Things prophets and angels do not know

To my knowledge, there’s nothing quite like Second 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 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 in 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.

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” (Romans 8:9). 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.

We know now that God was making sure the proclamations of those prophets were recorded and that future generations would hear (and read) them. Then, the fact that this was revealed centuries earlier would furnish major proofs of its genuineness and speak volumes about  the inspiration of Holy Scriptures.

The Lord wants His people to know the solidness of this gospel. It is historical, it is authentic, it is dependable. As Paul would say, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of full acceptance….” (I Timothy 1:15 and 4:9)

I’m remembering a Saturday night, January 30, 2010, eight days before the New Orleans Saints went up against the Indianapolis Colts in the 44th Super Bowl in Miami. The Crescent City was all abuzz with excitement in anticipation of the February 7 contest.

The sports call-in shows wondered whether schools and businesses should declare a holiday for the day following the big game. That is, should they plan a day to celebrate the victory? Various callers thought it would be a good idea, although more than one suggested this would not be faith, but presumption.

One caller, wanting to establish how early she believed in this team, said she told her boss back in August 2009 that she wanted Monday, February 8, as her off-day. The boss said, “You’re expecting big things, aren’t you?”

She asked the boss for a copy of that written request. and received it.  So, one fan now has tangible proof of her faith that the team would go to the Super Bowl, dated over five months earlier.

That’s similar to how prophecy works. The fact is pronounced and recorded, a considerable time elapses, and later when the event is fulfilled, the beneficiary receives tangible confirmation of his faith.

One such prophecy in particular stands out in my mind.

During the lifetime of Isaiah–the 8th century B.C.–God’s people existed in two separate nations, up north in Israel and down south in Judah. During its entire two-centuries of existence, Israel was always rebellious toward God and chose only wicked kings. Down South, Judah’s record was spotty, with some good kings and some not good.

Eventually, God determined to put Israel out of business for their unfaithfulness. Judah, on the other hand, was allowed time to repent and to do right.

As a result, Judah was being threatened by Israel who had allied herself with pagan Syria. Judah’s king, Ahaz, not at all a spiritual man who trusted God, was frightened out of his wits.

The Prophet Isaiah was sent to steady the king’s nerves. He told him, “Be careful, be calm, don’t be afraid.” He assured Ahaz that God was not going to let Judah fall into the hands of Israel and Syria. Ahaz was not so sure. His nerves were shattered.

Clearly, the king needed reassuring.  God decided He would allow Ahaz to ask for a sign to bolster his small faith.

“Go ahead and ask God for a sign,” Isaiah suggested.

“Oh, no,” said the nervous king, “I couldn’t do that.”

Isaiah insisted, “Come on.  God is inviting this.  Make it as high as the heavens or as deep as possible. Ask for a big sign.”

Ahaz refused. “I just can’t.  I’m unwilling to put God to the test.”

The man was so carnal he did not understand that it’s not testing God when you obey His invitations and claim His promises.

Finally, Isaiah lost patience with the man’s lack of faith. We can almost see the fire in his eyes as he calls out loudly,

“All right then! The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold! A virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” (The account is found in Isaiah 7.)

You’re familiar with that prophecy, no doubt.  It’s taken out of mothballs every Christmas to display on greeting cards.

But go back and look at the prophecy Isaiah announced that day.

It’s all right to wonder how could it have been a sign for Ahaz’ people in that day if the fulfilment of it was not to come for another 700 years? That’s why some insist the prophecy must have referred to some immediate (or soon to come) virgin who would bear a son called Immanuel.

Taking a reaction from the sports world, Come on, man!

My favorite Old Testament and Hebrew professor, Dr. George Harrison, reminded us that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself.

And Holy Scripture–that’s what First Peter is–says the prophets did not always have a clue who the fulfillment of their prophecies would affect or when.

And why was this?

God having planned some better thing for us. (Hebrews 11:40)

Simply stated: God planned it that way.  Like one working on a jigsaw, God was assembling the components of the Gospel message, using numerous prophets and preachers, in various countries, over several centuries. Then, one day, the Lord Jesus called out, “It is finished!” and it was complete.

You are complete in Him. (Colossians 2:10) No further prophecies needed. The gospel is complete. We have the message of God.

I’m confident no one was watching the cosmic drama unfold more closely than Heaven’s angels.

Sometimes they were spectators, sometimes participants. They watched as Gabriel visited the young maid of Nazareth (Luke 1) and interrupted the sleep of Joseph (Matthew 1) with his announcements. They were all given speaking parts the night Jesus was born, by singing to the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields (Luke 2).

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, perhaps the angels said, “Oooh. So that’s it! That’s what He was up to!”

When they ministered to Jesus after His temptation (Matthew 4:11), did they wonder what this was about?

When Jesus died on Calvary, did they worry?  Did they weep also?

And when He arose from the grave, did they celebrate? I love the picture Matthew gives of the angel who has rolled the stone from the empty tomb, not to let Christ out but to let the seekers in. An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone, and sat on it. (Matthew 28:2)

I cannot recall any instance in Scripture where an angel sits down for anything. I love this.

Finally, the angels were at peace about this. Everything had fallen into place, and the Lord Jesus was alive forevermore.

This wonderful old song has blessed generations of Christians….

There is singing up in heaven such as we have never known,

Where the angels sing the praises of the Lamb upon the throne.

Their sweet harps are ever tuneful and their voices always clear;

O, that we might be more like them while we serve the Master here.

Holy, Holy–is what the angels sing.

And I expect to help them make

The courts of heaven ring.

But when I sing salvation’s story,

They will fold their wings;

For angels never felt the joy

That our salvation brings.

(Note:  I have no idea who wrote this.  I heard it as a college student working in a Christian bookstore and memorized it.)

William Barclay relates the ancient tale of the lamplighter who, while blind himself, went out at dusk to light the lamps alongside the streets of the town. Tapping his way from lamp-post to lamp-post, he brought to others a light which he himself could never see.

Thank you, prophets. Thank you, angels.  Well done indeed!

3 thoughts on “Things prophets and angels do not know

  1. Paul in I Corinthians 13 says “NOW I know IN PART….but THEN I shall KNOW EVEN AS I AM FULLY KNOWN.” That comforts me when I proclaim a message that I know comes from God yet I don’t fully understand.

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