As it is written in the prophets,.... Malachi and Isaiah; for passages out of both follow; though the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Persic versions read, "as it is written in the prophet Isaias"; and so it is in some Greek copies: but the former seems to be the better reading, since two prophets are cited, and Isaiah is the last; to which agree the Arabic and Ethiopic versions, and the greater number of Greek copies. The following citations are made to show, that according to the writings of the Old Testament, John the Baptist was to be the harbinger of Christ, to come before him, and prepare his way; and also the propriety of the method the evangelist takes, in beginning his Gospel with the account of John's ministry and baptism: the first testimony stands in Malachi 3:1, and the words are the words of the Father to the son, concerning John, pointing out his character and his work:
behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. John the Baptist is here called a messenger, and the message he was sent and came with, was of the greatest moment and importance, and required the closest attention to it; wherefore this passage is introduced with a "behold!" signifying that something momentous, and what should be strictly regarded, was about to be delivered: and indeed, the work of this messenger was no other, than to declare that the long expected Messiah was born; that he would quickly make his public appearance in Israel; that the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of the Messiah, was at hand; and that it became the Jews to repent of their sins, and believe in Christ: he is called the messenger of God, "my messenger"; because he was sent, and sanctified by him; he was called unto, and qualified for his work by him; see John 1:6, his father Zechariah says, he should be called the prophet of the Highest, Luke 1:76. The reason of his being called the messenger of God, may be observed in the text itself, "behold, I send": the words in Malachi are by us rendered, "behold, I will send", Malachi 3:1, because this was at the time of the prophet's writing a thing future, but in the times of the evangelist a thing done: and indeed, it is a more literal version of the Hebrew text, to render it "I send", or "am sending"; and it is so expressed, to denote the certainty of it, and because in a little time it would be done: the words "before thy face", are not in the original text of Malachi, nor in the Septuagint version, but are inserted by the evangelist; who might do it with authority, since Christ had done it before him, Matthew 11:10, and which, as SurenhusiusF3Biblos Katallages, p. 229. observes, is for the greater elucidation of the matter. The prophet does not say before whom he should be sent, though it is implied in the next clause, but here it is expressed: besides, this messenger had now appeared before the face of Christ, had prepared his way in the wilderness, and had baptized him in Jordan; all which is designed in the following words, "which shall prepare thy way before thee", by his doctrine and baptism: in the text in Malachi it is, "before me", Malachi 3:1; which has made it a difficulty with the interpreters, whether the words in the prophet, are the words of Christ concerning himself, or of his Father concerning him. But sending this messenger before Christ, may be called by the Father sending him before himself, and to prepare the way before him; because Christ is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and is the angel of his presence, or face; besides, Jehovah the Father was greatly concerned, and the glory of his perfections, in the work the Messiah was to do, whose way John came to prepare. That the prophecy in Malachi here cited, is a prophecy of the Messiah, is owned by several Jewish writersF4Kimchi & Ben Melech in Mal. iii. 1. Abarbinel, Mashmia Jeshua, fol. 76. 4. ; who expressly say, that those words which follow, "the Lord whom ye seek", are to be understood of the king Messiah: and though they are divided among themselves, who should be meant by this messenger; see Gill on Matthew 11:10, yet some of them are of opinion, that Elias is intended, even Abarbinel himself: for though in his commentary he interprets the words of the prophet Malachi himself, yet elsewhereF5Abarbinel, Mashmia Jeshua, fol. 76. 4. he allows Elias may be intended: indeed he, and so most that go this way, mean Elijah the prophet, the Tishbite; who they suppose will come in person, before the Messiah appears: yet not he, but one in his Spirit and power is designed; and is no: other than John the Baptist, in whom the passage has had its full accomplishment.