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"Who may abide the day of his coming?
And who shall
stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire; and he
shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall
purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and
silver, that they may offer unto the Lord
an offering in righteousness."—Malachi 3:2,3 .
WE understand this statement to apply to our Lord's manifestation at the first advent and throughout the Gospel Age. He has been appearing, in the sense of making himself known to those in the right condition of heart, that he might assist them in walking in his steps. But he is particularly manifesting himself to them now. The Jews, at his first advent, had been expecting the greater Mediator than Moses, who was the Mediator of the old Law Covenant. Moses said to them, "A Prophet [a great Messiah] shall the Lord your God raise up unto you from amongst your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that every soul which will not hear that Prophet shall be destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:22,23.) So they were expecting this great Messiah, the greater Mediator of the New Covenant.
Jehovah had said, "I will send my Messenger,...even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in." You are expecting a greater than Moses; but it will mean a severer trial and testing when the greater shall come. The text above does not signify that he will refine literal silver and literal gold, but that he will refine God's people. These will be relieved of the dross, that they may offer unto the Lord an acceptable sacrifice. These sons of Levi, in the antitypical sense, are the household of faith. And they have proposed that they will offer sacrifice to the Lord—will "present their bodies living sacrifices." Such as do thus fully present themselves will be the Priests, and the great Messiah will be the High Priest. They will offer unto the Lord an acceptable sacrifice in righteousness. This work has been in progress throughout this Age. And because we are now in the end of the Age, tests more crucial are being applied, and will continue to be applied until the Lord shall have completed the development of this spiritual house of Levi, the antitypical Priests and the antitypical Great Company.
The text having reference to the entire appearance of Messiah, beginning at Jordan, his appearance will culminate in his glorious revelation at his second Advent. Messiah, the Head of this greater prophet than Moses, was raised up first. It requires the entire Gospel Age to raise up the Body of this greater Mediator and antitype of Moses.
The statement, "Who shall stand when he appeareth?" should not be understood to imply that all would be standing at the time of his appearing. There would be some who would think that they were standing, but who would really not be in the Lord's favor at all. But the meaning of this text, to our mind, is, Who shall stand the test at the time of his appearing? As, for instance, at the first advent he came unto his own, the Jewish people; but they rejected him and crucified him. There were only a few who stood the test. John the Baptist said, "He will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner." (Matt. 3:12.) We understand this text to be a reference to this work of purification; similarly, today, in this harvest time, more fully than throughout the Age, there is a testing and trying and proving of the Lord's people. Who will stand the test to prove who are the people of God? The Lord is now determining who are the consecrated class.
We see that at the first Advent only a remnant of the Jewish nation accepted Jesus as the antitypical Mediator of the New Covenant, when he began to test the Levite class—to prove them. Similarly, today, we find the nominal Church falling away, proving unworthy in many respects—not falling into everlasting torment, not into the Second Death, but rather manifesting that all are not worthy to be classed among either the Priests or the Levites. We are not to forget that the Gospel Age is for the purpose of finding the Priests and the Levites, to make them ready as ministers of the New Covenant, which is to be for all the people through them.
We understand that in this picture the Lord quite probably used the two metals (both precious, but one more precious than the other) to represent the Priests and the Levites—the "Little Flock" and the "Great Company." We understand also that the New Covenant has been in process of inauguration all through this Gospel Age, but that this Covenant will not benefit Israel and the world until the Millennial Age. First, they must have a Mediator. This Mediator was, to begin with, the Lord Jesus Christ, the High Priest. Then, in God's arrangement, he [R4709 : page 356] was to add an under-priesthood, all these to be the antitypical Levites, ministers, servants of the New Covenant. The justified humanity of all these constitute the "better sacrifices" that are being offered, at the completion of which, in the end of this Gospel Age, everything will be ready—the Priesthood and the Levites, and the blood of the New Covenant—to apply to Justice, forthwith to bring the blessings of the Mediatorial Kingdom to Israel, and, through Israel, to all people.
It may be asked, What is the "offering in righteousness" here mentioned? The offering now being made to God is the offering of the Church—"Present your bodies a living sacrifice." (Rom. 12:1.) The High Priest purifies these members of his Body by giving them the necessary experiences day by day, that they may more and more learn the will of God—may more fully lay down earthly things and attain to the character-likeness of our Lord Jesus. This purging does not come all at once and complete the offering; but, in our daily experiences the chastisements of the Lord are to the end that his will may be accomplished in us more perfectly. He is giving us these experiences day by day, so that, as we receive them, we may learn what is his will, that we may complete the offering in righteousness which has begun.
If it be asked how we could be members of the great Refiner and, at the same time, be of this Levite Company whom he is refining, we answer that this is the picture uniformly set before us in the Scriptures—that Christ is the Head of the Body, in the official sense; and we are counted in as members of his Body, even before we have been fully and completely and finally accepted as such in the "First Resurrection." The Head has passed into glory and we are to be with him. From the time of our acceptance and begetting of the holy Spirit we are counted in as members of his Body in a prospective manner, on the supposition that we shall make our calling and election sure. Then again, in another sense of the word, the Lord uses these very ones whom he is refining as co-laborers with him and gives to them a part of the ministry of reconciliation; some of the refining work—amongst them being some who are instructors of the brethren—until, as the Apostle says, they all come to the full stature of a Man in Christ. (Eph. 4:13.) So now the refining work, the increasing of the Body of Christ, goes on—the use of the different members of the Body proceeds, all by reason of the fact that our Lord is the Head of the Body.