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Missionary and Bible College,
2Faculty of Theology,
Received: 22 Feb. 2018
Accepted: 08 May 2018
Published: 23 Aug. 2018
How to cite this arcle:
Wielenga, B., 2018,
‘The delay of the Day of the
Lord in Malachi: A missional
reading’, In die Skriig 52(1),
© 2018. The Authors.
Licensee: AOSIS. This work
is licensed under the
Bible and mission is not the ﬁrst topic that comes to mind when reading the book of Malachi.
Apart from Malachi 1:11, 14,1 where it is said that God is a mighty King over the nations, not much
is found in this mid-5th century BCE text that looks useful in a narrative about Bible and mission.
It gives the impression of a more inward-looking book, concerned with the internal affairs of the
postexilic Second Temple community in the Persian province of Yehud. It is much about a pure
temple cult, priests properly observing their temple duties, marriage and divorce within the
temple community, and several social malpractices found in the economically depressed and
politically oppressed population, struggling with their ethnic identity. Whatever their relevance
for the present-day Christian community of faith, missionally relevant they do not seem to be.
This article wants to investigate the issue of the missional signiﬁcance of Malachi, focusing on his
use of the motif of the Day of the Lord, introduced by the prophet, Joel, in the postexilic prophetic
First, the Malachi text is hermeneutically studied in its own historical and canonical
context. Canon-historical hermeneutics are applied here (McConville 2001:134–157; Wielenga
1994:226–232). The ﬁnal texts, as they appear in the Old Testament, are read historically (with
the grammatical-historical method), that is, moving forward from the Old Testament towards
the New Testament, before reading backwards from the New Testament towards the Old
Testament. The meaning of Malachi should be established ﬁrst in his own historical context
before its appropriation in the New Testament can be considered (Scholtz 2016:8). Second, this
backwards reading is applied in studying the delay of the Day of the Lord in the Gospel
tradition of Matthew. Third, the missional application of this motif in the present ecclesiastical
context asks for a missional hermeneutic which will be introduced in the relevant section. This
investigation aims particularly at elucidating the missional signiﬁcance of the delay in the coming
of the Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord in Malachi
As the last part of The Book of the Twelve,2 Malachi’s handling of the Day of the Lord motif
(Ml 2:17–3:7a, 13–21) stands in the tradition of his predecessors among whom the postexilic
prophet, Joel, plays literary and thematic a pivotal role (Nogalski 2017; Sweeney 2000).3 Mention
should also be made here of the inﬂuence of the scribal prophecy of 3 Isaiah on Malachi, composed
1.See Hill (1998), Snyman (2015), Viberg (1994) and Weyde (2000) for the discussion about the hyperbolical or (non-)eschatological
interpretaon of these verses.
2.The volume of literature on the Book of the Twelve (the Twelve onwards) is sll expanding (see e.g. Boda 2017; Fabry 2016; Leuchter
2014; Nogalski 2007; 2017; Schart 2017; Sweeney 2000). For crical treatments of the concept, see Ben Zwi (1996), Childs (2003) and
Troxel (2015). See Hwang (2014) for a discussion of the Missio Dei concept in the Twelve.
3.For the dang of the book of Joel, see apart from Nogalski (2017) also Assis (2011a), Cook (1995:167–170; 2003:106–108), Dillard
(1992), Myers (1962), Peus (1992). For the dang of Malachi’s book, see Snyman (2015:1–3) and Wielenga (2016).
In this article, the missional signiﬁcance of the delay of the Day of the Lord in the postexilic
book of Malachi will be studied, employing a missional hermeneutic. First, the canon-historical
meaning of the relevant eschatological texts in Malachi 3 will be established. Attention will be
paid to the historical and literary context of Malachi in which his precursor, Joel, is pivotal.
Second, the New Testament appropriation of Malachi 3 in Matthew’s Gospel is assessed. To
conclude, a proposal how Malachi’s motif of the delay of the Day of the Lord can best be
missionally re-employed in the present time, will be presented. Hence, apart from a brief note
on missional hermeneutics, the missional origin of the text of Malachi, the missional motivation
for the delay and the role of the Day of the Lord in modern missiology will be studied.
The delay of the Day of the Lord in Malachi:
A missional reading
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as it is in the same cultural milieu in the Persian province of
Yehud as Malachi in the mid-5th century BCE. One could
also point to thematic links with Zechariah, but space
constraints prevents them from being taken into consideration
(see, however, Wielenga 2016). The pre-exilic Day of the Lord
traditions, as in Amos 5:18–20 or in Zephaniah 1:7–18, are
also not included in this investigation.
In this section, Malachi’s own perspective on the Day of the
Lord in 2:17–3:7a and 3:13–21, will be studied against the
background of Joel’s prophecy. This will lay the foundation
for its appropriation in the New Testament and for its re-
employment in the missional ministry of the current Christian
community of faith. First, a short overview will be given of
the social and spiritual condition of the postexilic Jewish
people in their sparsely populated and geographically
diminished homeland which gave rise to the judgement
preaching of Malachi. Second, a summary of Joel’s treatment
of the Day of the Lord motif will follow next: it will provide
the literary context for the discussion of the two images of
divine judgement, reﬁner’s ﬁre and burning furnace, used in
Malachi 3. This section ends with a theological assessment of
Malachi’s message of the Day of the Lord, focusing especially
on the motif of its delay.
The socio-economic situation in Yehud was dire. Natural
calamities such as locust plagues and droughts ravaged the
agrarian subsistence economy (Jl 1:4–7; Ha 1:6, 9–11; 2:15–17;
Ml 3:10–11). The population numbered at most 20 000 to
30 000 people and was vulnerable to the threat of external
and internal enemies. Heavily taxed by their Persian
overlords, they had also to cope with the costs of the
upkeep of the occupation troops (Lipschitz 2003:323–376;
The temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt and the cult
restored since 515 BCE. However, Malachi’s critique of the
cult and its ofﬁcials was ﬁerce (Ml 1:10). The problems
addressed by him rose from the decline of the cult in the
temple where God was supposed to dwell (Ha 1:2–9; Boda
2017:107–126). Spiritually, the remnant population of Israel
was in a crisis, disillusioned and disappointed by their
circumstances which they ascribed to a God not interested in
what was happening to his own people (Ml 2:17). The temple-
centred eschatological fervour, ignited by Haggai and
Zechariah, and conﬁrmed by 3 Isaiah, had long died down
As can be expected from a book that was included in the
Twelve (Nogalski 2015:213–221; Pettus 1992:102–175), the
prevalent faith tradition, found in Malachi, was of a
covenantal nature (O’Brien 1990:85–107; Weyde 2000:37–47).
Two breaches of the covenant are addressed in Malachi
(Snyman 2015:122–123): the vertical one undermining the
relationship with the God who had sovereignly established
the covenant with his people (Ml 1:2–5; 2:6–9), and the
horizontal one breaking up the covenant people by marrying
outside the temple community (Ml 2:10–16). The coherence
of God’s people was under threat by this twofold breach of
the covenant that had its origin in a deep-seated spiritual
apathy (Ml 3:14), born out of the presumed delay of the
fulﬁlment of the eschatological promises made in 520 BCE by
Malachi’s precursor Joel
The introduction of divine judgement in Malachi, to be
effectuated on the Day of the Lord, followed the postexilic
prophetic tradition that found its most powerful
representative in Joel. His book is structured around the Day
of the Lord as the day of judgement against Israel (Jl 2:11), but
also against the nations (Jl 3:2), with a promise of a glorious
Zion-centred future beyond judgement, already starting in
the present for those among God’s people who feared his
name (Jl 2:32; 4:18–21), but with a promise of ultimate
destruction for God’s enemies (Jl 4:14–15), including those of
his own people who would not repent and turn back to him
in compliance with the obligations of the covenant as
stipulated in Deuteronomy 28–30.4 A detailed investigation
in Joel’s Day of the Lord theology falls outside the scope of
this article. It will rather limit itself to some summarised
remarks to sketch the background of its appropriation by
The concept of divine judgement to be effectuated on the Day
of the Lord (Jl 1:15; 2:11, 30–32; 3:1–21) came to prominence in
the prophetic tradition (Nogalski 2007) and is coloured in
Joel by a proto-apocalyptic imagination (Cook 1995:171).
It refers to the imminent and to the ultimate intervention of
God into this world on behalf of his people who have
returned to him (Jl 2:18–19; 3:5) with, as reverse side, the
destruction of those who have opposed him as well as the
hostile nations and the unrepentant among his own people.
One can distinguish between two perspectives on the Day of
the Lord in Joel.5
The ﬁrst perspective is historical in nature. It refers to a
theophanic intervention in the space-time history of postexilic
Yehud (Jl 1:15) that soon will occur, as could be read from the
‘sign of the time’ – the harbinger of the imminent Day of the
Lord: the extraordinary locust plague and subsequent
drought (Jl 1:2–12), eventually followed by invading enemies
from the North (Jl 2:1–11), that ravaged the countryside and
threatened the basic necessities of life (Dt 28:38–40, 45; Dillard
1992:266).6 On that Day, God as judge would target his people
for their covenantal faithlessness to the obligations, set by
him for their own beneﬁt (Dt 28:1–15; 31:16–19; cf. Lv 26:1–13).
In the early postexilic era, the threat of an invading enemy,
4.The literature on Joel and the Day of the Lord theology is extensive (see e.g. Peus
1992; Sweeney 2003; Toelmire 2014; Nogalski 2007; 2017).
5.What is intended here is not two temporally separated days. Proto-apocalypc
images should not be misconceived as literal descripons of historical realies.
Cook (2003:45, 63) emphasises the an-historicist, symbolic language employed in
(proto-) apocalypc literature. This literature employs a temporal and spaal
historical framework to describe the eschatological revelaon of God (Block
6.Peus (1992:150), among others, understands Joel 2:1–11 as a reference to a real
enemy, an intensicaon of the covenant curses as spelled out in Deuteronomy
28:49–52 in case repentance did not happen.
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as part of the promised punishment (Jl 2:1–11; Dt 28:45–50,
63–68), could be easily envisaged by Joel’s audience and
reapplied to their own historical context (Childs 1959:187–
198; Pettus 1992:142–145).
But because of God’s ‘zeal’ for his land and its people, (Jl
2:18; Pettus 1992:154), alluding to Exodus 34, there was a
way to avert this Day, consistent with the deuteronomic
tradition (Dt 30:9): their wholehearted return to God
expressed in a revitalised ﬁdelity to their covenant
obligations (Jl 1:13; 2:13–14). The blessing of the ﬁelds’
fertility had already materialised (Jl 2:19–26) as a sign of
hope beyond judgement. The Day of the Lord could be
turned around from a Day of judgement into a Day of
restoration of the fortunes of the faithful ones – a remnant of
the people that came through judgement, acknowledging
God for whom he truly is (Jl 2:27). The differentiation among
the people between seekers and forsakers of God’s name (Is
65:8–16), can also traced back in Joel.7
The second perspective on the Day of the Lord is proto-
apocalyptic by nature (Cook 1995:167–210). One could say
that, in the second part of Joel (Jl 3–4), the historical Day
of the Lord is intentionally reconﬁgured into the ultimate
Day that would deﬁnitely occur at an unknown moment in
the eschatological future, concluding space-time history.8
This rise of the apocalyptic imagination in prophetic
eschatology, as can be observed in Joel 3–4, originated from
the centre of the postexilic Second Temple community9 where
a scribal circle around a prophet such as Joel was at work to
unify his audience around the sacred teachings transmitted
through Pentateuchal and prophetic oral and written sources.
The natural calamities of the day blinded the people to the
divine presence at work in their physical world and made
them despair of the temple-centred eschatological promises
made by someone like Haggai (Ha 2:6–9, 20–23) in 520 BCE
(Wielenga 2015). At the same time, though, they were also
blind to the spiritual background of the crisis, located by Joel
in their covenantal unfaithfulness (Jl 2:12–14).10
Joel’s response was to point them to what had already
happened as fruit of their repentance (Jl 2:18–19),11 while,
simultaneously, focusing their hearts and minds on the
ultimate restoration of their fortunes on the coming Day of
the Lord when all possible threats against them would be
7.Theologically, one could point here to the inuence of the deuteronomic covenant
concept: the covenant, unilaterally established by God, is bilaterally funconing,
that is, it assumes human co-operaon (Wielenga 1998). It is all about divine-
human correlaons that determine the course of history (Koch 1990:5).
8.One can disnguish between prophec and apocalypc eschatology, but not
separate each from another (see Grabbe & Haak 2003; Wielenga 2015:6; Allen
9.In this arcle, Cook (1995; 2003; cf Sweeney 2003:167–178) is followed and not
Hanson (1975) who advocated a socially peripheral locaon for apocalypc
literature (Reddi 1992:225) wrien by priestly groups opposing the central,
hierocrac Zadokite priesthood embedded in the temple cult on Mount Zion (Allen
10.Sins are not menoned in Joel (Talstra 2014:324–325), but it is very unlikely that
the sin of covenant unfaithfulness was not assumed in a text versed in the
11.The verbal tenses in Joel 2:18–19 should be understood as imperfecta, indicang
that God had already started to show mercy to his people who repented and
returned to covenantal delity in line with Deuteronomy 28–30 (Troxel 2013:78–83).
eliminated (Jl 4:1–3, 9–17) and they would live in God-given
peace in an abundantly afﬂuent environment (3:5; 4:18). The
ultimate Day would be one of destruction for God’s enemies,
but also one of restoration for God’s people; only, it would be
a remnant of the people that would pull through divine
judgement on the ultimate Day of the Lord: those who had
received God’s Spirit and called upon his name (Jl 3:1–5).12
The prophet offered as encouragement that they would be
heirs of the eschatological restoration of creation (Allen
1990:22) of which the already returned fertility of their ﬁelds
was a ﬁrst fruit of the harvest to come.13
Summarising Joel’s Day of the Lord teaching, Allen
(1990:24) calls it an expression of pastoral theology. The
announcement of imminent and ultimate judgement on the
Day of the Lord is used as a wake-up call to lament and
repent in the Lord’s presence, and so to avert the looming
judgement that was already afﬂicting them through
the natural calamities occurring among them. Divine
judgement is, for Allen, not an inevitable fate that just
happens, but it is a state of affairs that can be averted if the
right response to the crisis is given. Nevertheless, as
expressed in Joel 4:18–21, the ultimate future – free of evil
and full of God’s glory – cannot be jeopardised by human
response and will not be revoked by God.
The distinction, made in Joel, between the imminent and the
ultimate Day of the Lord should be noted (see footnote 5
above). It is not about two different days, temporally
separated from each other. It is an apocalyptic image,
symbolically referring to one and the same day located
somewhere in space-time history, looked at from two
different perspectives: the imminent, historical one and the
apocalyptic, ultimate one. The ﬁrst perspective shows that
divine judgement can be averted; the second one that it is
irrevocable. Eschatological restoration and destruction are
reverse sides of each other, held together in covenantal
tension14 by an eminently righteous God for whom mercy
and justice are not in contradiction with each other, but
strengthening each other (Peels 1992:250).
The rener’s re in Malachi 2:17–3:7a
The people’s complaint that God is not faithful to his covenant
promises (Ml 2:17) is dispelled in Malachi 3:615 with the
assurance that God’s attitude towards them did not change.
Apart from blessings, curses had also been promised in case
of covenantal unfaithfulness (Ml 3:6; Dt 28–30; Lv 26). The
announcement of the sudden arrival of the Lord at his
dwelling place on Mount Zion (Ml 3:1b) is intended to create
12.For a comprehensive, accessible introducon to a biblical theology of repentance,
see Boda (2015); for the concept of divine enablement for repentance, see Boda
13.Also, in Haggai 2:3–7, a small beginning (temple foundaons) received an
apocalypc-eschatological ending, centred on God dwelling in the fully
reconstructed temple on Mount Zion (Wielenga 2015:6–7).
14.The tension between eschatological restoraon and destrucon is an integral part
of the two-sided covenantal relaonship between God and his people with its
promises both of blessing and curse (Dt 28–30). Drs C.J. (Kees) Haak, Theological
University Kampen, Netherland, suggested the term covenantal tension to me.
15.Snyman’s demarcaon (2015:125–129) of this secon is followed here.
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fear; ﬁrst among the temple staff, the sons of Levi (Ml 3:3)
with whom God had concluded a covenant (Ml 2:4).
The judgement is not yet deﬁnite as Malachi 2:2 indicates: If
you do not listen …, if you do not take it to heart …, addressing
the priests (Ml 2:1; Boda 2017:110). The image of divine
judgement as reﬁner’s ﬁre (Ml 3:2–4; Zch 13:9), underscores
this observation. The goal of a silversmith was to produce an
unblemished product. God’s purpose with his judgement
was to restore the covenant with Levi (Ml 2:4; 3:3–4) and so a
pure temple cult, up to Mosaic standards, as starting point
for the spiritual turnaround of the people (Dt 33:8–10).
Despite their perpetual condition of covenantal unfaithfulness
(Ml 3:7a), they were not yet consumed (Snyman 2015:142),16
but still able to return to the God of their fathers (Ml 3:6),
confessing their sins (Ml 3:5). Judgement on the Day of the
Lord could be averted. This is consistent with the message of
Joel with its allusion to Exodus 34 in Joel 2:18. The same
theological concept, supporting the argument in this passage,
can be found in Malachi 1:2–3 and 3:17 – that of God’s
covenantal love for ‘the sons of Jacob’, a reference to their
election of old.
This concurs with the announcement that God had already
sent ahead his messenger (Ml 3:1a) who would prepare his
forthcoming arrival as judge (Snyman 2015:130–132;
Wielenga 2016:6). The time of judgement has been announced,
but a timetable is not given in typical proto-apocalyptic
fashion (‘sudden’) (Ml 3:1b). The time of grace was ushered
in synchronous with the proclamation of the time of
judgement. Alluding to Isaiah 40:3 and 57:14–21, the
preparation work of the messenger can be understood as a
warning and wake-up call, ﬁrst for the temple staff, but
subsequently for the whole remnant people in Yehud.
Heeding the message of the messenger would open a path
through judgement towards restoration beyond.
There is no scholarly consensus around the identity of the
messenger. In this article, the option of a non-messianic,
prophetic ﬁgure is followed (Wielenga 2016:6–7).17 Malachi
himself could have been a model of such a messenger
and his ministry (considering that his name means ‘my
messenger’), causing a delay in the arrival of the Day of the
Lord with its judgement, creating space for divine grace
and covenantal penitence and return. In the redactional
attachment to the book (Ml 3:23–24; Assis 2011b), the editors
have equated the messenger of Malachi 3:1a with the coming
Elijah (Chapman 2000:139–145; also see Snyman 2015:190–
191 for a different view),18 a decision that, subsequently,
has been conﬁrmed in the New Testament in its identiﬁcation
of John the Baptist as the eschatological Elijah (Lk 1:76;
Mt 11:14; Jn 1:19–27).
16.See Jeremiah 5:18, 30:11 and 46:28 for a pre-exilic reference to this type of
statement of faith (‘not yet consumed’).
17.For the non-messianic opon, see Snyman (2015:122, 130–135), and Bauckham
(2008:330–335). De Haan and Hlela (2016:60–63), following Van der Woude
(1982:131–134), opt for one angel-messenger in Malachi 3:1, referring to three
dierent aspects of his work.
18.The task the eschatological Elijah must perform according to Malachi 3:24 (Van der
Woude 1982:159) and that of the messenger in Malachi 3:1a, are presupposing
The burning furnace in Malachi 3:17–21
Fire in a burning furnace will leave nothing behind but ash
(Ml 3:21). It calls up the image of ultimate destruction. It is
used in the context of arrogant refusal by the majority of
the people to face the consequences of their negligence of the
covenant and of their subsequent accusation of God for the
deplorable conditions that are of their own making. Different
from Joel, Malachi’s Day of the Lord preaching did not target
the hostile nations; rather, only God’s own people were
marked out for judgement. God’s ultimate intervention would
bring separation between those who feared the Lord and
revered his name, and those who did not, beyond judgement,
care (Ml 3:14–15). The ﬁrst ones would be remembered19 and
will enjoy eschatological peace beyond judgement, basking in
the sun of righteousness which will rise with healing in its
wings (Snyman 2015:172–175; Weyde 2000:373). For those
among his own people who persistently refused to repent in
penitence and return to a life compliant with the Law of Moses
(Ml 3:22), the Day would be like a burning furnace: no hope
for them beyond judgement (Snyman 2015:171–172). Joel’s
differentiation among God’s people between a minority and a
majority voice, can also be observed in Malachi.
The ultimate Day of the Lord is coming. In Malachi its
description is less apocalyptically coloured than in Joel, but
its expectation is not less realistic. In Malachi, just as in Joel,
the pastoral motivation for his eschatological preaching must
be noted. Irrevocable as the coming of the ultimate Day of the
Lord may be, it is not a fate that, come what may, will happen.
The historical imminent and the apocalyptic ultimate
perspectives are coalescing in their pastoral intention: to
activate a wholehearted return to God and a law-compliant
life in expectation of the deﬁnite restoration of justice beyond
ﬁnal judgement (Ml 3:20).
This sole concentration on the restoration of God’s people
themselves, was not fruit of an exclusivist concern in Malachi’s
discourse. Consistent with other postexilic prophetic voices,
this pastoral initiative would have consequences in the world
of nations (Ml 1:5, 11, 14) beyond the people’s borders and
boundaries. The exclusion of the nations in Malachi is therefore
not an expression of early Jewish particularism (Wielenga
2016:8). It rather is a matter of priorities: in this particular
situation, the divine message addressed the serious threat of
the dissolution of the covenant people of God with possible
repercussions for God’s eschatological agenda with his world
as expounded in the meta-narrative of the canonical Old
Testament Scriptures (Green 2016:196–198; Wielenga 2016:8;
Malachi’s concentration on divine judgement for God’s own
people on the Day of the Lord, suggests a particular trend in
19.Nogalski’s equaon (2007:132) of the Book of remembrance, Malachi 3:16 with
the Twelve is unfounded (cf. Leuchter 2014:256–257). See Snyman (2015:167) for
a careful interpretaon of the expression.
20.The same charge of Jewish parcularism is incorrectly levelled against Ezra-
Nehemiah (Wielenga 2013).
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the postexilic eschatological discourse that distinguishes him
from Joel. From Joel 4:9–21 (cf. Hg 2:6–9; Zch 14:6–19; Is
65:17–25), one can conclude that the advent of the ultimate
Day of the Lord has been deﬁnitely decided upon by a God
sovereignly in control of history. Nevertheless, in Malachi,
the fulﬁlment of this eschatological promise looks to be
deferred by the spiritual crisis the people as temple
community found themselves in. This necessitated the time-
consuming ministry of the messenger of Malachi 3:1a,
preparing the people for divine judgement, and thus opening
up the opportunity of penitential return to God. The deferral
of the effectuation of divine judgement should therefore be
seen in a positive light: it gives the afﬂicted people, the
remnant of Israel, but also, by implication, the nations, the
opportunity to avert judgement. Simultaneously, the delay of
the promised restoration of eschatological justice, symbolised
by the image of a rising sun with healing in its wings, will be
perceived as a negative effect of the messenger’s ministry.
Fulﬁlment of the eschatological prophecy is going to take
much longer than could possibly be apprehended, but it is
given with the conditional character of those promises.
Divine mercy, on the one hand, and divine justice, on the
other, should be kept together in covenantal tension (Hays
2016b:102–106). The imminence of the Day of the Lord and its
delay are not mutually exclusive.
Therefore, another aspect of Old Testament eschatology must
be considered. As Hays (2016a:23–38) has stressed, the
eschatological prophecies in the Old Testament are not
futuristic predictions that are discharged without fail (cf.
Kashow 2013:393–402; Tiemeyer 2005:340, 349). These
prophecies are, ﬁrst, conditional, and second, meant to
activate the audience into a desired course of action. In the
case of Malachi, the judgement discourse intended to
motivate the people to repent of their sins and to return to a
law-compliant life before God, waiting for the eschatological
prophecies to be fulﬁlled. It is less about prognostication than
about motivation (Strine 2016:39–58). The conditionality of
the eschatological prophecies, rooted in the deuteronomic
covenant traditions, implies that their fulﬁlment hardly ever
happened in a straightforward, one-on-one way. A positive
response to judgement prophecies meant that their intended
purpose was realised. The reason for the judgement prophecy
was, then, taken away; its intention was realised. In the
fulﬁlment process, the responsibility of the covenant partner
was included. Non-fulﬁlment could be, in this case, called
(partial) fulﬁlment (Strine 2016:55–56).21
In conclusion, the possibility of a delay of the Day of the
Lord is not mentioned in Malachi’s dialogues with the people,
but it is, nevertheless, a reality rooted in the covenantal
relationship between God and his people. The delay of the
ultimate restoration on the Day of the Lord and the
consummation of history has, as its reverse side, the deferral
of the destruction of all that opposes the God of Israel, the
21.The condional fullment of eschatological prophecies touches on the doctrine of
divine providence in, among others, Reformed theology (König 2002; 2003; Van
Wyk 2002), and in Eastern-Orthodoxy (Callaher & Konstannovsky 2016:147–174).
This arcle assumes König’s posion.
Creator and Lord of history. In this light, the partial fulﬁlments
of the eschatological promises, as in Joel 2:18–19 or Malachi
2:2 and 3:3–4,22 should be understood as encouraging
stepping stones in the direction of total fulﬁlment which is
assured by the faithfulness of a sovereign God (Hays &
Malachi 3:23–24 in the New
Testament: John the Bapst
Because of space constraints, only the ministry of John the
Baptist, the eschatological Elijah (Ml 3:23–24), will be studied
within the gospel tradition, focusing on Matthew with his
many apocalyptic motifs and symbols (Gurtner 2012:531,
544; Hagner 1985:53, 60), paying special attention to the delay
of the Day of the Lord.
In 1st century CE Judaism, the coming of the eschatological
prophet, in accordance with Deuteronomy 18:18 or Malachi
3:23, was urgently awaited. Elijah who, at his death, bodily
ascended straight into heaven (2 Kngs 2), was the designated
candidate for a new eschatological ministry on earth
(Ml 3:24).23 Even though John himself denied being Elijah
redivivus (Jn 1:21),24 he was, beyond doubt, associated by
Jesus and the Early Church with the Elijah of Malachi 3:23
whose ministry formed the model for John’s own (Lk 1:17;
Mt 11:14). Conformance25 with Malachi’s prophecy justiﬁed
John’s ministry in all its scope and depth. He was the end-
time prophet, inaugurating divine judgement on Israel on the
ultimate Day of the Lord. Not even descending from
Abraham would avert God’s wrath from them (Is 63:16).
Only repentance and penitential return to the God of their
fathers, with a corresponding life style to prove it, could
achieve that. In accordance with Malachi 3:1b, the Lord as
judge had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. For John,
the eschatological future had begun.
John’s image of an axe already at the root of the tree, about to
be burnt, refers to the ultimate judgement that he himself
expected to happen in the near future. This is underscored
by John’s description of Jesus’ work as baptising with ﬁre
(Mt 3:11–12; Lk 3:16–17; 12:49) that in this context is a clear
indication of Jesus bringing divine judgement (Miller
2007:14–15). This concurs with the burning furnace image in
Malachi 3:19. John refers to the other perspective on the Day
of the Lord in Malachi 3:2–4, visualised in the image of a
reﬁner’s ﬁre, by his announcement that Jesus would baptise
with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Öhler 1997:59–61). The looming
judgement could be averted by receiving the Lord who had
come in the person of Jesus (Ml 3:1b). But John’s exchange
with Jesus, while in prison (Mt 11:2–19; Lk 7:18–30), makes
22.See Wielenga (2015:7) for this concept of paral fullment in Haggai.
23.For Elijah as prophet, ranked at the same level as Moses, see Chapman (2000:118–
123) and Wielenga (2016:8).
24.In Mahew 17:3, Elijah was present on the Mount of Transguraon together with
Moses. He and John were clearly not idencal in the esmaon of the Early
25.See Philips, Janse van Rensburg and Van Rooy (2012:7) for the concept of
conformity in the use of the Old Testament by the New Testament.
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clear that he did expect a speedy execution of God’s
judgement without any delay with, as reverse side, the
immediate advent of the ﬁnal restoration of the repenting
minority in a renewed world. He did not observe any
acceleration in the fulﬁlment of the judgement prophecy
since Jesus’ arrival on the scene; just the opposite.
Consequently, he doubted the veracity of Jesus’ claims (Mt
4:23; 5–7). That John’s own ministry had already had a
delaying effect, is not explicated in the text, but should be
noted. It is given with the conditional character of the
eschatological prophecy of Malachi 3:1a. John’s ministry
caused the prolongation of time needed for a response to his
message – positively or negatively.
In his response (Mt 11:4–6; Lk 7:21–23), Jesus did not refute
John’s expectation of a ﬁnal judgement on the ultimate Day
of the Lord (Mt 11:20–24, cf. 13:49–50). But in conformance
with the prophecy of Malachi, the ultimate Day of the Lord
is deliberately deferred to an unspeciﬁed time in the future
to create space for Jesus’ own ministry of preaching and
healing, erecting the signs of the messianic age to come
(Is 35:1–10; 61:1; Mt 11:4–5)26 among which the mission to
the nations is pre-eminent (Mk 13:10; Mt 24:14; Beasley-
Murray 1990:46). The end will come beyond any doubt, but
not yet. Time is, on the contrary, prolonged for the sake of
the people – ﬁrst the Jews and then the Gentiles – to receive
the Lord (Ml 3:1b) who is, in the in-between times, not the
divine judge, but, in the Early Church’s reconﬁguration, the
divine Advocate (1 Jn 2:1).
Subsequently, this delay of ﬁnal judgement also causes the
ongoing suffering of those who were baptised by Jesus with
the Holy Spirit (Mt 11:6, 28–30). The emphasis in Matthew is
on the suffering for the sake of Jesus and his ministry (Mt
5:10–12; 10:24–28). Besides, the delay of the Day of the Lord,
breaking in at the time that the Lord returns as divine judge,
also presumes the protraction of evil and suffering in all
spheres of life. The interim time is the time of grace and the
time of suffering simultaneously, both a fruit of the gracious
prolongation of the in-between time until a future date,
known only to God (Mt 24:36, 42, 44; Ac 1:7).
In conclusion, the principle of conditional fulﬁlment of
eschatological promises is at work in Matthew regarding the
ministry of John the Baptist in conformance with Malachi 3.
The time, allocated to the response of the audience to the
preaching of John, Jesus, and later the disciples (Mt 28:16–20),
should be taken seriously in the assessment of the
eschatological delay. This whole process of delay does not
jeopardise the divine consummation of history, portrayed
with apocalyptic images in Joel, Haggai, Zechariah or 3
Isaiah, or Revelation. Rather, in this process, the interim time
is urgently moving forward to its destined, imminent end,
even though no sensible word can be said about its speed and
its date. The perspective of imminence should encourage
26.These signs signied that with Jesus’ advent, the age to come had already been
inaugurated, encouraging the readers to await with paent impaence the
consummaon of that age (cf. the famous eschatological already or not yet
within a covenantal framework that stresses the faithfulness
of a sovereign God, but that of delay should activate his
people, appealing to their covenantal responsibility.
Malachi read missionally
In this section, missional conclusions will be drawn from the
preceding canon-historical investigation into Malachi’s
eschatological discourse and its appropriation in Matthew.
First, a brief outline will be given of the missional
hermeneutics employed in this article; second, the missional
origins of Malachi will be pointed out; and third, the
missional signiﬁcance of the delay of the Day of the Lord
in Malachi, as mediated by Matthew, will be elucidated.
The attempt to read Malachi missionally, ﬂows from the
premise that the Old Testament, just like the New Testament,
is an inalienable part of the canon of the Scriptures of the
Christian community of faith – the proper locus for a
theological reading of the Bible with a missional hermeneutic
(Bartholomew 2016:77–78; Goheen 2016:10; Wielenga
2010:709–711). Reading the Bible missionally, means to read it
through a missional lens, that is, with mission as its central
interest and goal (Bauckham 2016:28).27 In this article, mission
is understood as missio dei (Van Rooy 2017) which must be
distinguished from the missiones ecclesiae (Hwang 2014:167).28
One should not concentrate on what God’s people are
supposed to do, but on what God himself has decided to do.29
The missio dei concept refers to God as the One who moves
through history from creation towards recreation – a history
that should be qualiﬁed as redemptive since the human
countermovement as described in Genesis 3. He works out
his plan sovereignly in this history with, as its centre, the
redemptive work of his incarnated Son Jesus Christ (missio
dei). In the realisation of his goal for history, Revelation 21, he
involves his chosen and covenanted people (missiones
ecclesiae) (see Wielenga 1998:246–273). Three aspects of this
movement through history can be distinguished (Bauckham
2016:31–36): the temporal, spatial and social of which, in this
article, only the temporal aspect will be discussed, having a
bearing on the missional understanding of Malachi’s Day of
the Lord theology as mediated by Matthew.
Missional origin of Malachi
Reading Malachi missionally as part of this canonical meta-
narrative, one is faced with the question why the Malachi text
has been transmitted, even written down and included in the
Twelve to become part of the Old Testament canon at all. It is
27.For an interesng example of missional reading of the Old Testament (Ex 15:1–18),
see Russell (2017:151–158).
28.This is not to say that this lens is the only legimate one through which to read the
Bible (Bartholomew 2016:69–71). Missional hermeneucs is comprehensive, but
not all-inclusive, just like mission is (Wielenga (1998:241–281). Haak (2017:159,
164–166, 171) calls his approach a missional-ecumenic hermeneucs, stressing
intercultural reading at its core with the gospel as interpretave matrix.
29.Here the dierence between Old Testament and New Testament, concerning
mission, should be menoned. It oen referred to with the terms centripetal and
centrifugal (see also Bauckham 2016:34–36).
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the contention of this article that Malachi, as part of the Bible,
is a product of the missio dei (cf. Wright 2016:109–110). The
text has been conserved and transmitted to motivate and
activate God’s people to live out and articulate their
understanding of God’s revelation and redemptive actions in
the world, strengthening them in times of crisis and calling
them back to their original calling as his chosen and
covenanted people (Gn 12:3; Ex 19:5–6; Dt 4:6–8). In this
sense, Malachi shares in the missional character of the Bible;
it is fruit of the same missional Source. The sorting out of the
spiritual and corporate crises, addressed in Malachi, did not
simply serve internal considerations of survival of the
postexilic remnant population in Yehud. It was about their
position as God’s chosen and covenanted people in the bigger
scheme of redemptive history. The spiritual revitalisation of
God’s people served the missional goal of God, dwelling
among his people on Mount Zion in the reconstructed temple
for the sake of the nations of the world (Boda 2015:154) which
should be attracted to pilgrimage to Zion (Ha 2:6–9; Zch
14:16–18). This missional goal gave rise to Malachi. Without
Israel’s return to God, it could not have attracted the nations
to worship God in Zion together with Israel. This insight is
missionally signiﬁcant in the present history of the Christian
community of faith (Bosch 1991:137–138).
Missional signicance of Malachi
Focusing now on the question of the missional signiﬁcance of
the delay of the Day of the Lord in Malachi, as conﬁrmed by
Matthew, ﬁrst, the relationship between the messenger’s
ministry in Malachi 3:1a (with its parallel in Mt 3:1–2) and the
mission mandate to the apostles as formulated in Matthew
28:16–20 will be considered (Fernando 2007:55; Wielenga
2002:111–119; 2009:15–19). Second, in conclusion, attention will
be paid to the concept of the Day of the Lord with its divine
judgement in the context of modern missiology (Bosch 1991).
The missional movaon of the delay
Mission, as deﬁned in Matthew 28, focuses on making
disciples out of all the nations, incorporating them in the
new community through baptism and teaching them all
that Jesus had commanded in Matthew 5–7, for instance. In
conformance with Malachi 3:1a and Matthew 3:1–2, and
Jesus’ own earthly ministry, this ministry30 implicitly
assumes the prolongation of time (Hagner 1994:60–61),
prompted by the conditional character of eschatological
prophecies as discussed above. Therefore, no crisis is hinted
at in the New Testament around the delay of the Parousia,
the suspension of ﬁnal judgement and the stay of the arrival
of the glorious age to come (Hagner 1994:62–69). The delay
serves a missional goal, beneﬁcial for humankind. In short,
mission means the prolongation of the messenger’s ministry
of Malachi 3:1a post-Pentecost (Jn 16:5–11).
The deepest motivation for this delay has already been
formulated by Joel and Malachi (Jl 2:18–19; Ml 1:2–5), and is
30.The same can be said about the intra-Jewish ministry in Mahew 10 (Hagner
1985:64–65; Wielenga 2002).
conﬁrmed by Jesus’ words in John 3:16 or Paul’s in 2
Corinthians 5:14. Mission is fruit of God’s love for the world
in Jesus Christ which compels the church to get involved in
the missio dei (see also 2 Pt 3:9). However imminent the Day
of the Lord may be and urgently awaited amid the suffering
for the sake of Christ and the protraction of evil in the world,
no deadline is given for the work to be ﬁnished. The delay of
the Day of the Lord is an expression of God’s mercy which
the Christian community should rejoice about and make
missionally the most of.31
For that reason, in Matthew 24:14, mission is mentioned
among the signs of the time that matter (Beasley-Murray
1990:47–50). Among all the false alarms around the date of
the Parousia, raised by false prophets, one should focus on
the worldwide missional ministry as the pre-eminent portent
of the Parousia, afﬁrming that calculations about the date
and time are futile (Mt 24:36, 42, 44). One should rather
rejoice about the in-between time of grace entrusted by a
merciful God, sustained amid suffering and evil by the living
Christ who is among his people through the Spirit (Mt 28:20).
Mission is the single most important agency causing the
delay of the Day of the Lord.32
Paradigm lost: divine judgement
In modern missiology, divine judgement is not an issue that
receives much attention. Towner (1995:99–113), discussing
David Bosch’s inﬂuential study (1991) of paradigm shifts in
the theology of mission, observes that Bosch does not include
in his biblical overview the Gospel of John with its dual
perspective on ‘the world’. The world is not only loved, but
also judged by God, depending on the response given to the
ministry of Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son, through whom
the glorious age to come has been inaugurated, but whose
advent, simultaneously, initiated the reverse side of that
age – ﬁnal judgement on the ultimate Day of the Lord (Jn
3:16–21; Rm 1:18–32; Thiselton 2016:81–91). Towner (1995:116)
speaks of a paradigm lost in Bosch’s discussion of the
missionally relevant biblical traditions. This concurs with
Bosch’s treatment of Luke 4:18–19 (1991:110–113) where he
stresses that the divine vengeance, in Isaiah 61:2 the reverse
side of the favourable year of the Lord (Peels 1992:133–137)
is intentionally ‘superseded’.33 One can agree with Bosch that
certain vengeful notions about divine wrath upon the
nations, abounding in 1st century CE Judaism, are repudiated
by Jesus. Nonetheless, the execution of divine judgement on
those who turn against God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ to a
world lost in darkness (Jn 1:5–12), is deferred and can be
averted, but is certainly not superseded. As Peels (1992:248–
250) argues, in a study about the vengeance (nqm) of God in
the Old Testament, God’s vengeance or judgement is not in
31.The prayer for an urgent return of Christ amid suering remains valid. Again, the
covenant is the framework within which both the needed advent and the granted
delay are kept together in tension.
32.One nds in Mahew, too, the dual perspecve on the imminent and ulmate
eschatological blessing and judgement. In Mahew 24, they are correlated (Hagner
33.See also Bosch’s treatment of ‘comprehensive salvaon’ (1991:393–400) in which
the classic noon of juscaon of the godless by faith has been side-lined as
Anselmian sasfacon theory (p. 399).
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contradiction to his love (Thiselton 2016:82). They are the
reverse sides of each other. In the end, God’s vengeance
serves his love. Final judgement serves the goal of the missio
dei, the restoration and renewal of a creation gone wrong, in
which all people, Jew and Gentile, together will bring honour
and glory to God (Phlp 2:10–11) in the new Jerusalem
without a temple (Rv 21:22). Final judgement signiﬁes that
evil, death, pain and crying will not be found in the age to
come (Rv 21:4, 8). This will be achieved through judgement
on the ultimate Day of the Lord.
From the missional ministry of the Christian community of
faith, a careful and balanced approach is required towards this
theme of divine vengeance and judgement, but it should not
be deleted from its missional agenda. However, threatening
speculations with violent phantasies about eternal damnation
and hell (LeHaye and Jenkins) should not be part of this
agenda. Biblical images, referring to these realities, are
apocalyptic notions that are not intended to literally describe
what is beyond human comprehension. They are meant to
confront the world with the seriousness and consequences of
the choice for or against Jesus Christ as the eschatological
Lord of Malachi 3:1b.34 Without disparaging the reality of
divine judgement, the focus in missional ministry is, on its
reverse side, God’s will to restore creation and to renew all its
inhabitants to the glory of its Creator, King and Redeemer.
This article attempted to read the postexilic minor prophet,
Malachi, missionally, focusing on the delay of the Day of the
Lord. The conclusion that this motif is missionally relevant
also for the present-day Christian community of faith,
should convince Bible scholars that a missional hermeneutic
occupies a legitimate place among the Bible reading tools of
The author declares that he has no ﬁnancial or personal
relationships which may have inappropriately inﬂuenced
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