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Malachi 3:1-5 (NRSV):

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 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 fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

  • In verse 1 we see someone speaking in the first person ("See, I am sending [...]"). That's one person.
  • We also read "my messenger", which is evidently another person, so we have at least 2 persons so far.
  • And then we get to "the Lord whom you seek" and "his temple". And here is where ambiguities begin to puzzle my mind: is the Lord whom you seek the same person who was speaking in first person at the beginning of the verse (I am sending [...])? Or is it the messenger? Or is it someone else (a third person)?
  • And what about his temple? Whose temple is it?
  • And to make matters even more complicated, then we have "the messenger of the covenant", who I've got no clue whether is the same person as the first messenger, or another messenger, or the same person as the Lord whom you seek.
  • And so on and so forth. I highlighted in bold several words and phrases of the passage where there is a reference to a person. (Of course, I omitted mentions such as sorcerers, workers, widow, orphan, etc. which are irrelevant to the question.)

So, how many distinct relevant persons are present in this passage of Malachi? Who are they? Can we identify (and justify) prophetic links between them and persons from the New Testament?

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Jesus quotes this passage in Matthew 11:10 :

ιδου εγω αποστελλω τον αγγελον μου προ προσωπου σου ος κατασκευασει την οδον σου εμπροσθεν σου [TR undisputed]

Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. [KJV]

Jesus changes ὁδὸν πρὸ προσώπου μου (assuming either he is quoting the Septuagint, or offering the translation himself) 'the way before the face of me' and he changes it to την οδον σου εμπροσθεν σου 'the way before the face of thee'.

Jesus alters one letter of the Septuagint : μ to σ.

Mark follows this in Mark 1:2

την οδον σου εμπροσθεν σου [TR - dispute removes εμπροσθεν σου but, N.B., does not remove την οδον σου]

thy way before thee [KJV]

the way of thee before thee [literal, with addition)

Thus Jesus leads by altering 'my' to 'thy' and Mark follows Jesus' alteration.

Malachi prophesies that one shall prepare a way, and another shall go upon that prepared way. That way will be already laid down before the face of the other.

Thus far, two persons are in view. The Messenger of Preparation, sent by the Lord, and the Messenger of the Covenant, who is the Lord, himself.

Malachi, by prophetic vision, says, 'shall prepare the way before me'. This is the speech of the Lord Jehovah, given to the prophet, the seer, to express to all Israel, and beyond. It is the Lord himself who says, of himself, 'before me'.

But when this actually occurred, and many other events and many other prophecies point towards the occurrence in such a way that it is indisputable when it happened, he who walks upon the way prepared is Jesus of Nazareth.

Who says 'I and the Father are one,' John 10:30. Some have attempted to ridicule this statement by saying 'one what ?' To them I say, that Jesus has already answered their question in John 4:24. 'I and the Father are one (Spirit).'

This could not be revealed until the Son, himself, was revealed. Who, in turn, revealed the Father.

Once revealed, then, in retrospect, many passages in the Hebrew scriptures turn from mysterious and obscure prophecies to plain statements of undoubtable revelation. What could not (yet) be fully revealed was, nevertheless, foretold, but in couched terms and dark sayings and puzzling allusions.

Thus in Malachi 3:1-5. Jesus' alteration of one letter of the Septuagint, and Mark's astute introduction to his gospel account (which introduction then tells us that he is focusing upon the 'Messenger of the Covenant', throughout) open up the prophecy of Malachi and open up abundantly more in Moses and the prophets and the psalms.

So, to answer the question precisely, there are three persons in the prophecy. The Messenger of Preparation, the Messenger of the Covenant, (who is the Lord himself) and the One sending both Messengers, who speaks, in prophetic vision to the prophet, the Lord Jehovah.

But until Jesus Christ came in the flesh, the Son of God, only One is seen, yet this One, in Spirit, is revealed as the Father who sends the Son.

Yet it is remarkable that persons such as David were enlightened to say, despite that much had yet to be revealed, 'The LORD said unto my Lord ...'. David was conscious of a LORD and a Lord. And conscious also of the Holy Spirit, 'take not thy Spirit from me'.

To those who experience what David experienced, this is a wonderful and glorious revelation.

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Before answering this question, we must keep two things in mind:

  1. Joshua and the Commander of the heavenly Host

In Josh 5:13 - 6:2 we find that YHWH introduces Himself as the Commanded of the LORD's host (ie, army). Joshua had to remove his sandels because he stood in the presence of God. Now, because no man have ever seen God (John 1:18, 6:46, 1 John 4:12) YHWH, the LORD here must be the pre-incarnate Jesus.

We see this often where Jesus is called "Angel of the LORD" (Gen 16:7-13, 22:11-17, 32:24-30, 48:16, Ex 3:2-6, 32:34, Num 22:22-35, Josh 5:13-15, Judg 2:1-4, 6:11-23, 13:3-23, Isa 63:9, Dan 3:25, 28, Hos 12:4, 5, Zech 3:1-7) or "Angel of God" (Gen 6:13, 8:15, 9:8, 17, 15:13, 17:3, 4, 21:12, 16-21, 35:1, 10, Ex 4:3-8, 6:2, 23:20, 21, Deut 1:6, 1 Kings 12:22).

  1. First person to third person transition in Hebrew

Note the remarks of the Cambridge commentary in Mal 3:1 -

the Lord] “He who had before spoken of Himself in the first person (“I will send”), now speaks of Himself in the third person.” Maurer. For a similar change of person, which is not uncommon in Hebrew, see Malachi 2:16 above. “We are sure He which spake those words was (Jehovah) the Lord of hosts; and we are as sure that Christ is that Lord before whose face John the Baptist prepared the way.” Pearson on the Creed. Article, Our Lord.

Mal 3:1

In Mal 3:1, it is Jehovah speaking, and He speaks of Himself as "the Lord". The NT Quotes this passage and applies it to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10, Mark 1:2, and Luke 7:27) as "my messenger". Now it is possible to see that just two persons are in view in Mal 3:1 -

“Behold, I [YHWH = Jesus] will send My messenger [John the Baptist], who will prepare the way before Me [Jesus]. Then the Lord [Jesus] whom you seek will suddenly come to His [Jesus'] temple—the Messenger of the covenant [Jesus], in whom you delight—see, He is coming,” says the LORD of Hosts [pre-incarnate Jesus].

Ellicott comments on this passage:

The messenger (or angel) of the covenant.—This expression occurs only in this passage. Identified as He is here with “the Lord,” He can be no other than the Son of God, who was manifested in the flesh as the Messiah. In the word “covenant” there is, perhaps, some reference to the “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31), but the meaning of the word must not be limited to this.

Similarly, Benson comments:

And the Lord, whom ye seek — That promised Lord or Shiloh, of whom you have such great expectations, and whose coming you so much desire; and who, if you obey him, will bring the greatest good to your state, and will also make foreign nations partakers of your blessings; shall suddenly come — That is, soon after the messenger, or unawares, as Christ’s first coming was, and second will be; to his temple — The second temple at Jerusalem, lately built by Zerubbabel and Joshua. All the Jews, before the birth of Christ, firmly believed that the Messiah was to come into that very temple, according to what the Prophet Haggai had expressly declared, Haggai 2:8. The word here rendered Lord, אדון, is the same that is used by David, Psalm 110:1, where he calls the Messiah his Lord, and properly means a basis, or foundation, and also a proprietor, and governor. It is a term peculiarly proper to Christ, who is at once the foundation and governor of his church, and was the Lord of that temple in which he was to make his appearance. Even the messenger [or angel] of the covenant — A phrase, says Secker, found nowhere else in Scripture. “It may mean the person by whose intervention the covenant is made, or by whom a covenant proposed by one party is sent to the other.” The same person is meant who is termed the angel of God’s presence, Isaiah 63:9; who delivered the law upon mount Sinai, as St. Stephen speaks, Acts 7:38, and as the apostle’s words imply, Hebrews 12:25-26. He is both the revealer and mediator of the new covenant, which the prophets foretold would take place under the Messiah, Jeremiah 31:31; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 55:3;

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