Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6)
What A Difference A Covenant Makes
The Old Testament is called by Paul the Old Covenant, signifying the books of the Jews. All thirty-nine books of the Old Testament were completed in the time of Jesus and had been translated into Greek more than two hundred years before His birth. The Jewish version of the Old Testament was not divided as it appears in the modern Bible, although it contains the same books. In the time of Jesus, the old covenant was called the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The Hebrew arrangement consisted of the Torah, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, and the Writings (Hagiographa). What is striking about the Old Testament is the abrupt ending found in the book of Malachi.
Moses records the first five books of the Old Testament with the beginning of the world, people, and nations. From the lineage of Abram, the nation of Israel rose to power by the grace of God. Delivered from the bondage of Egypt, the Hebrews became the dominant power in the world. For a brief period, the nation was united under three kings but then fell into civil war. Nearly all of the tribes were destroyed by the Assyrians, and what was left was consumed by the Babylonians. Returning from seventy years of bondage, the remnant tried to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. The former days of glory would never be achieved again.
Prophets like Malachi came to the people exhorting them to turn to the Lord. During the days of the divided kingdom, myriads of prophets preached repentance to deaf ears. After the people returned from Babylon, the prophets continued their message of repentance. Devotion to God waned in the post years of captivity. And then the Lord did a remarkable thing. He created a famine of the word of God for four hundred years. When Malachi finished his burden of the word of the Lord to Israel, the pens of the prophets ceased for four centuries. There was no word, no revelation, and no communication from God. The final words of Malachi are sprinkled with doom and yet tinged with hope. A prophet like Elijah would come before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord and turn the hearts of the people. Malachi spoke of the day coming burning like an oven, which will devour root and branch. And then the Lord went silent.
Four hundred years will pass before John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea. His message was the same as the final message of the Old Covenant: repent! The work of John would usher in the kingdom of Christ as the Son of God fulfilled His mission to bring grace to all men through His death. On Pentecost, the apostle Peter opened the doors of the kingdom to the Jews and later would open the door for the Gentiles. Churches began to grow in every part of the Roman Empire as men like Paul, Silas, Barnabas, and Peter went everywhere preaching the gospel. The New Testament consists of the four books detailing the short life of Jesus. Luke would tell Theophilus how the church began and spread throughout the world. Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John would write letters or epistles that would become the foundation of the New Covenant. John’s Revelation would close the Bible in its entirety with the fully revealed word of God.
What is striking about the ending of the Revelation is the difference from the writing of Malachi. Instead of uncertainty, fear, and looking for one to come that would turn the hearts of the people to God, John declares the mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be no four-hundred-year silence but language that says, “Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Dread has turned to eternal life. Uncertainty becomes a promised hope through the blood of Jesus. Instead of a four-hundred-year famine of the word, the abundance of God’s divine revelation is given to all men to come to the glory of the risen Christ. Jesus came in the flesh and offered salvation through His death so that everyone could be part of the kingdom of God. The Old Testament ends with uncertainty. The New Testament ends with eternal hope.