The prophet Malachi foretold that God himself would come to cleanse and purify the Temple.
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We heard on Sunday morning about the preaching of John the Baptist, the forerunner God sent ahead to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Saviour who was to come.
Luke 3 16 John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:15-18)
The Jews in the time the birth of Jesus were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their Messiah. But they had forgotten the many warnings in the Old Testament that the Messiah’s purpose in coming would be to refine and purify God’s chosen people. John’s baptism in water was a symbol of cleansing from sin, a sign of forgiveness as sins are washed away in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. When John spoke of the one to come baptising with Holy Spirit and fire, that would be a cleansing fire, a refining fire, purifying Israel, as the prophet Malachi had foretold.
The Jews had been waiting for hundreds of years for their Messiah to come and bring them the salvation God had promised. The prophet Malachi, like Isaiah, spoke of a forerunner who would come to prepare the way beforehand.
‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
The prophecies of a messenger were fulfilled in the life and ministry of John the Baptist. But the messenger would only be the beginning of God’s wonderful acts of salvation.
Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty.
Here was the heart of Malachi’s prophecy. The forerunner would prepare the way, and then GOD HIMSELF would come to the Temple in Jerusalem. So the Jews had an overlap of expectations. They were waiting for the Messiah, God’s anointed Saviour, and at the same time they were waiting for God HIMSELF to come. They would not have been able to get their heads around the idea that the Messiah would actually be God the Son. But the Jews in Jesus’s time had forgotten the next part of Malachi’s promise – which was a solemn warning.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
The Old Testament looks forward to the day of salvation when the Messiah will come to save his people. They were even expecting God himself to appear again at the Temple in Jerusalem. But Malachi warns that God will be coming in judgment and refining fire to purify his people. The Jews had forgotten God had called them on Mount Sinai to be “my treasured possession … a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6) The whole nation, even the priests and the Temple itself had drifted away from God. So the nation were ignoring the warnings that when God came it would be to cleanse and purify and refine his chosen people. When he came, the Messiah, and even God himself, would come to rebuild the temple from scratch, to create a new and better and eternal temple.
Zechariah 6 contains a similar promise.
12 Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.”
The Temple in Jerusalem was the place where God’s people could meet with God and worship God. It was the place where through the priests they could speak to God and they could hear God speak. Through the system of sacrifices the Temple was the place where sin was dealt with. On the day of the Lord, God’s anointed Saviour would come and rebuild and purify God’s Temple.
Jesus began to fulfil this prophecy in a symbolic gesture when he drove the sellers and money-changers out of the vast Outer Courts Temple. John 2 14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
When the Pharisees challenged his authority, the answer Jesus gave was unexpected. In this saying Jesus is claiming to be the one who was coming to rebuild the Temple, fulfilling the prophecies in Malachi and Zechariah. Jesus was actually claiming to be God when he answered them,
‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’
They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. (John 2:19-21).
Jesus was pointing ahead to his resurrection. But he was also declaring that God’s new temple he would build would be his own body. Jesus himself would be God’s new Temple. He was the person through whom people would meet with God. God would speak through him. And by his death on the cross, through him God would deal with the problem of sin forever. Jesus would be both priest and king ruling over all things, fulfilling in his own body all the promises of Zechariah. Jesus would be prophet and priest, king and sacrifice.
Jesus did come to rebuild the Temple. And the new Temple he is building is his Church.
1 Peter 2:4 4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Jesus came to restore and renew the Temple in his own body. As the church, we are now the body of Christ on earth, the temple of God, built out of living stones, where God lives by His Holy Spirit. But what about the refiner’s fire? God the Holy Spirit continues to work in each one of us, cleansing and purifying and refining us to be ready to stand in the presence of God in glory. We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
1 Peter 1 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Even now, the refiner’s fire is purifying the church. In this way the prophecy of Malachi is being fulfilled in our lives. For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
WE ARE BEING BUILT INTO A TEMPLE,
Fit for God’s own dwelling place;
Into the house of God which is the church,
The pillar and the ground of truth,
As precious stones that Jesus owns,
Fashioned by His wondrous grace.
And as we love and trust each other
So the building grows and grows.