Meditations in Malachi : 40. A Dreadful Day
Mal 4:5,6 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
I suspect so much of what I said in the previous meditation went against so much of traditional (and, I believe, unsatisfactory) interpretations of these verses, and it may be wise, therefore, to recap some of the key things we said, or implied, in that previous meditation.
First of all there is our spiteful nature versus God’s gracious nature. Like James and John (Lk9:54) we would like to call fire down on people we don’t like and specifically on evil doers. We see specific instances where God did deal violently with enemies in the Old Testament but, I would suggest, these were primitive times of limited revelation. When we come to the New Testament, with a much fuller revelation brought by the Son of God himself, we find very little of this. Yes, Ananias and Sapphira were taken to glory prematurely (Acts 5) to bring a sense of holiness to the new church, and yes, members of the church at Corinth were dying prematurely for their unholy behaviour (1 Cor 11) and yes, Herod died from worms (Acts 12;23), but these are rare instances to restore the sense of the holiness of God among His people. For the vast majority of the time God did NOT bring physical judgment and indeed Jesus spoke against such an interpretation in the case of a major catastrophe (Lk13:14). Yes, Jesus did warn the people that they would perish if they did not repent, but there is no suggestion that that would be immediate rather than in eternity, which is the usual teaching.
Second, there is the question of what I have simply referred to as picturesque prophetic language, language that is very graphic. As I sought to show in the case of John the Baptist being the fulfilment of the word at the end of this little book, I believe the effect of the word of God bringing conviction and repentance can easily be seen as the fulfilment of the very graphic language that comes through the prophets. Many of the things in respect of Jesus were fulfilled literally, but actually much of the prophetic language about the Messiah was sufficiently obscure as to create at least two different schools of interpretation about the nature of the Messiah.
Third, to recap what we said about the two messengers implied in these prophecies, the fulfilment has surely got to be first John the Baptist coming to prepare the way for Jesus, by softening or convicting the hearts of the people so they repented and turned back to God. That left Jesus able to come to his people to simply explain the Father’s love and then act as the Lamb of God who would earn our salvation.
Now, having cleared those things out of the way, we need to face something that we have not yet commented upon, which is the description of what was going to happen in our verses we’ve had before us in these last two meditations in this series. Observe: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” Elijah (John) is going to come BEFORE “the day” that has been referred to again and again, the day when God will come Himself. Note two descriptions of that day. First it is ‘great’ and second, it is ‘dreadful’. Now I would like to suggest to you that the interpretation of this is incredibly simple.
First can we understand that this ‘day’ is not a twenty four hour day, but a specific period in history designated by God? It was in fact a thirty three year period. First it is a ‘great’ day because never before had God come to dwell on earth. This fact is, of course, the thing that many people stumble over – that Jesus was God in the flesh, but that is the clear testimony of the New Testament. Moreover that he was God who had come down from heaven where he had existed before his existence on earth (Check out Jn 6:33,41,51, 17:5). Never before has such a wonderful thing happened. For those who were privileged to live there in that period, they were witnesses. As Jesus said of his own ministry, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) That was indeed a great day!
But then, at the end of it, the world rejected him and hung him on a Cross and watched him die in the most horrible way possible. We see the reality of what could have happened through Jesus’ own words to his disciples in the Gardenof Gethsemane: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53). One word from the Father and the earth could have been obliterated. Instead the Father stood back and watched as the plan of the Godhead, created before the world began, was taken step by ghastly step to its fulfilment – and the Son died for our sins while the hoards of hell railed against him (see prophetic Psa 22). This was indeed a ‘dreadful’ day! Dreadful not because destruction fell on the earth, but dreadful because of the terrible thing humanity did to the Son of God.
Oh, yes, this was indeed a great and dreadful day (period). Ponder on the wonder of it and the awfulness of it, and give thanks to God for His mercy and grace. The word WAS fulfilled perfectly. Thank you Malachi. Amen.