allegory, apostle peter, Christ in Old Testament, glorification, jeremiah 29 11, justification, new covenant, new testament, old covenant, old testament, prophecy, prophets, salvation, sanctification, theology
Many of us have been to bible studies where a leader opens up a passage from the Old Testament (OT) and asks the ambiguous question: “What does this passage mean to you?” After such a question is asked, those who were in the bible study would give their opinion, which usually is an allegorical misinterpretation of the text. Eventually, the discussion goes to how we can practically use this passage today in our lives and the allegorical misinterpretations become more and more fanciful. After everyone has exhausted their opinion and have wallowed in a pool of ignorance, the bible study ends. Yet there are a couple of questions that rarely are asked in such a setting. First, what did the OT writers intend to convey in their writings? Second, and most importantly, what was the Holy Spirit communicating through their writings?
I believe that it is a fair statement to say that many of us suffer from a chronic neglect and/or misuse of the OT scriptures. For those of us who were exposed to the prosperity gospel movement, selected OT texts (such as Jeremiah 29:11, 1 Chronicles 4:10, Isaiah 43:19, etc.) were stretched to the point of absurdity and abused to give people a false hope for prosperity. For those of us who were exposed to holiness churches, OT texts were used almost solely in a moralistic fashion to teach us about godly virtues such as courage, conviction, etc. For those of us who were exposed to New Covenant theology, OT texts were largely neglected since the New Covenant has made the Old Covenant obsolete. This is unfortunate because the OT is full of astounding blessings of the salvation that has been brought to us. The OT speaks in shadows and types, but it finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ (cf. Luke 24:25-49). This implies our salvation by faith in Jesus Christ is not a new doctrine, but the same which the Law and the Prophets testify.
After describing the persons to whom Peter wrote and declaring to them the glorious inheritance in Christ, Peter goes on to show them what basis they have to be confident and secure in their salvation. Peter records in 1 Peter 1:10-12
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It 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.
The Search of the Prophets
Peter’s first point is to emphasize that the revelation of Jesus Christ is not an isolated incident in history, but it was the culmination of God’s revelation that began centuries earlier. This is not a trivial point because it means that Christ Jesus is the central figure in history. Jesus is not simply a great prophet equal in stature to Moses, Elijah, and the others, but He is the promised deliverer that all of the prophets searched for. Peter is illustrating that we have received the grace that the prophets searched for. This should inform us on how we should read the OT. Do we read it as nice stories with good moral lessons or do we read it as God’s unfolding revelation pointing to Christ? This implies that we need to have a proper understanding of the entire biblical narrative in order to properly understand what the Holy Spirit has been communicating through the OT writers.
Peter’s second point is to emphasize that the prophets did not fully understand how their prophecies would be fulfilled. The prophets examined their own predictions with care to ascertain what they meant. Even though the prophets were the medium through which the truth was made known, yet their own predictions became a subject of careful investigation to themselves. The prophets knew that there would be a future Messiah who would restore all things, but the prophets wondered what would be the character of the Messiah and what would be the nature of His work. It is easy from our perspective with a closed canon to understand the completeness of God’s work, but the prophets lived during a period of unfolding divine revelation. From the perspective of the prophets, the descriptions of Christ were amazing and yet mysterious. Consider the prophecies of Isaiah as an example. As Isaiah is writing his prophecies under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he learns that the Messiah would be called Mighty God and Everlasting Father (cf. Isaiah 9:6), yet He would also be killed by violent men who hated Him without cause (cf. Isaiah 53:9). The prophets wondered who would fulfill these words and wondered what would be the full meaning of these words.
Moreover, the prophets inquired about when the Messiah would appear to bring salvation. In particular, the prophets inquired about the state of the world when the Messiah would appear and the probable manner in which the Messiah’s message (the gospel) would be received. As Paul describes, Christ came in the fullness of time (cf. Galatians 4:4), meaning that God sent His Son at the right moment in human history when God’s providential oversight of the events of the world prepared the nations for the ministry of Christ. Peter makes it clear that the Spirit of inspiration by which the prophets spoke was actually the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ was speaking through the prophets, predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories to come. Therefore, the glories of Christ can be seen throughout the OT scriptures since it prophesies of the salvation that He would usher in.
The Service of the Prophets
According to Peter, the prophets were not prophesying of events that would be fulfilled completely in their lifetime, but they were prophesying of a future grace that would be received by us. These are the astounding blessings that Peter spoke of earlier in the chapter and these promises are grounded in the Spirit of Christ speaking through the prophets. Christ is the unspeakable gift of God’s free grace and we receive several blessings of grace through Christ. We have redeeming grace from sin, Satan, and death. We have justifying grace through His righteousness. As stated by Paul, His righteousness is revealed without the law, yet it is witnessed to by the Law and Prophets (cf. Romans 3:21). We have pardoning grace, received through faith in Christ to which the prophets testify (cf. Psalm 32:1-2; Romans 4:5-8). We have the grace of adoption, signifying that we are the sons of God (cf. Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:25-26). We have regenerating and sanctifying grace in which we are given a new heart (cf. Jeremiah 31:33-34; Hebrews 10:16-22). We have persevering grace, intimating that the Lord will not depart from those who fear Him (cf. Jeremiah 32:40) and that His steadfast love shall never depart from them (cf. Isaiah 54:10).
This means that when we are reading of the promises of God to His people in the OT, we are reading of the promises gained by Christ by His obedience that we receive on the basis of faith. This is an important point for the original audience because many of these Christians were Jews who had a profound reverence for the OT scriptures. Therefore, Peter is using the authority of the prophets to convince them of legitimacy of their grace. This is a lesson that many of us should understand – our confidence in the trustworthiness of Christ and the NT is not based on our experience, but based upon the authority of the scriptures. Peter emphasizes this point by stating that the OT prophetic writings are a more sure foundation for salvation than even the spectacular experience of the apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration (cf. 2 Peter 1:16-21). We ignore the testimony and witness of the OT prophets to our own peril. In the complete OT and NT, we have a complete record of God’s dealings with men throughout human history written by dozens of authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and all of it testifies to the all-sufficiency of Christ in redemption. If we take the NT seriously, then we must take the OT seriously as well since the Spirit of Christ wrote both of them.
Our Privilege as Believers
Peter concludes his argument by emphasizing that the grace that Christians now receive is a blessed privilege that few eyes and ears have heard. This point is also emphasized by Jesus.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 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. Matthew 13:16-17
The mysteries of the gospel and the methods of man’s salvation are so glorious that the blessed angels earnestly desire to look into them. They consider the whole scheme of man’s redemption with deep attention and admiration, particularly the points that Peter has been discussing. The object of this reference to the angels is the same as that to the prophets. It is to impress on Christians a sense of the value of that gospel which they had received, and to show them the greatness of their privileges in being made partakers of it. It had excited the deepest interest among the most holy men on earth, and even among angelic beings. We are enjoying the full revelation of what even the angels had desired more fully to understand.
The language that Peter uses “desire to look into” gives a graphic description of one stooping and stretching the neck to gaze on a wonderful sight. It’s the same description used to describe how Peter, John, and Mary looked into the empty tomb with amazement (cf. John 20:5, 11). As mentioned above Peter is emphasizing that holy men and angelic majesties are gazing at the work of salvation in the same manner. The holy angels are struck with astonishment at the plan of human redemption and wonder at the incarnation of Son – the infinite God in human weakness. Paul describes these point in his letter to the Ephesians
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rules and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. Ephesians 3:8-12
If then these things be objects of deep consideration to the angels of God, how much more so should they be to us? If it is God’s eternal purpose to reveal His wisdom to angelic majesties in heaven through the Church, then we should take great labor to understand God’s unfolding revelation throughout biblical history.
Christ in the OT Testament
In light of what has been discussed, how do we begin to interpret and understand popular OT passages? Let’s take the account of David and Goliath for example. Do we interpret David and Goliath as simply a story that teaches us about courage against God’s enemies who seem to be stronger than us? Is this simply a story of how we can stand for our convictions when the world is against us? Is the lesson that we get from this account is to be like David? If that is all that we understand about David and Goliath, then we have missed the Spirit of Christ who inspired the author to record the account. This is not to say that we try to “find Christ in every verse” by reinterpreting the OT, but the ultimate fulfillment is found in Christ and the proper application will lead back to the gospel. This means that we do not allegorize a passage and try to make a meaning that works for us. In other words, you should not read the story of David and Goliath and think that the point of that story is that you can be a little David and slay the giant of your debt. Nor does it mean that the point of David and Goliath is that Jesus slays the giant of sin. In the account of David and Goliath, we see the sovereignty of God in establishing David over Saul as King. He will be the King of Israel who will rule Israel in righteousness. This sets the stage for God to establish His covenant with David that finds its complete fulfillment in Christ.
Ultimately, when we see who the OT points to, we will gain a deeper understanding and confidence in the salvation that was prophesied and brought to us by Christ.