By Horatius Bonar
THIS is a notable specimen of a double prophecy. It contains several distinct predictions,--twice or oftener fulfilled; at first very partially, and then fully; at first almost apparently a failure, at last a perfect fulfillment. The centre of these prophecies is Messiah himself; Messiah in connection with Israel; Messiah both in his first and second comings; the things predicted having a partial and shadowy fulfillment at his first, and awaiting an exhaustive fulfillment at his second coming. By taking these both apart and united, we shall have a clear insight into the meaning of this difficult prophecy.
In the previous chapter there is a "day" spoken of,--a time of mingled wrath and grace; and it is of this "day" that the present chapter is full. It is called "the day" (ver. 1) twice over; "the day that I shall do this" (ver. 3), or, "that I shall work"; "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (ver. 5). It is the day of Christ,--Messiah's day, as seen by the prophets, embracing both his first and second comings; and conjoining in one period the events of both these.
"For behold"! God calls men's heedless eyes to the events of the future. "For behold the day cometh;" yes, "the day that shall burn as a furnace;" the "day of vengeance" (Isaiah 61:2; 64:2; 66:15,16). Then shall all "the proud" (Psalm 94:2,3), especially "he that exalteth himself above all that is called God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4); and "all that do wickedly," the wicked one and all his hosts,--be "as stubble,"--as "chaff" (Matthew 3:12.) for the unquenchable fire. Yea, "the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, and leave neither root nor branch;" they "shall be utterly burned with fire" (2 Samuel 23:7). Such is "the day of the Lord" that shall come as a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10). To this day of fire and destruction John the Baptist referred when he began to preach repentance (Matthew 3:2-10); as if reminding the Jews of Malachi, and his awful words.
In the midst of this fiery havoc there shall be a remnant "spared" (3:17), described by the expression "you that fear my name." Yes; the fearers of Jehovah's name are (as in the case of Noah) to be spared in the fiery deluge that is coming. Nay, on them a glorious morning is to dawn (2 Samuel 23:4), the Sun of righteousness is to arise; not with destruction, but with "healing" in his rays or " wings," and under his genial warmth and light, these fearers of the Lord shall go forth as the flocks and herds to pasture. Blessed morning to those who fear the Lord and think on his name (Malachi 3:16), the "morning without clouds" (2 Samuel 23:4); ushered in by "the bright and morning star" (Revelation 2:28). This was in a measure fulfilled when Jesus came as "the light of the world;" but the full accomplishment is reserved for his second appearing.
Then (ver. 3.) shall these fearers of the Lord accompany him in executing his vengeance,--"this honour have all his saints" (Psalm 149:9); for "the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment upon all" (Jude 14). They come with their Lord to "tread down the wicked," to "tread them in anger, and trample them in fury" (Isaiah 63:3; Revelation 19:15). Yes; antichrist and all his enemies, with all who "know not God and obey not his gospel," shall be "as ashes" under them in that day of fire (ver. 1). Thus shall the saints triumph. Victory shall be theirs on that very earth where they were overcome and trodden on. They shall be associated with the King of kings in wielding the rod of iron (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:27). That day shall be one of exaltation and triumph for the fearers of the Lord,--"The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom" (Daniel 7:18); and then shall the song of the redeemed be fulfilled, "Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth" (Revelation 5:10).
In the fourth verse we have a statement which, while it refers most of all to Israel, applies to the world also,--"Remember ye the law of Moses," &c. It was probably to this that our Lord referred, when once and again he said, "I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil." Throughout the whole dispensation that law was to be exhibited and magnified, as the law of laws, holy, just, and good. Christ himself did this in life and in death; and God, even under this dispensation of grace, cannot suffer one jot or tittle of that righteous law to be infringed. It shall stand forever.
Then the forerunner is announced, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord; whether actually before it, or just about its commencement (for it is not a mere day of twenty- four hours), we know not,--"I will send Elijah the prophet." As we find Joel's prophecy (2:31) receiving a faint and partial fulfilment at Pentecost, though it awaits a fuller one hereafter; so we have a double Elias,--an Elias of the first, and an Elias of the second coming. The mission of both is alike,--to call Israel to repentance, and to bring the whole nation, fathers and children, into happy unity before God; the warning being annexed, "Lest I come and smite the land (earth) with a curse." John the Baptist was a burning and shining light,--the vivid likeness of the Tishbite; but his ministry did not accomplish the end specified. The heart of the nation was not turned; and instead of oneness, there was division and a sword (Luke 12:51,52); son against father, and father against son. They repented not, and so they were smitten; and not only they, but their land; so that it remains a desolation and a curse until this day. But when the literal Elijah comes, at Messiah's second advent, then shall be the blessing and not the curse. His mission shall be effectual. The heart of the nation shall be turned;
God will give them "ONE heart" (Ezekiel 11:19); "the people shall be all righteous"; people and land shall alike be blessed of the Lord; division and discord shall cease; unity and love shall overflow. Then shall be the reign of peace, under the sceptre of the Prince of peace. As the Old Testament ends with that awful word, "curse," the New Testament begins and ends with blessing: "Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the pure in heart"; and "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all" (Revelation 22:21).
1. The great warning (ver. 1). There is a day coming that shall decide everything. All that God hates shall be utterly swept away. Sinner, tremble and turn.
2. The consolation of the faithful (ver. 2). There is a remnant; and the mark of this is that "they fear God's name." What stress God lays on this "fear." What honour he puts on those in whom it is found.
3. The mighty victory (ver. 3). These "fearers" are "warriors" too. They fight, and overcome, and triumph. The reward of victory is theirs; the palm and crown.
4. The unchangeable standard of holiness (ver. 4). God's law is perfect. It stands forever. In the last ages, as well as the first, it is the great rule. It tells what God loves and what he hates.
5. The world's last sermon. It comes from venerable lips; from one who has been near three thousand years in heaven. Elijah comes to give God's great message to Israel. The nation hears. The blessing comes.
To all this we are looking forward in these last days. When the great day may come, we know not. It may be near. Let us look for its signs. Let us listen for its sounds of warning. The message has gone forth. WATCH. In such an hour as ye think not, the son of man cometh! "Little children, it is the last time" (1 John 2:18).
The world is not ready for its Judge. In the day when He comes it will be dumb. "What wilt them say when he shall punish thee?" asks the prophet (Jeremiah 13:21). Yes; the world is unready. But this will not hinder his coming. "He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." As a thief he shall come. As the lightning he shall come. As a snare he shall come. As a judge he shall come. As an avenger he shall come. As the wielder of the iron rod he shall come. As King of kings and Lord of lords he shall come.
O Sons of men, take warning. When ye are saying peace and safety, sudden destruction will come. When ye are enjoying your lusts and pleasures,--in the theatre, or the opera, or the ball-room, or the turf, or the gaming-table,--he, the Judge of quick and dead, shall come. Oh, ere he thus comes to you, come ye to him! Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way.
Make haste, for judgment lingereth not, damnation slumbereth not. The time is short. But the gate is open; and he who has opened it bids you enter. Pie pities you, he yearns over you, in the deep sincerity of divine compassion. "He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." While yet then he lingers in his love,--oh haste to be saved. He may soon be here. The trumpet of the Judge may soon sound. The day which shall burn as an oven may soon begin. Oh turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?