The phrase ‘Sun of righteousness’ is a title of the promised Messiah and it is an illustration that highlights several details about the Saviour. Here are some suggestions.
The first suggestion that this imagery of the rising sun brings to mind is that it describes the end of the period of darkness. If one was to write a history of the human race, the term ‘Darkness’ would be an accurate title for it. The darkness of human history was caused by sin and rebellion against God. Yet the day is coming, a glorious day, when it will be gone from the experience of God’s people. For them, the Day will have arrived.
Furthermore, this great day will be one that will have no end. Normally, darkness follows every day. It will be different when Jesus appears because this Day will never be spoiled or marred by even the smallest effect of sin. It will be a day of eternal light when the glory of God will fill the minds and hearts of God’s people.
The second suggestion is deliverance from death. The Sun of righteousness will arise with healing in his wings. This indicates that one of his activities will be to deal with disease. The healing that he will provide will be resurrection and glorification.
Thirdly, there will be an end of potential dangers. God‘s people ‘shall go out leaping like calves from the stall’. This imagery suggests the liberty, the energy and the delight that will mark God’s people on that great Day. When a calf is in its stall, it is tied up; it is kept there because it is not able yet to run around. The people of God will be able to do on that great Day what they would not have been able to do before it. In this world, they are like calves in a stall, in the next they will be like calves in a wide field, able to run and explore and feed on all that Jesus will provide.
At the same time, they will have great joy. The imagery of frolicking calves is a beautiful picture of the experience of joy that the people of God will have in a world where all danger has been removed. Their enemies (the world, the flesh and the devil) will have gone, and they will have constant spiritual energy with which to express their joy in God.
Fourthly, God’s people will be given dominion: ‘And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts’ (v. 3). Believers are kings, who will reign with Jesus on his throne: ‘The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne’ (Rev. 3:21). They will reign for ever and ever, and Revelation 22:5 includes both the reference to Jesus as the Sun and his people reigning for ever: ‘And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.’
How are the people of God to live until the day when the sun of righteousness arises with healing in his wings? They are to live according to God’s Word. In Malachi’s day, this would be the Old Testament, and he points the people to the law given at Mt. Sinai: ‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel’ (v.4). Of course, we also have the New Testament to guide us.
The prophet mentions a second duty that the people were to fulfil. They were to be on the lookout for the coming of Elijah the prophet (v. 5). His arrival would be a sign that the Lord was about to being spiritual blessing: ‘And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.’ The reference to Elijah was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist, as was indicated by Gabriel to Zechariah (Luke 1:17) and by Jesus himself (Matt. 17:12). Of course, we live in the period after this Elijah and the Messiah have come. What we have to look forward to now is when Jesus will arise with healing in his wings and fulfil this wonderful prediction of what he will yet do. This was the closing message of the Old Testament and it was full of hope.