?

Jesus also held His listeners accountable for sin. Far from being a soft pushover, as Jesus is described sometimes today, our Lord regularly addressed sin during His ministry on earth (and today as He continues to address each of us through the Bible). What makes Jesus infinitely greater than John is that not only did Mary’s Son hold sinners accountable but He also ultimately became accountable for the sins of the world. Jesus took to the cross the consequences of our sins: humiliation, suffering, rejection by His Father in heaven, and death. Jesus took upon Himself the fullness of God’s judgment, wrath, and condemnation. Nothing less would redeem us.

What is fullers’ soap?

I am fascinated by the meaning of last names. A smith works with metal, a cooper builds and uses barrels, a fletcher crafts arrows. In my life, I have known a couple of people named Fuller. A fuller uses a certain kind of soap to clean wool, rubbing the soap aggressively against the raw, filthy wool to remove impurities and make it white. Malachi uses the image of the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap to express the work Jesus does through His Word and Sacraments. Jesus washes away our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness and impurity—every single spot.

When Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will cleanse and restore His creation. And only those who have been cleansed through faith will be able to live with Him in that perfect creation. Those who do not know Him, who were never cleansed from their sin in this life, will be condemned and spend eternity in the agony and torment of hell. But you may wonder, don’t we read in John 3:17 that Jesus did not come to condemn the world? Why, then, do we say in the creed that Jesus will come to judge the living and dead? Jesus will judge, but only on one criterion: faith in Christ. Remember, since Jesus already suffered for the sins of the world, every single person has the opportunity to be cleansed, but all those who reject Him and His cleansing will be condemned.

Why should God forgive “horrible sinners”?

Relatedly, someone may object and ask why God needs to clean us so thoroughly. During my ministry, I have had several people ask why God doesn’t just immediately cast murderers, rapists, and other monsters into hell. Wouldn’t such a purging make the world a much better place? No doubt it would. Yet, if such people were gone, then wouldn’t we expect God to wipe out all bank robbers, traitors, and liars too? But why should God’s judgment stop there? If we ask God to wipe out one level of sinners after another (as if there were such a thing), He would finally reach each one of us. What if someone thinks that the world would be a better place without you? The reality is that Philip J. Rigdon has made the world a harder place to live—if not for all the people in the world, then certainly for a myriad of individuals. You see the point. Exactly how thorough would you like God to be?

Why, then, does God need to be so thorough?

The first, best answer is that God is perfect and He can’t tolerate—or be eternally in the presence of—anything less than perfection. His standard is right, good, and best. Additionally, consider this: Where would you like to spend eternity? How about a place where things are pretty good, allowing only for the occasional sin? How about a place where you are almost perfect, allowing you and others to suffer from your even mildest sins forever and ever? No, only perfect will do. This is what you have in Jesus Christ; in Him you are perfect, absolutely righteous. He has cleansed you completely. What is more, you will spend eternity in a perfect heaven and earth. It is and will always be as Revelation 21:4 describes: without crying, mourning, tears, or death. We recall the final verse of this chapter as it describes the holy Jerusalem: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Through faith in the Lamb, you are spotless and clean. Your name is written in that book of life, and so is mine.

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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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