The first words of this chapter seem a direct answer to the profane atheistical demand of the scoffers of those days which closed the foregoing chapter: Where is the God of judgment? To which it is readily answered, “Here he is; he is just at the door; the long-expected Messiah is ready to appear; and he says, For judgment have I come into this world, for that judgment which you have so impudently bid defiance to.” One of the rabbin says that the meaning of this is, That God will raise up a righteous King, to set things in order, even the king Messiah. And the beginning of the gospel of Christ is expressly said to be the accomplishment of this promise, with which the Old Testament concludes, Mark 1:1, 2. So that by this the two Testaments are, as it were, tacked together, and made to answer one another. Now here we have,
I. A prophecy of the appearing of his forerunner John the Baptist, which the prophet Isaiah had foretold (Isa. 40:3), as the preparing of the way of the Lord, to which this seems to have a reference, for the words of the latter prophets confirmed those of the former: Behold, I will send my messenger, or I do send him, or I am sending him. “I am determined to send him; he will now shortly come, and will not come unsent, though to a careless generation he comes unsent for.” Observe, 1. He is God’s messenger; that is his office; he is Malachi (so the word is), the same with the name of this prophet; he is my angel, my ambassador. John Baptist had his commission from heaven, and not of men. All held John Baptist for a prophet, for he was God’s messenger, as the prophets were, and came on the same errand to the world that they were sent upon—to call men to repentance and reformation. 2. He is Christ’s harbinger: He shall prepare the way before me, by calling men to those duties which qualify them to receive the comforts of the Messiah and his coming, and by taking them off from a confidence in their relation to Abraham as their father (which, they thought, would serve their turn without a saviour), and by giving notice that the Messiah was now at hand, and so raising men’s expectations of him, and making them readily to go into the measures he would take for the setting up of his kingdom in the world. Note, God observes a method in his work, and, before he comes, takes care to have his way prepared. This is like the giving of a sign. The church was told, long before, that the Messiah would come; and here it is added that, a little before he appears, there shall be a signal given; a great prophet shall arise, that shall give notice of his approach, and call to the everlasting gates and doors to lift up their heads and give him admission. The accomplishment of this is a proof that Jesus is the Christ, is he that should come, and we are to look for no other; for there was such a messenger sent before him, who made ready a people prepared for the Lord, Luke 1:17. The Jewish writers run into gross absurdities to evade the conviction of this evidence; some of them say that this messenger is the angel of death, who shall take the wicked out of this life, to be sent into hell torments; others of them say that it is Messiah the son of Joseph, who shall appear before Messiah the son of David; others, this prophet himself; others, an angel from heaven: such mistakes do those run into that will not receive the truth.
II. A prophecy of the appearing of the Messiah himself: “The Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the God of judgment, who, you think, has forsaken the earth, and you wot not what has become of him. The Messiah has been long called he that should come, and you may assure yourselves that now shortly he will come.” 1. He is the Lord—Adonai, the basis and foundation on which the world is founded and fastened, the ruler and governor of all, that one Lord over all (Acts 10:36) that has all power committed to him (Matt. 28:18) and is to reign over the house of Jacob for ever, Luke 1:33. 2. He is the Messenger of the covenant, or the angel of the covenant, that blessed one that was sent from heaven to negotiate a peace, and settle a correspondence, between God and man. He is the angel, the archangel, the Lord of the angels, who received commission from the Father to bring man home to God by a covenant of grace, who had revolted from him by the violation of the covenant of innocency. Christ is the angel of this covenant, by whose mediation it is brought about and established as God’s covenant with Israel was made by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19. Christ, as a prophet, is the messenger and mediator of the covenant; nay, he is given for a covenant, Isa. 49:8. That covenant which is all our salvation began to be spoken by the Lord, Heb. 2:3. Though he is the prince of the covenant (as some read this) yet he condescended to be the messenger of it, that we might have full assurance of God’s good-will towards man, upon his word. 3. He it is whom you seek, whom you delight in, whom the pious Jews expect and desire, and whose coming they think of with a great deal of pleasure. In looking and waiting for him, they looked for redemption in Jerusalem and waited for the consolation of Israel, Luke 2:25, 38. Christ was to be the desire of all nations, desirable to all (Hag. 2:7); but he was the desire of the Jewish nation actually, because they had the promise of his coming made to them. Note, Those that seek Jesus shall find pleasure in him. If he be our heart’s desire he will be our heart’s delight; and we have reason to delight in him who is the messenger of the covenant, and to bid him welcome who came to us on so kind an errand. 4. He shall suddenly come; his coming draws nigh, and we see it not at so great a distance as the patriarchs saw it at. Or, He shall come immediately after the appearing of John Baptist, shall even tread on the heels of his forerunner; when that morning-star appears, believe that the Sun of righteousness is not far off. Or, He shall come suddenly, that is, he shall come when by many he is not looked for; as his second coming will be, so his first coming was, at midnight, when some had done looking for him, for shall he find faith on the earth? Luke 18:8. The Jews reckon the Messiah among the things that come unawares; so Dr. Pocock. And the coming of the Son of man in his day is said to be as the lightning, which is very surprising, Luke 17:24. 5. He shall come to his temple, this temple at Jerusalem, which was lately built, that latter house which he was to be the glory of. It is his temple, for it is his Father’s house, John 2:16. Christ, at forty days old, was presented in the temple, and thither Simeon went by the Spirit, according to the direction of this prophecy, to see him, Luke 2:27. At twelve years old he was in the temple about his Father’s business, Luke 2:49. When he rode in triumph into Jerusalem, it should seem that he went directly to the temple (Matt. 21:12), and (Mal. 3:14) thither the blind and the lame came to him to be healed; there he often preached, and often disputed, and often wrought miracles. By this it appears that the Messiah was to come while that temple was standing; that, therefore, being long since destroyed, we must conclude that he has come, and we are to look for no other. Note, Those that would be acquainted with Christ and obtain his favour must meet him in his temple, for there he records his name and there he will bless his people. There we must receive his oracles and there we must pay our homage. 6. The promise of this coming is repeated and ratified: Behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts; you may depend upon his word, who cannot lie, he shall come, he will come, he will not tarry.
III. An account given of the great ends and intentions of his coming, Mal. 3:2. He is one whom they seek, and one whom they delight in; and yet who may abide the day of his coming? It is a thing to be thought of with great seriousness, and with a holy awe and reverence; for who shall stand when he appears, though he comes not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might have life? This may refer,
1. To the terrors of his appearance. Even in the days of his flesh there were some emanations of his glory and power, such as none could stand before, witness his transfiguration, and the prodigies that attended his death; and we read of some that trembled before him, as Mark 5:33.
2. To the troublous times that should follow soon after. The Jewish doctors speak of the pangs or griefs of the Messiah, meaning (they say) the great afflictions that should be to Israel at the time of his coming; he himself speaks of great tribulation then approaching, such as was not since the beginning of the world, nor ever shall be, Matt. 24:21.
3. To the trial which his coming would make of the children of men. He shall be like a refiner’s fire, which separates between the gold and the dross by melting the ore, or like fuller’s soap, which with much rubbing fetches the spots out of the cloth. Christ came to discover men, that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed (Luke 2:35), to distinguish men, to separate between the precious and the vile, for his fan in his hand (Matt. 3:12), to send fire on the earth, not peace, but rather division (Luke 12:49, 51), to shake heaven and earth, that the wicked might be shaken out (Job 38:13) and that the things which cannot be shaken might remain, Heb. 12:27. See what the effect of the trial will be that shall be made by the gospel.
(1.) The gospel shall work good upon those that are disposed to be good, to them it shall be a savour of life unto life (Mal. 3:3): He shall sit as a refiner. Christ by his gospel shall purify and reform his church, and by his Spirit working with it shall regenerate and cleanse particular souls; for to this end he gave himself for the church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:26) and purify to himself a peculiar people, Titus 2:14. Christ is the great refiner. Observe, [1.] Who they are that he will purify—the sons of Levi, all those that are devoted to his praise and employed in his service, as the tribe of Levi was, and whom he designs to make unto our God spiritual priests (Rev. 1:6), a holy priesthood, 1 Pet. 2:5. Note, All true Christians are sons of Levi, set apart for God, to do the service of his sanctuary, and to war the good warfare. [2.] How he will purify them; he will purge them as gold and silver, that is, he will sanctify them inwardly; he will not only wash away the spots they have contracted from without, but will take away the dross that is found in them; he will separate from them their indwelling corruptions, which rendered their faculties worthless and useless, and so make them like gold refined, both valuable and serviceable. He will purge them with fire, as gold and silver are purged, for he baptizes with the Holy Ghost and with fire (Matt. 3:11), with the Holy Ghost working like fire. He will purge them by afflictions and manifold temptations, that the trial of their faith may be found to praise and honour, 1 Pet. 1:6, 7. He will purge them so as to make them a precious people to himself. [3.] What will be the effect of it: That they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness, that is, that they may be in sincerity converted to God and consecrated to his praise (hence we read of the offering up, or sacrificing, of the Gentiles to God, when they were sanctified by the holy Ghost, Rom. 15:16), and that they may in a spiritual manner worship God according to his will, may offer the sacrifices of righteousness, (Ps. 4:5), the offering of prayer, and praise, and holy love, that they may be the true worshippers, who worship the Father in spirit and in truth, John 4:23, 24. Note, We cannot offer unto the Lord any right performances in religion unless our persons be justified and sanctified. Till we ourselves be refined and purified by the grace of God, we cannot do any thing that will redound to the glory of God. God had respect to Abel first, and then to his offering; and therefore God purges his people, that they may offer their offerings to him in righteousness, Zeph. 3:9. He makes the tree good that the fruit may be good. And then it follows (Mal. 3:4), The offering of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasant unto the Lord. It shall no longer be offensive, as it has been, when, in the former days, they worshipped other gods with the God of Israel, or when, in the present days, they brought the torn, and the lame, and the sick, for sacrifice; but it shall be acceptable; he will be pleased with the offerers, and their offerings, as in the days of old and as in former years, as in the primitive times of the church, as when God had respect to Abel’s sacrifice and smelled a savour of rest from Noah’s, and when he kindled Aaron’s sacrifice with fire from heaven. When the Messiah comes, First, He will, by his grace in them, make them acceptable; when he has purified and refined them, then they shall offer such sacrifices as God requires and will accept. Secondly, He will, by his intercession for them, make them accepted; he will recommend them and their performances to God, so that their prayers, being perfumed with the incense of his intercession, shall be pleasant unto the Lord; for he has made us accepted in the Beloved, and in him is well pleased with those that are in him (Matt. 3:17) and bring forth fruit in him.
(2.) It shall turn for a testimony against those that are resolved to go on in their wickedness, Mal. 3:5. This is the direct answer to their challenge, “Where is the God of judgment? You shall know where he is, and shall know it to your terror and confusion, for I will come near to you to judgment; to you that set divine justice at defiance.” To them the gospel of Christ will be a savour of death unto death; it will bind them over to condemnation and will judge them in the great day, John 12:48. Let us see here, [1.] Who the sinners are that must appear to be judged by the gospel of Christ. They are the sorcerers, who died in spiritual wickedness, that forsake the oracles of the God of truth to consult the father of lies; and the adulterers, who wallow in the lusts of the flesh, those adulterers who were charged with dealing treacherously (Mal. 2:15); and the false swearers, who profane God’s name and affront his justice, by calling him to witness to a lie; and the oppressors, who barbarously injure and trample upon those who lie at their mercy, and are not able to help themselves: they defraud the hireling in his wages and will not give him what he agreed for; they crush the widow and fatherless, and will not pay them their just debts, because they cannot prove them, or have not wherewithal to sue for them; the poor stranger too, who has no friend to stand by him and is ignorant of the laws of the country, they turn aside from his right, so that he cannot keep or cannot recover his own. That which is at the bottom of all this is, They fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts. The transgression of the wicked plainly declares that there is no fear of God before his eyes. Where no fear of God is no good is to be expected. [2.] Who will appear against them: I will come near, says God, and will be a swift witness against them. They justify themselves, and, their sins having been artfully concealed, hope to escape punishment for want of proof; but God, who sees and knows all things, will himself be witness against them, and his omniscience is instead of a thousand witnesses, for to it the sinner’s own conscience shall be made to subscribe, and so every mouth shall be stopped. He will be a swift witness; though they reflect upon him as slow and dilatory, and ask, Where is the God of judgment, and where the promise of his coming? they will find that he is not slack concerning his threatenings any more than he is concerning his promises. Judgment against those sinners shall not be put off for want of evidence, for he will be a swift witness. His judgment shall overtake them, and it shall be impossible for them to outrun it. Evil pursues sinners.
IV. The ratification of all this (Mal. 3:6): For I am the Lord; I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed. Here we have, 1. God’s immutability asserted by Himself, and glorified in: “I am the Lord; I change not; and therefore no word that I have spoken shall fall to the ground.” Isa. God a just revenger of those that rebel against him? Isa. he the bountiful rewarder of those that diligently seek him? In both these he is unchangeable. Though the sentence passed against evil works (Mal. 3:5) be not executed speedily, yet it will be executed, for he is the Lord; he changes not; he is as much an enemy to sin as ever he was, and impenitent sinners will find him so. There needs no scire facias—a writ calling one to show cause, to revive God’s judgment, for it is never antiquated, or out of date, but against those that go on still in their trespasses the curse of his law still remains in full force, power, and virtue. 2. A particular proof of it, from the comfortable experience which the people of Israel had had of it. They had reason to say that he was an unchangeable God, for he had been faithful to his covenant with them and their fathers; if he had not adhered to that, they would have been consumed long ago and cut off from being a people; they had been false and fickle in their conduct to him, and he might justly have abandoned them, and then they would soon have been consumed and ruined; but because he remembered his covenant, and would not violate that, nor alter the thing that had gone forth out of his lips, they were preserved from ruin and recovered from the brink of it. It was purely because he would be as good as his word, Deut. 7:8; Lev. 26:42. Now as God had kept them from ruin, while the covenant of peculiarity remained in force, purely because he would be faithful to that covenant, and would show that he is not a man that he should lie (Num. 23:19), so, when that covenant should be superseded and set aside by the New Testament, and they, by rejecting the blessings of it, lay themselves open to the curses, he will show that in the determinations of his wrath, as well as in those of his mercy, he is not a man, that he should repent, but will then be as true to his threatenings as hitherto he had been to his promises; see 1 Sam. 15:29. We may all apply this very sensibly to ourselves; because we have to do with a God that changes not, therefore it is that we are not consumed, even because his compassions fail not; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness, Lam. 3:22, 23.