The Coming of Messiah's Justice
October 17, 2004 | Randy Smith
The Coming of Messiah's JusticeMalachi 2:17-3:5
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
As we approach the third chapter of Malachi this morning, we enter what theologians call the fourth oracle or disputation of this book.
The first oracle began in chapter 1, verse 2. "'I have loved you,' says the LORD. But you say, 'How have You loved us?' 'Was not Esau Jacob's brother?' declares the LORD. Yet I have loved Jacob." Though God will pronounce His disgust with Esau's descendents (the Edomites), He initially affirms His covenantal love with Jacob's descendents (the Israelites). Israel would get what they don't deserve -mercy, while Edom would get what they do deserve - judgment. It was His love for Israel that prompted God to give the nation the book of Malachi in calling them to repentance. And it was His love for Israel that should have been the primary motivation that would lead to the nation's obedient living.
The second oracle began in chapter 1, verse 6. "'A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?' says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, 'How have we despised Your name?'" For the duration of two Sundays we learned how the priests were profaning the sacrificial system. You will recall that they were offering to the Lord animals that were blind and lame and sick (Mal. 1:8). They brought these defiled sacrifices because they were bored with serving God (Mal. 1:13). They were bored with serving God because they ceased to revere and honor His name (Mal. 1:6). They ceased to honor His name because they no longer esteemed His greatness (Mal. 1:11). And they failed to acknowledge His greatness because they ceased having a heart for God (Mal. 2:2).
The third oracle began in chapter 2, verse 10. "Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?" This oracle now moves from the priests to the people in general. We learned that the Israelites were profaning the covenant and dealing treacherously with each other through two inexcusable actions. First, they were divorcing their Jewish wives. To this God said in 2:16, "I hate divorce." Second, they were entering a spiritually mixed union by remarrying pagan women from outside the Covenant or the "daughter of a foreign god" (Mal. 2:11). God called this action in 2:11 "an abomination" which "profaned the sanctuary of the Lord."
The fourth oracle, our topic for this morning begins in chapter 2, verse 17. "You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, 'How have we wearied Him?' In that you say, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,' or, 'Where is the God of justice?'"
This morning we'll examine God's answer to the Jew's complaint of His injustice using His own response in chapter 3 verses 1-5. First, I'd do my best to explain the prophetic nature of these verses. And then I'll present to you some specific answers to the original complaint of God's injustice that I trust you will find applicable and encouraging to your own lives.
1 THE PROPHECY INTERPRETED
Of all the men who have commented on Malachi chapter 3 throughout the history of the church, this week I read from 15 of those whom I believe to be the best. I found their remarks very helpful, but I also found them very distressing. Now all of these men are like-minded in their theology. I would give my right arm to have any of them fill this pulpit. But when it came to interpreting this text, each of them came to differing conclusions. The reason being is because we are dealing with a prophetic text that concerns future or "end time" events.
Allow me to highlight some of the interpretative challenges:
- Verse 1 - "'Behold, I am going to send My messenger (Who is the messenger?), and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple (What temple and when will He come?); and the messenger of the covenant (Who's that?), in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,' says the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 2 - "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" (Do these verses refer to the First Coming of Christ, the rapture, the Second Coming of Christ or a combination of the above? Does the refiner's fire refer to a separating or purifying process?)?
- Verse 3 - "He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi (Should we take them literally or symbolically?) and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness" (What are these offerings and when will they be offered?).
- Verse 4 - "Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years."
- Verse 5 - "'Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,' says the LORD of hosts" (Again, is this a reference to the First Coming of Christ, the rapture, the Second Coming of Christ or a combination of the above?).
These are just a few of the difficulties we face interpreting this prophesy. And based on the differing opinions from respected like-minded theologians, I believe we need to be careful to avoid overly dogmatic conclusions. This is one of the reasons I believe eschatology (the study of end times), except the doctrine of our Lord's Second Coming, should not be a decisive doctrine for the unity of the church. Say we did accept one position for our Constitution, would you be bold enough to tell 14 of the most respected theologians in the world that they are wrong and should be excluded from church membership and definitely church leadership because of their position?
However, with this off my chest, allow me to also encourage you, Grace Tabernacle, to be s student of the Scripture regardless of the difficulties of a passage. It's equally as damaging to throw up our hands when we come to these texts and say, "Why bother trying to figure this out." We need to study these texts. We need to be encouraged by all that prophecy has to offer. And we need to develop personal convictions regarding the issues of eschatology, convictions that I myself am still in the process of developing.
So with this as a backdrop, allow me to present three major camps of interpretation regarding Malachi 3:1-5. As I said, each of the 15 theologians I studied had differing perspectives, but each of them, I believe, would fall generally into one of these theological systems. And each of these systems depends on how we understand Israel's relation to the church.
The first camp believes that all of this passage applies directly to Israel. This would be the common Dispensational approach and the opinion of Charles Feinberg. Their interpretative thought would go as follows: This prophecy was given directly to Israel and therefore applies specifically to the future of that nation. It is God continuing His covenant with Israel. Although Malachi seems to speak of one Coming of Christ, both the First and Second Comings should be seen in this passage and Israel should be seen as the central purpose in both these Comings. According to Feinberg, "Mark well that the Gospel began with Israel in the First Coming, and so it will be in the Second Advent. Israel is central to the purpose of God in both Comings of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth" (The Minor Prophets, 260-61). God will both refine His nation separating the faithful from the unfaithful and purge the faithful of their sin. This process will begin with the priests (the literal "sons of Levi" -vs. 3) so they may present to the Lord acceptable offerings. The fulfillment will be seen after Christ's Second Coming when He returns to earth to set up His 1,000 year Millennial reign. The nation will be restored (verse 6 firs in nicely here) and animal sacrifices will again be offered in the temple. However, the sacrifices will not be done to atone for sin since Jesus accomplished that fully on the cross, but rather function to serve as a perpetual memorial to remind us of the Lord's ultimate sacrifice at Calvary.
The second camp believes that this passage applies directly to Israel and the church. Most theologians find themselves in this camp. Their interpretative thought would go as follows: The purity of Israel called for in Malachi was accomplished in adequate measure by the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. This made way for the ultimate purification of the nation through the coming of Messiah. The unfaithful would be judged, but the faithful would stand and be refined. Yet this purification will begin with the Priests and Levites. Christ will visit them in His temple. He will enable them to bring the honoring and acceptable sacrifices as called forth in Malachi. However as C. F. Keil stated, "We must not infer…that Malachi imagined that the Old Testament worship would be continued during the Messianic times; but his words are to be explained from the custom of the prophets, of using the forms of the Old Testament worship to depict the reverence for God which would characterize the new covenant" (Minor Prophets, p. 657). Similarly, Douglas Stuart said, "Nothing in Malachi…implies that the Messiah's work on the Day of Yahweh would be to restore the same offering system that the Sinai covenant specified. Rather, the Day of Yahweh would usher in the practice of true worship, of a sort that was acceptable to God, just as the proper Israelite tabernacle/temple worship had also once been acceptable to God when it was properly done. In other words (this) must not be interpreted as advocating that the Day of the Lord (which biblically is clearly the coming of Christ) would do nothing more than restore Old Covenant worship styles" (Minor Prophets, 1354). This purification of the Priests would lead to the purification of Israel, which would lead to the redemption of the Gentile nations in general. The sacrifice of Christ would bring an end to the old sacrificial system and achieve the ultimate purification of all God's children.
The third camp believes that all of this passage applies directly to the church. Their interpretative thought would go as follows: Jesus Christ came for the sole purpose of forming His church. With the passing of the Old Covenant, Jesus came to incorporate the Jews and Gentiles into one people of God known as the true Israel (Gal. 6:16). His coming would separate the faithful from the unfaithful with the faithful being subjected to further purification. The "sons of Levi" spoken of in verse 3 should be taken symbolically. According to Matthew Henry, these are "all true Christians" (Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1602). The reason being is all in the New Covenant church are spiritual priests (Rev. 1:6; 1 Pet. 2:5) and "true worshippers" of Jesus Christ (Jn. 4:23) who bring acceptable sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1) through the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
I admit that this study is very complex, but I think it was worthwhile to expose you to this theological thought, especially if we wish to be fair and honest with the text before us this morning. As I mentioned, most conservative theologians would generally find themselves in one of these three camps. Personally, I am still wrestling with this issue and do believe that it takes a study of more than one passage in Malachi to arrive at any conclusions.
2. THE PROPHECY EXPLAINED
Though much of what I said may be confusing to some and disagreement is bound to surface in our convictions, I would like to devote the remainder of the sermon to the material we would agree upon and that which has the most practical application in our lives. I also believe this Malachi's main point.
In 2:17 we read, "You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, 'How have we wearied Him?' In that you say, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,' or, 'Where is the God of justice?'" The prophetic section that follows in 3:1-5 is basically God's answer to these false beliefs of the Israelites. What exactly were the false beliefs?
The first one was, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them." Allow me to paraphrase their complaint. "Here we are God, devout and upright. We have faithfully brought You offering after offering. Yet we have not been blessed materially. You have the audacity to accuse us of wrongdoing and You refuse to accept our sacrifices. However, when we consider the evil people in the land they continually prosper and are never called into account. Therefore we believe that You are unconcerned about righteous actions. We believe that it is now better to do evil because these actions appear more delightful in Your sight."
The second complaint naturally flows from the first complaint. "Where is the God of justice?" I paraphrase again. "God You continually say You are a God of justice but we don't see any of it. The wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Obviously You are indifferent toward justice or have been unable to providentially manage the world according to Your desires. Where is this God of justice we hear so much about?"
The Jews complaints were extremely arrogant. First, they failed to see their own unrighteousness. Second, they expected the Almighty God to come down to their level and defend Himself. It was never what's wrong with us, but rather, God, what's wrong with You? You can see how this attitude, to put it mildly "wearied the Lord" according to verse 17. Yet despite being wearied, God still responds to the haughty nation in 3:1-5. And His response to their cries of injustice would come in His sending the Messiah.
The Jews had no problem with the coming of Messiah. They longed for His Day. 3:1 says He is "the Lord whom you seek (and) in whom you delight." They believed that He would rid the land of all injustice, especially their subjection to foreign enemies. After all the Messiah according to (Isa 11:4) would "decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked." Oh yes, the Messiah would conquer their political enemies and again return Israel to a place of prominence so they believed.
Unfortunately they were once again mistaken. The Lord reveals the surprise that the Jews were in for in Amos 5. "Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, for what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it" (Amos 5:18-20)? The coming of Messiah would be a time for the Lord to reveal His justice, however, the Jews failed to understand that judgment always begins in the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17). And though they cried for justice, they should have been crying for mercy.
Listen to the following ways the Messiah will magnify God's justice, yet in a way foreign to their understanding.
According to Malachi 3:1, God would send His "messenger" to clear the way for the Messiah. Based on several New Testament quotations of this text (Mt. 11:10; Mk. 1:2; Lk. 1:76; 7:27) the messenger spoken of is clearly a reference to John the Baptist. As it was customary to send a messenger ahead of a king to remove barriers and obstacles in their path, to make the king's entrance a smooth one. In the same way, John the Baptist was a forerunner to the Messiah (cf. Isa. 40:3-4; Lk. 3:4-6). Was the forerunner concerned with justice? He warned the people to "flee from the wrath to come" (Lk. 3:7). He preached "a baptism of repentance" (Mk. 1:4). He said, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Mt. 3:10).
All of this reveals the justice of God and the consequences of refusing to repent and submit to His holy will. All this reveals the Holy One, the Messiah who was about to come. Of Him John the Baptist said, "But He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals" (Mt. 3:11a). John the Baptist announced the One who would be a clear token of God's justice.
We also see God's justice in the nature of the Messiah Himself. Based on Malachi 3:1, we need to come to the conclusion that the Messiah is God. In the past God sent many messengers, this time He's coming Himself. It's no different than me asking one of my children to settle a dispute amongst themselves. When all attempts at justice fail, daddy has to come himself. Do the people want justice? Well the God of all justice is about to pay them a personal visit!
Allow me to show you proof that the Messiah is God. In other words, the Messiah is Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity. First of all look at the beginning of verse 1. "Behold, I am going to send My messenger (John the Baptist), and he will clear the way before Me." Here, God the Father is speaking of sending John the Baptist before His coming. However, God the Father didn't come. We know this coming was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Yet He still called it My coming. Let's continue in verse 1. "And the Lord whom you seek." Notice how the Messiah is identified as "Lord" (adon). He's more than simply another person. God's other messengers were never referred to as "Lord." Let's continue. "And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple." Where will the Messiah come? "His temple!" Only God is the owner of the temple.
Job 34:12 says, "The Almighty will not pervert justice." Isaiah 30:18 says, "For the LORD is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him." The people accused God of injustice. Well, the Messiah, the God of all justice would pay a personal visit in the Person of Jesus Christ!
Allow me to show you one more example how God promises to answer the accusations of His injustice. Verse 2-3, "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. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness." Now's there much debate among scholars as to which coming of Jesus this is in reference to. Boice would say it's the First Coming, Spurgeon, the Second Coming. But regardless of our interpretation, I want you to see how both of His comings were times to administer justice.
A refiner's fire was intended melt metal through extreme heat whereby the impurities were separated from the pure metal. Fuller's soap (better lye) was intended to remove a stain from a garment. Both of these agents were involved in the process of separation; one for separating impurities from the valued metal and the other for separating blemishes from the valued clothing. In the same way, the First Coming of Messiah would cause a separation, a judgment, a "sword" of division among the people. Jesus said, "For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household." Remember, Jesus said, "He who is not with Me is against Me" (Lk. 11:23).
But you say, I thought Jesus didn't come the first time to condemn? That's right! "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (Jn. 3:17). But one verse later we read, "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (Jn. 3:18).
I remember the story of the English firefighter that scaled a latter three stories to save a woman. When he broke the window she was on hiding in the corner and he was barely able to see her because of the thick smoke. He called to her to take his hand that was only a few inches away, but the frightened woman panicked and withdrew further into the smoke only to perish. When interviewed, all the fireman could say, "She wouldn't let me save her."
When people refuse the asbestos covering of Jesus to shield them from the tempest of God's wrath, they stand as condemned individuals only awaiting the final sentence. Jesus is the "aroma from death to death, (or) to the other an aroma from life to life" as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:16. Or as Jesus put it, "For judgment I came into this world" (Jn. 9:39) and "I have come to cast fire upon the earth" (Lk. 12:49). Refuse the only One that can save you from the fire and you condemn yourself.
John 1:11 says, "(Jesus) came to His own and those who were His own did not receive Him." Israel wanted their Messiah. They wanted God to vindicate His justice. Yet only a fraction were incorporated into the church. Simeon knew it! "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel" (Lk. 2:34). By way of judgment, God would destroy the temple and Jerusalem by AD 70.
How about the Second Coming? Would that be a time to display His justice? Absolutely! 2 Thessalonians 1:8 says He will deal "out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." Look at verse 5 of Malachi 3. "'Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,' says the LORD of hosts."
This, beloved, is our great hope! We long for the Day of the Lord when God will right all wrongs and our King will reign.
In speaking of both comings, Spurgeon said, "When in His humiliation He did but say to the soldiers, 'I am He,' they fell backward; what will be the terror of His enemies when He shall more fully reveal Himself as the 'I am?' The people in Israel accused God of injustice. The same accusations are made today. What a reminder that God does not allow those claims to stand. As Paul said in Romans, "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar; as it is written, 'That You may be justified in Your words and prevail when You are judged'" (Rom. 3:4a).
You know, as I close, there is one claim to injustice that God has left Himself very vulnerable. It's an accusation very few humans will ever make. It's not, why does God send people to hell, but rather, why does God send anyone to heaven? I mean, if God is perfectly holy and people are sinners by birth, choice and divine declaration, how can God permit any to be spared the consequences for sin, which according to the Scriptures must be spiritual death (Rom. 6:23)? How can a righteous God declare guilty sinners innocent? That's an outrage against justice and God's character!
Here's the answer. The love of God sent His Messiah (as we learned about this morning) to bear His wrath for the consequences we deserve. He came to be our substitute. And when we through faith and repentance trust Jesus Christ, all of our sins are credited to His account and He receives the just punishment for them on the cross. Also, all of His perfect righteousness is credited to our account. The sacrifice of Messiah is God's eternal answer to all who would ever dare to accuse Him of injustice. The Apostle Paul said it best. God is the "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26b).