RPM, Volume 16, Number 4, January 19 to January 25, 2014

The Wondrous Grace

By D. Marion Clark

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, 11 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. 12 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.

We have learned some great news in just the first nine verses of 1 Peter. What have we learn? We are God's elect for whom all three persons of the godhead have actively worked for our salvation. We have been born again into a living hope of an inheritance of eternal life that we cannot lose. Even our trials are only serving to strengthen our faith for the day when we ourselves will receive praise and glory. Is there anything more that can be said? Well, Peter, as if all this news was not enough, wants to let us know what other rather important people think of what we have.

The One Message

Peter inserts an interesting term in place of salvation. He uses the term grace: the prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you. He is reminding us that the work of salvation is not our work, but the free gift of God to us. The grace (the free gift) coming to us is the work of Christ — his incarnation, atonement (the sufferings) and resurrection and ascension (the glories).

These prophets would be the prophets of the Old Testament. We have to be careful not to limit them to the writers of the section that we label prophets. They would include not only those persons with the label but other writers and men of God. David is a prophet who spoke of the Christ, as is Moses. Peter would be thinking of all those who spoke of the Messiah or Christ.

Indeed, Peter's understanding is that all of the Scriptures, which would be the Old Testament, look forward to Christ. He learned this lesson from Jesus himself. Peter would have been present when Jesus rebuked those who rejected him: If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me (John 5:46). He would have received the report of the disciples who returned from the Emmaus road after encountering Jesus:

He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

More to the point, he received instruction from Jesus himself regarding Scriptures. In Acts 1:1-8 we read:

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…
8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Note what Jesus was doing during the forty-day period with his disciples — he was instructing them about the kingdom of God. In a moment we will see that this instruction must have included, if not centered around, interpreting the Scriptures.

Note quickly other facets of these passages. Peter refers to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. Remember? Jesus taught the disciples, Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? (Luke 24:26) Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1:8, You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem… and to the ends of the earth. Peter writes in verse 12, they (the prophets) spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you.

Do you see the linkage? The prophets predicted the sufferings and glories of the Christ. Jesus Christ comes, fulfills the prophecies, and then gives instruction to his disciples on how to understand the Scriptures. These disciples become his apostles whom he sends out to bear witness about him. They do this by testifying what they have seen as eyewitnesses and by turning to the Scriptures that reveal him. They are the heirs to the gospel ministry begun by the prophets and embodied by Jesus Christ.

Peter is a great model for this concept. After Jesus' ascension, Peter takes charge of the group of followers, calling for a replacement for Judas. He justifies the replacement and explains Judas' downfall through interpreting Scripture (Acts 1:15ff). Where did he get this ability to interpret but through Jesus? Observe how he preaches. On the day of Pentecost, he bears witness of Jesus by interpreting scripture:

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people [Joel 2:28-32]…" 25 David said about him: "I saw the Lord always before me [Psalm 16:8-11]…" 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, "The Lord said to my Lord [Psalm 110:1]…"(Acts 2:17,25,34).

He also refers to his own eyewitness: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact (32).

You will see this same model in each of Peter's sermons and discourses — interpreting Scripture and personally confirming as eyewitness. What he is able to do as a result is to show that the gospel he proclaims is not a new innovation; it is rather the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures. It is not a fad. It is grounded in Scripture.

The Special Place of the People

Peter's focus is not so much about the chain of which he is a part, but about the privilege of his readers. Let's go back to verse 10. The prophets spoke of a grace that was to come to you. Verse 12: It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you.

The Wondrous Grace for Them

Note first that this wondrous grace of the Messiah's redeeming work was reserved for them. Does this grace apply to the elect of the Old Testament? Yes, but in their lifetimes they did not experience it directly. As people looking through a cloudy telescope, they could only view the far off coming of Christ dimly. There would be a Messiah; he would redeem his people, but who he would be, what he would be like, what redemption would be like, and so on, were mysteries. They still must worship and experience God through the veil of the legal prescriptions. They looked forward to redemption; Peter's flock and we have experienced it. The writer to the Hebrews puts the matter this way. After upholding the great saints of the Old Testament for their faith, he concludes: These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (11:39,40).

Note too how Peter characterizes the intense interest of the prophets in the message of grace. They searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances. This was no ordinary message. This was the message and it mattered all the more to them to know when the prophecy would be fulfilled. Indeed, Peter infers that it was their hope that the prophecy would be fulfilled in their lifetimes: It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves. But this wondrous message would not be revealed until the lifetime of Peter and his readers.

Served by the Prophets

Note also, the prophets were serving Peter's readers. They read, or were read to, the Scriptures. They heard the stories of the prophets, and would have been fascinated with their lives. Peter is saying, "Those great heroes and messengers were placed on earth during their times not so much to serve the people of their day, but to serve you. The message given to them was for you. You, not their contemporaries, would see the fulfillment of their prophecies."

Served by the Apostles

So, the people are to understand that the prophets were serving them. Also in their service were the apostles. Verse 12: It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those (the apostles) who have preached the gospel to you. The apostles, who have received the mantle of the prophets, are now proclaiming the message that the prophets prophesied. This wondrous grace has come in the form of Jesus Christ. The redemption foretold has taken place. And the task of the apostles is to serve people such as Peter's flock by telling them the good news. The actual telling may come directly from the apostles, such as Peter, or be carried forward through their evangelists; nevertheless, they are but servants of Christ sent by him to serve his people.

Served by the Holy Spirit

Peter also gives his readers insight into the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing this grace. In verse 11, the prophets were 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. The reason the prophets did not fully understand their own message is that it was not their own message. They were but messengers used by the Spirit. In his second epistle, Peter explains:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20,21).

The prophets were not human Dictaphones who passed along verbatim the messages dictated to them. Peter is not describing the methods of the prophets, but rather is making the point that however they received and passed on their messages, it was done through the operations of the Holy Spirit who made sure that their messages were indeed from God.

You could make an analogy with our Bible translations. Our English Bibles, of course, are but translations from the original languages. They strive to be faithful in presenting the message of the original texts. Let's compare them:

NIV: Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care…
LB: This salvation was something the prophets did not fully understand. Though they wrote about it, they had many questions as to what it all could mean.
NEB: This salvation was the theme which the prophets pondered and explored, those who prophesied about the grace of God awaiting you.

They present the same message but with different words and different styles reflecting who did the translating and their intended audience. The point simply is this: it is the Holy Spirit who inspires the writers so as to insure that their messages are faithful renderings of the messages God intends for his people. Thus he can speak of the Spirit of Christ being in the prophets and revealing the prophecies.

The Holy Spirit is also at work in the apostles, verse 12: those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Just as we can be assured of the message of the prophets being that of the Holy Spirit, so we can of the apostles. This is what Jesus had promised, which Luke presents well:

He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:44-49).

What does this passage reveal? Jesus is the message of the prophets. The message involves his suffering and glory. The apostles are now the bearers of this message. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.


What do we have so far? The prophets, the apostles and the Holy Spirit are all teamed up to reveal the wondrous grace to these elect people. Why do I keep referring to the grace as wondrous grace? The angels seem to think so. Even angels long to look into these things.

Even angels who serve the mighty God in his presence are captivated with what is going on with these scattered believers. This grace that has been reserved for them has the attention of the most glorious created beings in the universe. They long to look into the mysteries of what God is doing.

What We Have

What about us? We are included with the believers of Peter's day. We don't even need to reinterpret or reapply his words to make them fit us. We are all part of this age of grace waiting for the final day of revealing. The prophets were serving us. The apostles were serving us. The Holy Spirit worked in them so that we might receive the message, and he continues to work in us so that we will receive it and be brought to new life by it. The angels are watching us to see how this wondrous grace works in us.

Imagine turning on the TV and finding the scene of a stadium packed with people. A platform is in the middle of the field with dignitaries; there is an atmosphere of excitement. The announcer tells the audience that the guests to be honored will be arriving shortly; meanwhile he will interview the dignitaries and other guests who played a role in the lives of these honored mystery people. The persons who are interviewed are statesmen, scientists, writers and other specialists, many winners of the Nobel prize in their fields. They speak of how they had devoted themselves to seeing that these particular mystery people would experience the highest honors and blessings in life, and their great satisfaction in life is for this time to come. The anticipation builds as each person is interviewed. The crowd breaks forth into chants calling for the mystery people to appear. Just then you are interrupted by a knock on the door. It's the police. They ask you to come with them. They whisk you away with a caravan of escort motorcycles. "What is going on?" you wonder. You see the stadium. Are you going to get to take part somehow? Maybe have a front row seat? You get out; there is a small group of other bewildered people. You are led through a tunnel, then suddenly out onto the field and up to the platform. The crowd cheers. The dignitaries stand and bow to you. You and your group are the honored people. All the preparations, all the work has been done for you.

This is what Peter is telling us. You read the stories of the Old Testament saints impressed with the great acts they accomplished and the miracles they experienced. "Oh that I could experience such things as they did." Understand that they would have given their experience all away if they could have known what you know — the life and work of Jesus Christ. They would have thrown it all away if they could have experienced what you now experience — the grace of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ. Indeed, all that they experienced — the miracles, the visions, the prophecies — were for our benefit, to serve us.

This salvation that is of Christ and will be made complete at his final revealing, this wondrous grace, has been reserved for us. Not because we are more deserving, but out of God's mysterious will he has chosen us to know this grace. This is God's gift to us.

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