To my knowledge, there's nothing quite like 2 Peter 1:10-12 anywhere else in the New Testament. From this text, we learn that prophets and angels often did their work without understanding the big picture:
"Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that should come to you have inquired and searched diligently, seeking the events and time the Spirit of Christ, who was within them, signified when He foretold the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, concerning the things which are now reported to you by those who have preached the gospel to you through the Holy Spirit, who was sent from heaven—things into which the angels desire to look."
One of the bedrock principles of many Bible scholars holds that in order to understand a prophecy, a student should go back and try to learn what the prophet who announced it understood it to mean. What was in the mind of the one speaking?
As though the speaker was the ultimate authority on his prophecy.
This principle—clearly mistaken, according to the apostle Peter—has led to the undermining of some of the great doctrines of the Christian faith (at least by some; not all, of course).
In fact, the prophets said more than they knew, says the apostle Peter. They were the instruments of "the Spirit of Christ within them."
God knew what He was doing; the prophets often did not.
Nor did the angels. That one may be the greatest surprise of all.
We are immensely in the debt of the prophets, in the same way we owe much to the saints who came later, risking, and in some cases sacrificing, their lives to get the Holy Scriptures into our hands and in our own tongues.
The prophets, beginning with Moses and going through Malachi, received the revelation from the Lord, and after preaching it, either wrote it down or caused it to be written. Many paid the ultimate price for their faithfulness.
The process, according to Peter, was in this manner:
First, the Spirit of Christ was in them. This reminds us of Paul's statement that if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, "he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9, KJV). And that New Testament doctrine—which is the great surprise of the Christian life, according to Colossians 1:27—was not a universally experienced fact in Old Testament days. Not until Pentecost was the indwelling Spirit standard equipment for believers.
Second, the Spirit of Christ revealed to the prophets (and they wrote about) the sufferings of the Messiah and the resulting glory. How did this happen? We have no idea.
Third, no doubt, they labored hard and long trying to nail down the chronology and circumstances of the events they were predicting.
Fourth, they were not successful.
Fifth, the Lord revealed to them that this was not for them but for a generation to come. (We can only imagine how frustrating that must have been to the prophets.)
What we are left with is this: The prophets preached things they only partially understood to an audience whose distant descendants would realize their fulfillment.
You and I would not have done things that way? God does things differently, you say? Isaiah 55:8-9 comes to mind.
Clearly, God does not see time the way we do. It's as though a pastor today would stand at his pulpit and call for an audience hundreds of years in the future to repent and turn to the Lord. What's the point in this, our pragmatic minds wonder.
Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
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