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Malachi Series: Understanding and Preparing for the Day of the Lord (Mal 4:1-3)

Understanding and Preparing for the Day of the Lord

“For indeed the day is coming, burning like a furnace, and all the arrogant evildoers will be chaff. The coming day will burn them up,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “It will not leave even a root or branch. But for you who respect my name, the sun of vindication will rise with healing wings, and you will skip about like calves released from the stall. You will trample on the wicked, for they will be like ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Malachi 4:1-3 (NET)

What is the day of the Lord and how should we prepare for it?

In Malachi 4:1-3, God responded to the post-exilic Jews’ criticism of him in Malachi 3:14-15. There, they said,

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!’ ”

The post-exilic Jews had returned from exile in Babylon and rebuilt their temple and the walls around Jerusalem; however, the nation was still impoverished and under the authority of the Persian king. They also had antagonistic neighboring nations surrounding them. As they looked at their circumstances and the wicked nations surrounding them, they started to believe there was no benefit to serving God. The arrogant nations who boast and live apart from God were blessed, those who practice sin were successful, and those who challenged and mocked God received no punishment. However, God answered their criticism by pointing to the coming day of the Lord. Malachi mentions this day four times in the closing verses (3:17; 4:1, 3, 5). Throughout Old Testament prophetic literature, the day of the Lord was any time God judged his people for their sins (cf. Zeph. 1:7, 14, Ezek. 30:3). For example, in Obadiah it referred to the destruction of Edom (Ob 1:15), in Joel it referred to the locus plague (Joel 1:15, 2:1), and in Isaiah it referred to the destruction of Babylon (Is 13:6). However, those smaller judgments were just preludes to the final judgment which Malachi as well as other authors in both Old and New Testaments pointed to (cf. Zech. 14:1, 8–9, Matt 24, Rev 5-19). This final day of the Lord is when Christ comes to the earth to judge it and make all things right. Therefore, God was saying his judgment on the sinful and reward of the righteous will ultimately happen on this coming day. Consequently, the disillusioned post-exilic Jews should fear the Lord, commit to his Word, and prepare for the day.

Likewise, understanding and preparing for this coming day are important for us as well. In this time of delay, we will at times suffer for righteousness while the wicked prosper, and we may be tempted to become disillusioned with our faith, angry at God, or even fall away from him. For this reason, we must have a good understanding of this coming day and live with an expectation of it. It will be a time of both tragic judgment and exuberant blessing. It is a day with both night (judgment) and day (blessings). In this study, we’ll consider principles about the day of the Lord and how to prepare for it.

Big Question: In Malachi 4:1-3, what principles can we learn about this coming day and how we should prepare for it?

The Day of the Lord Is Happening Soon, and Therefore, We Must Be Alert and Ready

For indeed the day is coming,

Malachi 4:1

When Malachi says, “For indeed the day is coming,” he aimed to assure the discouraged post-exilic Jews of this reality and that it would happen soon. No doubt, this was not a new concept for them. It was one that they had heard about many times before from the priests, Levites, and probably even their parents when they were children. However, they either doubted or simply ignored promises of this coming day. Through Malachi’s warning, he hoped to sharpen their conscience, so that they would repent of sin, develop an alertness for this coming day, and faithfully follow the Lord while waiting for it.

Likewise, Christ taught his followers to live in light of this day. He compared it to the judgment through Noah’s flood and to a thief in the night—both illustrations were meant to show how most people would not be ready for the coming day. In Matthew 24:37-44, Christ said:

For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left. There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left. “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Christ said that in the same way people were eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage during the days before Noah’s flood, that’s how it will be when Christ comes—people would be totally unaware of the impending danger. When Christ comes, he will bring judgment on the wicked. As the people during the flood were taken away, there will be two people in a field working, the wicked will be swept away in the judgment while the righteous remain. Though some have tried to use this passage to talk about the rapture of the righteous to heaven (1 Thess 4), clearly, the comparison is with the flood sweeping away the wicked. The righteous will stay on the earth to be rewarded and rule with Christ. Therefore, we must be alert because the time is coming. Christ will come like a thief in the night.

Nature of Christ’s Coming (One or Two)

With that said, there has been some debate about the nature of Christ’s coming. With a thief, there are typically no signs of his coming. He steals when people least expect it. However, with Christ’s second coming, Scripture does describe various signs that will happen before it like the gospel being preached in every nation of the world (Matt 24:14) and the arrival of an anti-Christ who will deceive the world, persecute Christians, place an idol in the Jewish temple, and then begin to persecute the Jews (Dan 9:27, Rev 13, 2 Thess 2:3-4). For example, in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, Paul says this:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?

Paul describes how there will be a great rebellion, probably referring to a massive falling away from the church because of the exaltation of evil, pervasive false teaching, and persecution of Christians for not following the error of the day. The antichrist will also appear and exalt himself as God in the Jewish temple. These will happen before the coming of Christ and, therefore, are signs that his coming is near.

Because of this, many would say Christ’s coming is impending—could happen soon—instead of imminent—could happen at any moment. To say the Lord’s coming is impending means that all the events that preclude the coming could happen very quickly within our generation. However, others would say Christ’s return is imminent, that he could come at any moment, like a thief in the night. They do this by separating the second coming into two events—one invisible coming where Christ raptures his church to take them to heaven right before the tribulation period of judgment on the earth (1 Thess 4:13-18) and then a visible coming where he comes with his saints to judge the earth (1 Thess 5:1-11). To come to this conclusion, they point to various biblical evidences (1) like God’s first judgment of the world through the flood. God raptured a man named Enoch, as he never saw death, before the flood, and then he took some believers (Noah and his family) on an ark through the judgment. They would argue that it will be the same before the final judgment. Christ will rapture his church before the tribulation period, but those who get saved during the tribulation period will go through God’s judgment. Since Scripture commonly compares the first judgment of the flood to the last judgment, they would say God will do the same. (2) They also point to differences in the description of the second coming that are best satisfied by two separate comings (Matt 24:37-44, 2 Pt 3:1-7). For example, Christ promises his disciples that he will return and take believers to heaven, the Father’s house (John 14:1-3, 1 Thess 4:13-18), which seems to reflect the rapture; while other Scriptures show Christ coming with believers to the earth to judge and rule (Rev 19:11-16, Jude 1:14-15), which many see as the second coming. At the rapture, believers are taken from the earth to heaven while nonbelievers stay on earth. However, at the second coming, the wicked are taken from the earth in judgment while believers stay on the earth as described in Matthew 24:37-42 when Christ compares it with the flood. Again, for some, these differences in the texts describing the second coming are best reconciled by two separate comings—one invisible coming of Christ for his saints to take them to heaven and one visible coming of Christ with his saints to judge and rule on the earth. Others reconcile the differences in prophecy by saying Christ fulfills them all with one coming. For example, at his coming, saints will meet him in the air to receive their glorified bodies, but then they will come down to the earth to rule. This has been the majority belief throughout history; however, the two-coming view has probably eclipsed it in popularity. The weakness of the one-coming view is that Christ does not return to take his followers to his Father’s house as initially promised (John 14:1-3). He returns to earth with them to rule and usher in his millennial kingdom (Rev 20). However, after his millennial rule, heaven, the father’s house, will come to earth (Rev 21). A weakness of the two-coming view is that no one text clearly teaches it; it comes from comparing many texts, while many texts seem to teach the second coming as one event.

With that said, one strength of the two-comings view is how Old Testament Scriptures of the first coming similarly hid the second coming. Most rabbis were confused by the differences in the OT prophecies. How could he be born of a virgin (Is 7:14) and yet come from the sky (Dan 7:13)? How could Christ come in the clouds to reign (Dan 7:13-14) and yet die and be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Is 53:9, 12)? Some Rabbis rationalized this by believing there were two messiahs instead of two comings. Again, Old Testament prophecies of the first coming blurred the second coming. Many believe the same about prophecies about the second coming in the New Testament—that there will in fact be two comings. Those who believe that the second coming will be two events—an invisible coming for believers and a visible coming of Christ with believers for judgment—say Christ’s coming is imminent. It can happen at any moment. No signs are needed to precede Christ coming at any moment for his church. That’s another strength of this view. It seems that the early church believed that Christ could come at any moment (cf. Heb 10:24-25, 1 John 2:18). Many verses demonstrate this belief. For example, in James 5:8-9 says, “You also be patient and strengthen your hearts, for the Lord’s return is near. Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged. See, the judge stands before the gates!” It pictures Christ about to swing the doors open to judge those grumbling against others. If the grumblers thought, it could only happen many years later after various signs, the warning would lack the force that James seems to want to project by the illustration. Likewise, 1 John 2:28 (ESV), John said this to the Ephesian Christians, “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” Hebrews 10:37 says, “For just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay.” Also, 1 Peter 4:7 says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” It seems that the early church believed that Christ’s coming could happen at any moment, and therefore, they were encouraged to live in light of that. Either way, whether we believe the second coming is one event and therefore “impending”—meaning it can happen soon—or two events and therefore is imminent—can happen at any moment—Scripture teaches that we must be alert and ready for his coming. (For a deeper study on these views, including the rapture and second coming, see BTG Eschatology.)

Skepticism, Rebellion, Apathy, or Spiritual Alertness

With all that said, it’s clear there was skepticism about the first coming amongst the post-exilic Jews, which is why God emphasized it twice in the end of the letter in Malachi 3:1-5 and Malachi 4:1-6. There will also be continued and increasing skepticism about the second coming in our generation and future ones. In 2 Peter 3:3, Peter said this:

Above all, understand this: In the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges and saying, “Where is his promised return? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”

As we get closer to Christ’s coming, there will be even greater skepticism towards it, most likely from within the church. Like those during Noah’s time, people will be eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage before Christ comes. There is nothing wrong with these activities in themselves, but when done without awareness, devotion, and submission to God, they are wrong. Many will doubt the repeated warnings of Christ’s return in Scripture or simply live with no care for or awareness of it.

In Matthew 24:48-51, Christ said something similar about his coming in using the illustration of an evil servant overseeing his master’s home while the master was away:

But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Because many in the church will doubt Christ’s coming or live with no acknowledgment of it, they will begin to live in waste, discord, and various sins. Others will just live in spiritual apathy. We saw this in the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. Five virgins were foolish and five were wise. As they waited for the bridegroom to return, the five foolish ones had no oil in their lamps because they had stopped expecting his return. They were spiritually apathetic, which in their case represented a lack of true salvation. Then when the bridegroom returned, they tried to hurry and get oil but were kept out of the wedding party. When they knocked on the door to get in, the bridegroom, who represents Christ, simply said, “I do not know you” (v. 12). Christ ends the parable by saying, “Therefore stay alert because you do not know the day or the hour” (v. 13). Those who are truly born again will live for their Master, their Bridegroom, and seek to be pleasing to him at his coming. Likewise, we must seek to be good stewards of all our gifts and keep our spiritual fires burning as we await our Lord’s return as well. He is coming soon.

Are we living with a zealous expectation of our Lord’s return? Or are we living with no expectation and therefore being unfaithful with our stewardship of his gifts and living in discord with fellow servants? Are we living with spiritual zeal or spiritual apathy? Living with alertness of his soon return will keep us away from sin and spiritual apathy. 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.

Also, as previously described in the Parable of the Virgins, living with alertness and soberness of Christ’s coming is proof of true salvation—that Christ knows us, and we know him. With those virgins who had no oil—no zeal for the coming Bridegroom—Christ said he didn’t know them (Matt 25:12).

Interpretation Question: Why has Christ delayed his return and judgment?

With the post-exilic Jews, they had to wait over 400 years for Christ to come, and when he did the nation rejected him and then killed him. When he came, he brought salvation through his death on the cross for our sins but not the final judgment of the wicked and reward for the righteous as Malachi and the prophets prophesied. Currently, we have waited over 2,000 years since Christ’s first coming for him to return to judge, reward, and rule. In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter said this about the reason Christ delays his return, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Christ delays not because he lacks integrity or is lazy in completing his promise. He delays because he desires for none to perish but that all should come to repentance. Therefore, as we wait, we must not only be alert and faithful stewards, but we must also be diligent in sharing the gospel and winning people to Christ. This is the reason our Lord delays; he delays so that more will be saved. However, one day, the last person will accept Christ, and God will come to the world in judgment.

Are we living with alertness for Christ’s coming, including faithful stewardship and spiritual and evangelistic zeal? Our Lord is coming soon. We must get ready. Scripture even promises a reward for those who set their affection on his coming. In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul said this shortly before he was put to death: “Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.”

Have we set our affection on his coming?

Application Question: How can we live with an alertness and readiness for Christ’s soon return?

1. To live with an alertness and readiness for Christ’s return, we must faithfully gather with other believers for worship, prayer, and to take the Lord’s Supper.

Consider the following verses:

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

For the culmination of all things is near. So be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of prayer.

1 Peter 4:7

For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:26

As we gather for worship, prayer, and communion, we gain mutual encouragement to be faithful till our Lord returns. It helps keep us spiritually alert. However, when not faithfully gathering with other believers, we will become spiritually lethargic, caught in various sins, and not desire Christ’s return.

2. To live with an alertness and readiness for Christ’s return, we must faithfully and zealously serve God and others.

In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:19-23, Christ describes his return and rewarding of those who faithfully use their gifts in his absence:

After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Likewise, after teaching about the believers’ resurrection which will happen when Christ returns, in 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul said: “So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Because Christ is coming soon, we must always be outstanding in using and cultivating our gifts to serve others and honor God. When we are not faithfully serving and using our gifts, we won’t desire his coming. In fact, as Christ taught, if we are not faithfully using our gifts when he comes, we will experience a loss of reward.

3. To live with an alertness and readiness for Christ’s return, we must continually get rid of sin in our lives and within the body of believers.

In 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV), John said this to the Ephesians:

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.

Also, in the context of Christ returning to judge and renew the earth (2 Pt 3:3-4), Peter said this:

Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?... Therefore, dear friends, since you are waiting for these things, strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when you come into his presence.

2 Peter 3:11-12, 14

Nothing dulls us spiritually more than sin. When walking in unrepentant sin, we will not desire for our Lord to come because of our enjoyment of sin and shame in doing so.

In considering our need to be alert, eager, and ready for Christ’s coming, Wayne Grudem’s comments are challenging:

Do Christians in fact eagerly long for Christ’s return? The more Christians are caught up in enjoying the good things of this life, and the more they neglect genuine Christian fellowship and their personal relationship with Christ, the less they will long for his return. On the other hand, many Christians who are experiencing suffering or persecution, or who are more elderly and infirm, and those whose daily walk with Christ is vital and deep, will have a more intense longing for his return. To some extent, then, the degree to which we actually long for Christ’s return is a measure of the spiritual condition of our own lives at the moment.

The day of the Lord is happening soon, and we must be alert and ready for it. This is what God was seeking to inspire in post-exilic Jews who were disillusioned with their faith as they looked around at the prosperity of the wicked and suffering of the righteous. Without this eschatological view, we’ll be prone to the same discouragements, disillusionment, and failures.

Application Question: Why do many believers struggle to live with an alertness and desire for Christ’s coming? How can believers develop a better alertness and desire for Christ’s coming? What is your view on whether there will be one second coming of Christ or two comings—one for his saints and a final one with his saints to judge and set up his rule on the earth? What is your understanding of these views and questions about them?

The Day of the Lord Is a Season of Judgment on the Wicked, and Therefore, We Must Faithfully Share the Gospel with Them

“For indeed the day is coming, burning like a furnace, and all the arrogant evildoers will be chaff. The coming day will burn them up,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “It will not leave even a root or branch … You will trample on the wicked, for they will be like ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Malachi 4:1, 3

God described his coming judgment as an oven. It will be like a “furnace” and the wicked will be completely burned up in it. God will leave no “root or branch” (v. 1). If a tree gets destroyed in a fire or a storm, as long as the roots and some branches are intact, there is hope. However, the roots and branches will be completely destroyed—meaning the situation will be totally hopeless. In Scripture, as mentioned earlier, the day of the Lord is compared with God’s earlier judgment of the world through the flood. In Matthew 24:37-39, Christ described how people will be eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage before the final judgment just like they were before the flood. However, Peter also compares and contrasts the two judgments. He said that in the same way God judged the first creation by flood, he will judge the final creation through fire. In 2 Peter 3:5-7, Peter said:

For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water. Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

As the initial earth and its ungodly people were judged by a worldwide flood, the current earth and its ungodly people will be judged by fire. Malachi 4:3 pictures this by the description of the wicked being burned up like chaff and the righteous trampling on their ashes. In it, God says, “You will trample on the wicked, for they will be like ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

God will judge the earth and the wicked through a world-wide fire. The destruction of the wicked through fire is pictured often in Scripture, including with their eternal punishment in hell. For example, in the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13:30, at harvest time, the weeds, representing unbelievers, are tied in bundles to be “burned”; while the wheat, representing true believers, go into the “barn.” In Matthew 13:50, in the Parable of the Net, the bad fish, representing unbelievers, are thrown into a “fiery furnace” and the good fish, representing true believers, are put into “containers” to be preserved. To add to this, John the Baptist said this about Christ’s ultimate work in Matthew 3:11-12:

I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am—I am not worthy to carry his sandals! He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.

John taught people that when the messiah came, people would receive one of two baptisms. They will be baptized by a fire—representing judgment for the unrepentant—or by the Holy Spirit—representing those who are saved and gathered into the storehouse. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding of the baptism of the Spirit causes people to misinterpret this passage as something only some Christians experience. However, John taught it was something all believers experience. Unbelievers are baptized into fire—referring to judgment—and believers are baptized in the Spirit—referring to their salvation, which has a present sense and a final sense, for when Christ returns. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul taught the same thing, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

Either way, God’s answer to those who were doubting God’s justice—believing that it was useless to serve God and that the wicked were rewarded, was the day of the Lord. On the day of the Lord, the wicked will be judged by fire.

Wrong Views of God’s Judgment

With that said, we must have a proper understanding of the judgment of the wicked. Because the wicked are destroyed by the fire and turned into ashes in Malachi 4, as well as in other verses describing the final judgment, some take a view called annihilationism. Annihilationism is the belief that people will not suffer eternally in hell. Either at physical death, the coming judgment, or a period in hell, they will simply cease to exist. This has been a common view of Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses; however, even some prominent evangelical theologians have embraced the view. One of the more popular theologians to take this view was John Stott. Annihilationists take Scriptures that describe people being punished in hell “forever” or “eternally” as referring to how their elimination lasts forever (cf. Matt 25:46, Rev 14:11). To support this, they point to Scriptures that seemingly describe the wicked being destroyed. For instance,

For many live, about whom I have often told you, and now, with tears, I tell you that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things.

Philippians 3:18-19

They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength.

2 Thessalonians 1:9

The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

In this perspective, humans do not have inherent immortality—only God does. Eternal life is something given by God to humans who put their faith in Christ (John 3:16, 17:2). However, many verses clearly describe how the punishment in hell will be eternal. For instance, in Matthew 25:46, Christ said this about the goats who are not saved and the sheep who are: “And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Since eternal punishment is contrasted with eternal life, it seems clear that they both are eternal. Also, vivid verses describe this eternal conscious punishment. Revelation 14:9-11 says this in describing the eternal suffering of those who worship the antichrist and accept his mark during the tribulation period:

A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb. And the smoke from their torture will go up forever and ever, and those who worship the beast and his image will have no rest day or night, along with anyone who receives the mark of his name.”

Wayne Grudem, therefore, says this about the passages describing the destruction of the wicked:

In response, it must be said that the passages which speak of destruction (such as Phil. 3:19; 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; and 2 Peter 3:7) do not necessarily imply the cessation of existence, for in these passages the terms used for “destruction” do not necessarily imply a ceasing to exist or some kind of annihilation, but can simply be ways of referring to the harmful and destructive effects of final judgment on unbelievers.

Some declare that God giving eternal suffering for sins committed in time would be an unjust punishment. However, this actually shows how holy and righteous God is. To him, one sin is an infinite offense deserving an infinite consequence. Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


However, there is another wrong view of judgment that we must be careful of and that is universalism. Universalism teaches that there is no judgment at all and that all will be saved. This takes at least three forms. (1) Some believe Christ’s atoning work will be applied to everyone—whether they believe or not. (2) Some believe that after unbelievers die, they will be offered a second chance to respond to Christ and all will respond positively. (3) Some believe that unbelievers will be punished in hell temporarily and eventually let into heaven.

Certainly, many believe in universalism simply out of a heartfelt pain for those who will suffer eternally, while others misinterpret certain Scriptures. For instance, they point to verses like Philippians 2:10-11, which says, “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” However, these verses simply mean that all people will eventually submit to Christ as Lord, even those in hell. Also, 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “… in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.” But this simply refers to universal atonement, not universal salvation. Christ paid for the sins of all, but the payment is only applied to those who repent (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, etc.).

Scripture simply does not teach universalism. If it did, there would be no reason for Christians to obey the great commission—making disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19-20). There is no pressing reason to share the gospel if all will eventually be saved.

When God was speaking to the spiritually disillusioned post-exilic Jews who were envying the wicked, he said that although it may seem like it pays to lie, steal, and dishonor God with our lives, but it ultimately won’t. On the day of the Lord, God will eternally judge the wicked. Likewise, when Asaph was disillusioned with his faith and envying the wicked, in Psalm 73:2-3 and 16-19, he said this:

But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me. For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked … When I tried to make sense of this, it was troubling to me. Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple and understood the destiny of the wicked. Surely you put them in slippery places; you bring them down to ruin. How desolate they become in a mere moment. Terrifying judgments make their demise complete.

We must rightly understand the “destiny of the wicked” as well, lest we become disillusioned with our faith, tempted to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin or even fall away from God. At the day of the Lord, God will bring justice by judging the wicked. Because of this, we must faithfully pray for the lost, share the gospel with them, and support the work of worldwide missions. Again, according to 2 Peter 3:9, God delays this day only because of his mercy. He desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Application Question: Why is a proper understanding of the destiny of the wicked so important to our faith? How should it affect us? What are your thoughts and experiences with the two errant views of annihilationism and universalism? How is God calling you to grow in evangelism and the support of mission work?

The Day of the Lord Is a Season of Reward for the Faithful, and Therefore, We Must Prayerfully Look Forward to It

But for you who respect my name, the sun of vindication will rise with healing wings, and you will skip about like calves released from the stall. You will trample on the wicked, for they will be like ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Malachi 4:2-3

We briefly considered the reward of the faithful, those who respect or fear the Lord, in our study of Malachi 3:16-18. The text says:

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 passage, God promised to reward those who feared the Lord by putting their name in a scroll of remembrance. This was common of ancient kings. The great works of those in their kingdoms were memorialized in a scroll and the kings often rewarded them for those works. Also, God said that those who respected him would be his special possession or treasured property. It can also be translated as jewels. The Hebrew word for special possession was used of a king’s personal wealth, apart from the state. God would greatly care for those who feared his name. Though they may be despised for their beliefs and righteous life by the world, they are treasured by God and will ultimately be rewarded by him. They also will be spared from judgment on the day of the Lord, as a father spares his son.

God further describes the reward of the righteous on that day in Malachi 4:2-3. When God says, “But for you who respect my name, the sun of vindication will rise with healing wings,” there is a lot of debate over what “sun of vindication” refers to. Some believe that sun of vindication is just a metaphor for the season of relief believers will experience when Christ returns. However, since the church fathers (the early church leaders after the apostles), there has been an almost unanimous belief that “sun of vindication” referred directly to the messiah.

Part of the reason that many take this view is because Luke uses similar language for the messiah. In Luke 1:77-79, Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, said this about the messiah:

…to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

When he says, “the dawn will break upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness,” the “dawn,” which can also be translated as “sunrise” (ESV) or “rising sun” (NIV), is clearly talking about Christ. Since the context of Luke 1:77-79 is about John the Baptist, whom Malachi refers to in Malachi 4:5-6 as Elijah, the parallelism makes a strong case for the metaphor of the sun in Malachi 4:2 referring directly to the messiah.

Observation Question: What will be the reward of the righteous at Christ’s return according to Malachi 4:2-4?

1. When Christ returns, he will bring vindication for his people and justice and righteousness to the world.

The phrase “sun of vindication” refers to how, at Christ’s return, he will bring vindication for the righteous. Though they were declared bigoted and evil by others and persecuted for their beliefs, Christ will demonstrate that they were in fact righteous. They will be vindicated before all.

In addition, the phrase “sun of vindication” can also be translated “sun of righteousness” (ESV, NIV, NLT, KJV). When Christ comes, Christ will bring ultimate righteousness to the world as he rids the world of sin. There will be righteousness in government, education, the church, family, and between nations. In all areas, Christ will bring righteousness. He will also deliver his people from their struggles with sin, so they can be righteous as he has called them to be. In Jeremiah 23:5-6 (ESV), it says this about the messiah:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

In the day of the Lord, Christ will come to bring vindication to his people and justice and righteousness to corrupt and evil world.

2. When Christ returns, he will bring protection and healing to those who fear him.

When it says the sun of vindication will rise “with healing wings,” this metaphorically refers to sun rays as the wings of a bird. In the same way that the wings of a bird shield and protect its young, so will Christ protect his people when he returns. Likewise, in the same way that sun rays bring healing to those who have been depressed and sick during the winter months, Christ will do the same for his people who have waited in desperation for his return.

What specific types of healing will Christ give to those who fear him when he returns? (1) He will heal them from the pain and bondage of sin. Isaiah 53:5 says this about Christ: “He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed.” At Christ’s first coming, he paid the penalty for our sin and broke the power of it over us (Rom 6:1-11, 23). However, we all still struggle with sin. In Romans 7, Paul said, “The things I wouldn’t do, I do, and the things I would do, I don’t do. Who can save me from this body of death?” (paraphrase). At Christ’s second coming, there will be ultimate victory over sin for his saints. God will deliver people from sexual bondage, the love of money, the fear of what people think, and every other sin. (2) However, Christ will also heal his people from physical and emotional sickness. Sickness and death are ultimately a result of sin and the fall. However, Christ in his return will bring healing to people’s bodies. In fact, when Christ came to the earth and healed the blind and the sick, it was just a picture of the promised future healing in the coming kingdom (Is 65:20, Rev 21:4, 22:2). Those who teach the prosperity gospel teach that physical healing is always promised to us today. However, they have an over-realized eschatology. We must always properly balance the “now and not yet” aspects of the kingdom. Yes, on the cross, Christ defeated sin and the consequences of sin, but our ultimate deliverance from sin awaits the resurrection of our bodies at Christ’s return. And likewise, ultimate physical healing awaits Christ’s return. When the sun rises on the day of the Lord, there will be healing in his wings that will cover his people and deliver them from the pain and bondage of sin but also bring physical and emotional healing.

3. When Christ returns, he will bring freedom and joy to those who worship him.

When it says, “and you will skip about like calves released from the stall” (v. 2), it’s a picture of calves being tied up in the stalls all night but being loosened to go outside at sunrise. Often, they leap for joy in the sun after being bound during the night. Likewise, for believers, their time on the earth can be considered bondage. Certainly, it’s a blessing. But it’s also bondage in that we have to deal with the burden of sin in our lives, our family, and the world. It’s bondage because of physical sickness and the aging process where we lose previous abilities. It’s bondage in that creation has been negatively affected by sin. There is beauty, but with that beauty, there is also chaos as seen through tsunamis, droughts, earthquakes, flooding, and the like. However, when Christ returns to vindicate the righteous, judge the wicked, and restore the earth, there will be supreme joy as believers live in the freedom of the coming kingdom. Romans 8:19-23 says this:

For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

All of creation will be set free from bondage when Christ returns and vindicates his people. Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” At Christ’s coming, believers and creation will experience freedom from the bondage of the curse and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We will leap like calves set free from the bondage of their stalls in the morning light! Also, as mentioned in other Scriptures, believers will receive all types of other rewards when Christ returns including riches in heaven and ruling with our Lord on earth (cf. Matt 6:19, Lk 19:16-19, 1 Cor 9:24-27).

With all this said, depending on one’s views on the timing of the rapture (the resurrection of the righteous) and the millennium (the period on earth right after Christ returns described in Revelation 20), there are differences in opinion on how these rewards will be experienced by believers. Though there will be a greater defeat of sin, healing, and renewal of the earth at Christ’s return. It is not until after the millennium, when the new heaven and earth come in Revelation 21, that the fullness of these will be experienced. But whatever view one takes on these things, Christ will bring ultimate justice, vindication, healing, and joy to his people and the earth.

Again, God gives all this teaching on the day of the Lord to give the disillusioned post-exilic Jews hope as they experienced trials while the wicked prospered. This should make us pray for and zealously desire our Lord’s coming. As Christ taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, we should constantly pray, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10). Also, we should model John in Revelation 22:20 and constantly pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen!

Application Question: What reward of the righteous at Christ’s coming stood out most and why? How should all the rewards and blessings that await us at Christ’s coming affects us daily?


What is the day of the Lord and how should we prepare for it?

1. The Day of the Lord Is Happening Soon, and Therefore, We Must Be Alert and Ready

2. The Day of the Lord Is a Season of Judgment on the Wicked, and Therefore, We Must Faithfully Share the Gospel with Them

3. The Day of the Lord Is a Season of Reward for the Faithful, and Therefore, We Must Prayerfully Look Forward to It

Prayer Prompts

• Pray for God to give us grace to confess our sins and let go of anything that would dull our faith and desire for God.

• Pray for God to give us grace to live with alertness, soberness, and zeal for Christ’s coming and that this zeal would cause us to be faithful stewards of his gifts, faithful servants of his church, and faithful witnesses to the lost.

• Pray for God to come and bring justice and righteousness to our families, churches, cities, governments, and nations.

• Pray for God to give us hearts that long for and constantly pray for Christ’s coming. Pray, “Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done!” and “Come, Lord Jesus! Come!”


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