The End But Not THE End.
Stay tuned, there’s more to come! When you attend a movie at the theatre, sometimes you are treated to some extras after the end credits roll. Sometimes it’s outtakes, sometimes it’s a sneak peek teaser to a sequel. The end of the movie was not completely The End, was it? Have you ever missed out on that? There was more to come, but you didn’t know it, and you left, only to hear from others who attended the movie that there was more! Or do you always follow the cues of the crowd of when to leave, or are you tuned into the clue the theatre provides by not bringing up the house lights even though the end credits are rolling?
We have the privilege of living with hindsight. We know that the 400 years of silence that followed Malachi was in fact NOT the end. But it sure must have felt like it to the generations that lived in that inter-testamental period, not having a prophet speak to them as they did to their forefathers. For the month of July we took time to study the book and message of Malachi in our Sunday services. Malachi is the final book of the Old Covenant; the agreement God made at Mount Sinai with Israel that was a framework for humanity to relate to our holy, Almighty God.
The Jews would have expected the Messiah to fit into their Old Covenant understanding, because that was all they knew! But God had a surprise up his sleeve. The Messiah would not fit with most of their expectations, and in fact would bring an end to the Old Covenant and inaugurate a New Covenant. Although some believe that God is relating to two different groups of people through concurrent covenants, the New Testament clearly indicates that the old covenant is obsolete and God is only relating to humanity through Jesus (Heb.8:13).
So how do we understand and interpret the message of this book (Malachi) that was the end of the old covenant communication, but not the end of God relating to humanity? We do it most justice if we look at it through a big picture lens. The message under the microscope is one of failing, calling to repentance, judgement, and the promise of future hope. The people had only been out of exile for less than 100 years and they were already being charged corporately with the same sins and attitudes that brought the judgment of exile upon their ancestors! This book could therefore be seen as God reacting to the people. But when we understand the big picture we understand that yes, God was taking seriously those particular people in time and space with whom He was in covenant relationship with, however, God was continuing to work out his grand rescue plan that was nearly climax. The Old Covenant can’t be seen as God’s grand plan when from their inception God knew they would fail (see Deut. 31:16-18). As the book of Hebrews makes clear as well, it was a temporary measure until the fullness of time (Gal.4:4-5). God was sovereignly working out history, raising up and tearing down nations, until the lay of the land was prepared and perfect for the coming of the Messiah. The first century environment was the perfect recipe for the explosion of the gospel due to the infrastructure the Romans built, and the common language the Greek Empire had established prior to the Romans. And the oppressive conditions of the 1st century primed people’s hearts to receive the entrance of the Kingdom of God in Jesus.
In Malachi’s ministry, the universal time was getting closer to the planned Messiah’s due date. And so to end the old covenant we have the wonderful promise of a second Elijah who was going to be sent to prepare the way. In Matthew 17:12-13 Jesus identifies that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy: “12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.” The people were expectantly awaiting Elijah. He had now come. Now, the Messiah was speaking to them.
What is some personal application we can make from all this? Sometimes we have ends in our lives, but we can have the assurance of hope and faith that those truly aren’t The End. God is our hope, in whom we can take refuge and find hope to continue (Psalm 62:5). Another application is re-affirming that we desperately need God’s Word to inform and interpret our lives for us. If we rely on finite human wisdom, and our eyes and perceptions of what is going on, we will be wrong. So what is going on in your life, and how are you allowing Scripture to inform that?