Summary: The prophet Malachi wrote that the Lord would send his messenger of the covenant, and asks, "who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap." What is the answer to Malachi's question?
THE REFINER’S FIRE
I. Introduction – Malachi says that at his appearing Jesus will be like a refiner’s fire, or launderer’s soap.
The Israelites had a question, not unlike a question we might ask. Our main text is in answer to a question from the Israelites:
Mal 2:17 - You have wearied the Lord with your words.
“How have we wearied him?” you ask.
By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
...which they concluded because of the prosperity of the wicked, and the afflictions of the righteous; complaining of the providence of God; accusing him of acting as if he delighted in wickedness, as if they who did evil were the most acceptable to him and rewarded accordingly.
The Lord answers:
I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. 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. 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.
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, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
Two messengers are mentioned.
The first messenger can be no one but John the Baptist, whose duty was to prepare the way for the appearance of the Lord. The one whose appearing Malachi prophesied and John prepared for was Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Malachi called the second messenger “the messenger of the covenant,” the “Lord you are seeking and whom they desire.”
This messenger is the Lord Jesus himself.
In introducing Jesus, John announced this:
Mat 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Some suggest that the baptism with fire represents either the “divided tongues as of fire” that appeared at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, so that the baptism with the Holy Spirit and “baptism with fire” are the same event; or that the “baptism with fire” is the judgment of the wicked at Christ’s second coming.
But I think there is more to Malachi’s image than that.
Does Malachi refer to Christ’s second coming?
This appearing cannot be the “second coming of Christ,” for that coming will not be to refine, or launder, but to render final judgment, reward the faithful, and send the wicked into everlasting punishment.
John did not come to prepare the way for that event, but for the earthly ministry of Jesus.
When the “messenger of the covenant” came, Malachi said, “He will be like a refiner’s fire, or launderer’s soap.” The “fire” was to have a beneficial, not destructive effect.
A forest fire destroys indiscriminately. An incinerator consumes completely.
But Malachi says in verse 6 from our main text:
I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed—you are not destroyed.
A refiner's fire cleanses. It purifies.
It melts down the ore of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up or boils them out, and leaves the silver and gold unharmed.
The refiner’s fire and launderer’s soap are not destructive agents, but cleansing.
The refiner’s fire is not to destroy, but to improve.
II. What does the refiner’s fire mean to us?
Our religion isn’t worth much if it doesn’t connect with our life. It is merely an abstract idea, or concept.
If the refiner’s fire has any meaning to us, it must be connected usefully to life.
What is its relevancy?
I suggest that the fire and soap are the trials, sorrows, and hardships we suffer in this life.
We live in a furnace of affliction.
For we do indeed groan while we live in this life:
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened--not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.