Summary: Written in September 2022: This article gives the reader some interesting insights into the general character of the Old and New Testaments. When we understand these two prophetic symbols and the particular Testament each is associated with, we can’t help but gain a better understanding of God’s eternal counsels. It is the proverbial seeing the forest instead of starring at a tree. You gain knowledge and understanding of the bigger picture the Holy Spirit paints for us from God’s word of what He will eventually do.
The Sun of Righteousness and the Morning Star are two distinct prophetic symbols which most of us may already understand refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the “Sun of Righteousness” spoken of by Malachi in the last book of the Old Testament (Mal. 4:2). He also identifies Himself as the “Bright and Morning Star” in the ending salutation of the last book of the New Testament (Rev. 22:16). While these two symbols have their similarities, it will be by understanding their differences that we will gain the most spiritual intelligence.
The similarities are a few. Both are prophetic symbols used in the last book of their respective Testaments. Neither of the two have a literal meaning or use. Both are heavenly lights or bodies. As I mentioned above, both refer to the same person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Eventually we will find that both refer to the special hope and promise of His coming. For both, the hopes they represent are still future, even to this day. Because they are found in the last book of their respective Testaments, the idea of future hopes and promises is easier to conceive – God being gracious to His people in giving them something to fix their faith on right before the inspired word falls silent for a long period of time.
But here, I believe, the similarities are exhausted. The Old Testament ends with the promise of the “Sun of Righteousness.” This is in contrast with the New Testament ending with the announcement that Jesus is the “Bright and Morning Star.” The Old Testament promise is distinctly on Jewish ground and made for the Jewish people. However, the New Testament promise is given to Christian believers. This becomes the basis to their profound differences. Let’s first look at Malachi:
Malachi 4:2 (NKJV)
2 But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings;
And you shall go out
And grow fat like stall-fed calves.
The sun brings in the day, flooding the earth with light and warmth. The light dispels the darkness and in general brings in blessing and growth. These images well suit the earthly calling of the Jewish people. All the Old Testament promises, beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and passing through David, belong to the nation of Israel (Rom. 9:3-5). Jesus is the Seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) of which Isaac was only a type. He is the true Son of David, where Solomon serves as a shadow (Matt. 1:1, 12:23, 22:42, Mark 12:35-37). Not only is He the Offspring of David, but the Root of David and the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. For the Jewish people He is their Jehovah/Messiah (although they remain blind to these truths). He is the Sun of Righteousness who will eventually rise to restore the Jews in the land promised to them. He will bless and prosper them well beyond any Gentile nation. He will make them the head and not the tail; He will raise them above only and not beneath (Deut. 28:1-13). All the nations of the world will see what the Lord does for them and marvel. This will only take place after He returns to this earth and destroys Israel’s enemies (Rev. 19:11-21). He will then gather His elect remnant of the twelve tribes and give them to possess the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As their Messiah, Son of David and King of Israel, He will reign for a thousand years (the millennium) from Jerusalem over the Jewish people. He will rise upon Israel, and the Gentiles will come to His light, and the kings to the brightness of its rising (Isa. 60:1-12). The Gentile nations will pay Him homage and obey Him, for He will rule them with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:7-9). Jesus is coming to bring in a new day for the whole earth. As the sun brings light to the whole world, so will the Sun of Righteousness fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Num. 14:21, Hab. 2:14).
But now we turn to the New Testament. The bible student must realize there are profound differences between the Old and the New. Here are a few general truths that help us see the bigger picture. The New Testament gospels and the book of Acts portray the time when God was setting aside the nation of Israel and all things Jewish, in order to sanction Christianity and the new Christian dispensation. God no longer would acknowledge the earthly calling of the Jews. Instead, He only would sanction the heavenly calling of the Christian (Heb. 3:1). He would no longer acknowledge the practice of Judaism, the Jewish religion. The New Testament epistles speak of the gift of salvation and eternal life to any who believe. Then the epistles teach believers the practice of Christianity (as does the Sermon on the Mount found in Matt. 5, 6, and 7). As you may imagine, the setting aside of Jewish things centered on the crucifixion and death of God’s Son. This event and Israel’s accumulated guilt in it, is the main reason God suspends the Jewish dispensation and brings in the Christian dispensation in its place.
The evidence of this transition runs throughout the New Testament, so much so there can be no doubt as to its truth for any serious spiritual mind. And the distinction between the Sun of Righteousness and the Morning Star closely fits in with these changes. As we mentioned, they both intimate His coming, yet with very different connections. The sun brings the day, flooding the earth with light for all to see. The morning star doesn’t do this. It doesn’t bring the day but is only seen before the day. The morning star as such precedes the sunrise and is lost in the beams of the sun when it arises. Its light is for heaven alone and while the darkness of the night still prevails on the earth. And it is only seen by those purposely looking for it. This is the Christian believer. This is the Christian hope. We keep this hope by constantly looking for the coming of the Lord for us. Jesus promised us He would come again for us and take us to where He is – to His Father’s house in heaven (John 14:1-3). Our removal from the earth and the taking us to our Father’s house in heaven, is God, in sovereign grace, fulfilling our heavenly calling. This event is called the rapture. And it will be accomplished well before the sun rises upon the earth (Christ’s return and the millennium). The morning star appears while the earth is still dark, shinning as it were for heaven alone. The apostle Paul speaks of the rapture event to the Thessalonian believers:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NKJV)
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The Christian’s privilege and duty are to be always expecting his Lord. He who says in his heart, “My Lord delays His coming” is a “wicked servant” (Matt. 24:45-51) God always left room in His N.T. word for this expectancy. It would be the best help against discouragement, the most effectual remedy against settling down in the world, the best means of fixing the eyes upon Christ and things above (Col. 3:1-4). This constant watchfulness for the Lord’s coming for us is not false hope, nor does it encourage mistakes, for the time of the Lord’s return we are assured we would never know: “Watch, for you know not when the the time is.” We will be with Christ before He rises up as the Sun of Righteousness for the blessing of Israel and the earth. This promise to Philadelphia, when we comprehend the timing of end-time events, assures us of this Christian hope and truth:
Revelation 3:10 (NKJV)
10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
If you are a student of bible prophecy you understand that ‘the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world’ Jesus references here is the future seven-year tribulation. Daniel’s well-known prophecy of the seventy weeks establishes that one week of time (7 years) remains to bring an end to Israel’s judgment and suffering at the hands of the Gentiles (Dan. 9:24-27). This prophecy detailed the amount of time it would take to finish the already failed Jewish dispensation (remember that because of Jewish idolatry God had allowed Jerusalem and the temple to be destroyed, and for Daniel and the Jews to be held captive in Babylon). But the prophecy suspends the counting down of the time after Messiah came and was rejected by Israel. Sixty-nine weeks has elapsed, one week (7 years) remains to finish God’s trial of the Jewish people and bring in their promised restoration and blessing (the Sun of Righteousness rising upon them).
Obviously, the counting down of time in Daniel’s prophecy stopped after sixty-nine weeks and must resume its countdown at some future time. There already exists a huge gap of time unaccounted for by the prophecy. This allows for the transition I spoke about previously. The huge gap is filled by the Christian dispensation, where God sanctions the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the practice of Christianity, and the heavenly calling of the believer. This last part holds an important bible principle which helps our understanding of God’s counsels and scripture in general. God will never acknowledge or sanction two different callings at the same time. That would be ridiculous and chaotic, and He would never be the author of such.
During the Jewish dispensation God acknowledged the earthly calling of the Jewish people. This dispensation was suspended when the Jews crucified God’s Son. The Christian dispensation basically begins on the day of Pentecost with the Holy Spirit sent down to gather in the body of Christ (the promised baptism of the Spirit is what forms the church – 1 Cor. 12:12-13). God now sanctions the heavenly calling of the Christian instead of the earthly calling of the Jews. The rapture will fulfill our heavenly calling by taking us to our Father’s house in heaven. Soon after this event the Jewish dispensation will resume counting down its last seven years. God will again acknowledge the earthly calling of the Jews by marking and preserving a Jewish remnant somewhere near the mid-point of the tribulation (Rev. 7:1-8, Matt. 24:22-24). After Jesus returns to this world, He will gather this remnant and give them the Promised Land to possess under His Messiahship (Matt. 24:30-31, Ez. 47:13, 21, 48:1-35). This is God fulfilling the earthly calling of the Jews.
The “Morning Star” is mentioned three times in scripture; all three are in the New Testament.
2 Peter 1:19 (NKJV)
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts;
Revelation 2:26-28 (NKJV)
And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—
27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—
as I also have received from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star.
Revelation 22:16 (NKJV)
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
The brightness of a new day breaking forth upon the earth for the blessing of Israel and the world is the common theme of prophecy (as well as the events of the tribulation leading to this time). As Peter says, for the Christian, the prophetic word revealing these things can be a lamp for us in a dark place. But Peter speaks of something to be understood by the believer that is far better and glorious than just holding a lamp out in the darkness ; something that needs to awaken in every believer’s heart, apart from the events of prophecy. The present time is the night. But the morning star is to be seen by those watching through the night. Prophecy never speaks of this “morning star.” It is Jesus Christ and the believer’s heavenly hopes which are to rise up in our hearts. This N.T. revelation becomes an anchor for our souls, an internal compass if you will, sanctifying the way the believer walks in this dark world. For the Christian it is far greater light; it is better than constantly holding out a lamp in front of us as we walk.
The Revelation, and thus the New Testament as a whole, closes with this announcement found in this last verse above. The Morning Star points to the heavenly promises God has made for all those who are found by faith to be “in Christ.” Christians have a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1) and a heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20). We will sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6) and partake of every spiritual blessing there (Eph. 1:3). Jesus left this earth to prepare eternal abodes for us in His Father’s house in heaven. He promised to return for us and bring us there (John 14:1-3). The Morning star shines its welcome for us out of those heavenly places in which our blessings as Christians will be realized. Before He brings in the day upon the earth, our eyes will behold Him; and when this comes, our higher and better place will be with Him above. This is the meaning of the promise of the Morning Star.