In the past few studies I’ve been looking at the book of Malachi, as this book is drawn from in the New Testament, and using this knowledge of the relationship between Malachi and the New Testament to define the eschatology of the New Testament writers. So far, it has been somewhat surprising to understand the magnitude of the influence this little book has had upon what we read in our New Testament scriptures. Nevertheless, this little journey has not only been surprising for me, it has also been pleasant and encouraging.
It is written; “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me” (Malachi 3:1), which echoes:
The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:3-5)
All scholars, of whom I am aware, agree that both the messenger of Malachi 3 and the voice of Isaiah 40 are one and the same person, John the Baptist of the four Gospel narratives. Both the messenger and the voice prepare the ‘way’ before the Lord, but what does that mean? Notice Isaiah’s encouraging words in the first two verses of this chapter. The prophet was to speak comfortably to Jerusalem, telling her that her appointed time (time of service, time of slavery, time of trouble, time of war) has been fulfilled, and God had completely forgiven her. In other words, she (Jerusalem) has been washed in “fullers soap” and refined in the “fire” (cf. Malachi 3:2). She was ready to meet her Lord at his appearing (Malachi 3:1-2)!
On the other hand, Isaiah also implied that Israel and Judah would not be ready to meet the Lord, for they hid themselves from his discipline, thinking he didn’t see (Isaiah 40:27). Yet, the Lord did see, and says in Malachi that he was against the priests of the Temple, cursed their offerings and would spread dung upon their faces or, in other words, make them contemptible in the eyes of the people, in the day when they were taken away (Malachi 2:1-3, 9).
The message of John the Baptist was one of judgment against the authorities at Jerusalem—the scribes and Pharisees and the chief priests. He came calling for repentance in the words of Isaiah 40 (Matthew 3:1-3), and all the people came out to him in the desert to repent and be baptized (Matthew 3:5-6). However, when John saw the Jerusalem authorities coming out to him, he rebuked them, asking who warned them of the wrath to come. He found fault with them, since they had no fruit showing they repented. They believed, because they were the physical children of Abraham, their place in the Kingdom of God was guaranteed (Matthew 3:7-9). In other words, repentance wasn’t needed to secure their place in the Kingdom. The fact that they were descended from Abraham, and due the fact that God made promises to him concerning his descendants, forced God to bless them no matter how sinful or corrupt they had become!
Nevertheless, John claimed God was able to raise up (spiritual) children to Abraham from these (spiritual stones), pointing to those who had repented and been baptized (cf. 1Peter 2:5). Moreover, John also claimed that their judgment (i.e. the judgment of the unrepentant Jerusalem authorities) was already taking place in that the axe was already at the root, and the winnowing fork was already in the hand of the Messiah (Matthew 3:9-12). So, John was pointing both to judgment and to the vindication of and the reward of the righteous, which Peter placed in the near future after he had written his first epistle (1Peter 1:1-7).
Malachi predicted national judgment due to the Jews treatment of the widow, the fatherless and the stranger in their midst (Malachi 3:5), and we know that this is a judgment of national concern, because God told Israel through Moses in Exodus 22:21-24 that he would come against the entire nation, if they mistreated the weak among them. Therefore, we look for the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the judgment predicted by Malachi and John the Baptist—we look for that coming of the Messiah as Judge of the sinners and Vindicator of the righteous in 70 AD at the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
70 AD, therefore, is extremely important for the fulfillment of both Malachi’s and John’s prophecies. Otherwise, when would their words have been fulfilled. If we look to our future in the 21st century, a physical Temple would need to be rebuilt, and a physical priesthood would need to be in place, and the widows and the fatherless, and the strangers would need to be abused again (as was done in the first century AD). However, the question needs to be asked, if Malachi was fulfilled in 70 AD, why would we need a second fulfillment? There is nothing in scripture that demands that such a thing be done. Therefore, we need to honor the word of the Lord that judgment for all the righteous blood would and did fall upon that first century generation of Jews (Matthew 23:27-36).
 The fact the winnowing fork is used shows the time of harvest or the end of the age (cf. Matthew 13:39) was near. In other words, John was saying the Jews were in their latter days (Deuteronomy 31:29).