Topical Studies

Malachi- John the Baptist and Torah

Malachi, John the Baptizer and the Passing of Torah
Don K. Preston D. Div.

According to Jesus, John the Baptizer was the messenger foretold in Malachi 3:1: “This is he of whom it was written, Behold I send my messenger before your face…” (Matthew 11:10).This critical and undeniable fact has incredible implications for modern theologies and eschatologies.

As the messenger of Malachi 3, John was the herald and sign of the Day of the Lord in judgment.  According to chapter 3:5 this coming of the Lord would be when Messiah (the “Messenger of the Covenant”) would come to his temple in judgment:
“I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness:
Against sorcerers.
Against adulterers.
Against perjurers.
Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans.
And against those who turn away an alien.”

Note now what Malachi said of the Day of the Lord:

“For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear My name  The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,” Says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 4:1-3).

This was in fact, John’s message, as he warned the recalcitrant Jews of what was coming:
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:7-12).

The connections between John’s message in Matthew 3 (remembering that he was the messenger of Malachi 3) and Malachi are too clear to be ignored, and virtually commentators acknowledge this, although they ignore the tremendous significance of the connections.

So, the messenger was to prepare the people for the Day of the Lord when the wicked would be burned as stubble. This would be the time of his coming to his temple when he would judge the sorcerers, the adulterers, the liars, those who mis-treated the widows and the orphans, and those who  turned away the alien. There is something very, very critical to note about this judgment.

It was to be an outpouring of Mosaic Covenant Wrath on Israel for violating Torah.

What simply cannot be missed is that Malachi 3:5 is a direct allusion to Deuteronomy 27:19:
“Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.”
This connection is undeniable and the implications are profound.

Deuteronomy foretold curses on Israel for the time when she would commit the sins listed in 27:19 (and of course, other sins as well). Chapters 28-30, called the Law of Blessings and Cursings, delineated and described the curses that would come. Those curses included national destruction. But again, the critical point to note is that the judgment being foretold in Malachi was the prediction of Covenantal judgment. It was to be the application of the provisions of Torah– the Law of Moses.

Now, it is incontrovertibly true that the provisions of a Covenant (or Law) cannot be applied if / after that Covenant has been stricken from the books. This is so axiomatically true as to be beyond debate.

Amazingly, in my debate with Kurt Simmons, I asked him: If a law or covenant has been abrogated / annulled, are any of its promises or penalties applicable after it has been annulled?

In an example of sheer desperation, Kurt answered that even if a covenant has been abrogated, stricken from the books, that the provisions of that covenant are still valid and applicable. This is amazingly bad. This is so patently, indisputably wrong, that it defies the imagination that anyone would actually make such an argument. It demonstrates the lengths to which some people will go when they are driven, not by exegesis, hermeneutics, or even common sense, but, by a presuppositional approach to scripture.

Kurt is on record as claiming that God left Israel and the Law of Moses behind at the Cross. (See our written debate: The End of Torah: At the Cross or AD 70? which is available on this website). Similarly, Jerry McDonald, in our written debate, claimed that after the cross, God had no covenantal relationship whatsoever with Israel: Torah died at the cross. (See that debate on this website).

But, if this position is true, what does it mean that Malachi was predicting the application of Covenant Wrath in the judgment he predicted– which was in turn the judgment that John foretold?

As we have seen, Malachi was predicting the coming of the Lord in judgment– not Jesus’ Incarnation. That coming would be when he would judge those who had violated Torah, specifically through neglect of the widows and orphans, and by turning away foreigners (more on this later). But, provision for the judgment of those sins was delineated in Torah, the Law of Moses. Thus, the judgment coming foretold in Malachi 3:5 would be the application of Mosaic Covenant Wrath.

Remember that John was the Messenger foretold by Malachi, the Messenger to prepare the people for this very coming of the Lord in judgment. This means that the judgment that John proclaimed – as the messenger– was to be the coming of Christ in the application of Mosaic Covenant Wrath.
This is confirmed further in Malachi 4.

Notice that God foretold the coming of “the Day” that would burn up the wicked like fire consumes the stubble. In contradistinction, Messiah would rise “with healing in his wings” for those who would put their trust in him. But, it is in light of that Day that YHVH then called on Israel: “You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,”  Says the LORD of hosts. “ Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments” (Malachi 4:3-4).

So, God called on Israel to return to faithful observance of Torah in light of the coming “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord.” One would be hard pressed to find a more direct connection between Torah and eschatology. God was calling on Israel to obey Torah to avoid destruction at the Day of the Lord.

If the Day of the Lord is AD 70, as preterists affirm, then clearly, Torah remained valid until AD 70, when the provisions of Covenant Wrath were applied.

If the Great Day of the Lord is an earth burning, time ending event, then one can only conclude that Israel remains God’s covenant people, bound to obey Torah until the end of time.

In either scenario, Malachi’s prophecy is problematic for the traditional views of Torah (and futurist eschatology).

All three futurist views of eschatology say, in varying degrees, that Torah ended at the Cross. This is a crucial and pivotal element of the futurist views. Thus, per these paradigms, the fulfillment of the Covenantal judgment that Malachi and John predicted should hav
e been fulfilled prior to the cross, if Torah did in fact pass away at the cross. This is patently false, however.

There was no coming of the Lord. in covenantal judgment on Israel, after John’s ministry, but before the Cross. So far as I know, no one in the history of exegesis has ever suggested that it did. So, here is what we have:

Malachi 3-4 predicted the outpouring of Mosaic Covenant Wrath at the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord.

The “messenger” of Malachi 3:1-2 was to be the herald and sign of that Day of the Lord.

John the Baptizer was the messenger foretold by Malachi 3:1-2, and he foretold the coming of the Lord in judgment.

John said that the coming of the Lord in judgment– which was to be the application of Mosaic Covenant Wrath– was near.

Therefore, the coming of the Lord in the application of Mosaic Covenant Wrath– at the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord– was near when John ministered.

To drive the point home even more, let me repeat some of that and then make an additional, important point:

Malachi 3-4 predicted the outpouring of Mosaic Covenant Wrath at the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord.
The “messenger” was to prepare for that that Day of the Lord (Malachi 3:1-2).
John the Baptizer was the messenger foretold by Malachi 3:1-2, and he foretold the coming of the Lord in judgment.
John, the messenger of Malachi 3-4, said the coming of the Lord in judgment was near.

Very clearly, the Lord did not come in  application of Mosaic Covenant Wrath before the Cross. This is patently obvious.
So, our choices here are very limited:
1.) If Torah was annulled at the cross as all futurist claim, then the promise of the Day of the Lord in application of Mosaic Covenant Wrath failed.

Remember, no provisions of a dead covenant are applicable after the death of that covenant. So, if Torah was left behind (nullified) at the cross, then Malachi’s promise of the coming of the Lord in the application of Covenant Wrath was nullified at the cross. But if that is true, then prophecy failed, inspiration is nullified.

On the other hand…

2.) The only tenable position is that Torah was not annulled at the cross.
John was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the messenger, who would prepare for the coming of the Lord in application of Mosaic Covenant wrath. No failure of prophecy there!

John said the judgment (the judgment of Malachi 3:5) was “about to come” and the “axe is already at the root.”

Of course, the indisputable fact is that judgment did fall, at the coming of the Lord, in that very generation– in AD 70.

Now, if Christ’s coming in AD 70 is what John predicted– and who could deny this?– this establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that Israel and Torah were not left behind at the cross. It proves that the Covenant Wrath foretold in Deuteronomy 27 and Malachi was still valid and applicable in AD 70.

John’s eschatological role is fully established, but, there is more, far more! We will take a closer look at John’s eschatological role in another upcoming article.

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