Malachi prophesies the day of the Lord when Messiah will come to judge and purify Israel. At that time, God will make a clear distinction between the righteous who honour him and the wicked who do not. He also prophesies the coming of a messenger and of Elijah, both of whom the New Testament identifies with John the Baptist.
Malachi was a post-exilic prophet, which is evident from his use of a Persian word for 'governor' in 1:8. It is generally believed that he ministered in Jerusalem between about 450 and 430 BC, about 100 years after the Jews had returned to the land under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua. Ezra returned to Jerusalem in 458 BC, and Nehemiah in 444 BC. Malachi addresses a number of the same issues as they did, suggesting that he was their contemporary. These include intermarriage with Gentiles (c.f. Malachi 2:10-11, Ezra 9:1-2, Nehemiah 13:1-3, 23-28), lack of support for the Levites (c.f. Malachi 3:10, Nehemiah 13:10), and oppression of the poor (c.f. Malachi 3:5, Nehemiah 5:4-5).

The following sections are relevant to end-time prophecies:

Malachi 1:2-5 - God's judgment of Edom (Arabia)
In verses 2 to 3, God affirms his election of Jacob and his descendants (the people of Israel), and his rejection of Esau and his descendants (the Edomites). He says, "Esau was Jacob’s brother…yet I chose Jacob and rejected Esau". This election has its basis in Genesis 25:21-34, and is discussed by Paul in Romans 9:10-13. God then says of Edom, "I turned Esau’s mountains into a deserted wasteland and gave his territory to the wild jackals". His reference to Esau's 'mountains' is because the territory that God originally gave to Esau was around the mountain range of Seir (Joshua 24:4). This was located between the bottom of the Dead Sea in the north, and the top of the Red Sea in the south. However, by the 6th century BC Edom was seen to extend much further south into Saudi Arabia. In Ezekiel 25:13 Teman is used as a reference to Edom's northern extremities, along with Dedan as a reference to Edom's southern extremities. Dedan is modern-day Al-Ula in western Saudi Arabia. Presumably, the Edomites had spread that far southwards and enlarged their territory.

In Jeremiah 27:1-8, Jeremiah prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Edom. So in describing Edom as a wasteland, God is pointing out that Edom was destroyed as Jeremiah had prophesied.

In verse 4, God anticipates a response from Edom, "Though we are devastated, we will once again build the ruined places.". God responds, "They indeed may build, but I will overthrow". Thus far, this section of Malachi describes historical events. Nebuchadnezzar did destroy Edom, shortly after he destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. Later on in about 550 BC, Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, extended the Babylonian empire into Arabia as far as Yathrib (modern-day Medina), subjugating the whole of 'Greater Edom' as envisaged by Ezekiel. Then in the 5th century BC, at about the time when Malachi was prophesying, or perhaps shortly afterwards, the Nabateans drove out the Edomites, forcing them westwards into a smaller territory which became known as Idumea during the Greek period. The Nabateans established their capital at Petra, in the heart of the Seir mountain range. In the 3rd century BC, the Nabateans occupied Idumea, and the Idumeans were absorbed into southern Judah. During the Hasmonean period, the Jews forced the Idumeans to be circumcised and follow Judaism.

So how does this section relate to end times? In verses 4 and 5, God says of Edom, "They will be known as the land of evil, the people with whom the Lord is permanently displeased. Your eyes will see it, and then you will say, ‘May the Lord be magnified even beyond the border of Israel!'" Although the Edomites disappeared in the pages of history as a distinct ethnic group, the bible contains many prophecies of Edom's end-time destruction. I understand these to be prophecies of judgment against northern Arabia, the inhabitants of the same territory envisioned as 'Greater Edom' in Ezekiel 25:13. God's judgment of Edom is mentioned more in the bible than the judgment of any other nation (Psalm 137:7-9, Isaiah 11:14, 21:11-12, 34:5-17, 63:1-6, Jeremiah 9:25-26, 25:17-26, 49:7-12, Lamentations 4:21-22, Ezekiel 25:12-14, 35:1-15, Joel 3:19, Amos 1:11-12, 9:11-12, Obadiah, Malachi 1:4). Isaiah's labelling of this same territory as 'Babylon' in Isaiah 21 makes it the prime candidate for identifying 'Mystery Babylon' in Revelation 17-18.

Malachi 2:17-4:6 - Jesus comes to judge and restore
This section is introduced by Israel's cynical question, "Where is the God of justice?" They express their opinion that God approves of those who do evil (2:17) because they don't see God judging those who do evil.

Chapter 3
Malachi responds in 3:1 with a prophecy of the coming of John the Baptist (called 'my messenger who will clear the way before me') and of Jesus (called 'the messenger of the covenant'). Isaiah had already prophesied the coming of John the Baptist in Isaiah 40:3, a prophecy with which John the Baptist identified himself in John 1:23. In calling Jesus 'the messenger of the covenant', Malachi is referring to the new covenant that God had promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Malachi associates Jesus' coming with the Lord coming suddenly to his temple. The NET bible translation gives the impression that the Lord and the messenger are separate individuals, but other translations imply they are one and the same. For example, the KJV says, "…the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in". This verse is one of several that imply the Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem before the second coming (see also Isaiah 66:6 and Daniel 9:27).

In verse 2, Malachi implies that when Jesus comes, he will bring justice, but the people of Israel will get more than what they bargained for. They want God to exercise justice. But when Jesus comes in judgment to exercise justice, Malachi asks the questions, "Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can keep standing when he appears?" Although we might think we want justice, the problem is that none of us are without sin. All of us deserve judgment to some degree. Malachi tells us that Jesus will be like a refiner's fire and a launderer's soap. He will refine and purify the Levites like silver and gold (v3). Clearly, Jesus' second coming is primarily in view rather than his first. In John 12:47, Jesus said, "If anyone hears my words and does not obey them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world". And in Luke 4:19, Jesus proclaimed the 'year of the Lord's favour', but left the proclamation of the 'day of vengeance of our God' (Isaiah 61:2) until his second coming.

This refining of the people of Israel is the same as that described in Zechariah 13:8-9. In that passage, two-thirds of the people of Israel perish in the Great Tribulation, but God brings the third who survive into his refining fire. He tests them, they call out to him, and he affirms them as his people.

In verses 3b to 4, Malachi prophesies that Jerusalem and Judah will then offer God pleasing sacrifices, as in former times.

In verse 5, God once again confirms that he will come in judgment. He will be quick to judge those who commit various types of sin. Among the examples listed are, "those who exploit workers, widows, and orphans, who refuse to help the resident foreigner and in this way show they do not fear me". Jesus most likely had this passage in mind when he spoke of the judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. The righteous are seen as those who helped the vulnerable, and the wicked as those who ignored or exploited them. How you treat the vulnerable demonstrates whether or not you truly fear God.

In verses 6 to 12, Malachi addresses the issue of tithing, promising God's blessing on those who give financially to provide for the work of the temple.

In verses 13 to 15, Malachi elaborates on the people's complaint (see 2:17) that God fails to exercise justice. They think it useless to serve God because the wicked are successful, and those who challenge God get away with it. In verse 16, a group of Jews take Malachi's criticism to heart and commit to honouring God. In verse 17 to 18, God affirms them as belonging to him, and promises that the day will come when he will make a clear distinction between the righteous and the wicked. This promise is to be understood in relation to the coming of Jesus in judgment.

Chapter 4
In verse 1 of chapter 4, God elaborates on this day of judgment. Having already likened his judgment to the refining of gold and silver, he elaborates on the metaphor of a furnace. He now likens evildoers to chaff that will be burned up. When John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of Messiah, this was his expectation of Jesus, that he would judge Israel like a farmer winnowing threshed wheat and throwing the chaff into the fire (Matthew 3:11-12).

In verse 2, God addresses the group who have committed themselves to obeying him. As representatives of those who respect God's name in the end times, God promises that the sun of vindication will rise with healing wings and they will skip like calves released from the stall. They will trample the wicked who will be like the ashes from the burnt chaff under their feet.

When Jeremiah describes Jesus judging the wicked at his second coming in Jeremiah 25:31, he says, "He will pass judgment on all humankind and will hand the wicked over to be killed in war". The participation of the righteous in Jesus' acts of judgment implies their participation with him in his end-time battles (see my comments on Zechariah 14:5b).

In verse 4, God exhorts this committed group to remember the law of Moses, to whom he gave rules and regulations for all Israel to obey. In this context, it is likely these Jews would have particularly thought about Deuteronomy 30:1-10. In that passage, God promises that if the people of Israel are in exile, but return wholeheartedly to the Lord in repentance and obedience, God will restore them to the land and bless them even more than past generations. In verse 5, he promises that before the great and terrible day of the Lord, God will send Elijah. The coming day of judgment will be great for those who honour God, but terrible for those who do not. Verse 6 envisions Israel's repentance and restoration, "He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment".

A reasonable question to ask is whether this Elijah is the same as the 'messenger who will clear the way before me' in 3:1.

In Matthew 11, John the Baptist was in prison and sent some of his disciples with a question, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?". In his first coming, Jesus had not acted as judge in the way that John the Baptist had expected and prophesied in Matthew 3:12. John was clearly confused by this. In his response to John's disciples, Jesus pointed them to his healing miracles as fulfilment of the messianic prophecies in Isaiah 35:5-6 and 61:1. He then spoke to the crowd and asked them rhetorically what they thought about John's identity. He then said to them in verse 14, "And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come". So Jesus confirmed that John the Baptist, figuratively speaking, was the fulfilment of Elijah whom Malachi promised. Jesus then says, "The one who has ears had better listen!" and he proceeds to rebuke the crowds for their poor response to John's call to repentance. Given the end of Malachi 4:6, the implication is that Jesus was warning Israel of the possibility that God would come and strike the land with judgment, rather than ushering in his eternal kingdom. It also implies the opposite, that if Israel had responded in proper repentance to John's message, and had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, Israel would have experienced God's promised restoration 2,000 years ago. Israel's judgment by the Romans was not a fate written in stone.

Given that Moses and and the literal Elijah appeared alongside Jesus at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:3), together with the description of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:6, there is a possibility that Elijah will make a further appearance as one of these two witnesses during the Great Tribulation. It could be that the two witnesses represent Moses and Elijah only figuratively, similar to the way John the Baptist represented Elijah. Or it could be that Moses and Elijah will return literally, as at the transfiguration.
Places: Edom
Symbols: Refining fire, Threshing floor of judgment, End-time harvest
Tags: Jesus as the messenger of the covenant, Jesus comes to his temple, Jesus as Judge, End-time temple, Day of Judgment, Israel judged and restored, Elijah to come, Israel repents, John the Baptist, Two witnesses
Introduction and God’s Election of Israel
1 This is an oracle, the Lord’s message to Israel through Malachi:
2 “I have shown love to you,” says the Lord, but you say, “How have you shown love to us?”
“Esau was Jacob’s brother,” the Lord explains, “yet I chose Jacob
3 and rejected Esau. I turned Esau’s mountains into a deserted wasteland and gave his territory to the wild jackals.”
4 Edom says, “Though we are devastated, we will once again build the ruined places.” So the Lord of Heaven’s Armies responds, “They indeed may build, but I will overthrow. They will be known as the land of evil, the people with whom the Lord is permanently displeased.
5 Your eyes will see it, and then you will say, ‘May the Lord be magnified even beyond the border of Israel!’”

The Sacrilege of Priestly Service

6 “A son naturally honors his father and a slave respects his master. If I am your father, where is my honor? If I am your master, where is my respect? The Lord of Heaven’s Armies asks you this, you priests who make light of my name! But you reply, ‘How have we made light of your name?’
7 You are offering improper sacrifices on my altar, yet you ask, ‘How have we offended you?’ By treating the table of the Lord as if it is of no importance!
8 For when you offer blind animals as a sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer the lame and sick, is that not wrong as well? Indeed, try offering them to your governor! Will he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
9 But now plead for God’s favor that he might be gracious to us. “With this kind of offering in your hands, how can he be pleased with you?” asks the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
10 “I wish that one of you would close the temple doors, so that you no longer would light useless fires on my altar. I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and I will no longer accept an offering from you.
11 For from the east to the west my name will be great among the nations. Incense and pure offerings will be offered in my name everywhere, for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
12 “But you are profaning it by saying that the table of the Lord is common and its offerings despicable.
13 You also say, ‘How tiresome it is.’ You turn up your nose at it,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and instead bring what is stolen, lame, or sick. You bring these things for an offering! Should I accept this from you?” asks the Lord.
14 “There will be harsh condemnation for the hypocrite who has a valuable male animal in his flock but vows and sacrifices something inferior to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and my name is awesome among the nations.”

The Sacrilege of the Priestly Message

2 “Now, you priests, this commandment is for you.
2 If you do not listen and take seriously the need to honor my name,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will send judgment on you and turn your blessings into curses – indeed, I have already done so because you are not taking it to heart.
3 I am about to discipline your children and will spread offal on your faces, the very offal produced at your festivals, and you will be carried away along with it.
4 Then you will know that I sent this commandment to you so that my covenant may continue to be with Levi,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
5 “My covenant with him was designed to bring life and peace. I gave its statutes to him to fill him with awe, and he indeed revered me and stood in awe before me.
6 He taught what was true; sinful words were not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and integrity, and he turned many people away from sin.
7 For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge of sacred things, and people should seek instruction from him because he is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
8 You, however, have turned from the way. You have caused many to violate the law; you have corrupted the covenant with Levi,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
9 “Therefore, I have caused you to be ignored and belittled before all people to the extent to which you are not following after me and are showing partiality in your instruction.”

The Rebellion of the People

10 Do we not all have one father? Did not one God create us? Why do we betray one another, in this way making light of the covenant of our ancestors?
11 Judah has become disloyal, and unspeakable sins have been committed in Israel and Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the holy things that the Lord loves and has turned to a foreign god!
12 May the Lord cut off from the community of Jacob every last person who does this, as well as the person who presents improper offerings to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
13 You also do this: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears as you weep and groan, because he no longer pays any attention to the offering nor accepts it favorably from you.
14 Yet you ask, “Why?” The Lord is testifying against you on behalf of the wife you married when you were young, to whom you have become unfaithful even though she is your companion and wife by law.
15 No one who has even a small portion of the Spirit in him does this. What did our ancestor do when seeking a child from God? Be attentive, then, to your own spirit, for one should not be disloyal to the wife he took in his youth.
16 “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and the one who is guilty of violence,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Pay attention to your conscience, and do not be unfaithful.”

Resistance to the Lord through Self-deceit

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” Because you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the Lord’s opinion, and he delights in them,” or “Where is the God of justice?"

3 “I am about to send my messenger, who will clear the way before me. Indeed, the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom you long for, is certainly coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
2 Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can keep standing when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire, like a launderer’s soap.
3 He will act like a refiner and purifier of silver and will cleanse the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will offer the Lord a proper offering.
4 The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in former times and years past.
5 “I will come to you in judgment. I will be quick to testify against those who practice divination, those who commit adultery, those who break promises, and those who exploit workers, widows, and orphans, who refuse to help the resident foreigner and in this way show they do not fear me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Resistance to the Lord through Selfishness

6 “Since, I, the Lord, do not go back on my promises, you, sons of Jacob, have not perished.
7 From the days of your ancestors you have ignored my commandments and have not kept them! Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “But you say, ‘How should we return?’
8 Can a person rob God? You indeed are robbing me, but you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and contributions!
9 You are bound for judgment because you are robbing me – this whole nation is guilty.
10 “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out blessing for you until there is no room for it all.
11 Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops, and the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
12 “All nations will call you happy, for you indeed will live in a delightful land,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Resistance to the Lord through Self-sufficiency

13 “You have criticized me sharply,” says the Lord, “but you ask, ‘How have we criticized you?’
14 You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. How have we been helped by keeping his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord of Heaven’s Armies?
15 So now we consider the arrogant to be happy; indeed, those who practice evil are successful. In fact, those who challenge God escape!’”
16 Then those who respected the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord took notice. A scroll was prepared before him in which were recorded the names of those who respected the Lord and honored his name.
17 “They will belong to me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “in the day when I prepare my own special property. I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.
18 Then once more you will see that I make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not.

4 (3:19) “For indeed the day is coming, burning like a furnace, and all the arrogant evildoers will be chaff. The coming day will burn them up,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “It will not leave them even a root or branch.
2 But for you who respect my name, the sun of vindication will rise with healing wings, and you will skip about like calves released from the stall.
3 You will trample on the wicked, for they will be like ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Restoration through the Lord
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, to whom at Horeb I gave rules and regulations for all Israel to obey.
5 Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.
6 He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.”