TENDER MERCY AND THE PROPHETIC WORD: FROM MALACHI TO JOHN THE IMMERSER
The ancient prophecy of Malachi said the next prophet to come would be a forerunner to prepare hearts and would announce the Messiah through the prophetic Word.
The Messiah is always announced through the prophetic Word. That is why there is no Messiah wherever there is no prophetic Word.
John the Baptist—I prefer to call him John the Immerser because this title is both accurate and illustrative in the original Hebrew—was a mere man. Yet he was a man with a powerful spiritual anointing. His anointing was so powerful that it was aligned with the anointing of the ancient prophet Elijah. This is what the prophecy in Malachi actually entailed. It did not refer to a mere man or to a return of Elijah but to a particular powerful prophetic anointing which would show up in the Last Days.
He was the last prophet of Israel before the prophetic Word ceased. For roughly four and a half centuries until John there was no prophet in Israel. Imagine that. For perspective, if we traveled back through time from now for 450 years we would arrive at the year 1572. This was way before anything America. It predates Plymouth (1620) and Jamestown (1607). It even predates the Lost Colony of Roanoke (1585-87). Hence, Israel was prophetless for an incredibly long time.
Malachi’s ministry occurred in the late fifth century BC and ended at some point prior to 400BC when he spoke his last and passed from the scene. His voice was stilled. Having no successor, the prophetic Word went silent. One may wonder how or why this happened but it likely had something to do with an age-old fight between two elements meant to work together but were often effectively at each other’s throats. This ancient battle between priest and prophet continues to play out in our day but’s that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say that the priests won their battle against the prophets when Malachi breathed his last.
We get an indication of the timing by taking a closer look at Daniel’s prophecy of weeks. He speaks of a distinct division in time that occurred after forty-nine years (seven weeks) which coincided with the completion of the rebuilding of Jerusalem in approximately 407BC. One can easily read into this as a time when the priests had taken full control of the city of Jerusalem and the second temple. They had everything going their way though they achieved it in part (likely a major part) through guile, mammon, and self-serving determination. Now they no longer had to worry about that confounding variable of God speaking to His people and stirring them up against their dead religious order. They had finally eliminated their great nemesis the prophet who was ever exposing their corruption. Does this sound familiar?
The anti-prophet effort had been brewing especially during the time when what was left of the nation of Israel was in Babylonian Captivity almost two centuries before. The nation had been banished there due to its great sin and faithlessness. A defiant faction of the priestly element never did repent but grew further from God and more rebellious. They also picked up some bad demonic stuff while in Babylon and incorporated it into their teachings. When they finally returned to the land after their 70 year penalty phase it was only a matter of time before their evil hearts would overtake the dutiful priests honorably adhering to the Law of Moses and the pure honesty of the prophets and rid the land of not only the prophetic Word but the edifying and preserving influence of God Himself.
Thus, the words of Malachi have special import. Imagine a friend or relative at the end of life speaking his or her final words. This person would never be heard from again. One would therefore want to spend time with the passing one whose speech would soon cease forever. Whether Malachi knew this or not we may not ever know but I think he did. He was a prophet after all. Unlike the priests who performed routine quotidian tasks and ceremonial duties, prophets had to stay close to God at all times or would not be able to fulfill their callings. They could never fake it. Their lives were not composed of man’s order but the comparative wildness of spiritual warfare as reflected in nature when one may not know what may come next—crashing oceans, great thunderstorms, raging blizzards and the like—but had better be equipped and able to deal with it. They were given a most difficult task to achieve that demanded the crucifixion of flesh. They were often greatly humbled. It sometimes appeared that God had little concern for their welfare or physical comfort. They were driven to be the best and to achieve their calling against great odds. These were tough men. Very strong. God demanded of them a high level of spiritual discipline and the outworking thereof because the people needed to hear from Him for their direction and salvation and this could only happen through the prophetic Word delivered through humanity.
Obviously very few men qualified to be prophets, not necessarily because God was partial or particularly choosy but because He had a hard time finding those who would willingly submit to the rigors of the calling. I cannot imagine how hard this process must have been for the Lord but I get a pretty good clue whenever I think about the working out of my own walk and its hopeful effectiveness and how the Lord must be forever patient but also demand commandment-keeping, curriculum-learning, calling-achievement, and having something great to show in our lives for what He did for us on the cross. He built a great foundation which gave each real Christian a tremendous head start. I would think He expects us to strive to be the best we can be. This is how it was for the OT prophets, though to the nth degree.
The book of Malachi has been described as “a beautiful expression of God’s love for a nation that continues to disobey Him,” and in one sentence: “The Great King will come not only to judge his people, but also to bless and restore them.” It is composed of four chapters. The verses we are concerned with in this paper come from Chapter 4 and describe that distant time four and a half centuries from Malachi’s era into the future when the great closing prophetic events occur in the final generation of Israel in the first century AD. Here is Chapter 4, the last verses of the Old Testament, in full:
1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
2 “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.
3 “You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the LORD of hosts.
4 “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.
5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.
6 “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” [Malachi 4:1-6]
Those who are aware of the final conflagration of the nation of Israel will see in this passage the absolute accuracy of the prophetic Word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Malachi. This man was given a pure vision of the future by God and he captured it in written form. As I wrote earlier, the vision within this short passage directly refers to the final generation of Israel and the “Last Days” spoken of in the New Testament writings. They were the days of the next prophet after Malachi, a man named John, who the Lord Jesus referred to as the greatest man born of a woman. And of course, right after John arose the greatest Prophet, a Man excepted from the former description since He is truly the greatest, who was the long waited Messiah as referred to by Malachi in verse 5, “the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.” This day was great primarily because He would arrive and save all believers from their sin and grant them eternal life. But the day was terrible in that:
V1: It would burn like a furnace and all the arrogant and every evildoer would be chaff; the day that is coming will set them ablaze and leave them neither root nor branch.
V3: The wicked would be tread down and be ashes under the feet of the righteous on the day “which I am preparing.”
In the last verse the Lord speaks of one final chance for the nation. If not heeded He would “come and smite the land with a curse.” Of course we know it was not heeded. The prophet John was rejected. The Messiah was rejected. The prophetic Word was rejected. Every warning ever spoken was rejected.
The nation crashed and burned, as did the great city of Jerusalem, the city of David. And the brand new sparkling gold-laden and gold-filled third temple was also burned to the ground and every last trace of it vanished.
For the righteous believers who welcomed John and welcomed the Messiah and respected the prophetic Word we have:
V2: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.”
We see this prophetic truth mentioned once again as reflected in the next passage from the Gospel of Luke when John’s father Zechariah spoke the following prophecy at baby John’s circumcision ceremony:
“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and redeemed His people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of His servant David, just as He promised through His holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering His sacred covenant—the covenant He swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.
“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell His people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” [Luke 1:68-79 NLT]
© 2022 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.
 Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.