“Concerning this salvation, the prophets carefully searched and inquired, who prophesied concerning the grace meant for you. Inquiring into what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the Christ’s sufferings and subsequent glories. To whom He revealed that they were serving not themselves, but you in these things, which now He has announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven; into which angels long to look into.”
Peter concludes his praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for His work of regeneration in these verses. We should note that while Peter offers praise to God, the effect of his words upon the reader is that of encouragement. Peter praises God for the assurance and security of his audience’s salvation (vv. 3-5) and the ability to rejoice in suffering due to the proof of salvation (vv. 6-9). All the while the Christians of Asia Minor read this praise with renewed confidence and revitalized joy. The same will be true after they consider Peter’s words regarding the prophetic fulfillment of their salvation here.
Peter has well rounded his introduction to the battered saints of Asia Minor. He has given them assurance of their salvation and reason to rejoice in their salvation. In these final verses, Peter will provide his audience with final awestriking perspective of their salvation as they survey this majestic work of God from the perspective the prophets, the preachers, and the angelic hosts. Though you and I, dear reader, are not a part of Peter’s original audience, there remains much for us as well. From these words of encouragement come three implications for every New Testament believer.
Rejoice! We Have What the Prophets Anticipated (vv. 10-12a)
Much ink has been spilt and many an argument has been ensued from asking the question: “What did the Old Testament prophets really understand regarding the Messiah?” This is a question that is answered within these verses, but that is not Peter’s objective. He is revealing the majesty of salvation by pointing his readers to the prophets and explaining that they are living in the reality that they foretold.
The Prophetic Search (v. 10a) – “Concerning this salvation, the prophets carefully searched and inquired”
This great sentence of praise continues along the theme of salvation. Peter uses this term (σωτηρία) as a link back to the previous section and makes further comment on it here. Each portion of this praise contains a separate commentary on salvation (vv. 5, 9, 10). It is as if Peter lingers over this term as he brings something new to the discussion each time. It is important to Peter that his audience realizes the full scope of the work which the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished through His making us to be born again.
Peter now turns our attention to the distant past and to the ministry of the Old Testament prophets. It is not Peter’s intention to draw attention to any one singular prophet, nor to a selected group of prophets, but to the whole of Old Testament writings and writers. This reference points to men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel but also to men like Moses, David, Solomon, and Ezra. Yet the focus is much more on the prophets’ activity than on their identity.
Peter states that the prophets “carefully searched” and “inquired” concerning this great salvation. The Greek ἐξεζήτηζαν (to earnestly search) and ἐξηραύνησαν (to investigate/inquire) are more than synonyms. These two terms work together to create a scene of zealous reflection and consideration combined with active investigation. What they read from prophets before them and what they received personally from the Holy Spirit was meditated upon but also actively searched out. The prophets were not simply passive agents used by God to record His message. They were active students of the Scripture and first-rate interpreters and expositors. As they read and wrote of this coming salvation, they marveled over it and studied it.
The Prophetic Purpose (v. 10b) – “Who prophesied concerning the grace meant for you.”
Peter uses “grace” interchangeably with “salvation.” To be saved by God from His wrath against sin by means of His regeneration is to be shown grace. It was concerning (περί) this salvation that the prophets actively searched and investigated, and it was they who prophesied concerning (περί) this grace that is purposed for you.
Peter points to his audience, the Christians of Asia Minor, and tells them that the prophets spoke, wrote, and in all other ways prophesied about the grace that was designed for and destined for them. Their work was to make clear the coming salvation of God’s grace for those on whom God would bestow it.
The Prophets’ Problem (v. 11) – There is a question that every believer must wrestle with. Being a Bible student is not an option for the believer, but a sacred duty. As we take up this holy calling, we must ask ourselves this question: Did the Old Testament prophets write better than what they knew, or better than we give them credit for?” In other words, did the prophets understand their own writings and the writings of their fellow prophets, or did they receive revelation from God, shrug their shoulders, and move on with their lives in a stupor of confusion? Let’s ask this question in a different way. Is the New Testament necessary to interpret and understand the Old Testament?
Peter readily admits that the Old Testament prophets did not have the totality of God’s revelation concerning the coming Christ. He uses the imperfect tense when describing the Spirit of Christ was “indicating” (ἐδήλου) these things to them to suggest that the process of revelation was not yet complete. But the problem was not with the content of the message so much as it was the timing.
Questions of Timing (v. 11a)
“Inquiring into what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating”
Notice that Peter uses one of the same verbal roots here (ἐραουνῶντες - inquiring) as he did in v. 10 to describe the prophets’ active searching (ἐξηραύνησαν – to inquire). The participle explains the reason the prophets took such pains to carefully search and investigate. They wanted to know when Christ would come.
By comparing various English translations, you can see that there is some debate how to translate (and thus understand) [the phrase τίνα ἤ ποῖον καιρὸν which explains] what the prophets were inquiring about. The debate is formed along two lines. Either (1) the prophets are investigating who the Christ might be and when He will appear (NASB, ESV), or (2) the prophets are investigating the specific time and the kind of time in which the Christ will appear (NKJV, LSB).
Did the Old Testament prophets write better than what they knew, or did they write better than we give them credit for?
To answer this question let us consider three questions. First, who is the power behind the prophets’ writings? Peter says here that the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating. This is a reference to God the Holy Spirit. Peter refers to Him as the Spirit of Christ on account of His ministry to the prophets as He revealed to them the coming of Messiah (or Christ). This is the same Holy Spirit who was possessed by and was bestowed upon the Lord Jesus in His incarnation for His ministry. So, if the Spirit of Christ was within these prophets as He was indicating the things concerning Christ, did the prophets know they were writing about the coming Messiah?
Second, did the prophets understand they were writing about the coming Christ? It is difficult to imagine reading through passages like Genesis 3:15, Deuteronomy 18:15, Isaiah 53, Hosea 3:5, Psalm 2, Psalm 22, and Psalm 110 and conclude that the individual authors had no idea that they were writing about the coming Messiah. Of course, they understood who they were writing about. They did not question the who but the when. Jesus confirms this as he rebuked the generation of Israel who saw and heard Him.
“For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt. 13:17 – NASB).
The prophets longed to see the day of Christ and to hear what He speaks with their own ears. That is a very different thing than to suggest they did not know who they were writing about or who the Spirit of Christ was foretelling about.
Third, does the context of our present passage address the person or the timing of salvation through Christ? This final point of consideration brings us back to Peter and to his intention. This section is not an argument attempting to persuade the readers that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ but is designed to praise God and encourage Christians that they are living in the time that the prophets long pondered and investigated. They wanted to know when the Christ would appear. They wanted to know the specific time of when and the sort of time. Their questions were formed much like Jesus’ answer to the disciples before His ascension.
“It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8 – NASB; emphasis mine).
This single statement encapsulates our entire doctrine of inspiration. The question was always when Messiah would come and never who the prophets are writing about. But as we will see, the prophets also knew what Messiah would do.
Content of Christ’s Ministry (v. 11b)
“As He predicted the Christ’s sufferings and subsequent glories.”
Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is the actor here as it is He who predicted (προμαρτυρόμενον – lit. “testified before hand”) both the sufferings and the glories of the Christ. To recognize that the Jews of Jesus’ day were slow to accept that the Christ would suffer is not at all the same as saying that the Old Testament does not reveal this suffering. While Jesus’ generation were quick to accept passages like Genesis 3:15, Deuteronomy 18:15, Psalm 2, and Psalm 110 their prophets also wrote Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Zechariah 12:10. The prophets were clear that Messiah would experience sufferings and only after that would receive subsequent glories. In fact, Peter makes it sound rather obvious that these subsequent glories are the result of the suffering.
Peter uses the plural to describe both “sufferings” (παθήματα) and “glories (δόξας). By “sufferings” he describes more than Christ’s crucifixion and the bearing of God’s wrath for sin. He includes all forms of suffering that Jesus experience throughout His first advent. From the normal everyday sufferings of pain, fatigue, and hunger to the emotional sufferings of heartbreak, abandonment, and betrayal, to the spiritual suffering of becoming a guilt offering; our Lord Jesus Christ experienced the sufferings which the prophets wrote, and the Holy Spirit predicted.
Likewise, Christ’s glories are not limited to His victorious resurrection, but include all the glories afterward. These glories include His ascension into heaven to be at the Father’s right hand, His exaltation above all things, and His pending return to reign and rule in righteousness. The prophets wrote of all these things as the Holy Spirit within them predicted. They knew of whom they wrote, and they knew what He would accomplish. The only question in their mind was when. But even in this, the prophets were not completely in the dark.
The Prophets’ Solution (v. 12a) – “To whom He revealed that they were serving not themselves, but you in these things.”
The prophets knew that the things they recorded were not going to occur in their own day. They knew that they were serving a future generation. Peter again points to his readers and states that the prophets wrote for you! The Holy Spirit is still the actor on this stage. It is He who revealed or exposed to the prophets that they were writing for a future generation. This is all a part of the process of inspiration. They did not write under their own compulsion but wrote what was revealed to them. Go back and read the prophets. Not one of them makes a claim that Messiah will appear in their lifetime and all of them point to an unknown future date. They knew they were writing about Messiah, the One who will undo and reverse the curse. They knew what Messiah would do, that He would suffer and that this suffering would result in untold glory. And they knew part of the answer of His timing: Not yet.
[This text has been highjacked by many a theologian to once again put forward the erroneous and egregious error of New Testament priority. They take Peter’s words to mean that the prophets thought only of the church without ever addressing their contemporary audience of Israel, or at least that they bounce back and forth between addressing the future church and the current generation of Israel. This way of thinking not only perverts Peter’s words but renders the entire Old Testament useless to the people who first read it. The prophets always wrote with their current audience in mind even when they were writing about things they knew would be fulfilled in the future. The fact that Messiah would come and that He would suffer and that He would be glorified and that He would return with a sword demands that one repents and prepares for His arrival. In other words, the prophets knew that eschatology always carries immediate implications.]
It is important, dear reader, to keep in mind Peter’s intention throughout this text. He is pointing his readers back to the prophets to encourage them. He praises the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because they are living in the day that the prophets longed for. We too live in this day! In this we rejoice! For we not only know who Messiah is and what Messiah has done, but we know that He has accomplished redemption and will return to claim what He has purchased.
Have Confidence! The Gospel Did Not Appear in a Vacuum (v. 12b)
“Which now He has announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.”
Now Peter makes the jump from the historic prophets to the preachers of the gospel. Yet the ministry of God the Holy Spirit is still in view. It is the Holy Spirit who announced these things to the elect aliens of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Instead of prophets, the Holy Spirit used the agents of gospel preachers to bring these same tidings of great joy. These preachers came in the power of the Holy Spirit as He indwells them and empowers their message just as Jesus promised (Acts 1:8) and Peter proclaimed (Acts 2:14-21).
Have you ever wondered what the good news (“gospel” from εὐαγγέλιον which means good news) is? What is the news that is so good? The gospel message is that the long-anticipated Messiah has come and will come again. The gospel message is intrinsically tied to the Old Testament prophets to the point that if we sever our connection to them, we lose the entire gospel.
This is good news indeed! The stronger connection to the prophets of old the greater our confidence in the message. The message preached to us did not appear in a vacuum but came via the same agent as the prophecies of old bearing the same message. The only thing that has changed is the timing. Messiah has come! So repent, for He will come again.
Be Humbled! God’s Grace Gives Angels Curiosity (v. 12c)
“Into which angels long to look into.”
Peter concludes with a curious statement regarding the angelic hosts. He writes that they have a strong desire (ἐπιθυμοῦσιν) to peer into these matters. The infinitive translated here as “to look into” translates a term that literally means to stoop over, to examine or investigate. It assumes the idea of an outsider peeping into matters that do not directly concern him. The angels are even now desiring to know and understand these things. To what things does Peter refer? The angels desire to peer into the whole spectrum of salvation.
Only humanity will know of God’s salvation experientially. None of the angels will know what it is like to be redeemed, nor any other aspect of God’s creation. Only we chosen sojourners will ever understand the grace of God from experience. The angels, so captivated by the grace of God whom they serve, long to peer into these matters and explore them as far as they are able without ever experiencing them.
This ought to sober and humble us. If angels, who will never experience salvation, understand the value and majesty of God’s grace to the point they desire to examine and investigate the matter thoroughly, then what does it say of us, who have experienced redemption and await final salvation, who treat the matter lightly and of little importance? If angels are enthralled by witnessing the unfolding of God’s grand plan of salvation, should not we also be captivated by it? Should not we desire to investigate these matters? I pray that God the Holy Spirit uses this text to prime your heart, dear reader, to investigate and carefully search God’s Word concerning this great and glorious salvation.
Peter closes this great benediction at its climax. He began adoring God for the assurance of total and future salvation. Peter then praised God for the present joy believers can have in trials because these trials provide proof of present salvation. He then concludes by pointing to the past and exalts the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the present time of prophesied salvation. His readers would be greatly edified and magnificently encouraged as they read this prayer. I pray that you too, dear reader, are encouraged by reflecting upon God’s wonderous work of salvation. In the coming chapters Peter will turn from encouragement to exhortation. The storm is coming and there is work to be done. But this work will be done standing upon the bedrock of our hope: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has caused us to be born again!
Soli Deo Gloria!
Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 85. D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 75-6 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 46.  Hiebert, p. 77-8.  Lenski, p. 49.