What Angels Wish They Knew
1 Peter 1:10-12
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (I Peter 1:10-12).
At first glance, this seems to be a strange text. Its meaning is not entirely clear upon a brief or cursory reading. So let me begin with a bit of Bible trivia. This is the only place in the Bible where angels and prophets are mentioned together. That’s fascinating because the Bible says a lot about angels and a lot about prophets, but only here do we have them in the same text. If you study what Peter wrote, you realize that he has a lot to say about prophets, and only one tantalizing detail about the angels. So this is 95% about the prophets, and 5% about the angels. Let’s begin with the prophets.
Who were they? The prophets were the men in the Old Testament whom God chose to be his spokesmen on earth. They were like a reminder from heaven: “Now a word from our Creator.” The prophets had two primary jobs: 1) They proclaimed God’s Word, and 2) They predicted future events. Peter’s concern is with #2, the prophets as predictors of the future. He wants us to know that though they predicted the coming of Christ, they did not understand all that they predicted. I like to think of the prophets as archers who shot “arrows of truth” up into the air. Isaiah shot his “arrows of truth,” Daniel shot his “arrows of truth,” Moses shot his “arrows of truth,” and Ezekiel shot his “arrows of truth,” and so on. I picture the prophets pulling back the prophetic bowstring and watching those “arrows of truth” as they disappeared into the sky. The prophets shot them so high and so far that they disappeared over the horizon, and the prophets themselves had no idea when those “arrows of truth” would hit the ground.
Here is the flow of the passage:
1) The prophets predicted the coming of Christ.
2) The apostles and the early church preached Christ to everyone.
3) The angels long to understand the salvation Christ brings.
4) We now know what the prophets never knew, and we experience what the angels wish they knew.
That’s the passage and the message. I believe there is a vitally important message from God if we will closely consider what Peter is saying to us. Before going any further, let me give you one word and have you write this word in your mind, as a kind of summary for the whole passage. It’s the word “privilege.” Peter is overwhelmed with the great privilege of being a Christian, and that’s what this passage is all about.
I. Predicted by the Prophets
Our text tells us four things about the prophets and their prophecies:
A) They predicted the coming of Christ. Did you know there are over 300 separate prophecies in the Old Testament relating to the coming of Christ? That’s 300 arrows shot up in the air, by many different men, in many different places, over a 1,500-year period. And all those arrows “fell” on Jesus
Those “arrows of truth” landed on Jesus, but they didn’t kill him. They simply proved he was indeed the promised Messiah. Here are a few of those predictions the prophets made about Jesus:
1. That he would be born of a virgin—Isaiah 7:14
2. That he would be born in Bethlehem—Micah 5:2
3. That he would be born into the tribe of Judah—Genesis 49:10
4. That his ministry would begin in Galilee—Isaiah 9:1
5. That he would work miracles—Isaiah 35:5, 6
6. That he would teach in parables—Psalm 78:2
7. That he would enter Jerusalem on a donkey—Zechariah 9:9
8. That he would be betrayed by a friend—Psalm 41:9
9. That he would be sold for 30 pieces of silver—Zechariah 11:12
10. That he would be accused by false witnesses—Psalm 35:11
11. That he would be wounded and bruised—Isaiah 53:5
12. That his hands and feet would be pierced—Psalm 22:16
13. That he would be crucified with thieves—Isaiah 53:12
14. That his garments would be torn apart and lots cast for them—Psalm 22:18
15. That his bones would not be broken—Psalm 34:20
16. That his side would be pierced—Zechariah 12:10
17. That he would be buried in a rich man’s tomb—Isaiah 53:9
18. That he would rise from the dead—Psalm 16:10
These are only a few of the hundreds of prophecies about Jesus Christ given by the Old Testament prophets.
B) They did not understand much of what they predicted. I can imagine Isaiah writing “a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son” (Isaiah 7:14) and asking the Lord, “What does that mean?” and the Lord saying, “Don’t worry about it. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” And the same for Ezekiel and Daniel and Micah and Haggai and all the rest of them. Imagine that 25 men are trying to put together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, but no one has all the pieces and no one has the picture on the front of the box. Add to that that these men don’t work together, and in fact lived hundreds of years apart from each other. That’s what it was like being an Old Testament prophet. David had a few pieces of the puzzle, Isaiah had a few, Daniel had a few, and Zechariah had a few. But no one had all of them. So the prophets shot their “arrows of truth” in to the air, knowing only that they would land somewhere out of sight in the distant future.
C) They tried to understand two things. They earnestly studied their own prophecies to try and understand the time and circumstances when they would be fulfilled. They wanted to know the when and the how. Obviously the later prophets had the benefit of the prophecies given centuries earlier, so they knew more than the earlier prophets did. But try as they might, they never figured it out.
D) They spoke of the suffering and glory of Christ. That is, they uttered prophesies in both categories—predictions of coming suffering (Isaiah 53) and of his coming glory (Isaiah 9:6-7). The order is crucial. Christ must suffer first and then enter into his glory. Jesus said exactly that when he spoke to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Though none of the prophets had all the details, they testified that Christ would suffer and then enter his glory. As the prophets looked into the future, they knew God was up to something—they didn’t know what it was. But they knew it involved both suffering and glory for the Messiah. All the prophets, Jesus said, testify to him.
If you want to understand the Bible, look for Jesus! Better to see him on every page than not to see him at all. The Bible is one book with 66 parts—all pointing to Jesus.
He is the Prophet greater than Moses.
He is the Priest greater than Aaron.
He is the King greater than David.
Jesus is the theme of the Bible. The prophets knew he was coming hundreds of years in advance. And they wrote it all down for our benefit. He says that plainly in verse 12. Isaiah would write something down and say to himself, “I don’t know what that means. It must be for someone else.” Micah wrote his message and said, “I don’t understand everything I’ve just written. Part of that must be for someone else.” That “someone else” is us. It was written for our benefit. They did not serve themselves by what they predicted; they served future generations to come. I find enormous encouragement in this thought. Sometimes we may doubt our faith, and we may even be tempted to wonder if what we have believed is true. It’s possible to think, “This is all a fairy tale.” Peter’s answer is very clear: “This has nothing to do with a fairy tale. The story of Jesus doesn’t rest on your changing emotional state.” Christianity isn’t about your feelings. It’s about the written facts of history, the predictions of the prophets that have all come true in the person of Jesus Christ. When you doubt, remember that your doubt does not determine the truth. Doubts come and go. The truth about Jesus Christ stands forever.
II. Preached by the Apostles
What the prophets predicted came true in Jesus Christ. The apostles then took the truth about Jesus and proclaimed it to everyone who would listen. Thus did the church spread across the Roman Empire, and 2,000 years later, to the ends of the earth. Today if you add up all the people who are associated with Christianity in some way, the number totals over two billion. How did it happen? The only explanation is the one given in verse 12. They preached the message the prophets first announced. In this we learn that preaching is nothing less than declaring what God has already said. God entrusted to the church the sacred responsibility of taking his Word and proclaiming it to the world. This is an obligation we must not take lightly. When you stand before the Lord, he will ask you, “Did you tell people what I said?” It won’t work in that day to reply, “But Lord, I was afraid of offending people” or “They didn’t want to hear what you had to say.” We aren’t responsible for how people respond to God’s Word, but we are responsible to make sure that they hear it in the first place. Great preaching always begins with, “Thus says the Lord.” If we fail to tell this generation what God says, we will have failed in our central obligation.
Their preaching focused on the Gospel, the Good News of God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which all true preaching is gospel preaching. If it is not based on the gospel, then preaching soon degenerates into social and political commentary. You don’t go to church to hear four ways to improve your marriage or five steps to financial freedom or three keys to raising happy children. As good as that might be, we need to hear all biblical truth in the context of the gospel message. True preaching is Christ-centered and gospel-saturated. Otherwise instead of giving Good News, we are just offering good advice.
Finally, note that they preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter mentions the Holy Spirit twice in these three verses. He says it was the “Spirit of Christ” who animated the Old Testament prophets and gave them the prophecies they uttered, and he says that the early Christians proclaimed the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you want to know the “secret” of the early church, here it is. Without any of the accoutrements we consider essential, they reached their world for Jesus. And they did it without buildings or hymnals or pianos or praise bands, without air conditioning, planes, trains or automobiles, without radio or TV, without Power Point, and even without the Internet—the Internet! How did they survive without all the high-tech marvels we take for granted? If they had a “secret,” here it is:
They believed the Word of God,
They preached the Gospel of God,
They did it in the Power of God.
That’s a combination that will still work today.
III. Studied by the Angels
The final phrase of our text tells us that angels long to look into the things relating to our salvation. There are two different Greek words here. One means to stand on tiptoe, as if you are at the back of a crowd trying to watch a parade. The other means to stoop down. It’s the same word used for Peter and John stooping to look inside the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning. The angels are so eager to understand God’s grace that they stand on tiptoe and bend down from the battlements of heaven to marvel at the unfolding plan of salvation. This is exactly the reverse of the way we think of it. If I told you that I had a special door that let me look into the realm of the angels, all of you would crowd around to get a glimpse of “the other side.” But the Bible never encourages us to peek into the angelic realm. Here we are told the angels long to look at and understand our salvation. During the Renaissance a painter named Tintoretto created a beautiful version of the Last Supper. Though Da Vinci’s version is far more popular, Tintoretto’s comes closer to capturing what really happened. He painted the scene from an elevated angle so we see Jesus and his disciples gathered around the table. It appears that Jesus has just said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” There is a sense of drama and tension in the painting as the disciples struggle to understand. Above the table, an oil lamp gives off clouds of smoke. Tintoretto painted angels in the smoke, watching from above, their faces strangely curious, as they too marvel at what God the Son is about to do. That’s exactly the idea Peter is driving at.
Why would the angels marvel at our salvation? The answer is clear. There are no “saved” angels because salvation is not for them, but for us. Jesus died to redeem fallen men and women, not the angels. There are elect and non-elect angels; there are good angels and bad angels; there are obedient and disobedient angels, but there are no “saved” angels. Only humans can be saved. Only humans can be redeemed. We alone of all the creatures in the universe can experience the wonders of God’s saving grace. This fascinates the angels, and causes them to study and ponder the mysteries of a salvation they do not share.
Here is Peter’s message made plain: God loves you so much, the angels are amazed. They know nothing about grace and mercy and forgiveness. They’ve never experienced new life, the new birth, regeneration, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or the wonder of deliverance from sin. That which we have experienced in Jesus Christ, the angels never knew and will never know. We are far more privileged than they.
Think of what we have seen and experienced:
A drug dealer who becomes a missionary.
A blasphemer who becomes a worshiper of God.
A criminal who becomes a law-abiding citizen.
A reprobate who becomes a child of God.
Here is our greatest sin—taking for granted what God has done for us. Those things that cause the angels to rejoice (even one sinner who comes to repentance—Luke 15:10), makes us bored stiff. But when you are bored with God, even heaven doesn’t have a better alternative.
If we stand back, we can see the whole passage clearly:
What the prophets predicted but could not understand …
What the angels wonder at but never experience …
We understand and experience every single day.
We are thus more blessed and more privileged than the prophets or the angels! We live in the time of prophetic fulfillment. We have privileges even the angels don’t have. We are privileged beyond our dreams.
Three Take-Home Truths
Let’s wrap everything up with three concluding points. What should we take away from this amazing text?
A) Jesus is the meaning of history. History truly is His Story. History is not about men and nations, the movement of armies, and the rise and fall of empires. It’s not about building or buying or getting. History is not the story of who’s winning and who’s losing. History is not about who wins the election in November—as important as that is to most of us. History is about Jesus Christ! How do I know this? Because when he was born, he split history in two—into BC and AD! Every time unbelievers say 2004, they unknowingly confess the supremacy of our Lord. History is all about Jesus, and apart from him, history has no meaning.
B) Salvation is the purpose of history. I don’t just mean salvation in the limited sense of you coming to Christ. I mean salvation in the larger sense of all that God intends to do to bring deliverance to this sin-cursed planet. Salvation is the story of the greatest rescue mission in the history of the universe. It’s about God sending his Son to redeem a rebel race, at the cost of his own Son, and then offering forgiveness and freedom to all who will believe in him. And it’s about God’s plan to establish the church around the world as a means of bringing the light into the darkness. That great drama of salvation will come to its appointed culmination when Jesus returns to the earth, establishes his throne in Jerusalem, reigns for 1000 years, and then gives his kingdom up to the Father and reigns with him forever and ever. And as I thought about this, my heart raced to the words of Handel’s Messiah:
And he shall reign forever and ever.
Forever and ever,
King of King, and Lord of Lords.
And he shall reign forever and ever.
For ever and ever, Hallelujah!
C) We are therefore the most blessed people in history. We know things the prophets never knew. We experience salvation the angels never experience. We know Jesus Christ, and therefore we understand history in a way that is lost to the people of the world.
If these things are true, then you will never understand the universe or your place in it, until you take Jesus and plant him squarely at the center of your existence. As long as you ignore the Lord, or keep him at the edges of your life, nothing will make sense. You won’t understand who you are, or why you are here, or who God is, or why the world is the way it is. Until Jesus takes his rightful place at the center of your life, everything else will be out of whack for you. Nothing will work right because you’ve missed the central truth of the universe.
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