The countdown to the end of the world in Malachi 4 presents a summary description of what will be the lot of the wicked in the final destruction. What is being described seems to coincide with the testimonies of prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and John. What is significant about this prediction in the book of Malachi is the commentary on the final efforts that God will make to salvage sinners prior to “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5), and the eternal destiny of the redeemed.
The prediction of a fiery destruction
According to the first verse of Malachi 4, the Lord will send fire upon the earth which will burn up the wicked and bring them to ashes. This particular verse is very interesting because it seems to contradict the popular notion of an ever-burning hell in which transgressors are supposed to suffer throughout eternity.
It reminds me of a conversation a long time ago in which a brother was advancing the view that Satan cannot die because he is spirit. He was making this assertion to justify the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the eternal-hell theory. Upon hearing this remark, I kindly refer him to Ezekiel 28:18 where it is clearly stated that like the wicked, Satan himself will be burned to ashes for his transgressions.
It seems like there is a consensus among Bible writers around the idea that the unrepentant will be burned to cinders without any prolonged suffering. This position seems to be more consistent with the mercy of God, which endures forever, and the fact that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (Ezek. 33:11; 2Pet. 3:9).
The Elijah message in the ministry of John the Baptist
In contrast to this message of warning, the Lord gives an assurance that He will make every effort to restore true godliness in the world. He promised to send Elijah to turn the hearts of the people from transgression. Does this mean that the prophet Elijah will return from heaven to which he was translated to undertake this ministry?
According to Christ, Elijah has already come in the form of John the Baptist who did preach a powerful message of repentance preparing the way for the coming Messiah (Matt. 3:3; 17:11-13).
While we should accept the ministry of John the Baptist as a secondary fulfillment of the coming Elijah, we should expect a wider fulfillment of this prediction just before the end of the world. This prophecy will be fulfilled in the final proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom, which is synonymous to the everlasting gospel spoken of in Revelation 14.
The power of Elijah through the ministry of the two witnesses
In his end of the world countdown in Revelation 11 we can see a clear hint of an Elijah ministry in the form of the two witnesses. These two prophets are to prophesy for 1260 days (42 months). It seems as if they have a special mission that is confined to a certain locality and set apart from the work of the rest of the people of God.
There are clear similarities between the ministry of Elijah and that of the two witnesses. Like Elijah they will have power to shut heaven during the period of their ministry – did not the Bible say that Elijah shut heaven and created a drought for a 42-month period? See 1Kings 17:1; Jam.5:17. Typical of the miraculous work of this spirit-filled prophet, the two witnesses will also have power to speak and cause fire to come down and destroy their enemies (2Kings 1:10-12).
Incidentally, the ministry of these two end-time prophets will also exhibit characteristics that are similar to the work of Moses! They will also be able to turn the waters into blood and smite the earth with plagues as much as they will. But this observation is also in keeping with Malachi’s countdown of events leading up to the end of the world. In the same chapter where the fiery destruction of the earth is foretold, and where the end-time return of Elijah is announced, there is a clear warning to keep the Law of Moses!
It is very interesting that in light of an impending event that is to signify the end of the world, the prophet Malachi admonishes us to obey a law that, by conventional opinion, is supposed to be obsolete by then. In another article, we will look at the significance of this admonition in the context of the last days.
The final message in the spirit and power of Elijah
When we examine the countdown of end-of-the-world events from the writings of different prophets, you will see a consistent testimony about the preaching of the final message to the world. It is foretold in the scriptures that in the last days our God will have a people upon the earth who, in the manner of that spirit-filled prophet standing before king Ahab, will be bold and fearless in their utterances, and whose ministry will go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah. The work of the gospel will then be finished in a blaze of glory, turning “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” before the earth is visited with a curse (Mal. 4:6).