Jesus tells us that John fulfills two prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. Interestingly enough, they are both from Malachi. Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was the final prophet to prophesy and to tell Israel, “Thus saith the LORD,” before the coming of the Messiah. In fact his book is about how to wait for the coming of Messiah.
The first prophecy concerning John is from Mal 3:1, and Jesus quotes it in Mat 11:10:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger,
and he will clear the way before Me
And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple;
and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,”
says the LORD of hosts.” Mal 3:1
“This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’” Mat 11:10
The second prophecy concerning John is from Mal 4:5, and Jesus alludes to it in Mat 11:14:
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.” Mal 4:5
“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” Mat 11:14
All of this matters to us, because it has been prophesied that Elijah would also precede His return. In Rev 11, two witnesses witness of the Lord, who are persecuted and killed by the beast. Then after 3-1/2 days, their dead bodies are raised from the dead, and they ascend to heaven. Then the next thing that happens, is the blowing of the 7th trumpet, with the proclamation that “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev 11:15). The two witnesses are one who does the signs of Moses (turns water into blood and strikes the earth with plagues), and one who does the signs of Elijah (shuts up the heavens so that no rain falls).
It is interesting that Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus in another place in the New Testament, and that is when Jesus is transfigured. Moses represents the Law, and Elijah represents the Spirit. If you go back to the Old Testament and read the stories of these two men, you will see that this is so. Elijah was the first prophet whose ministry was characterized to the greatest degree by supernatural signs and wonders, or the operation of the Spirit with power. Elisha, his disciple, did the same, because he received the mantle of Elijah, and asked for the a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (which was the Holy Spirit).
The prophecy of the transfiguration is: Jesus will appear in all His glory, and when He does, Moses will be at His right hand (the Law), and Elijah at His left (the Spirit). Jesus was not revealed in glory in His first coming, but will be in His second.
So all of this is to say, that I believe two things precede both comings of Jesus: obedience to the Law, with a revival or resurgence of the working of the Spirit with power, signs and wonders. In Malachi 4, in the verse right before the announcement of the coming of Elijah, the prophet says,
“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant,
Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel,
With the statutes and judgments.” Mal 4:4.
The reason the Law and the Spirit must be together, and both witnessing, as it were, is that the Law cannot be obeyed unless it is through a new Spirit from a transformed heart (Jer 31:33, Eze 36:24-27).
I believe it is no accident that Jesus ended His discourse about John, the Spirit, the messenger of His coming, and those who would not receive Him, with these words:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Mat 11:28-30.
What is the yoke of Jesus? What are we to learn from Him? When He taught the multitudes at the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5), He taught them how to obey the Law with love from the heart, not grudgingly with obligation. This is why even saying “You fool!” in anger to a brother puts one in danger of breaking “Do not murder,” because love for God and one’s neighbor (or lack of it) comes from the heart. His heart is gentle and lowly, and it is that love, that gentleness, that lowliness, that we are to put on as a yoke.
Obedience to the Law from the flesh, as a list of 613 statutes and judgments not to be transgressed, is laborious work which weighs us down with a heavy burden. But learning to walk in love, gentleness, and humility with the heart of Jesus, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, gives us rest. We cannot forget that love is the fulfilling of the Law, and every one of the 613 is summed up by the 10, and the 10 are summed up by the 2 (Love God, and Love your neighbor), and the 2 are summed up by the one verb, LOVE.
This is the balance of what both testaments of Scripture are teaching. We are not to obey the Law from a self righteous spirit, from the flesh, with a stony heart, as the Pharisees did, who looked down their noses at everyone else because they did not measure up to tithing dill and mint and cumin — that is the one extreme of the pendulum — but we are to let the Law teach us what the definition of love means, and keep our feet walking in the way, not embracing every immorality or throwing off every restraint because of a mistaken idea that only the Spirit matters and the Law (the Word) has been abolished — the other extreme of the pendulum.