In recent days I’ve been seeing Malachi 4:5 and 6 cropping up in literature dealing with present-day families and child rearing. Is this a correct use, context-wise?
The passage reads,
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.
These are the last two verses of the entire Old Testament.
The passage is straightforward; it has to do with the preaching of repentance among the Jews and the announcing of the coming of God’s eternal kingdom. God will send Elijah the prophet before the “great and terrible” day of the Lord arrives to bring about repentance among the people of Israel. But to better understand the passage, it is obvious we must explore who Elijah is, since he is the one who will be instrumental in the turning of hearts. Therein lies a challenge.
If you go back a chapter to Malachi 3:1, you find the verse that reads, “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.” Is this a reference to Elijah? Some have thought so, but Matthew 11:7–10 in the New Testament identifies the messenger in Malachi 3:1. It is John the Baptist. He was the one who prepared the way for the Lord. Some respond, though, that John the Baptist could be the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning Elijah, because Luke 1:17 says of John, “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Thus, John would fulfill both Malachi 3:1 and 4:5 and 6.
There is a problem, however. When he was asked, John—though recognizing his role as the forerunner of Jesus—stated that he was not Elijah (see John 11–23). Further, we have an interesting statement by Christ Himself concerning John, found Matthew 11:14: “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.” Note the aspect of His statement. Christ said that if the Jews received the offered kingdom, John would do the work of Elijah. But they rejected this offer, and John was precluded from being the one to fulfill Malachi 4:5 and 6.
Now go to Matthew 17:11, where Jesus said, “Elijah truly is coming first and will restore all things.” Note the future aspect here, which indicates to us that John (who was no longer living by that time) would not be the one Malachi prophesied about in 4:5 and 6. However, going on to read Matthew 17:12, we see Jesus continuing, “Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Verse 13 notes that the disciples thought that Jesus spoke here concerning John the Baptist. Thus, we can understand that Elijah was a type or symbol of John, though he was not the person spoken of as Elijah in Malachi 4:5 and 6.
So, the Elijah of Malachi 4:5 and 6 is yet future. His ministry and that of another—the two witnesses to Israel in Revelation 11—is to unite the hearts of fathers with their children in repentance during the Tribulation. We are not sure if this is the Elijah of the Old Testament who comes back (Matthew 17:11 may hint at this possibility), or if it is someone in the power and spirit as displayed through Elijah, someone who is also like John the Baptist was (Luke 1:17).
Now let’s get back to the thought that the last verses of Malachi somehow indicate a present-day reawakening of fathers to their responsibilities and children to their fathers. We do not want to minimize the urgency for this reuniting of hearts. While it is not taking place on a grand scale, we are thankful some true believers are recognizing this necessity. We should emphasize the need for right God-empowered relationships among family members. But, again, we should do it on the basis of Scripture passages that teach these principles, passages such as Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 6:5–9; various passages in Proverbs; Ephesians 6; and so on. We do not want to use this prophetic passage of Malachi the way certain people use Joel 2 (especially verses 28–32) to signify a certain present-day movement, when the passage really deals with something yet to come.
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