“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:1-6 (ESV)
Because the LORD does not change, universal righteousness is coming. This is what verses 2 and 3 are saying:
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.
This is a beautiful picture, but it presses upon us a trick question: Does the LORD fulfill this prophesy at His first or at His second coming? The obvious answer might be to say “at His Second coming,” since the world is still quite clearly not the way that it ought to be. But I want to suggest that the correct answer to that question is “Both!” Jesus fulfills this prophesy at both His First Coming and at His Second Coming. It is true that we do not yet see “universal righteousness.” Just as we do not yet see all things under Christ’s feet. Yet, although we don’t see this – all authority in heaven and on earth has already been given to Jesus Christ. The man Christ Jesus is currently sitting on the universe’s throne … even though in His mercy He has not yet brought history to an end. In the same way, I think that we ought to see this prophesy of Malachi being fulfilled in two stages. At Christ’s first coming, Jesus brought in universal righteousness in principle. On the cross, He objectively took away the guilt of every person who would ever trust in Him throughout all of history – and through His resurrection all who are united with Him through faith have already been declared to be in the right. That is, we have been justified from the moment we first believe.
Think about Paul’s famous boast in Romans chapter 1:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
What is being revealed? “The righteousness of God!” Who is it being revealed to? Is it only being revealed to the Jews? No, it is being revealed to everyone … to Jews and Gentiles alike. So, it is probably best to see this prophesy as being fulfilled in principle at Christ’s first coming, but only fully consummated at His Second.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 66Q. 66. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment is a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.