Bowen frames Christ as Message and Messenger (malʾākî), with the temple being both the place that message is delivered and the means through which we ourselves can become messengers of Christ and his covenants.
In this article, Matthew Bowen draws off D&C 93 and Malachi 3 to detail Christ’s nature as both the Messenger and the Message, with that message based in covenants and instantiated in temple ritual. In doing so, Bowen highlights important wordplay centered on the word malʾākî, which represents both the Old Testament prophet and the Hebrew word for “messenger”.
Bowen bases his argument in the appositional relationships (i.e., where one noun or pronoun is set next to another to clarify or explain it) apparent in D&C 93:7-8 and Malachi 3:1 that identify Christ, “the Lord whom ye seek”, as “messenger of the covenant”. The word “even” in those passages potentially serves as a grammatical tie between the two phrases, and the common use of the verb “come” further implies that they refer to the same person. That these phrases were quoted by Moroni during his initial visitations to Joseph Smith and were quoted by Jesus in the Book of Mormon further highlight their importance.
The description of Christ as messenger has its roots in Genesis, where Jacob’s blessing to his sons invokes an “Angel” (hammalʾāk) which “redeemed [him] from all evil”. The term redeemer (gōʾēl) describes a “kinsman redeemer”, the oldest male member of a family, one obligated to restore imbalance and deliver family members from slavery. The Angel that followed the tribes of Israel in Exodus served a similar purpose, where it is implied that the angel shares God’s full authority and even his identity.
Both John 1:1 and D&C 93:8 serve to cement the concept that Christ shares God’s divine status, a status that we too, as his children, can eventually share. They also indicate that Christ is not only a Messenger, but also the Message (i.e., the Word), playing a central role in the gospel plan that has been delivered to humanity in all dispensations, including a pre-mortal one. Bowen frames this gospel preaching as a continuum that we were recipients of before we came to Earth and that we can actively participate in during mortality.
Bowen places special emphasis on another phrase in Malachi 3:1, “shall suddenly come to his temple”, which is found repeated in early revelations to Joseph and that saw fulfillment in Christ’s appearance in the Kirtland temple. Bowen later draws strong connections between the temple and the messenger-related work of being a “witness”, established in both ancient and modern scripture. He notes that the temple, which Joseph would establish as “a place of education or divine tutoring”, is where God’s communication of wisdom and truth helps patrons become one with God, Christ, and each other.
The temple is also a place where processes of cleansing and purification prepare us to bring the message of Christ out into the world, an act which further cleanses us from the world’s sins. This cleansing or purging (which can literally mean to atone) reflects the ancient function of the temple as a meeting place of the divine council, where Isaiah was himself cleansed by angelic messengers in advance of his own missionary service.
Bowen closes with his own injunction for us to seek Christ by taking on ourselves His role as Messenger, saying:
‘What does it all add up to? Jesus Christ, the Messenger of salvation and the Messenger of the covenant embodies everything we have the hope and capacity to become. He has shown us “how to worship” and “what [we] worship” and how “to come unto the Father in [his] name and receive of [the Father’s] fulness.”…That is the Message, “the Word,” the gospel, or glad tidings…When we emulate Jesus Christ as the Messenger of salvation, we engage in the truest form of worship. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it, “the ultimate form of adoration of Him is emulation!”’
At this point we should be very used to Bowen’s keen insight on Hebrew wordplay and the nuances of the Hebrew language, and this article certainly allowed me to see words like “messenger” and “redeemer” in a new light. (Fun Nerd Fact: Fans of the Warcraft universe will recognize the term Go’el as the birthname of the character Thrall, an orc who delivers his people from both physical and spiritual slavery.) But what I really latched onto within this paper was its strong implications for my own personal behavior and outlook on the gospel.
And what are those implications? For me, it’s that being like Christ goes way beyond just being nice to other people. It’s being an effective advocate for Christ’s commandments and covenants. It’s understanding the value of a Christ-centered life and caring enough to communicate that value to other people. It’s taking the time and the effort to know and embody the Message, and then being brave enough to act as the Messenger. Whether we’re talking about those inside or outside the Church—in our wards, in our families, or with random strangers on the internet—being committed to the task of warning our neighbor isn’t automatically being nosy or judgmental or bigoted (though we could definitely run afoul of such things)—it’s a fundamental part of being Christlike. I appreciated Bowen reminding me of my own duties in that regard and, perhaps as importantly, of how I should be patient with those trying to get me to hear those messages.