“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 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.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
In anticipation of the birth of John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel quoted Malachi’s words to Zechariah and applied them to his son. (Luke 1:16-17) He said,
And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.
We know that John did this by preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It seems then that the words are not directed towards the healing of family differences. It is likely that the fathers are the godly fathers, such as Abraham, Moses, David, who were set before the Jews as examples that they should follow, and the children are the ungodly people who turned away from righteousness. John the Baptist insisted they should change their ways if they wished to be baptized.
Jesus says, in Matthew 11:14 and 17:12, that Malachi’s words were fulfilled by John the Baptist. However, in view of the reference to ‘the great and awesome day of the Lord’, it is probable that the words will have another fulfilment by someone who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah (or perhaps by Elijah himself) to turn people away from their wickedness before the Day of Judgment.