Continuing our analysis of the Revelation Climax book for date-related prophecies, we come to chapter 6 and the first occurrence of the “messenger of the covenant” prophecy from Malachi 3:1. As one of the ripple effects of our teaching that the Lord’s day began in 1914, we apply the fulfillment of this prophecy to 1918. (If you have not already reviewed The Lord’s Day and 1914, you might want to do so before continuing.) As a consequence of our interpretation of the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, we need to set a date for the fall of Babylon the Great. That, we say, happened in 1919. The fall of Babylon the Great then requires the status of the faithful steward to be changed, so we conclude that he was appointed over all his master’s belongings, also in 1919. (Rev. 14:8; Mt. 24:45-47)
Here’s the complete text of the prophecy we will be discussing in this post.
(Malachi 3:1-5) “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he must clear up a way before me. And suddenly there will come to His temple the [true] Lord, whom YOU people are seeking, and the messenger of the covenant in whom YOU are delighting. Look! He will certainly come,” Jehovah of armies has said. 2 “But who will be putting up with the day of his coming, and who will be the one standing when he appears? For he will be like the fire of a refiner and like the lye of laundrymen. 3 And he must sit as a refiner and cleanser of silver and must cleanse the sons of Le?vi; and he must clarify them like gold and like silver, and they will certainly become to Jehovah people presenting a gift offering in righteousness. 4 And the gift offering of Judah and of Jerusalem will actually be gratifying to Jehovah, as in the days of long ago and as in the years of antiquity. 5 “And I will come near to YOU people for the judgment, and I will become a speedy witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against those swearing falsely, and against those acting fraudulently with the wages of a wage worker, with [the] widow and with [the] fatherless boy, and those turning away the alien resident, while they have not feared me,” Jehovah of armies has said.
According to the Bible, the first messenger is John the Baptist. (Mt. 11:10; Luke 1:76; John 1:6) Our understanding is that the “[true] Lord” is Jehovah God and the messenger of the covenant is Jesus Christ.
Here’s how we understand this prophecy to have been fulfilled both in the first century and in our modern day.
(re chap. 6 p. 32 Unlocking a Sacred Secret [Box on page 32])
A Time of Testing and Judging
Jesus was baptized and anointed as King-Designate at the Jordan River about October 29 C.E. Three and a half years later, in 33 C.E., he came to Jerusalem’s temple and threw out those who were making it a cave of robbers. There appears to be a parallel to this in the three-and-a-half-year period from Jesus’ enthronement in the heavens in October 1914 until his coming to inspect professed Christians as judgment began with the house of God. (Matthew 21:12, 13; 1 Peter 4:17) Early in 1918 the Kingdom activity of Jehovah’s people met with great opposition. It was a time of testing earth wide, and fearful ones were sifted out. In May 1918 Christendom’s clergy instigated the imprisonment of officials of the Watch Tower Society, but nine months later these were released. Later, the false charges against them were dropped. From 1919 the organization of God’s people, tried and refined, moved zealously forward to proclaim Jehovah’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus as the hope for mankind.—Malachi 3:1-3.
As Jesus began his inspection in 1918, the clergy of Christendom no doubt received an adverse judgment. Not only had they raised up persecution against God’s people but they had also incurred heavy bloodguilt by supporting the contending nations during the first world war. (Revelation 18:21, 24) Those clergymen then placed their hope in the man-made League of Nations. Along with the entire world empire of false religion, Christendom had fallen completely from God’s favor by 1919.
It may seem logical if one blithely accepts the premise. Here’s the premise: “There appears to be a parallel to this [the period from 29 C.E. to 33 C.E.] in the three-and-a-half-year period from Jesus’ enthronement in the heavens in October 1914 until his coming to inspect professed Christians as judgment began with the house of God. “
First, for any of this interpretation to work, we have to accept 1914 as prophetically significant year. We have already raised grave doubts about that in an earlier post. But let’s forgo that for the moment. Let’s say that 1914 is rock-solid as the start of Christ’s presence. For us to then accept that Jesus and Jehovah came to the spiritual Temple in 1918, judged Christendom adversely, imposed a time of testing and refinement on the anointed, found the anointed worthy of being granted authority over all Christ’s belongings, and stopped favoring Christendom, thereby causing the fall of the worldwide empire of both Christendom, Judaism, Islam, and Paganism—i.e., Babylon the Great—we must first accept the single premise that the 3 ½ years between 29 C.E. and 33 C.E. correspond to some kind of modern prophetic antitype.
These are not insignificant events! The importance of the fulfillment of all these prophecies is huge. They must come to pass, of course. But when? We would not want to believe they have already happened based solely on human speculation. Is there something more concrete for us to go on?
What happened in 33 C.E. is that Jesus entered the Temple and drove the money changers out. Using that event, we teach that the messenger of the covenant and the true Lord—i.e. Jesus and Jehovah—came to the temple in 33 C.E. That is pivotal to our understanding of the modern-day application of Malachi 3:1. Of course, we never explain how Jehovah came to the temple in 33 C.E. That point is wholly ignored. So we are saying—not the Bible mind you, but we are saying—that when Jesus entered into the temple and threw out the money changers, Malachi 3:1 was fulfilled. Okay, let’s go with that for a moment. That seems to give us our 3 ½ years, except for one important fact we seem to continually overlook.
This wasn’t the first time Jesus came to the temple and drove out the money changers. According to John 2:12-22, Jesus first cleansed the Temple of the money changers in the spring of 30 C.E.
Why do we ignore that event in that year? Clearly if this action of our Lord constitutes the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, then the very first time the Messiah came to the temple and cleansed it must correspond to that fulfillment. That happened a scant six months after 29 C.E. There goes our 3 ½ years. If this is indeed a parallel, then the messenger of the covenant and the true Lord came to His spiritual temple in the spring of 1915 and started the judgment of the house of God then. (1 Pe. 4:17; re 31-32, 260; w04 3/1 16)
The trouble is that there are no historical events for that year that would allow us to support the assumptions we are making. So we have to disregard the first occurrence of his coming to the temple and go with the second. It seems we are reasoning backward from our conclusion. That is never a good policy for discerning the truth of any matter.
Nevertheless, to give our official argument all the latitude possible, let’s temporarily grant that the second visit by Jesus to the temple to cleanse it is the only one that matters. Let’s say that the literal visit in 33 C.E. is the true first century fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. Can we now make our modern-day application of this prophecy fit with Scripture as well as the empirical evidence? Let’s give it a try.
We believe the judgment began on the house of God in 1918. At that time we are told that we were in captivity to Babylon the Great.
(w05 10/1 p. 24 par. 16 “Keep on the Watch”—The Hour of Judgment Has Arrived!)
In 1919, Jehovah’s anointed servants were set free from the bondage of Babylonish doctrines and practices, which have dominated peoples and nations for millenniums.
Which doctrines and practices were we freed from? No published details have been given in the past 60 years of discussions on this subject. Apparently, we were freed of these doctrines and practices in 1919. Couldn’t be the big ones like the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, hellfire, etc. We’d been free of those for decades by then. Maybe Christmas and birthdays? No, we celebrated Christmas at the New York Bethel till as late as 1926. Birthdays were abandoned after that. Maybe the Cross? No, that was featured on the cover of the Watchtower until 1931. Perhaps it was the influence of Egyptology that we were freed from? No, that lingered until at least 1928 when the November and December issues of the Watchtower explained that an Egyptian pyramid has nothing to do with true worship.
Back in 1914, we understood that the superior authorities were the national governments, and that we owed them complete obedience. Apparently this caused some to compromise their Christian neutrality during the war years. (jv p.191 par. 3 to p.192 par. 2) When the eight members of the headquarters staff were released from prison in 1919, had we changed our understanding? No. It wasn’t until 1938 that we revised our understanding of that passage in the Bible. We got it wrong in 1938, teaching that the superior authorities were Jehovah and Jesus; but it was enough to keep us completely neutral during the Second World War. After WW II, we again amended our understanding to the one we have today in which we recognize the superior authorities as the national governments, but only submit to them in a relative sense, obeying the injunction found at Acts 5:29 that we must obey God as ruler rather than men.
As for appointing the anointed over all his belongings in 1919, one has to wonder why Jesus would do that if we were still practicing birthdays and Christmas as well as believing in the cross and Egyptian pyramids, not to mention our compromised position on Christian neutrality. Seems strange that we would be judged as worthy of such an exalted role when we hadn’t yet been fully refined, purified and cleansed of all worldly contamination. Was the testing and refining really over in 1919 as we allege? Or was the judgment on the house of God still in our future?
It appears that there were no Babylonish doctrines nor practices that were abandoned in 1919. So either we were not then in captivity to Babylon the Great, or that captivity continued for some time after that. Either way, there is no empirical evidence of our being freed from such captivity in 1919, therefore no reason to believe that Babylon fell in that year, nor that we entered a spiritual paradise in that year. (ip-1 380; w91 5/15 16) This isn’t to say that we aren’t in a spiritual paradise now. It could be argued that the Christians in 1919 had been enjoying a spiritual paradise for decades already.
We are also taught in our publications that we were also in a captive state because we’d allowed persecution from 1914 to 1919 to diminish our zeal. In fact, according to our understanding of the vision of the two witnesses, the preaching work was virtually dead in 1918. (Rev. 11:1-12; re 169-170) Why then would we be judged as worthy in 1919. We hadn’t corrected this lack of zeal by then, had we? Would we not have to prove ourselves first by works befitting repentance before being judged as righteous and worthy?
An Alternate Fulfillment Of Malachi 3:1-5
The question is, What Temple was Malachi referring to? It may have been a literal one as we contend. On the other hand, both Jehovah and Jesus come to this Temple, which didn’t happen literally. Consider this:
(it-2 p. 1081 Temple)
The features of “the true tent,” God’s great spiritual temple, already existed in the first century C.E. This is indicated by the fact that, with reference to the tabernacle constructed by Moses, Paul wrote that it was “an illustration for the appointed time that is now here,” that is, for something that existed when Paul was writing. (Heb 9:9) That temple certainly existed when Jesus presented the value of his sacrifice in its Most Holy, in heaven itself. It must actually have come into existence in 29 C.E., when Jesus was anointed with holy spirit to serve as Jehovah’s great High Priest.—Heb 4:14; 9:11, 12.
Here’s a temple that comes into existence at the appointed time when both Jesus and Jehovah are present. What follows is a time of testing and refinement. This is upon the entire nation of Israel. In any refining process, the majority of the matter processed is dross, which is discarded. What’s left over is the silver and gold that Malachi refers to in verse 3. In the first century, it is reported that a great crowd of priests became obedient to the faith. So some of the literal sons of Levi also moved over to the path of light. (Acts 6:7)
The third and fourth chapters of Malachi do speak of events that did not occur in the first century. It follows then that the fulfillment of this prophecy spans some 2,000 years of history. Rather than looking for a parallel fulfillment, could it not be that Jehovah and Jesus came to their Temple in 29 CE. From that point on and down to this day they have been refining the sons of Levi, the anointed who will become priests in heaven, prior to a final judgment upon religion which will come during the great tribulation of our day?
During the great tribulation, Babylon will fall. We will not have to believe it fell in some arbitrary year like 1919 without any scriptural nor empirical evidence to support that belief. The evidence will be plain for all to see. At that time of the end, the judgment starts with the house of God. We have recently adjusted our viewpoint of the “disgusting thing standing in the holy place” so that we now view the “holy place” as Christendom. Does it not follow that the house of God would be all those claiming to be holy and claiming to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ? If there is judgment, there are those who are judged worthy and those who are thrown outside where there is the gnashing of their teeth. (1 Pe. 4:17; Mt. 24:15; 8:11, 12; 13:36-43)
Fact of the matter is, we have continued to be tested and refined throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st. This testing and refining is ongoing. The hour of judgment is not 100 years in our past. It lies ahead of us during the greatest tribulation (Greek: thlipsis; persecution, affliction, distress) of all time.