The break between these two chapters seems unfortunate, and helps to divert the mind from what has just been presented. The fact is that verse 1 of chapter 4 is but a continuation of what has gone before. The Lord is going to discern between the righteous and the wicked. When? In the coming day that shall burn as an oven, the day of the Lord toward which all prophecy points as to the time when all the wrongs of the ages are to be put right. For, be it remembered, “the day” is not a brief period of twenty-four hours, but a day that will embrace the entire Millennium, concluding with the passing away of the earth and the heavens, thus introducing the day of eternity, or the day of God, as set forth in Peter’s second letter (3:10-12). The present season is called “man’s day,” for it is the time (of undefined duration) when man is doing his own will (1 Corinthians 4:3; marginal reading, “day,” in place of “judgment”). For the heavenly saints, “the day of Christ” will immediately follow, when, caught up to meet their Lord in the air, they shall be manifested before His judgment-seat (Philippians 1:6, 10). The day of the Lord then begins for Israel and the nations, embracing the judgments to be visited on the earth and the reign of righteousness, closing when the kingdom is delivered up to the Father, and God (Father, Son, and Spirit) will be all in all throughout the never-ending “day of God,” the eternal state.
It is then, of the day when the Lord Jesus returns in manifested glory to visit judgment on all who have refused the everlasting gospel, that the opening verse treats. That day will “burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that Cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Thus will men be made to know the wrath of the Lamb, when He shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God.
But in that day of thick darkness and gloominess, for a preserved remnant light shall break forth in overwhelming glory. “Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts” (vers. 2, 3). This is very different from the hope of the Church. We wait for the shining-forth of the Morning Star, not the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, which latter is distinctively Israel’s hope. The Morning Star is the herald of the dawn, and rises ere the Sun is yet visible. So will the Lord Jesus descend from heaven with a shout, and translate the heavenly saints to the Father’s house prior to the time of Jacob’s trouble, the great tribulation, which takes place upon the earth in a brief interval between the coming of Christ for the Church and His appearing with His holy ones in glorious majesty, for the relief of the remnant of Judah, and Israel, in the day of their sore trial as a result of their rejection of the Lord when He came before in grace. This is the shining-forth of the Sun of Righteousness, whose beams will bring healing for His own, but will consume the wicked with their intensity. It will not be the Church, but Israel, who will then tread down the evil-doers as ashes beneath their feet, in accordance with the universal testimony of the prophets.
It should be plain to all thoughtful students of the word of God that this passage completely nullifies the theory of a converted world at the coming of Christ. Where, then, would be the wicked who are to be trodden down? The fact is that Scripture knows nothing of this favorite system of modern divines. There will be no Millennium till Christ appears, for He must first act in power for the destruction of all who have refused to own His claims, thus purging the scene for the establishment of His kingdom.
Much has been made of these three opening verses by annihilationists of every school. They suppose the prophet to refer to the final day of judgment, and the ultimate destruction of the lost in the lake of fire. Their argument is that as the wicked will then be burnt up root and branch, and be ashes under the feet of the righteous, they will have ceased entirely to exist, and thus will have been effectually blotted out of God’s universe.
The mistake is made by failing to observe that it is temporal judgment which is here foretold, of which that which fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah was a sample. Fire from heaven will consume the bodies of the wicked on the earth before the millennial kingdom is set up, and thus become ashes under the feet of the righteous. But there is no hint here as to what will become of the soul and spirit. We learn elsewhere in Scripture of judgment after death, though the body be burned to ashes. Our Lord tells us that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for certain of the cities in which His mighty works had been performed but He Himself had been rejected.
Nearly forty centuries have elapsed since the wicked dwellers in the cities of the plain were burned up root and branch. Had Abraham or Lot walked over the sites of those destroyed places a few days after the fire fell from heaven, the wicked would have been ashes under the soles of their feet. But were they then annihilated? Far from it. They have yet to stand before the Great White Throne for judgment where they will be dealt with in accordance with the light they had, and which they refused.
The same may be said of “the proud, and all that do wickedly,” spoken of here by Malachi. Destroyed utterly as to their bodies and place on earth, they yet exist in the world of spirits, and will prove that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” For, as our Lord Jesus said, “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto Him” (Luke 20:38). Let not the reader, if unsaved, be lulled to sleep by the devil’s gospel of final extinction. Abiding wrath and eternal judgment are terrible realities from which the precious blood of Christ alone can deliver.
In Genesis 1:16 the sun is first introduced, the type of the Lord Jesus from whom His Church gets all her light, even as the moon reflects the glory of the sun. Ere Malachi closes the Old Testament canon, he reverts to that first type, and presents the same glorious person as “the Sun of Righteousness.”
In view of all the expostulation that has gone before, the last three verses take on a most solemn character. Judah is exhorted to remember the law of Moses, which God had commanded for all Israel, but which they had violated from the first, and were now filling up the cup of their iniquities. To call them back to Himself, He would send them Elijah the prophet, ere the coming of that great and dreadful day of the Lord which we have been contemplating. We know from Matthew 17:10-13, and Mark 9:11-13, that, for faith, John the Baptist was that Elijah; but the nation received him not as such; therefore the ministry here referred to is yet future. As Moses and Elijah are coupled together in these verses (the lawgiver and the restorer), so we see the signs of each wrought by the two witnesses of Revelation 11, which would seem to make plain the character of the ministry to be raised up as a testimony in Jerusalem at the time of the end.
Elijah is to turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, thus bringing all the remnant into subjection to the revealed will of God, that He may not come and smite the earth with a curse.
And so with this solemn word, curse, the Old Testament abruptly comes to a close. The law had been violated in every particular. On the ground of the legal covenant the people had no hope whatever. Wrath like a dark cloud was lowering over their heads. The awful curse of that broken law was all they had earned after long ages of trial. But a Redeemer had been promised; and where there was faith, in any who felt the seriousness of their condition, they looked on to the coming of the Seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head, and Himself be made a curse, that all who put their trust in Him might be redeemed from the doom they had so long and fully deserved. “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Through Him alone can guilty men, who own their lost estate and trust His grace, be delivered from the “curse.”
After many months of intermittent labor, I have been, through grace, enabled to complete this volume; and I send it forth with the earnest prayer that God may use it-imperfect in many respects as I know it to be-to the glory of His great name and the blessing of many of His people.
Everywhere we have found the same great facts emphasized. Man in his best estate is altogether vanity; but grace abounds over all our sin and failure.
If at times the notes seem pessimistic, and unduly burdened with a sense of the failure of the testimony committed to man, it is not intentional, but rather an evidence of human frailty and imperfection. For the prophets, rightly read, lead to optimism of the brightest hue, occupying the soul with evil only that it may be judged in oneself, but pointing on to the glad morning without clouds when He for whom we wait shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, and His displayed kingdom shall be like clear shining after the storm has passed.
Evil is but transitory, and has sway only for a moment. The good shall abide forever, when the last remains of sin will be banished to the lake of fire, and there shall be new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
“ Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless… Therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:14, 17, 18).
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Malachi 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany