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New Testament Eschatology -- Old Testament Background

Conclusion

In this last stop of our very brief Old Testament poetic expedition, we come to the book of Malachi. It is here that a fascinating picture comes to us. The fourth chapter states:
Malachi 4. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.

"But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.

“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

The importance of this passage is profound and yet it is mostly overlooked. This is the passage that bridges the Old Testament with the New Testament. As can be seen, this passage has all of the 'classic' symbols of apocalyptic (poetic) language: judgment day, burning like a furnace, the arrogant and wicked consumed, etc. As we know, this language is typical of the desolation of a nation. But which nation? It is referring to Israel as can be seen in verse 4 (see also Malachi 1.1).

While we could chase a lot of rabbits in this passage, I want us to focus on the last paragraph. YHWH promised that Elijah would come before the 'great and dreadful day'. Now, some people have supposed this passage refers to the 'end of time'. But we have been given a clue that points to a more ancient fulfillment. Elijah.

With this image of Elijah coming before the 'great and dreadful day', let's look at a couple of passages in the Gospels. Our first passage is found in Luke, the first chapter.
Luke 1.11-17. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Did you notice that? the angel told Zechariah that John would 'turn the hearts of the fathers to their children'. This is a direct quote from Malachi 4. The angel is saying that John was 'Elijah' who was promised in Malachi. To look a little further in this amazing symbol, this poetic image, let's look at Matthew 17.

Matthew 17.10-13. Then his disciples asked him, “Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?”

Jesus replied, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him. And in the same way they will also make the Son of Man suffer.” Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.

Not only did the angel say that John would be 'Elijah', but Jesus also recognized this. The implication here is, simply, that if John was Elijah, then Jesus must be the Messiah. That is the question asked by the disciples and answered by Jesus. Jesus even used the Messianic phrase, 'Son of Man' pointing, again, to the possibility that he is the long awaited Messiah and, therefore, John was 'Elijah'.

Now do we see why I stated that Malachi was a bridge passage? It referred to things that would bridge the Old Testament story with the New Testament story. It spoke of something that would happen to Israel, within her lifetime, in the 'natural' realm. When we open the New Testament, we see the fulfillment of that prediction in John the Baptist.

But what about the 'great and dreadful day'?

This question will be addressed next time as we start looking at some of the New Testament passages. Until then...

Peace be with you.

OD

Comments

Ted M. Gossard said…
OD,
I liked that. Nice teaching and a good way to put it.
Thanks.

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