We started our special series, Convince Me There’s A God, almost six years ago. The purpose was simply to answer the question atheists have asked me for almost 50 years – why did I leave atheism for Christianity since (in their opinion) there is no evidence for it? I thought it might be helpful to present the evidence that convinced me of God’s existence and the truth claims of Christianity, so the Convince Me There’s A God series was born.
So far we’ve looked at some of the scientific, philosophical, historical and textual evidence that was available for me to investigate in 1971. Let’s continue!
We most recently looked at the Intertestamental Period that ran from the end of the 5th century BC to the early part of the 1st century AD. That time is also known as the “Silent Period” because God did not speak to His people through prophets as He had done for centuries before.
The final Old Testament prophet was a man named Malachi. His name means “messenger” and that was the purpose of his letter. God gave a clear message to Malachi that included a prophecy about another “messenger” who would “prepare the way before” God. Who would that messenger be and when would he come?
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,’ Says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:1
We see several important things in this one verse of the Old Testament written toward the end of the 5th century BC:
- God would “send” His messenger to Israel.
- That messenger who would “prepare the way” before God the Lord.
- The Lord, whom the people Israel sought after, would suddenly come to His temple.
- God further identified the “Lord” who would come to His temple as “the Messenger of the covenant” in which the people delighted.
- God emphasized the fact of the coming of the Lord, the Messenger, by saying – “Behold, He is coming,’ Says the Lord of hosts.”
Malachi, who was God’s messenger to the people of Israel at the end of the 5th century BC, prophesied that God would send two future messengers. One would “prepare the way” before God. The other is identified as “Lord” and “Messenger of the covenant.”
Malachi doesn’t begin or end with chapter 3 verse 1. There is more detail about the Messenger who would come:
“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the Lord An offering in righteousness.” Malachi 3:2
God spoke powerfully, clearly and fiercely through Malachi. In the chapters leading up to chapter 3 verse 1, God chastised the Israelites for their polluted offerings (chapter 1) and corrupt spiritual leaders (chapter 2). God offered Israel a time of future hope by promising a messenger and the Messenger, but it would not be without difficulties for some –
“For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ Says the Lord of hosts, ‘That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,’ Says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 4:1-3
Notice also that God promised to those who feared His name “The Sun of Righteousness” who would arise “with healing in His wings.” This prophecy was in the context of God judging the wicked while also protecting those who feared His name. The wicked would be burned up, while the righteous would be healed. They would grow in size and trample the wicked. The wicked would be “ashes” under the soles of the feet of those who feared God “On the day that I do this.”
God also promised to send “Elijah” to Israel. That’s interesting since Elijah lived during the 9th century BC and Malachi wrote at the end of the 5th century BC.
[We should also note that the Bible reports Elijah did not die – he was taken to Heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2).]
“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments. 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 4:4-6
Remember these words from Malachi because they will be important to our study in the near future.
The “Messenger” After Malachi
Where do we find these “messengers” of God? Where is the “Lord” who would “suddenly” come to His temple? Did they come to Israel during the Intertestamental Period? At a later time? Is the coming of the “messengers” still future?
The Jewish writings of the Intertestamental Period do not demonstrate that Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled during the time of those writers. In fact, Jews who lived during the rule of ancient Persia, Greece and Rome continued to look for the deliverance promised to them in the prophetic writings (Nevi’im).
It is in the writings of the New Testament of the Bible that claims are made that God sent both of His messengers to Israel during the early part of the 1st century AD.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, ‘There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8
You might notice that Mark’s quote is from Isaiah 40:3 –
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.”
Malachi was the last of God’s prophets to prophesy to Israel about God sending a special “messenger,” but he was not the first. Isaiah prophesied centuries before Malachi.
The King James and New King James versions of Mark 1:2-3 do not mention the name of Isaiah because his name is not included in the 1550 Stephanus Greek New Testament (Textus Receptus). Instead, the word προφήταις (prophets) was used without mentioning Isaiah.
Ὡς γέγραπται ἐν τοῖς προφήταις, Ἰδού, ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου ἔμπροσθέν σου
Many other versions of Mark 1:2-3 do include Isaiah’s name because they use other Greek texts (e.g. 1904 Nestle, 1881 Westcott and Hort). They used the words Ἠσαίᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ (Isaiah the prophet).
Καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαίᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ Ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου, ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου·
There is no question about which prophet is referred to in Mark 1:2 because the quote comes directly from Isaiah 40:3.
Mark is not the only Gospel to mention this –
“For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’” Matthew 3:3
“… as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.” Luke 3:4
“He said: ‘I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:23
[The Textus Receptus does include Isaiah’s name in similar references in Matthew, Luke and John. It’s only excluded in Mark’s Gospel.]
Comparing Old and New
Here is the full context of Isaiah 40:3:
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ Says your God. ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand Double for all her sins.’ The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare 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 brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:1-5
Here is the larger context of the Gospel accounts –
“… the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3:2-6
“Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?’ He said: ‘I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:19-23
Keep in mind that the nation of Israel had not heard a “new Word” (prophecy) from God for more than 400 years. Jews knew the prophecies about God sending a “messenger” and a “voice” that would cry out in the wilderness, but generations had come and gone with no fulfillment of those prophecies. In light of that it’s interesting to see how the Jews of the early 1st century AD responded to the preaching of John the son of Zacharias.
We just read in John’s Gospel account that “the Jews” (Jewish leaders in Jerusalem) sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask John about his identity. Was he the Christ (Messiah)? Was he Elijah? Was he the Prophet (possibly the promised prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15)? John’s answer was that he was not. He was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.” John claimed to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
In the next part of our study, we will look at John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, the two “messengers” prophesied in Malachi.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.