Malachi 3:1 begins with the promise of a future messenger important in the plan of God: “‘See, 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.” This prophecy reveals a significant detail regarding the coming of the Messiah, namely, that His arrival in the temple would be preceded by another messenger sent by God.
The Hebrew phrase for “my messenger” is the same as the meaning of Malachi’s name (Malachi 1:1). Yet Malachi is predicting a future individual. Malachi 4:5 further identifies this special messenger as “Elijah the prophet.” The New Testament shows how this prediction is fulfilled. The Gospel of Mark begins by declaring John the Baptist as this messenger (Mark 1:2-4; cf. Isaiah 40:3-5; Luke 1:17; 7:27). In Matthew 11:13-14 Jesus states, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”
In Matthew 17, Jesus was transfigured on a mountaintop and met with Moses and Elijah. Peter, James, and John saw this event and asked Jesus about it afterwards. Jesus again noted that John the Baptist was the awaited Elijah, stating, “I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. . . . Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (verses 12-13). In announcing the birth of John to Zechariah, the angel Gabriel had said, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Thus, John’s association with Elijah was based on similar power and message; Malachi had predicted a metaphorical Elijah, not the literal one.
Malachi 3:1 is of great importance in understanding the nature of the Son of God. In the verse, Yahweh God is speaking, and He says that the messenger would prepare the way “before me.” So, it is the LORD God Himself who was coming. Then, God says it is “the Lord” who will come, “the messenger of the covenant.” So, Yahweh is equated with the Lord who was to come, and as we know, the prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus. Therefore, “Yahweh” and “the Lord” are equated with Jesus. It is one of many occasions Jesus is called “God” (Matthew 18:20; 28:20; John 1:1; 8:58; 17:5).
John the Baptist is the only person who fits the description of the promised messenger. John fulfilled his role through his preaching the need for repentance (Matthew 3:2), his prediction of the soon-coming Messiah (Acts 19:4), and his baptisms (John 1:31). John also baptized Jesus, at which event both the Father and the Holy Spirit gave evidence that Jesus was indeed the Christ (Matthew 3:16-17). As God’s messenger sent to prepare the way for the Lord, John was faithful to his calling and became one of the greatest prophets (Luke 7:28).