The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi:
“I have loved you,” says the LORD.
But you say, “How have you loved us?”
“Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:1-5)
There is past tense and then future tense. There is “I have loved you” and there is “Your own eyes shall see . . .”
God through Malachi is addressing a half-hearted, spiritually corrupt covenant community. They have predicated their polluted religion on all that God is not presently doing. They are struggling financially and politically. They are muddling through while their enemies seem to prosper.
And God doesn’t say, “Hey, look around. Everything’s great!” No, he knows that “looking around” is exactly their problem. He beckons them to look back and then to look forward.
This is a great reminder to us about how the gospel empowers us for daily living, even when we are in a bind or a grind. When our world appears to be falling apart, when we can’t see our way out of the predicament or the grief we are in, the gospel bids us look back to what God has done in Christ on the cross and out of the tomb for his own glory and for us. “I have loved you” this says to troubled souls. And then he bids us in the gospel to look forward to the blessed hope of Christ’s glorious return, our gathering together to him, our resurrection, our placement in an eternal wonderland where there are no more problems.
This is the already and the not yet of the gospel. This is the fantastic remembrance of what God has really done in history to save us and the fantastic anticipation of what God will really do in history to save us.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received [past tense], in which you stand [present tense], and by which you are being saved [present-future tense], if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
— 1 Corinthians 15:1-2