Malachi delivered a message to the ancient people of God. For our day, his book includes a prophecy of warning and of another messenger to come.
The book of Malachi is placed as the last book of the Prophets section, which also makes it the last book in the Old Testament in English Bibles. The Hebrew word Malachi simply means “My [that is, God’s] messenger.”
Malachi was a prophet of God sent to the Jews who had resettled in Judea and to all Israel in general, depicted as “the sons of Jacob” (Malachi 3:6). Toward the close of the book, it becomes clear that God is also speaking to all of humankind. He will not endure man’s sins forever, and a day of judgment is coming. God also reveals through Malachi that He will hold back His wrath if people will return to Him.
When the Jews began returning from their 70 years of Babylonian captivity, God directed them to begin restoring Jerusalem and building the second temple, often called Zerubbabel’s temple. The completion of the new temple by 516 B.C. allowed the Jews to carry out the ritual services of the sanctuary (Malachi 1:10; 3:10).
Many years later the walls of Jerusalem were also rebuilt under Nehemiah. Malachi appears to have been a contemporary of the governor Nehemiah, indicated by many common themes between the two writers.
When they first returned to Judea from their captivity in Babylon, the Jews rigorously guarded against pagan idol worship in their land. But over time, they gradually gave in to this sin. In the process, they also began to lose sight of God’s purposes for them. It was during this period that Malachi was sent to instruct and guide God’s people toward a more pure life.
Malachi revealed the spiritual and moral shortcomings of the priests and common people alike. Tithing was being neglected (Malachi 3:7-10); divorce had become commonplace; and there were mixed marriages with pagan peoples. These were serious problems (Malachi 2:10-16).
Their sins were the reason that God was once again stripping away their physical prosperity and position of influence in the region (Malachi 1:6-10, 12-14; 2:1-9). The nation faced drought, famine, poverty and oppression from outsiders. Moral and spiritual laxity, pride, indifference, permissiveness and skepticism were growing. Only by a nationwide, heartfelt repentance would the blessings of God be restored again. Malachi pleaded with his countrymen to humble themselves in prayer (Malachi 1:9).
A focus on the leadership
God, through Malachi, strongly rebuked the priests of his day saying, “You have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law … because you have not kept My ways but have shown partiality in the law” (Malachi 2:8-9). The covenant of “life and peace” God had made with the Levitical priesthood in the days of Moses would have brought great blessings had the priests remained faithful. Now God was willing to renew His promises with the spiritual leaders of Malachi’s day if they would make the changes necessary (Malachi 2:5-6; Numbers 25:12-13).
A prophesied messenger
Malachi 3:1 states, “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, even the Messenger of the covenant.”
This passage predicts the coming of John the Baptist (“My messenger”) and Jesus Christ (“the Messenger of the covenant”). Isaiah had also foretold the coming of someone who would announce the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3).
Warning of God’s day of judgment
After announcing the coming of John the Baptist, Malachi next spoke of the second coming of Jesus Christ, saying, “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2; Joel 2:11; Jeremiah 10:10).
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble [like dried straw]” (Malachi 4:1). And God adds, “‘And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien—because they do not fear Me,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:5).
Malachi warned all people that a day of judgment was coming and that God would bring swift destruction on everyone who transgressed His laws. Yet the people were not left without hope. Malachi’s prophecies of God’s judgment were accompanied by appeals for the people to be faithful and obedient: “Return to Me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).
God does not change in His desire for humankind to seek Him while He may be found (Malachi 3:6; Isaiah 55:6-7). Please see our article “Wrath of God” to better understand why a loving God will be angry with humanity.
Another messenger yet to come
In the closing words of his message, Malachi shares God’s promise: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse [utter destruction]” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Here the prophecy points to a messenger to come in the spirit and power of Elijah, just as John the Baptist came with a similar message (Luke 1:16-17). It also points to an end-time work of the collective Church of God. Through its caring for the people whom God calls, the Church is turning the hearts of parents to children, as well as the hearts of children to parents. Thereby, the physical family structure is restored and renewed. The Church’s preaching to the world also turns the hearts of people who are God’s children by creation back to Him, their Heavenly Father. In this present evil world, people by nature are more and more turned away from their Heavenly Father and His expectations for how they should live. There has never been a greater need for “an Elijah work.” Please see our articles “Elijah the Prophet,” “John the Baptist” and “Two Witnesses” for more ways that this prophecy of “an Elijah to come” will be fulfilled.
Israel’s and Judah’s future role
Ancient Israel often failed in her ordained commission to be a beacon of spiritual light to the nations around her. Still, God said His purpose would stand.
Reflecting this point, God said, “‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 1:11).
Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah announced God’s message about Israel’s future repentance and spiritual leadership in the world, saying, “For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns, the Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory” (Isaiah 62:1-2).
This prophecy will be fulfilled in the coming millennial age.
A promise to the faithful
Malachi the prophet was sent to assure his people that God still loved them, but He demanded honor, respect and faithfulness from them. God gave the people a warning that judgment would come to purge them of their sins unless they repented.
God then inspired Malachi to share a special promise God would grant to those who would be His faithful, obedient people. This reward is an eternal place in His Kingdom.
“Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name. ‘They shall be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him’” (Malachi 3:16-17).