What is the central unifying narrative thread in the history of redemption? For many American evangelicals the default answer to this question is: national Israel. For them it is a mark of faithfulness to Scripture to assume that the central, unifying thread is God’s promise of and interest in a national, earthly people (Israel). In such a reading of redemptive history, even if such an outcome is not intended, the promise of the coming Savior, tends to be marginalized. When, in response to this understanding of redemptive history, it is proposed that there is another more fundamental unifying thread, one that was seen by the Fathers, the medieval theologians, the Reformers, and the orthodox Protestants who succeeded them, one response is that any reading of redemptive history that dislocates national Israel from the center of the history of salvation is guilty of “spiritualizing” (i.e., allegorizing).
The Apostle Peter, however, would have trouble. however, recognizing such a premise and conclusion. In this passage not only does he point us away from national Israel as the central concern of Scripture but he also points us to a way of reading Scripture and the history of salvation that leads us to quite different conclusions.
1 Peter 1:10–12
|10περὶ ἧς σωτηρίας ἐξεζήτησαν καὶ ἐξηραύνησαν προφῆται οἱ περὶ τῆς εἰς ὑμᾶς χάριτος προφητεύσαντες, 11ἐραυνῶντες εἰς τίνα ἢ ποῖον καιρὸν ἐδήλου τὸ ἐν αὐτοῖς πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ προμαρτυρόμενον τὰ εἰς Χριστὸν παθήματα καὶ τὰς μετὰ ταῦτα δόξας. 12οἷς ἀπεκαλύφθη ὅτι οὐχ ἑαυτοῖς ὑμῖν δὲ διηκόνουν αὐτά, ἃ νῦν ἀνηγγέλη ὑμῖν διὰ τῶν εὐαγγελισαμένων ὑμᾶς [ἐν] πνεύματι ἁγίῳ ἀποσταλέντι ἀπ᾿ οὐρανοῦ, εἰς ἃ ἐπιθυμοῦσιν ἄγγελοι παρακύψαι.
|10Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (ESV).
v. 10: Looking For Salvation
Peter picks up on the main subject of the previous passage, salvation (σωτηρίας). I take this to a literal salvation from divine wrath—hence he wrote (v. 9) of “the salvation of your souls”—and not, as some might have it, a figurative salvation. This salvation as administered through the temporary, national (Israelite) people but, as it turns out, was not essentially about them. Rather, according to Peter, the central thread that unifies the history of redemption was that for which the prophets looking. Peter uses two verbs to characterize the intensity of their looking. The first verb (ἐξεζήτησαν) occurs 7 times in the New Testament and it most often refers to those who are seeking the Lord (e.g., Acts 15:7; Heb 11:6). The second verb (ἐξηραύνησαν) occurs only once in the NT but is related to the verb “to ask.”
v. 11: Where?
First we should note that it was divinely authorized prophets who were conducting this enquiry. By the analogy of Scripture we know from our Lord in John 8:56 that Abraham was looking forward to Jesus’ day. Our Lord teaches us in Luke 24 that all the typological Scriptures (i.e., the Hebrew and Aramaic) point to and are fulfilled by Christ. The Apostle Paul says at all the promises find their “yes and amen” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). Indeed, our Lord’s life was the fulfillment of prophecy (Matt 1:22; 2:5, 15,17, 233:3; 4;14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21;4; 26:56; 27:9; John 12:38; Acts 2:30; 3:18; 3:21–25;10:43; 26:22; 28:23; Rom 1:2; 16:26; Eph 3:5; Heb 1:1,2).
For what or for whom were they searching? Peter says that the Holy Spirit was revealing through them the “sufferings (παθήματα) of Christ and his resurrection and ascension into glory. From this Calvin drew this helpful application:
But he includes much more than this, for he teaches us, that the Church of Christ has been from the beginning so constituted, that the cross has been the way to victory, and death a passage to life, and that this had been clearly testified. There is, therefore, no reason why afflictions should above measure depress us, as though we were miserable under them, since the Spirit of God pronounces us blessed.1
The Reformed theology, piety, and practice is not a theology of glory (theologia gloriae) but a theology of the cross (theologia crucis). Truth be told, this is one reason why, since the mid-19th century confessional Reformed churches have not flourished in the USA. Americans want to be prosperous and they want their preachers to promise them that God will make them prosperous if they meet some condition. This explains why 40,000 people go to hear vacuous preaching week after week in Houston and elsewhere. The key to establishing a successful new religious sect in America is to claim a new revelation from God (as Joseph Smith did in the foundation of the Mormon sect) and/or to offer a works-based path to health and wealth. This formula does not explain all of the sects that have arisen since the mid-19th century but it explains a sufficient number.
In contrast to the theology of glory (whether of health and wealth or a future glory age on the earth), Peter points us to the suffering Christ as a our pattern. Indeed, Peter calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Christ” (πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ). The Spirit of Christ was testifying to and through them about Christ. The Spirit was pointing them and us to Christ. They were searching, through types and shadows, for Christ. They were trying to understand the types and shadows. Who is the Christ? When is he coming? They were looking for salvation through the Messiah. They were not looking for the re-establishment of the temple, the sacrifices, or an earthly kingdom. We know that from Hebrews chapter 11. They were looking for a city whose builder and maker is God, an eternal city (Heb 11:10, 16).
Peter here is only repeating what our Lord himself said:
For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it (Matt 13:17; ESV).
v. 12: For New Covenant Believers
In v. 12 Peter makes a remarkable statement. For many of us it requires a double-take: “hold on, what did he just say?” It was revealed to the prophets (e.g., Isaiah and Jeremiah) that they were not serving themselves. The Spirit indicated to them that he was revealing to and through them things that would be fulfilled in Christ. They were working, as it were, for us. Peter says they were not serving themselves but us. Paul puts this same truth this way: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11; ESV). Believers who live in the new covenant are those upon whom the end of the ages has come. This is not, as some lazily and thoughtlessly infer, the language of those who were convinced that Jesus was to come immediately only to be disappointed. Peter and Paul was speaking eschatologically but not in the way that some think. They were reflecting on the reality that, in Christ, a new, semi-eschatological age had descended upon human history. When Christ came he brought with him his kingdom (Mark 1:15). Nevertheless, as Christ explained to Pilate (John 18:36), his kingdom is not of this world. It is a heavenly kingdom into which we enter through faith alone. Paul teaches this same truth by speaking of “this age” and “the age to come” (Eph 1:21).
These ultimate (eschatological) realities, however, have an earthly manifestation in an unexpected place: the authorized, official proclamation of the good news about Christ. Peter was one such authorized preacher and Paul another. Thus Peter writes of those who “announced” the good news by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit of Christ who moved and inspired the prophets, by whom they were “carried along” (2 Pet 1:21) also worked through the apostles and the apostolic company to bring the good news about free salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
What we know now, from the history of salvation recorded for us and preserved for us by the Holy Spirit in holy scripture is so wonderful that, until it occurred, even the angels were kept from knowing it. Paul refers to this same reality in his benediction in Romans 15:25–26:
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith…. (ESV)
The incarnation of God the Son for us and for our salvation is the mystery. This is confirmed in Ephesians 1:9 and 3:3,6,9; 5:32; 6:19; Colossians 1:26–27; 2:2; 4:3; . The mystery is that God the Son has become incarnate and is now incorporating into his spiritual body Jews and Gentiles alike sola gratia, through faith alone in Christ. This mystery was at the heart of one of the earliest Christian confessions, which the Spirit preserved for us in 1 Timothy 3:16:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory (ESV).
The mystery has been revealed and the angels rejoice with us singing gloria:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:14; ESV)
The incarnation was not a parenthesis. It was the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan and intra-trinitarian covenant (pactum salutis) in which God the Son agreed to be our substitute and the Father to give to his Son a people and the Holy Spirit to apply to that people all of Christ’s benefits. It was the fulfillment of all that God promised to Eve, that there would come one who would crush the serpent, even as the serpent stuck his heel. It is the fulfillment of all that was promise to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Jesus is him for whom they were all hoping and looking. If you believe then it is because you are among those people and an heir of all that God has promised.
1. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. John Owen (repr. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 40.