The Prophets received visions, performed miracles, and heard God speak directly. They were much better off than we are today, right? In this wonderful look at the miracle of scripture, Stephen brings us a surprising answer. New Testament believers enjoy a place of great privilege as they have received the revelation concerning salvation in Jesus Christ that neither the prophets nor the angels received.
Identity theft is often in the news today. More than 12 million people are impacted in some way through fraudulent use of their credit card or personal information.
A few weeks ago, the power in our house went out and it stayed out for 6 days. On the second day, I tried to buy a generator from a store in Greensboro – that was the closest town I could find that actually still had generators in the store. That particular Home Depot was 2 hours away, but it was worth it.
When I tried to purchase it over the phone, my debit was declined . . . my credit card was declined. Fortunately, the sales associate took my word for it – that I really was on my way to purchase it, and he held it for me that morning.
By the time I arrived, his department had been flooded with requests for generators. And there were only two generators left – the one they’d held for me – and the other one was also for someone who had driven from Raleigh that morning.
The reason my cards were declined had a lot to do with cyber security; along with the banking industry shutting down anything that looked suspicious. If you try to buy gas in Raleigh, eat lunch in Asheville and buy a generator in Greensboro, more than likely your card will be shut down.
My purchase didn’t work over the phone, but it worked when I arrived.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information and uses your identity for their own benefit.
It’s your identity – and you really don’t want anybody else using it for their own purposes.
When you think about, however, the Christian is, by definition, someone who has taken someone else’s identity. They’ve even taken the name of someone else and call themselves by that name – Christian. And they call themselves by that name because they have taken the identity of someone else: Jesus Christ.
Not only do you have an identity that you weren’t born with and that you didn’t earn the right to use, as a Christian you’ve actually used His
identity to get into His checking account, as it were, and you’re using all the benefits of His identity – including, in the end, His own eternal inheritance.
But in reality though, it wasn’t identity theft—it was an identity gift!i For by grace you have been saved through faith and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
The believers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia have lost their identity in their community. They’ve lost their status . . . their standing . . . their earthly benefits, their sense of significance.
If anyone was considered the most unfortunate and underprivileged person on the planet it was the Christian.
But Peter feels differently. In fact, he writes to them in verse 8 of chapter 1 that they have an inheritance by means of their personal salvation in Christ, they can be joyfully content not matter what.
The truth of the matter is, these believers – and Christians to this day – may not feel all that privileged.
And what Peter does next, is pause . . . as if to say, “And speaking about your position of great privilege in Christ through salvation . . . let’s talk about just how privileged you are.
And he does just that by bringing to our attention three key thoughts that are easily overlooked.
First, our privileges have been the fixation of prophets
Notice verse 10. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, Seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them as indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you.
That’s a long way of saying that the New Testament Christians, even though they were dispersed and rejected, they were better off than even the Old Testament prophets.
And what Peter on this point is review for these scattered believers how much greater their advantages were than the Old Testament prophets. You have it better than the prophets!
Let me unpack that statement by making three observations:
For one thing, the prophets examined the scriptures which were not completed.
While these suffering believers would have easily been tempted to think how great it would be for God to speak out loud to them, like He did to many of His prophets – ii
Peter basically implies that the prophets would love to trade places.
Notice, verse 10 again, all they could do was make careful searches and inquiries.
To make careful searches comes from a verb that means to mount an intensive investigation, to study diligently and with painstaking effort try and find the answers to riddles.iii
The second word – to make inquiries is used of a lion following the scent of its prey; in other words, the prophets, with all diligence, spent their lives hunting down the implications of all they had written.iv
From Moses to Malachi, the prophets were given information about a coming age of grace; they knew that large numbers of Gentiles would be saved; they had a concept of Calvary and certainly the prophecies related to final atonement. But they knew nothing of the symbolisms of the annual Jewish feasts, especially of Passover and Pentecost as it related to the death of Jesus or the creation of the church.v
The truth about the church was a hidden mystery in the Old Testament, Paul wrote, in Ephesians 3.
The Old Testament prophet looked forward by faith to a sacrifice on Mount Calvary where Messiah would suffer and die (Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53); they also could see the mountain peak just beyond Mount Calvary, called Mount Olivet, where their Messiah would return in glory (Zechariah 14).vi
But from their vantage point they couldn’t see the valley in between those two mountain peaks . . . a valley, we call the dispensation of grace – or – the church age – that has lasted now nearly 2,000 years.
So who is better off? The Old Testament prophet who waited on the voice or vision from God – who
had scant revelation written down about the future – who awaited a kingdom but knew nothing of the church?
It’s as if Peter is reminding the believer that they have been given the completed revelation.
By the time this New Testament is completed, the believer will know the next events in the prophetic lineup include:
- the rapturing of the church,
- the coming tribulation as God judges the world and prepares Israel for restoration;
- the coming millennial kingdom where we will reign with Christ on earth;
- the battle against Christ where He will be victorious
- the destruction of the earth and universe, dissolved in a fire ball of judgment
- the final judgment of the unbelieving world
- the eternal glory for the believer as they enter new heavens and a new earth forever.
The prophets were trying to put together the puzzle of human history, but they were missing so many pieces.
Have you ever put a puzzle together and you got near the end and you were missing some critical pieces . . . the picture just wouldn’t come together . . . the puzzle couldn’t be completed.
Beloved – what an advantage . . . you have the incredible privilege of having been given all the pieces to the puzzle . . . you have God’s sufficient and completed word.
Peter tells us, first, the prophets examined the scriptures which were not completed;
Secondly, the prophets pointed to the Savior whose name they didn’t know.
Notice verse 11 again, [they were seeking] to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
In other words, they knew the Messiah was coming – they looked forward by faith in the coming of the Messiah to die in full and final payment for their sin, and this belief gave them salvation, just as we are saved by looking backward at the Messiah who came.
But they were trying to put the clues together to find out when He would come. And just who He would be.
They foresaw the Christ – the Christos – the anointed One, but they didn’t know His name would be Jesus.vii
No one did, until the angel announced to Joseph, name Him Jesus – Yeshua – Joshua (in Hebrew) because that name means deliverer – for He will save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21).
The final pieces began to fall into place.
The prophets had wondered when Messiah would come, what would be the times – Peter writes here – what would be the distinctives of His ministry – who precisely would be this person who would come as savior, judge, prophet, priest and king. The searched the scriptures to find out all they could about who He was and when He would come.viii
And get this – the Old Testament prophets
couldn’t unravel the differences between Christ’s two comings – coming to redeem and then later coming to reign. In fact, Jewish commentators postulate two different Messiahs, one as suffering Messiah and the second as sovereign Messiah.ix
Notice how Peter ties them together in one Messiah in verse 11 where he connects to the same Christ, both suffering and after the glories; both the cross and the coming crown.
Yes, He would suffer and die, but after that the glories:
- of the resurrection (Matthew 28);
- and His ascension (Acts 1);
- and His resumption to the throne of Glory (John 17, Hebrews 1 and Revelation 3);
- of His return for the church (1 Thessalonians 4);
- of His recreation of the heavens and the earth (2 Peter 4);
- of His final and eternal glorious reign as Judge and King over all (Colossians 3 & Revelation 20).x
Which is another way of saying, even though we in this New Testament dispensation have seen a lot, we haven’t seen anything yet!
But what a privilege to have received the information in this completed revelation.
There may be experiences yet ahead, but there are no missing pieces in the puzzle of God’s redemptive and glorious plan.
The prophets examined the scriptures which were not completed;
The prophets pointed to the Savior whose name they didn’t know.
Third, the prophets understood their service was for a future generation.
Notice now verse 12. It was revealed to them (the OT prophets) that they were not serving themselves, but you . . .
In other word, the fulfillment of their prophecies were not for them to witness.xi
The verb here that refers to them serving – paints a picture of someone who spreads the table, who sets the table, but only for someone else to come and eat the meal.xii
And the amazing thing is that these prophets knew it . . . notice again how verse 12 opens – it was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves.
It was revealed to them that they’d never eat the banquet personally – they wouldn’t live long enough to see the table filled with the words and works of their Messiah, Jesus Christ. The meal would come later.
And Peter is reminding these New Testament believers, listen, what an advantage you have, living in these days – no matter how troubled and how difficult. You’re able to pull up a chair to a table that was spread by the prophets . . . you able to feast on the revelation and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The prophets dedicated their lives to setting the table in anticipation and faith and faithfulness with us in mind.
What an example, by the way. Imagine never tasting any fruit. You’ve only heard about fruit; you’ve only heard brief descriptions of how sweet
and crisp and juicy and bursting with flavorful it is . . . but you’re told that you’ll never taste it during your lifetime . . . however, your life’s work is to plant orchards so that the generations ahead will be able to enjoy it.
And then imagine, giving your life, faithfully – passionately – to that task.
Let’s stop long enough to tip our hats to the prophets. What a faithful task . . . what an unrewarding struggle they engaged in – only to be rewarded, for the most part, after their lives ended.
What a testimony the prophets deliver to every one of us – there is no telling how far the ripple effects of your life will go. There is no telling how many people you will influence by the mere faithfulness you demonstrate at your job – to your
family – to your Lord – to your calling to make disciples – to your investment in ministry and mission – you have no idea how far the ripples of your life will reach.
What you’re doing, even now, is perhaps setting the table of influence, for generations to come.
William Barclay tells the story of watching one night at dusk a blind lamplighter lighting the lamps. He tapped his way from lamp-post to lamp-post bringing to others a light which he himself would never experience.xiii
Imagine that. What a privilege is ours. We have, according to this text, privileges that have been the fixation of prophets.
Peter goes on to remind them and us,
Secondly, your privileges are the focal point for preachers
Notice verse 12 again –the middle part – in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.
Peter now brings our privileged status into the New Testament dispensation of the church age.
He writes here that the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven. We know from Acts 2 that His descent from heaven occurred on the Day of Pentecost; we know that His coming was the fulfillment of Christ’s own promise, that when Christ ascended back to the Father, He promised to send the Spirit as our companion and creator of the church (John 16).
And Peter also makes very clear here that preaching the gospel is enabled – empowered – by the Holy Spirit at work in and through the preacher – the messenger.
Just as the prophet’s message didn’t originate with him, the preacher’s message isn’t from himself either. Prophets nor preachers are original.
The preacher then must be like the prophet in that he studies the scriptures; ransacking the word for clues; mining the gems from the depths of scriptural caverns – the preacher is going to have to study and learn and then – after all of that – he is to depend upon the Holy Spirit to enable Him and enflame the message so that it brings transformation and spiritual fruit.
I often repeat the same words as I approach this pulpit, that I once read Charles Spurgeon would
repeat, in the 1800’s as he climbed the stairway to his platform from which he preached – with every step he uttered under his breath, “I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
Even though Spurgeon was incredibly eloquent and interesting, he realized that no matter how capable; how reasonable; how skillful he was – without the Holy Spirit, he and every preacher will do nothing more than blow dust onto parched and dry ground.
But Peter adds this caveat of encouragement – notice how both the Spirit and the message the Spirit enables is from where – from heaven.
Listen, beloved, whenever you study the prophets; whenever you study the word of God on your own; whenever you hear true Bible exposition, you are actually receiving a message directly from heaven.
Think of these scattered believers to whom Peter was originally writing; they were thinking no doubt that heaven had forgotten them. Heaven had not forgotten them!
Every sermon was a reminder; every message was a message from heaven; which means it never goes out of date – it is always current – it is always relevant; it always matters – it is always worth hearing.
Out of curiosity, I went online this past week, in light of this text, and read some of the headlines of years gone by – headlines that were earth shattering, life changing, alarming, mesmerizing, interesting headlines.
And 80-100 years later, they have little meaning today, even though they were very significant back then.
In 1914 the Washington Times had in bold front page news, “Serb Student Assassinates Archduke and His Duchess.” That was the captivating news for days.
Other headlines from that front page included; Captain Hopkins charges letters were stolen as part of conspiracy and bomb hurled into carriage fails to explode.
Fifteen years later, in 1929, the headlines around the world read, “Wall Street in Panic As Stocks
Crash.” And of course, the Depression followed.
A year later, in 1930, the Dust Bowl was making headlines around the world – some of the headlines read:
- Dust victims pray for Oklahoma Rain
- Farmers, Business Men, Women and Children crowd churches to ask for relief
- Two Airplanes Forced Landing as Black Blizzard Hides Airport
- Dust Storms Rage from Kansas West far as California
- Prairie Center to Pray for Moisture And on and on and on . . . what were the headlines last year – five years ago – last week?
The message from heaven – and the message of the gospel will always be worthy and relevant – today, tomorrow – forever.
Your privileges were the fixation of the prophets Your privileges are the focal point for true preaching.
Your privileges are the fascination of angels
Notice the end of verse 12 – things into which angels long to look.
These things related to the gospel – to salvation – to the privileged position of the believer – they long to look into.
You see, an angel never experienced salvation. Christ didn’t die for the angels. The angels who did not participate in Satan’s rebellion remained holy – and were confirmed in their holiness unto God; and the angels who rebelled are confirmed in their wicked state and will one day be cast into an eternal Hell (James 2:19 and Matthew 25:41).xiv
Hebrews 2:16 clearly says that Christ did not die for angels but for mankind. In other words, only mankind was designed to experience salvation through the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
So angels don’t know what it means to experience the relief, the joy, the liberation and the wonder of being a saved sinner.xv
But it is their fascination, Peter writes.
The expression he uses for them longing to look is a continual inner yearning to comprehend. It doesn’t mean that they cannot understand the plan of redemption, it only refers to their holy curiosity, one Greek scholar wrote, a holy curiosity to watch and delight in the glories of Christ’s plan in and through the Christians throughout the history of the church.xvi
They have this incurable fascination in watching the glory of God unfold throughout human history.
You see, these scattered and suffering believers might have been tempted to think – I wish I had it as good as those godly Old Testament prophets – they had it better than us! No they didn’t – they were trying to put together a puzzle with pieces missing.
Well, preachers like Paul and Silas and Timothy – they have an advantage over us – they have it better than us. No they don’t – they depend entirely on the Holy Spirit just as much as you do.
Well then . . . I know . . . the angels have it so much better than us! No they don’t either.
You are the recipients of grace that the angels never cease to watch with wonder and curious longing.
The hymn writer put it pretty well when he wrote that gospel song in the late 1800’s:
Holy, holy, is what the angels sing,
And I expect to help them make the courts of heaven ring;
But when I sing redemption’s story, they will fold their wings,
For angels never felt the joys that our salvation brings.
Even the angels would trade places in a heartbeat. They are watching you and me with the growing realization and thrill that we, the church, happen to be participating in the final chapter of redemptive history – they are in wonder and holy curiosity as they see the Christian participating in nothing less than the greatest drama every played out in human history.
And they know the glory that awaits us . . . and it’s as if they love to cheer us on.
Think of it – the angels have always been used by God to do His bidding and forward His agenda . . . and they seem to be, in scripture, always ready to jump at the chance to serve Him.
- When God the Son spoke the worlds into existence, the angels shouted for joy and sang at the dawning of creation (Job 38:7)
- They saw the fall of mighty Lucifer along with multitudes of their own kind, into eternal rebellion and despair (Isa. 14)
- Some of them were assigned to guard the gates of Eden, to keep fallen Adam and Eve from reentering and eating from the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22)
- Angels visited Abraham and announced the miraculous birth of a son was soon coming (Genesis 18)
- Jacob saw angels ascending and descending a ladder that reached from earth to heaven (Genesis 28)
- Angels were present at the giving of the Mosiac Law (Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2)
- Angels were active during the period of the Judges (Judges 13)
- Angels ministered to Elijah the prophet (I Kings 19)
- Angels protected Elisha (2 Kings 6:17)
- And angel was sent to bind the lions and protect Daniel in the lions den (Daniel 6)
- Zechariah the prophet saw angels active in end-time events (Zechariah 1)
- An angel announced the birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1)
- An angel told Joseph to go ahead with his wedding plans with Mary (Matthew 1)
- An angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds (Luke 2) and a multitude of angels burst into song to welcome His birth (Luke 2)
- Angels ministered to Jesus after His temptation (Matthew 4:11) and after His agony in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22).
- Jesus announced that twelve legions of angels stood ready to rescue Him if He but gave the command (Matthew 25:31) – and by the way, 12 legions of angels would have been around 72,000 angels . . . more than enough.
- Angels were active at Christ’s resurrection (Luke 24)
- An angel rescued Peter miraculously from prison – without a word or motion, made his chains fall off and all the doors open (Acts 12);
- If I could fast forward the tape, angels appear in almost every chapter of the Book of Revelation. I mean it’s an angel convention in that Book.
- They hold back the wind (7)
- They seal the 144,000 Jewish evangelists against death (7)
- They blow the trumpets of judgment (8-11)
- They preach the gospel (14:6-7)
- They announce the fall of Babylon (14)
- They warn the human race not to follow antichrist (14)
- They pour out the vials of God’s wrath (15- 16)
- They imprison Satan in the Abyss during the millennial reign (20)
- They show John the Apostle the Celestial City (21-22)
- And they adamantly refuse John’s misplaced worship – in other words, the angel guiding him was so magnificent and so glorious in appearance, that John fell down, thinking he must be God. (22).
That’s a long way of saying the angels are amazing creatures and the angels have seen it all!
But Peter informs us, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that the angels greatest captivation and their deepest joyful fascination is what God is doing . . . with you . . . and me.
Peter is saying this to them – and to you too – the world considers you insignificant and worthy of pity – you are actually the honored participants in the greatest drama unfolding in universal history.
You have been given an identity gift from God.
And I pictures angels as hardly being able to contain themselves with joy – not only over every sinner who repents (Luke 15:10), but in the coming glory when the believer joins His Lord and Savior and is rewarded and enthroned with Him in splendor.
We are so much better off than we thought. My dear friend and former seminary professor,
Dr. Eugene Petersen – who spoke several times for us here at church, has now gone on to heaven.
A month before he died, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor in a special ceremony. I was invited to attend and, not wanting to miss perhaps the last chance to see him alive, I went. I flew to Denver, Colorado where the ceremony was to be held in the old Supreme Court Chambers inside the Capitol Building.
The ceremony, arranged by the country of France, would award 6 men who fought in World War II. Among them was a POW, a fighter pilot, and my friend, who had been wounded in battle at one of the signature landings that freed the country of France from Hitler.
I’ll never forget sitting there, watching Eugene Petersen as he eventually had his bio read, by the presiding officer who represented the French Ambassador. The entire ceremony was in English except for one moment.
When Dr. Petersen was asked to stand and the officer went over to him and pinned on him that medal of honor, he spoke in his Native French language – thanking him for fighting for the freedom of France. He then leaned forward, and in French custom, kissed him on both cheeks. And then for a moment, he stood there saying something to Dr. Petersen.
Most of the World War II Veterans wiped the tears from their eyes after they received their award.
Afterward, I was on the elevator and who would get on it but this officer who pinned on Dr. Petersen the medal. I asked him, “What did you say to him, after you kissed him on both cheeks?” He said, “Oh, I was commending him in English for his bravery and for fighting for my country.”
Within a month, Eugene Petersen – and two weeks later, his wife, went home to a really amazing reception in the courts of Heaven.
I couldn’t help but think that I was witnessing a coming day when the believer will receive from Christ Himself the rewards for fighting the good fight . . . for running the race; whatever the race is that God has given you – run it.
And the angels will, I’m sure, crowd around and watch with holy curiosity all of us who are such privileged recipients of grace.
So while you go about what you do – not matter how mundane or how important – it’s not a bad idea to remember you are incredibly privileged . . . you’re so much better off than you thought . . . and you’re being watched.
Not in a bad way . . . but with curiosity and interest . . . with a measure of amazement and wonder at us . . . for we have received this unique identity gift from their Creator and their God – who is our personal Redeemer and Savior and Lord.
- Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life (Crossway, 2008), p. 51
- Juan R. Sanchez, 1 Peter For You (The Good Book Company, 2016), p. 36
- John Phillips, Exploring the Epistles of Peter (Kregel, 2005), p. 55
- Adapted from Phillips, p. 57
- Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Hopeful: I Peter (David C Cook, 1982), p. 38
- Adapted from D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (BMH, 1984), p. 75
- Adapted from John MacArthur, 1 Peter (Moody Publishers, 2004), p. 54
- Phillips, p. 58
- Adapted from Hiebert, p. 78
- MacArthur, p. 56
- Adapted from Hiebert, p. 79
- Barclay, 181
- Adapted from Lou Barbieri, Everyman’s Bible Commentary: First & Second Peter (Moody Publishers, 1975), p. 50
- Sanchez, p. 40
- Adapted from Hiebert, p. 80