Some passages of the Bible are much more challenging to interpret than others. It is helpful to delineate the process and to follow sound principles of interpretation. The ‘science’ of interpretation is known as ‘hermeneutics’ from the Greek word meaning to interpret.
In Malachi 4:5,6, the last two verses of the Bible, the LORD, the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God, promises the following –
“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.”
We close the history of the Old Testament with this prophetical insight, spoken by the LORD Himself.
A) A great and dreadful day of the LORD is coming. The pages of the Old Testament are filled with a prediction of this impending day of judgment.
B) The LORD will send ‘Elijah,’ a prophetic spokesman to announce this day, and prepare people to face the LORD. Just as God sent Elijah the first time, (Read I Kings 18 – 2 Kings 2 – the chapters which describe his ministry), so in the future an ‘Elijah-like’ prophet will be sent.
C) This ‘Elijah-like’ prophet will call for a turning – a repentance – life change in individuals in response to the LORD, in order to prevent His further drastic judgment (a curse) from being applied to their land.
As we open the gospels (any of the four will do – Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), we encounter John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who is SENT by God, SPEAKS for GOD and is SPOKEN of by GOD as ‘Elijah.’
Scripture interprets Scripture. All that the Bible teaches about a subject is the truth about that subject. These are just two solid principles to guide our interpretation.
In Mark 9, as Peter, James and John are descending from the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, Jesus orders them not to speak of this ‘event’ until ‘the Son of Man had risen from the dead.’ “”Rising from the dead?” – to what is Jesus referring with this expression. And like good interpreters, one good question leads to another – “Why do the teachers of the law say that ELIJAH must come first?” Other interpreters (namely those skilled the in the Old Testament law) had taught people that in the order of events, the LORD would send Elijah. These men knew their Bibles. They knew Malachi 4:5,6 and expected a turn of events when ELIJAH showed up.
Please note the answer of Jesus. Read and reread it carefully and you’ll discover quiet easily that John the Baptist functioned like Elijah. In act in Matthew 11, Jesus explicitly states, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is the ELIJAH who was to come.” Interesting!! So the ‘day of the LORD must be near?’ People are being urged to repent. A huge change in redemptive history must be about to occur.
How does Jesus answer the question about the ‘law teachers’ who had communicated the coming of Elijah, reminding the people of Malachi’s prediction? He affirms it! They were right. ELIJAH has come. The LORD has sent him. He called people to repentance. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. (John 1:6)
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? (Remember Isaiah 53 – where Isaiah predicts the Suffering Servant) But I tell you, ELIJAH HAS COME, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”
Connect the dots by simply reading the text. John the Baptist fulfills Malachi 4:5-6. A time of judgment will be occurring, but the LORD God in mercy is calling people to repent, to change their ways, to prepare the way for the Lord, exactly what Isaiah 40 affirms as the role of God’s ‘messenger.’ To challenge you to think further, the Hebrew name/word ‘malachi’ means ‘messenger.’ Reread the four chapter prophecy of Malachi and watch the theme of ‘messenger’ be driven home repeatedly!