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Both the third and fourth messengers are mentioned in Mal. 3:1. The first prophesies of John the Baptist, the second of Jesus Himself.
1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger [John], and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord [ha Adon], whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant [Jesus] in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
This verse is packed full of prophecy, covering both John and Jesus. First let us deal with the third messenger, John.
The first part of this verse is quoted in Matt. 11:10, where Jesus says about John,
10 This is the one about whom it is written, “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist…
Mark 1:2, 3 and Luke 1:76; 7:27 and other passages confirm that John fulfilled this portion of Malachi’s prophecy. His calling was to remove obstacles in the path. Mark 1:2 and Matt. 3:3 both quote Isaiah 40:3, 4,
3 A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” 4 Let every valley [rut in the road] be lifted up, and every mountain and hill [bump in the road] be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley.
John prepared the way by issuing a call to repentance (Matt. 3:2). Sin was thus the obstacle in the road. The metaphor was of a road full of rocks, bumps, and ruts that needed to be cleared so that the King could ride a carriage without bouncing around on a bumpy road on “rugged terrain.”
Even as the way was normally prepared for the earthly kings who traveled on the roads, so also was the way to be prepared for Christ’s coming.
At the end of Malachi’s book, he prophesies in Mal. 4:5,
5 Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.
Jesus tells us in Matt. 11:13, 14 that John the Baptist was “Elijah.” So we must link the third messenger of Mal. 3:1 to the sending forth of “Elijah” in Mal. 4:5. Mal. 3:1 tells us that his mission was to “clear the way before Me,” while Mal. 4;5 gives us the timing, “before the great and terrible day of the Lord.” The nameless “messenger” in 3:1 is thus identified with Elijah in 4:5.
John himself testified that he was not the Christ, but that they should look to One who was greater than he (John 1:27). The next day he saw Jesus walking toward him and recognized Him as His Master. John 1:29, 30 says,
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”
Jesus, then, was prophesied in the last half of Mal. 3:1, where He was said to be “the messenger of the covenant.” Malachi does not specify any particular covenant in his prophecy, but we know from Heb. 12:24 that He was “the mediator of a New Covenant,” even as Moses mediated the old covenant (Gal. 3:19).
Even as the third messenger was later identified as Elijah, so also does Mal. 4:4 identify the fourth messenger with Moses:
4 Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.
So also Acts 3:22, 23 makes the same identification.
22 Moses said, “The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you. 23 And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”
This is a quotation from Deut. 18:18, 19. Many centuries later, Ezra, who compiled the canon of the Old Testament, added a 3-verse addendum to the book of Deuteronomy, saying in 34:10, “Since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses.”
In other words, in Ezra’s day, though Babylon had fallen to Cyrus, the “messiah,” Moses’ prophecy had not yet been fulfilled. Ezra expected this Prophet to be transfigured—that is, to know the Lord face to face (Deut. 34:10)—and to perform the signs and wonders similar to what Moses did to Egypt when he led Israel out of the house of bondage.
Matt. 17:1, 2 tells us that Jesus fulfilled Ezra’s expectations when, like Moses, He went up the mount, spoke with the Lord face to face, and was gloriously transfigured. We then see both Moses and Elijah appearing to Jesus, suggesting a connection to the prophecy in Mal. 4:4, 5. The disciples later asked Jesus about the Elijah prophecy. Jesus told them in Matt. 17:11, 12,
11 And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12 but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”
The disciples did not ask anything about Moses—or at least nothing is recorded about this. Their question focused upon Elijah. Jesus again identified John the Baptist as Elijah, saying “Elijah already came.” Yet at the same time, Jesus spoke of future things, saying, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things.” There are, then, two manifestations of Elijah, each one preparing the way for a different coming of Christ.
Malachi prophesies in part, and the story of Jesus remains incomplete insofar as its fulfillment is concerned. It is only when we step back and see the big picture that we find that Elijah and Moses were patterns of John and Jesus. Even as Jesus was the Prophet like Moses, so also was John the Prophet like Elijah.
These are the third and fourth messengers of Malachi.
Because there are two comings of Christ (i.e., “Moses”), so also are there two comings of John (i.e., “Elijah”). The main difference lies in the different purposes for each coming of Christ.
In the first coming of Christ, His purpose was to die on the cross as the Lion of the tribe of Judah in order to lay claim to the throne or scepter of Judah. And so, in accordance with this purpose, John was to be killed, and his message of repentance had to be rejected, because the rulers of the people were to reject and kill Jesus as well. Matt. 17:12 (above) links these two events.
In the second coming of Christ, He does not need to die again, but rather He comes in glory. His purpose is to “restore all things,” which means that the modern Elijah (company) will be successful in calling the people to repent. This can only be accomplished by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will prepare the way for Christ in His second coming. The work of Elijah must succeed in order that Christ may return.
However, this does not mean that Elijah’s ministry will be trouble free. Rev. 11:5 says, “and if anyone would desire to harm them, in this manner he must be killed.” This implies opposition and plots against their lives. Rev. 11:7 indicates that the two witnesses will be killed. The next verse says,
8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
These two witnesses are described in terms of Moses and Elijah in verse 6,
6 These have the power to shut up the sky, in order that rain may not fall during the days of their prophesying…
This is similar to Elijah’s prophecy in 1 Kings 17:1, where he said, “surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The last half of the verse shows a Moses calling:
6 … and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.
Exodus 7:20 says,
20 So Moses and Aaron did even as the Lord had commanded. And he lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood.
This was just the first of ten plagues upon Egypt. The two witnesses of Revelation 11 are said to perform similar judgments, but this time on a greater scale involving “the earth.” Whether this means the entire planet or a specific area of the earth is not specified.
So these two witnesses are undoubtedly the fulfillment of the second coming of Christ. It appears that they will again be killed, and it will again appear as if their mission had failed. But then they will be raised from the dead to ensure success in their mission.
Of course, there seems to be a contradiction here. How can both witnesses be killed, if Jesus is playing the role of Moses? This cannot be the case. But if the two witnesses are groups of people, rather than individuals, then it is clear that we must interpret this passage from a different perspective.
While every body of people has leaders that represent the whole, I believe that the two witnesses are bodies of people, rather than individuals by themselves. Neither do these people literally have to be killed in Jerusalem in order to fulfill the prophecy. There is more than one way to die.
Even the location of their martyrdom is given in spiritual (or “mystical”) terms. It is Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem. If we must look for a single physical location, which one shall we choose? The wording gives some latitude for interpretation. It is apparent that three separate biblical stories must be compiled and overlaid on each other in order to get the full picture being presented to us.
The first is Sodom, where the fire of God came down from heaven. This suggests a connection with Elijah, who called down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice during the showdown with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:38). This fire came down in response to Elijah’s prayer about restoring all things. His prayer is given in verse 37,
37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that his people may know that Thou, O Lord, art God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again.
The fact that this sparked a return to Yahweh from the worship of Baal shows that this was a story of repentance. This was the Elijah task prophesied in Mal. 4:6,
6 And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.
This also defines Jesus’ words when he said that Elijah would “restore all things” (Matt. 17:11). When John was sent as “Elijah” to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming, he did not “restore all things.” Instead, he was killed, as if to imply a different outcome to the Elijah showdown. The second coming of Elijah, however, will complete the prophecy.
“Elijah” is accompanied by “Moses” once again. But because Jesus Himself cannot die a second time, the second witness must simply represent Jesus. A portion of the body of Christ could serve that function. In fact, this may extend throughout church history when the “souls under the altar” were martyred (Rev. 6:9-11). Or it may refer specifically to a later time period. Either way, the martyrs are treated as sacrificial lambs (arnion), as if their blood/soul was poured out under the altar.
Secondly, this martyrdom comes not only in Sodom but in Egypt in order to show Moses’ connection. Here Moses was not killed, but we do see a substitutionary death of the Passover lamb before crossing the Red Sea (baptism and resurrection).
Thirdly, there is the Jerusalem connection, “where also their Lord was crucified.” Even as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so also the son of the bondwoman (Jerusalem) persecutes the son of the freewoman (Gal. 4:29). Tying Jerusalem to the stories of Moses and Elijah brings all things into focus. Luke 13:33 says,
33 Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is both a city and the “mother” of the children of the flesh, who, like her, are in bondage (Gal. 4:25). Hagar was an Egyptian bondwoman. Jerusalem is Hagar, Paul says. This links Egypt with Jerusalem when we speak of spiritual things. Only the children of Sarah, heavenly Jerusalem, are heirs of the promise. Because of this, the children of the flesh persecute the children of promise.
Both Moses and Elijah had successors who completed their calls. Because Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it, Moses was forbidden to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Num. 20:12). So Joshua completed the call to bring Israel into their promised inheritance.
Likewise, Elijah was unable to complete his calling. After running away from Jezebel, he was told to anoint Elisha to complete the work (1 Kings 19:16).
This pattern shows that each is a two-part calling that relates to the two comings of Christ. First John the Baptist was “Elijah” who prepared the way for Christ as “Moses.” But today we look for “Elisha” to prepare the way for Christ as “Joshua.”
The first was an Elijah-Moses combination, while the second requires the double portion ministry of Elisha to bring about the birthright ministry of Joshua, the Ephraimite.
Even though Jesus, or Yeshua, was named for the Joshua in the Old Testament, Jesus was of the tribe of Judah in His first coming. It is not until He comes as the Ephraimite (son of Joseph, the birthright holder of 1 Chron. 5:2) that He can lead us into the Kingdom.
Thus, the single portion of John-Elijah was sufficient to prepare the way for Christ’s ministry on earth, but it requires the double portion of the Elisha company to establish the Kingdom. Therefore, it is really Elisha, not Elijah, that is able to restore all things, even as it is really Joshua, not Moses, that can bring us into the Kingdom. The first half of the work is required, of course, but it remains incomplete until the second half (double portion) is accomplished.