The “Day of the Lord,” when Almighty YHWH of hosts judges the nations and pours out his wrath on his enemies, is a recurring expectation in the Old Testament Prophets. Examples include Isa 13:6-9; Ezek 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:31; 3:14; Amos 5:18-20; Zech 14:1; Mal 4:5. It will be a day of destruction of the ungodly (Isa 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15) especially of the nations (Ezek 30:3; Obad :15) but also of vindication for the righteous and to uphold the cause of his people (Isa 34:8). It will be characterized by wrath, clouds, doom (Isa 13:9; Ezek 30:3) and darkness (Amos 5:18, 20). There is an urgency in the prophets’ message — the Day of the Lord is near and inevitable (Ezek 39:8; Zeph 1:14). The coming of the Day of the Lord will be preceded by the sending of the prophet Elijah (Mal 4:5).
In the New Testament, the same themes emerge, but it is clear that the Day of the Lord has become the Day of the Lord Jesus, which of course is what it was always intended to be in its ultimate fulfilment. It will be great and glorious and will be marked by darkness and fiery destruction. It will come like a thief and on this day those who are blameless in Christ will be saved. Whilst there were days of God’s judgment on Israel in the past, Paul assures the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord is yet to come (2 Thess 2:2). Added to these passages are those which speak of the day of the coming of the Son of Man, the return of the master, “that day,” the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so forth, and we have a clear picture that the Lord who is associated with this “Day” in the Old Testament is the Lord Jesus Christ.
“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,” warns Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and similarly 1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14 and 2 Thessalonians 2:2. This Day is associated with judgment, a prerogative of God that has been given to Jesus. In Psalm 96:13 “the Lord . . . comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” In Romans 2:16 Paul states that God will judge through Jesus Christ. Paul interchanges the judgment seat of God (Rom 14:10) and of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). The Lordship of Jesus is associated with many functions and attributes ascribed to YHWH and many of these culminate in his actions on this great Day.
A typical first century Jew, looking back over centuries of prophecy, would have longed for the Day of the Lord to arrive, when God would drive out their heathen Roman overlords and the despicable Idumean puppet kings. These expectations of God’s miraculous intervention were focused on the person of the coming Messiah. “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” asked the disciples (Acts 1:6). But Jesus didn’t fit the picture they had built up of the Messiah; even John wasn’t quite sure at one stage; “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mat 11:3). They did not relate the plethora of other Old Testament passages concerning the suffering servant, the Shepherd and the Lamb of God to their picture of a conquering Messiah. They expected God to show up; the Day of YHWH was coming. They expected the Messiah. But did they expect them to be one and the same? No, and they certainly didn’t expect him to be the son of a Galilean carpenter.
But if the first century Jews had listened to God’s parting message, before the voice of the prophets was silenced for over 400 years, they just might have been quicker to recognise who did show up. Malachi’s short prophecy provided the bridge to the events immediately preceding the coming of Christ.
Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.”(Mal 3:1–2)
There are two messengers in this passage; the first is “my messenger” who prepares the way before “me” — the “me” being the Lord Almighty, who is speaking here. The second is the “messenger of the covenant,” whose coming will be difficult to endure and who will be a refiner and purifier (verses 2–3). In verse 5 this second messenger is further clarified: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment” says the Lord Almighty.
Then in chapter 4:5–6, in the closing verses of the Old Testament, The LORD Almighty speaks again of this day of judgment which will burn up the wicked and release those who fear his name. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 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.”
In a strikingly similar passage in Isaiah 40 we learn more about the first messenger, the one who prepares: “A voice cries: in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God . . . And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed” (Isa 40:3,5). “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the LORD God comes with might . . .” (Isa 40:9–10). In the Septuagint, the Greek word for the good news which is brought to Jerusalem; is euaggelizo, exactly the same word for preaching the gospel, or good news, in the New Testament. Just looking at these Old Testament passages in their own right we can see that a messenger will be sent to proclaim the imminent arrival of the Lord God himself, as Judge and Refiner. But when the expected Lord shows up, just as was predicted, it’s Jesus.
There’s no doubt that the voice calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” is John the Baptist (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4–6, John 1:23) and that John spoke of the one who would follow, who would winnow, gathering his wheat and burning the chaff, a metaphor for judgment (Matt 3:11–12, Luke 3:17). John is also specifically identified as Malachi’s “my messenger” (Mark 1:2) and as “Elijah” who would make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17, 76). John is specifically said to have preached the good news; euaggelizo which is the word for preaching the Gospel (Luke 3:18). In John 1:30-31 John the baptist testifies that the one coming after him surpasses him because he was before him, and that the reason he came baptizing was to reveal that one to Israel. Just in case people missed it, John even dressed like Elijah (Matt 3:4, Mark 1:6; cf. 2 Kings 1:8)! And so there can be absolutely no room for doubt, Jesus identifies John as “Elijah who is to come” (Matt 11:14, 17:10–13; Mark 9:11–13). So if John the baptist was the preparer/“my messenger”/voice/Elijah, then the One whose coming he announced must be the Messenger of the Covenant/the Lord Almighty/“Your God.”
Jesus, then, fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy as “the Lord whom you seek/ the Lord Almighty (Mal 3:1) the purifier (Mal 3:2–3), the Lord Almighty who would come near to judge (Mal 3:5) on the day of the Lord (Mal 4:5). He also fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies of the One whose way was prepared (Isa 40:3), the Sovereign Lord who comes with power (Isa 40:9,10); Behold your God!
The faithful Jews of Jesus’ day, discerning the meaning of these passages, would have immediately recognized John as the one preparing the way of “the Lord,” the Lord God himself. And who shows up in fulfilment of this? Jesus of Nazareth! He was to be Immanuel — God with us (Matt 1:22–23 fulfilling Isa 7:14). Elizabeth recognized the significance of her relative Mary’s baby; “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). The angels, announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, kyrios). To a first century Jew, steeped in the ancient prophecies and familiar with them in the words of the Greek Scriptures, there was only one “Lord” that this could be.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus.