Malachi Series: Living in Light of the Coming Day (Mal 4:4-6)
Living in Light of the Coming Day
Remember the law of my servant Moses, to whom at Horeb I gave rules and regulations for all Israel to obey. Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives. He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.
Malachi 4:4-6 (NET)
How can we live in the light of the coming day of the Lord?
In Malachi 3:14-4:3, God gave the final disputation of the book of Malachi. The book contains six disputations with the post-exilic Jews. The disputations typically had this pattern: God challenged the people about various sins, they typically questioned God in response, and then God explained in detail how they sinned. In Malachi 3:14-15, God challenged them about their harsh criticism of him. The post-exilic Jews were disillusioned over their faith. When they looked outside of Israel and within, the wicked and prideful prospered. Those who challenged God went unpunished. Consequently, it seemed like serving God was a waste of time. However, in response, God reminded the Jews of the day of the Lord. A day is coming when God will clearly distinguish between the righteous and the wicked (3:18). The wicked will be burned up in a fire that will consume the earth, but the righteous will be spared as his son (3:17, 4:1). They will be his precious treasure (3:17). When Christ comes, they will be vindicated before a world that treated them as strange and at times even evil (4:2-3). They will be healed from discouragement and sickness, and they will have supernatural joy. Malachi described the righteous as skipping like calves who have been released from stalls at the dawn (Mal 4:2).
After God finished his final disputation with the post-exilic Jews, he taught them how to live in light of the coming day of the Lord in Malachi 4:4-6. Though written to Jews who lived before Christ’s first coming, the words have applications for us as we await Christ’s second coming. In them, we learn principles about living in light of the second coming. The post-exilic Jews and the early church were taught to live as though Christ’s coming could happen very soon (if not at any moment), and certainly, this is truer for us who now live 2,000 years after his first coming. Living in light of Christ’s coming sanctifies us and will help us be found faithful when the Lord returns. First John 3:2-3 (ESV) says
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
As we study Malachi 4:4-6, it will help us live in light of the day of the Lord and therefore purify ourselves so we may be approved when Christ returns.
Big Question: What principles can we learn about living in light of Christ’s coming so we can be prepared for it and approved by Christ when he returns?
To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Be Devoted and Obedient to God’s Word
Remember the law of my servant Moses, to whom at Horeb I gave rules and regulations for all Israel to obey.
When God called Israel to remember the law of Moses, he was not simply telling them to think about the law and not forget it, but to obey it. By obeying God’s law, they would be prepared for the messiah’s coming. In fact, the law was always meant to prepare them for Christ, as Christ would be the fulfillment and end of the law. Galatians 3:23-26 says:
Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.
The term “guardian” in verses 24 and 25 can also be translated “tutor” as in the NKJV. The law was always meant to teach the Jews their need for Christ. They could never perfectly follow the law and therefore needed a Savior who would die for them. Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Therefore, every year, a lamb without blemish died for the sins of the people as an atoning sacrifice. That lamb always symbolized Christ to help Israel prepare for his coming. In fact, when John the Baptist first saw Christ, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The law was a tutor to teach Israel their need for Christ. Also, the law held many other symbols that pictured Christ. Not only was the lamb a symbol but also the tabernacle and temple itself. In John 1:14, John said this about Christ, “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.” The word “residence” can also be translated “tabernacled.” The tabernacle was the place where God’s presence dwelt amongst the people and was manifest. At times, God’s glory cloud would enter the tabernacle and later the temple. But in the New Testament, God’s presence was made manifest to people through Christ, God’s Word made flesh. His body was the tabernacle where God’s presence dwelled. In line with this, Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form.” Also, in John 14:9, Jesus said to Philip, “The person who has seen me has seen the Father!”
In addition, the Sabbath day, which the law taught Jews to practice weekly as a day of worship and rest, also pictured Christ. In Matthew 11:28-29, Christ said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Christ is our true rest. Likewise, in Colossians 2:16, Paul said:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days—these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!
The required food laws, festivals, and Sabbath days always foreshadowed Christ, as they were meant to prepare the people for him. Now that the messiah has come, these practices are no longer required. Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.” Also, Romans 6:14 says, “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.”
As the post-exilic Jews studied and practiced the Old Testament law as God commanded, it would have prepared them for their coming messiah. Even Christ said this to the Pharisees in John 5:39-40,
You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.
Unfortunately, they studied Scripture but were not willing to obey it which would have prepared them to follow Christ and have eternal life. Furthermore, the Jews as a nation ultimately over the next 400 years did not remember the law and therefore did not recognize Christ at his first coming. They, instead, killed him.
Likewise, for us, if we are going to be prepared for Christ’s coming, we must remember God’s Word, not just the Old Testament but the New Testament as well. However, we must be warned. As with the Pharisees and the Jewish nation, there is a type of studying and listening to Scripture that only hardens the heart of the hearer and hinders both our acceptance of Christ and our obedience to him. In James 1:22, James said: “But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.” Simply listening to the Word of God and not obeying it can deceive people about their faith. They start to believe they are born again simply because they are at church on Sundays, attend a small group, and read their Bibles occasionally. However, apart from obeying God’s Word, these disciplines do us no good and can actually deceive us about the true condition of our hearts before God.
Christ warned about this as well at the end of his sermon in Matthew 7:24-27. There he described two types of listeners to his Word. The one who listened and obeyed Christ’s Word was a like a person who built his house on the rock, and when the storm came, his house stood. However, the other person listened to Christ’s Word but did not obey it. He was described as a person building his house on sand, but when the storms came, the house was destroyed. In Matthew 7:21, Christ clarified the parable by this saying which precedes it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” People who only listen to God’s Word and don’t do it, are not truly saved, and God’s judgment will prove it.
Though spoken over 400 years after Malachi, the same situation was happening amongst the post-exilic Jews. Throughout Malachi’s prophecy, God was not rebuking pagans who did not believe in God but those who claimed to be following him but were not. To use modern terminology, they were religious but not saved. In fact, in Malachi 3:13-4:6, when God described the day of the Lord, he spoke of two groups—the religious who disobeyed God, criticized him, and would be destroyed during the day of the Lord, and those who feared the Lord who would be saved. Verses 13-18 say,
“You have criticized me sharply,” says the Lord, “but you ask, ‘How have we criticized you?’ You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. How have we been helped by keeping his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord of Heaven’s Armies? So now we consider the arrogant to be blessed; indeed, those who practice evil are successful. In fact, those who challenge God escape!’” Then those who respected the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord took notice. A scroll was prepared before him in which were recorded the names of those who respected the Lord and honored his name. “They will belong to me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “in the day when I prepare my own special property. I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you will see that I make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not.
In the prophecy, God distinguished between those who feared him and those who criticized him. The names of those who feared him were written in a book of remembrance. They would be his special treasure. When judgment came, he would spare them as his sons. The righteous feared the Lord, but the religious within Israel who criticized him did not. They would be judged while the righteous were spared. Again, the context is not pagans and Israelites. It’s the religious Israelites and those within Israel who truly feared the Lord. This is also a reality within the church that we must understand and consider as we prepare for Christ’s coming. In Matthew 13, Christ taught the same thing about his kingdom. He said the kingdom of God consisted of weeds and wheat, bad fish and good fish. In John 15, he talked about branches on the vine that don’t bear fruit and those that do. According to all of those parables, the weeds, bad fish, and the branches that don’t bear fruit will all be thrown into the fire. These are all people associated with the kingdom of God (the church) but are not truly saved. We must make sure we are not among them.
As God spoke to the post-exilic Jews to help them prepare for this time of sifting between the righteous and the wicked at Christ’s coming, he called them to be devoted to God’s Word. We must do the same as well. We must make sure we are not just listening to it and studying it like the religious Jews; we must obey it like those who feared the Lord. Our obedience proves we reverence the Lord and therefore are saved. It proves that we are part of those who follow Christ and not just those at church on Sunday.
As we consider the two types of Jews who God spoke to—the religious and those who feared the Lord—we must ask ourselves, “Which are we?” Again, we can know by our relationship to God’s Word. When Christ comes, he will see what we did with his Word. This will prove if we truly put our faith in him. In John 8:31-32, Christ said this to the Jews who professed to believe in him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Likewise, as mentioned, in Matthew 7:21, Christ said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Are we continuing in Christ’s Word, in the sense of studying and obeying it? If so, we are truly his disciples and will be prepared when he comes.
Application Question: Why is our relationship to God’s Word a litmus test of whether we are truly saved or not? How is God calling you to “remember” his Word as you prepare for Christ’s coming?
To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Respond to God’s Witnesses and Be His Witnesses
Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives. He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.”
In Malachi 4:5, God said that he would send Elijah before day of the Lord. This is the second time this person is mentioned in the book of Malachi. In Malachi 3:1-2, God said:
I am about to send my messenger, who will clear the way before me. Indeed, the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom you long for, is certainly coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
This prophecy corresponded with an earlier prophecy by Isaiah. Isaiah 40:3-5 says:
A voice cries out, “In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord; build a level road through the rift valley for our God. Every valley must be elevated, and every mountain and hill leveled. The rough terrain will become a level plain, the rugged landscape a wide valley. The splendor of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it at the same time. For the Lord has decreed it.”
Both prophecies referred to the custom of a king sending a messenger to a city to let them know he was coming. Then, the people would go out and clear the roads of rocks, branches, and other debris to prepare for the king’s coming. Likewise, God was going to send a messenger to help the Israelites prepare for the day of the Lord. In Malachi 4:5, the person is Elijah the prophet.
This prophecy seems to have a dual fulfillment. At Christ’s first coming, John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to call people to repentance. In Luke 1:16-17, an angel says this about John before his birth:
He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.”
The Jews in Christ’s day were obviously familiar with Malachi’s prophecy and took it literally; therefore, they were waiting for Elijah. For this reason, the priests and Levites asked John the Baptist if he was Elijah, but he said that he was not. However, John did say he was the voice of one shouting in the wilderness for people to prepare the way for the coming king. This corresponded with the prophecy of the messenger in Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. John 1:21-23 describes John’s interaction with the Jewish religious leaders:
So they asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No!” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Similarly, in Matthew 17:11-13, when Christ was asked about the coming of Elijah, he said this:
… “Elijah does indeed come first and will restore all things. And I tell you that Elijah has already come. Yet they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
When Christ said Elijah “will restore all things” (v. 11)—future tense—this was said after John the Baptist was dead. However, he also said Elijah had “already come”—past tense—through John (v. 12-13). So there was a sense in which Elijah had already come but was yet to come. John the Baptist partially fulfilled the prophecy about Elijah in that he came in the spirit and power of Elijah to bring Israel to repentance and prepare them for Christ. However, Scripture seems to indicate that another Elijah-like figure will come right before Christ’s second coming. Revelation 11 describes how two prophets will appear in the end times and do miracles just like Moses and Elijah. Revelation 11:3, 6-7 says:
And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.” … These two have the power to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the time they are prophesying. They have power to turn the waters to blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague whenever they want. When they have completed their testimony, the beast that comes up from the abyss will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.
Because of the miracles done by these two prophets, closing the sky so it doesn’t rain and turning the waters into blood, many believe these two witnesses are Moses and Elijah. This conclusion also is derived from the fact that Moses and Elijah are associated with the day of the Lord in Malachi 4:4-6 and because both Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration during his first coming (Matt 17). Therefore, most likely, Elijah himself (or an Elijah like figure) will return to help prepare people’s hearts for Christ’s return in fulfillment of Malachi 4:5.
Why Elijah? Elijah was one of the boldest prophets in the Old Testament. He boldly challenged Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, and his wife, Jezebel (1 Kgs 17-18, 21). He confronted hundreds of Baal prophets and thousands of compromising Israelites. He had all the Baal prophets killed for their deception of Israel. He was bold and faithful. Likewise, John the Baptist, who came in the spirit of Elijah, was also tremendously bold. He challenged Herod, the king of Israel, about his ungodly marriage with his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). He also challenged the religious leaders, tax collectors, guards, and other Jews to repent lest God throw them into the fire (Matt 3). God sent Elijah and John to prophetically challenge Israel and its leaders because he knew some would not repent without being sharply challenged. God will, most likely, do the same in the last days through Elijah who never died but was raptured to heaven, apart from death.
With all that said, God will also commonly challenge us through godly friends, family, teachers, and pastors to get right with him. They will challenge us about sin and the need to be righteous, and we should not harden our hearts when challenged. Often, it’s exactly what we need to be right with God and pleasing to him. These challenges are gifts from God. David needed to be challenged by Nathan when he committed adultery and murder. Israel needed Elijah and John the Baptist. The Galatian and Corinthian churches needed to be rebuked by Paul. Likewise, we need prophetic witnesses to speak in our lives, so we’ll stay on or get on the path God has called us to. Hebrews 13:17 says this about pastors and teachers who shepherd us:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
We should honor them for their work and not despise or criticize them. God has given them to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). We should listen to them as they exposit Scripture and apply it to our lives, including when they rebuke or challenge us. Though not perfect, God delights to use imperfect vessels in his work. Their imperfections, however, remind us to not overly focus on them or exalt them since they are flawed. Ultimately, they should help us focus on Christ who is perfect and the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2-3).
Since God is always raising up people to teach his Word and challenge others towards righteousness in preparation for the coming day, we must be willing to allow God to use us to challenge others to get right with him as well. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.” James 5:19-20 says:
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Are we willing to be God’s mouthpieces? This means people will get angry with us, or as with Elijah and John the Baptist, even try to kill us. However, we must discharge these duties faithfully and willingly. Also, as mentioned, since people often need to be rebuked to get on the right path, we must be willing to receive rebuke as well. Proverbs 9:8-9 says:
Do not reprove a mocker or he will hate you; reprove a wise person and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise person, and he will become wiser still; teach a righteous person and he will add to his learning.
Our response to rebuke shows whether we are mockers—those who are not serious about God—or the wise—those who love him and want to follow him wholeheartedly. Which one are we?
To prepare for Christ’s coming, we must listen to God’s messengers such as our pastors, teachers, and godly mentors, and we must be willing to be God’s messenger to others. All these messengers are just foreshadowing of when God will send his prophet Elijah to turn Israel and the nations back to him before Christ comes.
Are we listening to God’s messengers? And are we willing to be his messengers to others?
Application Question: Why is it so difficult to challenge friends and family when they are not walking right with God? What are some wise principles to follow when challenging others to godliness or even salvation (cf. Prov 15:1, 1 Pet 3:15)? Who are the ones who hold you accountable in your spiritual life? How do we gain these types of accountability partners?
To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Prioritize and Reconcile with Our Families and Help Others Do the Same
He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.
In Malachi 4:6, God said Elijah will “encourage fathers and their children to return to me.” Though the NET interpretation is possible, it is not probable. Because of this, most versions translate it more literally like the ESV. It says, “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.” Those who believe God was referring to the families returning to him say “their fathers” refers to the post-exilic Jews returning to the faith of the patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Certainly, that was ultimately God’s plan but that plan first started with reconciliation within the families. The reason many don’t interpret the verse this way is because, though the Jews could return to the faith of their fathers, how would the patriarchs be turned back to the Jews? Therefore, most take this as a call to reconciliation within families. This clearly fits with the context of the post-exilic Jews in Malachi. The Jewish men were being unfaithful to God by divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women who worshiped other gods. Apparently, this was leading to rebellion among their children. In Malachi 2:15 (ESV), God said:
Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
God said he put Adam and Eve together so they could have godly children. Then warned the men to not be faithless with their wives. The implication of this is that divorce and unfaithfulness within marriage often lead to rebellion among children. Clearly, this was happening during Malachi’s time, but it also was happening during John the Baptist’s time. Families were in shambles, leading to rebellion within the younger generation. This tells us what the world will be like when Christ returns—their will broken families with youth running wild. Therefore, Elijah’s job will be to reconcile families so they can return to God and be prepared for the messiah.
The Importance of Family
With that said, someone might ask, “Shouldn’t the families need to turn to God first and then one another?” Certainly, this is true. But it’s also true that our relationship with others always affects our relationship with God either positively or negatively. In Matthew 5:23-24, Christ said that if we go to the altar to give a gift to God but realize someone holds something against us. We should leave the gift, first be reconciled with the person, then return to worship God. Also, in Matthew 6:14, Christ said if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. If our horizontal relationships with others are off, so is our vertical relationship with God. If we are constantly in conflict with others, then our relationship with God is probably not healthy either. This is certainly true within our family relationships. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter said, “Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.” Unresolved discord in a marriage will hinder the prayers of the spouses.
Therefore, an implication of Elijah’s ministry of reconciling families so they can be prepared for Christ’s coming is that the health or unhealth of our families is absolutely vital to our relationship with God. A healthy family life often leads family members to a personal relationship with God and faithfully following him; however, an unhealthy one often pushes family members away from God. For this reason, spouses must work hard to have healthy marriages where they are faithful, loving, and respectful to one another. The marriage relationship has a tremendous effect on the outcome of the children socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Parents must not only endeavor to love and treat their spouses well, but they also must endeavor to love their children and raise them in the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers [also translated “parents”], do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” To do this, parents should read Scripture to their children, help them memorize it, pray with them, teach them the importance of attending and serving a Bible preaching church, and even the importance of generously giving. Most importantly, parents must model godliness to their children. Nothing hurts a child’s faith more than parents who profess Christ but don’t live it at home in how they treat one another. Consequently, when we fail our children in any way, we must be quick to apologize to them, which teaches them humility and to confess their sins when they fail.
The Importance of Fathers
Interpretation Question: Why does God speak about the fathers reconciling with the children and not the mothers?
God’s speaking directly about the fathers does not mean that the mothers were not sinning in this area. No doubt, they were. He speaks to the fathers because he called for them to be the spiritual leaders of the home and therefore responsible for the spiritual health of the family. Scripture calls for men to love their wives like Christ and to raise their children in the Lord (cf. Eph 5:22-25, 6:4). In addition, as mentioned, it’s clear that the post-exilic Jewish men were failing in their spiritual leadership throughout the book. God addressed the men directly in Malachi 2 because they were divorcing their wives and marrying pagan women. By failing to lead spiritually, the men were perpetuating sin amongst the family members, especially the children. Certainly, many men today are also failing to lead spiritually, and consequently hurting their family and the family member’s relationships with God.
Unfortunately, like our father, Adam, men tend to, by nature (myself included), model his spiritual lethargy in the home. When Satan was tempting Eve in the garden, Adam was right next to her but said nothing. He just let her be tempted and fall. Scripture says that Eve was deceived but Adam wasn’t (1 Tim 2:14). When she sinned, Adam didn’t petition God for her or offer to die for her as Christ did with his bride, the church. He just followed her into sin. Likewise, many men see their primary duty as providing for the family financially. Because of this, home is a place of rest from work and not ministry. When the man comes home from a hard day of work, the wife and the children who want his time are at times seen more as a burden than a ministry. Instead of being active in the faith of the children and developing their gifts and person, husbands often just come home to rest. And when the rest is disturbed, they at times become sharp with the wife and kids or totally passive and unresponsive. When there are problems, some check out emotionally, others just leave the home or never come home (by staying at work, the gym, or with friends for long hours), and others even become violent. Unfortunately, this tendency seems to be inherited from our father, Adam. However, in Christ, we have a new father whom we must model—one who sacrifices for his wife and washes her with the Word, one who participates in cultivating the faith of the children. With Christ’s chief disciple, Peter, he was told to care for the lambs even before the sheep (John 21:15-16). We must do the same.
Since the home will be in shambles before Christ arrives, largely due to the spiritual leaders unfaithfulness, Elijah will apparently have a special ministry to men. He will turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children. If he can turn the fathers’ hearts back to their families (and not work, sports, or recreation), it will help the children turn back to their fathers and ultimately God (who their fathers represent). Certainly, this type of revival would start with the fathers repenting to God for their lethargy and pursuing a deep relationship with him for strength to faithfully discharge their duties. Then, they would need to apologize to their children and wives for being uninvolved and passive at times in their lives. They would need to actively spend time with them and help them cultivate their spiritual lives and God’s calling. And as these men repent to God and turn back to their children, the children will begin to turn back to their fathers and God. If there is going to be a true revival before the messiah comes, it will need to start at home and specifically with the fathers. Because of the father’s strategic importance, many ministries, like Promise Keepers, focus primarily on the husband and his role in cultivating faith in the family, church, and workplace.
There are various studies that demonstrate the importance of fathers to the children’s faith. One Swiss study called, “The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland” by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner in 1994/95, showed that when fathers regularly attend worship and mothers are irregular worship attenders, 37% of the children became regular attenders as adults. However, when mothers regularly attended worship and the fathers didn’t, only 3.4% of the children regularly attended worship as adults. According to this one study, children are ten times more likely to be regular church goers when the father is active in his faith. If revival is going to happen in our homes, the fathers must play an active role, which is why Elijah will be used to turn the fathers back to the children.
If revival in the home and with God does not happen, God says he will “come and strike the earth with judgment” (v. 6). Judgment can also be translated as “curse” (NKJV) or “utter destruction” (ESV). It was used of devoting something completely to God by total destruction. For example, when the Canaanites were under God’s curse, Israel was commanded to wipe them out totally (Deut. 13:12–18; 20:16). Likewise, when Christ comes, if people have not turned back to him with our families, churches, cities, and nations, they will be devoted to destruction by fire, like a burnt offering as described in Malachi 4:1-3.
This prophecy reminds us that our first ministry before church or work is our family. First Timothy 5:8 says, “But if someone does not provide for his own, especially his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Also, prospective elders must run their families well to even be considered for pastoral ministry (1 Tim 3:4). Though Christ does say that to follow him, we must hate our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even our life, he spoke in hyperbole (Lk 14:26). We’re called to love all people (Mk 12:31), starting with our family. However, Christ must be first, which was Christ’s point. When we demonstrate that God is first by studying the Word together, going to church faithfully, serving others, etc., it will help our families, churches, communities, and societies.
We should never sacrifice our families for church or work. We are to be faithful at church and work to help our families and bless others. However, if our family is being harmed by our work or ministry or we don’t have enough energy left to serve them, we must make changes. As our children watch us do this, it will give them a healthy model. It will help their hearts be good ground so they can receive and follow Christ. It will also help them put God and their families first when they are married which will protect them from many problems and ultimately God’s discipline. If we are going to live in light of Christ’s coming, we must reconcile with, protect, and prioritize our families. As we do this, it will help our faith, our family, our church, and ultimately all of society, since the family is the foundation of those communities.
Application Question: Why is it so common for parents, especially fathers, to prioritize work, ministry, or recreation over the family? How does this negatively affect children? How is God calling you to prioritize family more and help others do the same?
The post-exilic Jews were criticizing God because of how the wicked prospered and the righteous suffered. They were disillusioned with their faith, and therefore, God’s answered them with the coming day of the Lord. On that day, God will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. Till then, the Jews needed to understand this coming day and live in light of its soon occurrence.
As saints on the other side of the first coming, waiting for the second, we must live in light of it as well so that when our Lord comes, we will not be ashamed but have a great reward. First John 2:28 says, “And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.”
1. To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Be Devoted and Obedient to God’s Word
2. To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Respond to God’s Witnesses and Be Prepared to Be Ones
3. To Live in Light of the Day, We Must Prioritize and Reconcile with Our Families and Help Others Do the Same
• Pray for God to draw us to his Word, that we would faithfully study it, obey it, and share it with others.
• Pray for God to raise up many spiritual leaders who will disciple the church, prophetically challenge the church, and even be willing to give their lives for it.
• Pray for God to reconcile our families, that God would restore husbands with their wives, fathers with their children, and ultimately the family with God.