The rhetoric of God’s questions regarding the coming of the messenger of the covenant found at the beginning of this passage has an interesting implication. It seems to imply that no one, not the evil or the righteous, can endure His coming or stand when He appears. The messenger of the covenant is then characterized by two similes using instruments of purification: fire and soap. Thinking about these images in conjunction with the previous questions, we get the idea that the messenger is going to bring about serious change in the lives of the people.
When we apply these images to our own lives, the text becomes more than some difficult-to-understand prophetic word from thousands of years ago. The refiner’s fire is the active agent of the change in the metals during the purification process. For us, Jesus is the active refiner in our lives. The process of refining in our life is transformational as it removes unwanted impurities and brings about a more pure product. In the same way, the soap is used to clean a garment and restore it to its original unblemished state. By the blood of Jesus, we have been washed clean and can now stand before a holy God as justified in His sight. These images point to two key concepts for us in our life of faith: justification and sanctification.