How Many Figures are in Malachi 3:1?

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare 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.”

In Malachi 3:1 there is dispute among Old Testament scholars as to how many figures are in view.

  1. Is it only one? This would mean the first reference to “my messenger” is the same referent as “the Lord” and “the messenger of the covenant.”
  2. Is it two? The first figure would be “my messenger,” and the second figure would be meant in both phrases “the Lord” and “the messenger of the covenant.”
  3. Is it three? This would mean “my messenger,” “the Lord,” and “the messenger of the covenant” are three different figures.

The weakness with the first view is that “my messenger” is preparing the way for the Lord, so the forerunner is distinct from the one to come. The weakness with the third view is that it doesn’t reckon with the synonymous parallelism present in the verse. Let’s look at the second sentence like this, as two halves:

the Lord                                                     whom you seek                  will…come
the messenger of the covenant       in whom you delight       he is coming

Seen as parallel statements, the second sentence in Malachi 3:1 is referring to a second figure only, not a second and a third. The “messenger of the covenant” refers to “the Lord.” This same figure is sought and delighted in by the people, and he “will come/is coming.”

In summary, the forerunner and the Lord are the two figures prophesied in Malachi 3:1. How did such prophecy come to pass in history? The forerunner was John the Baptist, and the Lord was Jesus the Messiah.