The Jews of Malachi’s day were quite cynical. They showed great disrespect to the Lord by questioning His words and then by answering Him back. In response, He gave them a prophecy of the future, of the coming of His messenger. Jesus identified him as John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10; cf. Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). He would prepare the hearts of God’s children for the Messiah. This was good news and it was bad news.
The good news was that this messenger of the Lord would refine the priesthood and fulfill it in Himself by being the perfect High Priest. This messenger would also cleanse the people of all their wickedness. Yet this was bad news as well, for those who would endure it, the work of purification would be a painful process, as signified by the image of fire. This fire would crush the self and the ego. This would be painful for many especially those who refused to surrender to the Lord. They are loathe to focus on anyone but themselves. Yet this was needed for the Lord was determined to rid His people of all their idols so that He could rule over their hearts and enable them to walk in obedience to His will.
The message, then as now, is that now is the time for getting right with God. The Lord will surely carry out all He has said just as He has done in the past. This is a warning for us not to get complacent in the midst of material prosperity. We may, like the ancient Jews, turn from God because we think we have it all. We have money and clothes, material possessions and electronic gadgets and we mistake these for God’s blessing. The refiner’s fire will come and burn this rotten attitude out of our hearts. The very economic hardships we are now enduring that threaten us and our false ideas about God and the Christian life were sent by the Lord. They are designed to bring us, His people, as well as the lost, to Him.