I Will Send My Messenger

 

“Behold, I will send my messenger before your face
Who will prepare your way before you.”
~ Jesus quoting Malachi as recorded by Matthew the Tax Collector

Matthew the Tax Collector treats the person of John the Baptist with great care in his gospel. I’ve been jokingly referring to the gospel of Matthew as The Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy. This is really not too far off the mark though. Matthew wrote his gospel from the point of view of a tax collector, not a religiously schooled Pharisee. It was written for the common people, those who were looked down upon by the religious. The character of John the Baptist brings out this contrast even more. The gospel of Matthew is one of the most spiritual books ever written, and it was written for the common people. John the Baptist was one of the most powerful preachers who ever preached, and he directed his messages toward the common people.

After the initial story of how John the Baptist introduced Jesus, especially via his baptism, Matthew comes back to this man at least four different times. Matthew 11:2-19 is the first of those times. Matthew 14:1-13, at his death, and Matthew 17:1-13 upon the descent from the Mount of Transfiguration are the next two. Even as Jesus is standing in the temple He brings back the legacy of John the Baptist in Matthew 21:23-32 (note the contrast of tax collectors with the Pharisees). It seems that Matthew has a story teller style, returning to this character multiple times to unfold his story within the overall story of Christ. In fact, it is Matthew alone that notes that Jesus, upon hearing of the death of John, departed to a deserted place to be alone. While conveying the facts, he is trying to show how the death of this man impacted Our Lord.

Our text is Matthew 11:2-19 and how Jesus quoted Malachi 3:1 in reference to John. Luke 7:19-35 is the only parallel we have and is a must read for those who want to study this story in depth. Matthew and Luke both contain the essential details with no contraction, but each contain some unique material as well. The introduction of how the disciples of John came to Jesus is different enough to know that different sources were used. This could not be a story copied from the same source. Matthew 11:12-15 is visibly missing from Luke’s narrative, and instead breaks away to show the reaction of the crowds in Luke 7:29-30. It is significant because in the Matthew text Jesus publicly identifies John as Elijah. Luke will include a similar teaching of Christ in Luke 16:16 but obviously given on a different occasion and without the reference to Elijah.

Going back to John’s preaching in Matthew 3, it is obvious that he is preaching to the common people. He is not using religious terminology that no one can understand. His message is simple, “Repent.” This foreboding sense of doom was hanging over the nation of Israel. Judgment by fire, unfruitful trees being chopped down and thrown into the fire, the harvest where the wheat and chaff are separated with the chaff being thrown into the fire, no favoritism for children of Abraham, well, you get the idea. This was straight forward, hell, fire, and brimstone preaching.

Yet when Christ began His ministry, there was no fiery judgment. John was cast into prison and kept tabs with what was occurring via his disciples. Everything he heard about Jesus ran contrary to his fiery preaching. No fire, no judgment, instead Jesus was hopping from banquet to banquet like some type of celebrity. Perhaps John had misunderstood. Perhaps Jesus was introducing someone else beyond Him. Well, let’s go ask Him. They come to Jesus and ask straight up, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

The response of Jesus to these disciples of John is intriguing especially in light of a good study of the nature of the kingdom of God. John envisioned fiery judgment and true separation of the godly from the ungodly. But that doesn’t answer what type of kingdom Jesus and John were preaching. Remember the phrase, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”? What kind of a kingdom will it be once it is established? Jesus pointed them to the very miracles that were right in front of them. Just think about the nature of the things that Jesus was doing. The blind were seeing and the deaf were hearing. The crippled were on their feet and walking. The lepers were cleansed and welcomed back into society. Dead people were being raised back to life. Even the poor people had the good news of the kingdom of God preached unto them. This wasn’t a message for the religious or the upper class, it was for every day man. So what kind of a kingdom will it be? Imagine a kingdom where there are no blind people, or if there is a blind person, healing them is quite simple. Imagine a kingdom where even if someone dies, they can be raised back to life. There will be no sad funerals. The person would still be with us. Imagine a kingdom where the poor are treated with the same equality as the rich. Just think for a minute about every person you’ve known who has had cancer, been badly hurt, or been oppressed because of social status. Here was Jesus showing them the power of the kingdom, note Matthew 12:28. And then He states, as if in anticipation of one who might question His methods, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Even though Jesus doesn’t need to justify His actions to anyone, He always explained even if nobody understood. If you are not offended by the meek and mild manner of our LORD, then you are blessed indeed because you understand the nature of the kingdom of God.

As the disciples of John are leaving, Jesus addresses the crowds. Here is the section where Jesus quotes Malachi 3:1. His questions are framed to get them to think. What was it that drew so many people out into the deserted wilderness to hear this man? It wasn’t fashion trends, good food, or something insignificant like a reed blowing in the wind. It was the message of a true prophet of God that drew many multitudes out to hear him. Then Jesus identifies John as a prophet by stating that he is the messenger of Malachi 3:1. This should direct us back to Malachi to examine the context of the original prophecy. Because Jesus also reveals that John is Elijah which was going to come, we should include Malachi 4 in our study.

An overall look at Malachi

Malachi as a whole is preaching against the sins of his people in that day. In the midst of that preaching there are hints that Malachi sees beyond that sinfulness to a future day. Consider the following verses melded together. {I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and My Name will be feared among the nations. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My Name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to My Name, and a pure offering. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts. Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”} (Taken from Malachi 1:5, 2:11, 2:14, 3:12.)

Because God had a great future for Israel and plans to magnify His Own Name, Israel was being commanded to repent in the here and now. A good portion of the sinfulness that Malachi addresses is the corruptness of the priests, Levites, and offerings that are being offered. The first passage I want to look at contains a rebuke and even a curse to the priests. As always, please read it in context.

Malachi 2:4-8

So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared Me. He stood in awe of My Name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts.

This covenant of Levi is something that God wants addressed because of His plan for the future. When people talk about the covenants of scripture, very rarely do we hear about God’s covenant with Levi. Apparently when God ordained Aaron as high priest and took the Levites to serve Him instead of the firstborn, He established a covenant. This is intertwined with the Mosaic Covenant. In all the chastisement throughout the prophecy, there is an attempt to clean up the priesthood. Stop despising the offering by saying what a weariness it is. Stop offering sick animals and offer God your best. Stop the divorce. Stop questioning God’s justice. Stop robbing God by failing to bring Him your tithes and offerings. Stop saying it doesn’t pay to serve God. All of this instruction is designed to correct the sons of Levi, see Malachi 1:13, 1:8, 2:14-16, 2:17, 3:14. With that in mind, let’s look at the prophecy concerning the messenger.

Malachi 3:1-4

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. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

Before we start examining this passage, let’s note the parallel passage in Malachi 4. Between these two passages, there are at least four major parallel components. #1- The messenger/Elijah. #2- The coming of the LORD/the Day of the LORD. #3- The preparatory ministry by #1 before #2. #4- The fiery judgment. There is one other component that I will mention that may have escaped your gaze. Notice the mention in Malachi 3:1 of “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight.” This is separate from the first messenger and from the coming of the LORD. Now in Malachi 4:4 notice the command to remember the law of Moses which was commanded at Horeb (Mount Sinai). It was the covenant that was given at Mount Sinai and Moses would have been the messenger of the covenant in whom the nation of Israel delighted. So in both passages Moses and the Mosaic covenant make an appearance together.

Malachi 4

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

“Remember the law of My servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

In essence, this is what the prophecies are telling us. God will send a messenger who is Elijah. He will prepare the way before the coming of the LORD. He will preach repentance to the Levites that their ministry to the LORD may be restored before the LORD comes. He will reconcile families within the nation of Israel so that when the LORD comes, Israel may be exempted from the curse. Because of that preparatory ministry, when the fiery judgment of the LORD comes, the offerings of the Levites will be pleasing to God and family relationships will be healed. Because of the messenger, Israel will be a blessing to the rest of the world, (remember the overall context of Malachi). Because it will be such a fiery judgment, who can abide the day of His coming ? The answer is: the one who has been prepared by the messenger, Elijah.

Based on this prophecy, the children of Israel should have expected someone to warn them of a fiery judgment. When that person came preaching that a judgment was coming, it should have been a sign that the coming of the LORD was at hand. The LORD would come to the temple (Malachi 3:1) shortly looking to cleanse it and rebuke the religious establishment, see Matthew 21:12-13. When an Elijah type person appeared on the scene, this should have been noted as a major fulfillment of prophecy. He would fearlessly preach against the corruptness of the religious establishment. His ministry would have a significant impact on the nation of Israel.

When John the Baptist came, it should have been a sign that Malachi 3-4 was being fulfilled in some way. John was in the wilderness much like Elijah had been, see I Kings 17:2-7, 19:4. He dressed the same way Elijah did, II Kings 1:8, Matthew 3:4. He called the religious establishment a generation of vipers and warned them of the wrath to come, Matthew 3:7. He foretold of the coming fiery judgment, Matthew 3:10-12. John had not flinched at telling Herod of his sin, much the same way Elijah had not flinched at telling Ahab of his sin, Matthew 14:2-4, I Kings 21:17-26. The result of his ministry was that all Judea, including Jerusalem, went out to hear him preach. Many believed the gospel, confessed their sins, and were baptized becoming disciples of John the Baptist. The preparation and reconciliation was occurring thereby fulfilling scripture in front of their very eyes.

The Prominence of John the Baptist

Now that we have examined what Jesus meant when He quoted Malachi‘s prophecy, we can continue and understand the significance of the words of Jesus in the passage. “There has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” What a statement! The definition of what Christ meant is in the verses that follow. John was the one who introduced the preaching of the kingdom of heaven. From the time of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven had been preached with a violent force, Matthew 11:12 with Luke 16:16. Those who repented at the preaching of John had violently forced their way into the kingdom of heaven. Common sinners had left the religious on the outside. The Law and Prophets continued until John the Baptist, but from the preaching of John the Baptist something new had been occurring. “He is Elijah who is to come.” Now that’s a powerful identification.

In Matthew 11:16-19, Jesus is making a very humorous point. It’s like His humanity is manifest as He seems amused by the mixed reaction between those who had repented and those who sat by indifferent to the preaching of John. What is this generation like? I’ll tell you what you all are like. You are all like people in the marketplace when children are calling to each other. Children would often come to the marketplace to entertain folks in hopes of a bit of money. They would try to use their musical instruments and talents in order to get people singing, in a good mood, and rejoicing. A bunch of children playing flutes, clapping, and dancing around would be a sure way to provide some entertainment in the midst of a business like atmosphere. But inevitably, there would come that day when the mood would be somber. Perhaps someone had died recently and most adults just didn’t feel like singing. So on those days, it was a funeral dirge that would be sung. Perhaps a sad song would get the attention of the people. Folks might remember a loved one, sink into deep thought, and perhaps shed a tear. Then there were those days when children had tried both. They tried the happy song and nobody sang and danced with them. They tried the sad song and nobody mourned or cried. So they cried out to each other in frustration something to the effect of, “What is it going to take to get a reaction out of you people? We tried playing a happy song on the flute and you did not dance. We tried singing a sad song and you did not mourn. You just sat there the whole time like bumps on a log.”

Jesus contrasts the ministry of John the Baptist with His own. John had come as the Voice in the Wilderness preaching fire and repentance. His manner was quite serious. He did not socialize with people. The reaction of the people: “He’s demon possessed.” Jesus, the Son of Man, comes performing miracles. He travels around eating and drinking with a wide variety of people. He bestows blessings, calls God His Father, and pronounces forgiveness of sins. The reaction of the people: “What a glutton, drunk, and friend of sinners!” The manner of the two ministries were polar opposites, yet they were preaching the same kingdom of heaven. The reason was so that there could be no excuses. Some people respond better to a serious preacher. Some respond better to stories which introduce the spiritual truth subtly. Some respond better to a dinner invitation. God had given the children of Israel every advantage for repentance possible. Yet their reaction was to just sit there like bumps on a log while the miraculous was taking place right on front of them.

There is this dual reaction throughout the nation of Israel. Some repented at the preaching of John, but the majority ignored his warnings. More repented at the preaching of Jesus and the twelve, but still many remained indifferent. God was still working through the remnant in Israel, but the rest had not repented. “Elijah” had prepared the way, but not all of Israel was reconciled to God. John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecies, but not completely. There should be nothing preventing us from seeing a future fulfillment of the same passage. Remember that a passage can be fulfilled more than once. Just because a prophecy is fulfilled does not mean that it is complete. When a prophecy is fulfilled, it comes to an overflowing. This was true of the Malachi passage in the life of John the Baptist, and it will also be true in the future.

Looking ahead to Revelation

After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus will tell His disciples, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things.” That’s future. He states at the same time, “Elijah has already come.” That’s past, see Matthew 17:10-13. So as Jesus spoke, there was an already/not yet aspect to the Elijah prophecy. At some point in the future, Elijah will come and restore all things. It is at this point in time that Malachi 3-4 will be fulfilled once again, this time completely fulfilled.

Revelation 11:1-13 is the place where we look to see how Elijah will come and restore all things. Notice the context of the temple. There is a measurement for those who worship there, but the outer court is not to be measured. Then there is the prophecy of the two witnesses. The miracles that they do remind us very much of Moses and Elijah. The power to shut the heavens so that rain does not fall was something unique to the prophet Elijah. The power to turn water into blood was something unique to Moses. Remember in Malachi there is the clear mention of Elijah, but also the hint that perhaps Moses may be involved, as the messenger of the covenant. The Israelites delighted in Moses calling themselves his disciples, see John 9:28. The ministry of the two witnesses seems to be connected with the temple and restoring the children of Israel into a right relationship with God. Remember that restoring the children of Israel back to fellowship with the LORD was the chief purpose of Elijah shutting the heavens in his day. Also, when Moses initially turned water into blood, it was a sign to the children of Israel that God was visiting them, see Exodus 4:9, 27-31.

Because of the imagery of the two olive trees and two lampstands mentioned in Revelation 11:4, examining Zechariah 4 should be in order. The angel seems surprised that Zechariah does not know the identity of these two olive trees, see Zechariah 4:4-5, 12-13. Olive oil was the primary ingredient for the holy anointing oil, see Exodus 30:23-25. These two olive trees were symbolic of the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth, see Zechariah 4:14. There are three anointed offices identified in the scriptures: prophet, priest, and king. Here in Zechariah the two anointed ones who had returned from captivity to rebuild the temple were Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the heir to the throne of David. They had stood as God’s two olive trees in that day to lead the people to rebuild the temple, see Haggai 1:12.

John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Elijah for his generation, but he was not Elijah literally returned from heaven or from the grave (whichever you prefer). He went forward in the spirit and power of Elijah, see Luke 1:17, to prepare the children of Israel for the LORD. In the same way, I don’t believe the two witnesses will be Moses and Elijah returned from heaven or from the dead. They will be two men, two anointed ones, who will go forward in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah to turn the children of Israel back to the LORD. Elijah will come and restore all things and here in Revelation 11 is where we see a parallel passage to that prophecy. Just as Joshua and Zerubbabel stood up and led the people back to God, these two witnesses will be supernaturally empowered to lead the people back to God. The geographic location where they prophesy seems to be Jerusalem and the temple. The place where Our LORD was crucified is Jerusalem and the mention of the temple should point us to Mount Zion.

The question of the Levites should come up in our discussion. If Elijah was to restore the Levitical priesthood, where is that in the book of Revelation? Since the two witnesses (going forth in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah) are ministering on Mount Zion, we should examine the identity of the 144,000 who are also seen on Mount Zion, see Revelation 14:1-5. Some believe they are in heaven, but they only hear the voices, sounds, and song from heaven. The context of Revelation 7:1-8, 9:4 makes it clear that the 144,000 are here on earth in order to be protected from the wrath of God during the Day of the LORD. The 144,000 are completely comprised of Israelites, 12,000 of which are Levites. The ministry of the two witnesses is a preparatory one. They prepare the children of Israel for the coming of the LORD. The 144,000 remain here on earth during the Day of the LORD supernaturally protected from His wrath. So the conclusion should be obvious that the two witnesses had a significant role in preparing the 144,000 before the Day of the LORD, see my thoughts here. Elijah and the messenger of the covenant, Moses, testify on the temple mount in order that the children of Israel might be reconciled to God and each other in anticipation of the Day of the LORD and coming of Jesus Christ. The result is that the Levitical priesthood is refined and their offerings will be accepted just as the prophecy originally foretold. Remember that God has ordained His covenant with Levi to endure forever, see Jeremiah 33:14-22, Malachi 2:4-5. Jeremiah prophesied before the captivity, defining the covenant with the Levitical priests as perpetual; while Malachi prophesied after the captivity stating the covenant with Levi would stand, be refined, and continue. It shouldn’t be out of the question to see within the book of Revelation a remnant of godly Levites who will offer sacrifices at a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem in anticipation of the return of the LORD. Note that not everything on the temple mount is pleasing to the LORD as per Revelation 11:2.

Friend of Tax Collectors

I will close my post quoting the phrase that Matthew has recorded for us in 11:19. Jesus, Friend of sinners, that’s the title which has garnered so much controversy and love throughout the centuries. Matthew was a tax collector which was a shame for many. It seems that Matthew was one of the main reasons for this statement by the crowds in reference to Jesus. They were poking fun at Jesus because of His association with Matthew. Imagine, one of the inner circle of twelve, a despised tax collector! Matthew had thrown a party to introduce his tax collector friends to his new Master. This also resulted in much ridicule by the religious establishment of the day, especially the self righteous Pharisees.

Can you imagine how Matthew felt? His Master, the Son of Man, the Messiah, was being made fun of by the religious authorities because He associated with lowlifes like him. He was the tax collector, the sinner above all sinners, yet Jesus was a Friend to him. Jesus, Friend of sinners. Jesus, Friend of tax collectors. Jesus, Friend of Matthew. It’s no surprise that Matthew found a way to work this in to his gospel.

Can you identify with Matthew? Do you feel like you are on the outside of the religious establishment of the day? Do you feel like you will never be in the inner circle because of your past? I would point you to Matthew as a prime example that Jesus wants to be your Friend. He wants to walk with you and talk with you. And if others start talking negatively about Jesus because of His association with you, it’s not going to bother Him a whole lot. Jesus, Friend of sinners. Jesus, Friend of tax collectors. Jesus, Friend of Matthew.  Jesus, Friend of  __________.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

Previous posts under the heading of The Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy:

A Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy

The Begats

Was the Virgin Birth Expected?

Gentile Wise Men Seek the Messiah

Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son

Prophecy Unlimited

Jesus the Nazarite

The Voice in the Wilderness

We Have Abraham for our Father

It Is Written

On Them a Light Has Dawned

Jesus Fulfills the Law and the Prophets

Many Shall Come from the East and West

He Himself bore our Sicknesses and carried our Pains

Matthew the New Wineskin (I desire mercy and not sacrifice)

A Person’s Enemies will be those of his own Household

 

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This entry was posted in Bible, Eschatology, Fulfilled Prophecy, Pre-Millennialism, Prophecy, The Gospel of Matthew and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to I Will Send My Messenger

  1. Pingback: The Chosen Beloved Servant Who Withdrew Himself | The Orange Mailman

  2. Pingback: Elijah Will Come | The Orange Mailman

  3. Pingback: Moses in Malachi 3 ~ Link | The Orange Mailman

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