During the days of the judges, when Samuel, the prophet, was a little boy ministering in the Temple, a man of God came to Eli, the high priest, and told him that not only had God rejected him, but had rejected the priesthood of Aaron in favor of a priest of his own choosing (1Samuel 2:27-36). Similarly, during the days of Annas, the high priest, Jesus came into the Temple at age 12, answering and asking questions that astonished the teachers of the Law (Luke 2:46-47). Just as Samuel was his mother’s firstborn, but was not redeemed, causing him to be dedicated to the Lord and so was attached to the priesthood, so Jesus, without a record of his redemption at birth (Luke 2:22), and being his mother’s firstborn, was, therefore, dedicated to the Lord and was technically a Priest of God from birth.
Samuel, although he did act in many ways as a priest of God, did not fulfill the prophecy of the man sent to Eli. That is, his descendants did not replace the priesthood of Aaron. However, Jesus, although he didn’t serve in the Temple, as Samuel did, became our High Priest (Hebrews 3:1; 5:5, 10), and not only so, but his disciples have become a kingdom of priests (1Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6), thus replacing the then current priesthood in the first century AD.
This theme is also set forth in Malachi:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4; emphasis mine)
Some dispensationalists set the fulfillment of these verses into our modern future, which, according to them, is the Second Coming of Christ. For example Dwight Ironside says the first time Jesus came to the Temple he was despised and crucified. So, commenting on Malachi 3:1-4, he says:
another coming is clearly foretold here; for when it actually takes place, the unholy will not be able to abide it, nor to stand in His presence. As a refiner and purifier He shall sit to purify and purge the Levitical family… It seems plain from verse 4, as also the 43rd chapter of Ezekiel, that in the days when the kingdom is established over all the earth, sacrifices and offerings will be reinstituted in Jerusalem and the land of Judah… [Ironside Notes on Selected Books]
Is this, however, and accurate interpretation of Malachi? In Peter’s fist epistle he told believes in five Romans provinces in Asia Minor, who were at that time persecuted for their faith in Jesus, that they were being kept by the power of God for the appearing of Jesus Christ (1Peter 1:1-7). The “refiner’s fire” had already begun, but notice who is able to stand. Jesus’ disciples were kept by the power of God. Nevertheless, at Jesus’ appearing Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed in 70 AD, a few years after Peter’s writing!
Remember, Peter was not writing to the Levitical priesthood, whom Ironside mentions above would be purified to offer sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem. Rather, Peter was writing to the elect, whom God had chosen as a remnant out of the whole House of Israel and out of the families of the gentiles (1Peter 1:1-2). What he tells them seems significant, as it applies to Malachi 3:1-4. Peter says:
If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:3-5)
Notice that Peter calls the elect ‘a spiritual House’ who was at that time being erected (by God). Then he calls them a ‘holy priesthood’ who offers up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus, the Messiah.
Now, should we accept Ironside’s interpretation of Malachi 3:1-4 or Peter’s? Who was more qualified to interpret what the prophet said would occur? Malachi tells us that in the last days the Lord would purify the priesthood, and Peter claims that is exactly what was being done in the first century AD. However, Ironside claims it is a yet future event. Who do we believe? Malachi contrasted the purified priesthood with the then corrupt priesthood, and Peter told his readers that they were being purified in fire (persecution) to become the royal priesthood of God, contrasting them with the corrupt priesthood in Jerusalem, who were their persecutors. Ironside claims both the corrupt priesthood and the righteous priesthood must yet arise in our future. Who do we believe?
Peter isn’t speaking of the priesthood of Aaron. Aaron’s corrupt priesthood was rejected in favor of a Priest of God’s own choosing (1Samuel 2:27-36). It is to this Priest, our High Priest, that Peter points and claims his readers belong to his, righteous, purified priesthood. On the other hand, Ironside embraces the old priesthood, that was rejected by God. So, who should we believe is the more accurate interpreter of Malachi 3:1-4, Peter or Ironside, a modern dispensationalist?
In 70 AD the Lord came suddenly to his House, the spiritual House of God that Peter mentioned. It, the spiritual House, was able to stand but the physical House, the Temple at Jerusalem was not able to endure the coming of the Lord. What makes dispensationalists believe another physical House / Temple would fare better in the Presence of the Lord?