Handel's Messiah: The Person and Work of Christ

7. The Messenger of the Old Covenant

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Messiah is spoken of as the "Messenger of the Covenant" in a twofold prophetic sense.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 7 of a series. Read part 6.

Messiah is spoken of as the "Messenger of the Covenant" in a twofold prophetic sense.

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

In our last article we examined the phrase, "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple." It still remains for us to examine two other vital elements of this passage that help form the prophetic prologue of Handel's Messiah - the nature of Messiah's office as "Messenger of the Covenant," and the surety of the promise expressed in the words, "behold, He shall come." In this article we shall begin to examine the first of these.

God through Malachi speaks of the promised Messiah as "The Messenger of the Covenant." This raises an essential question: What is "the Covenant" spoken of here?

The Messenger of the Covenant at Sinai

As is so often the case in prophecy, there is a twofold prophetic significance; we shall take up the first in this article and the second in one to follow. "The Covenant" spoken of here is first of all the Covenant made at Sinai, comprising the moral law of Ten Commandments, the complex Levitical rituals and regulations given in the Law of Moses, and the civil law of the nation of Israel. Christ is the messenger of that Covenant. Jesus himself said,

Do not think that I came to destroy [katalusai, to dissolve or abrogate] the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill [pleromai, bring to its full ratification] (Matthew 5:17).

This statement comes at the beginning of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. Many people, even many professing Christians, say that "my religion is the Sermon on the Mount." They are most often thinking of what they would view as the "soft" language of the Beatitudes. But Jesus the Messiah's Sermon on the Mount embodies much more than that. His main focus is not on what some would call "soft" language but on the hard fact that obedience to the Law is not a matter of mere externals, but of the heart - a standard to which no son of Adam can measure up:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment." But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28)

The Full Force and Effect of the Law

Jesus was, first of all, the Messenger of the Covenant at Sinai. He was the Messenger of the full force and effect of the Law - its requirement of absolute perfection, and its complete and utter condemnation of man in his sin. As Peter rightly described it at the Council of Jerusalem, the Law of Moses was "a yoke on the neck...which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear" (Acts 15:10).

Why was that? It is because the Law requires "personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience" - words used to describe the yoke of the Law in both the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession. Those words affirm the Holy Spirit's declaration of God's immutable standard through James:

For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10)

A Covenant That Pointed to Messiah

Jesus was also the Messenger of the Covenant at Sinai in this sense: All of the sacrifices for sin embodied in the Levitical system, all of the aspects of the office of the High Priest, and tabernacle given after the heavenly pattern for the performance of all the priestly duties, foreshadowed the Messiah who would come and justify many by bearing their iniquities in death:

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

Only the Messiah Could "Justify Many"

Only one Man was qualified in the eyes of God to "justify many." Only one Man lived a life of "personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience" to every jot and tittle of God's holy Law. Only one Man was born without Adam's sin nature. That man is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. As the Holy Spirit puts it through the writer to the Hebrews,

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners... (Hebrews 7:26)

The writer of Hebrews under divine inspiration piles one adjective upon another to emphasize not merely Christ's experiential sinlessness, but His impeccability - His inability to sin. The original Greek of this verse is very specific. Jesus is "holy" - hosios, religiously right and holy, as opposed to that which is unrighteous or polluted. Jesus is "harmless" - akakos, void of evil. Jesus is "undefiled" - amiantos, free from contamination. Jesus is "separate from sinners" - kechoorismenos apo toon hamartooloon, literally, divided asunder from those who miss the mark.

The Messiah is the Messenger of the Covenant at Sinai, in that He not only gave it from the throne-room of Heaven, but He also came into the world to keep it perfectly, so that His perfect righteousness could be imputed to undeserving sinners who live under the hopelessness of the Law and the futility of their efforts at Law-keeping.


Next: Jesus, The Only Fully Qualified Messenger


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