By Christopher VanDusen

One of the most important things believers in the Lord Jesus Christ need to know is what the basic message of the Bible is. If you know this, then you’ll have one of the foundational keys to understanding almost every passage in the Bible. In 1 Peter 1:10-12, the apostle Peter teaches what the main message of the Bible is, and how it relates to believers.

This passage is found in the letter of 1 Peter, which was written in the mid 60s AD to multiple Jewish Christian churches in a huge area of what is now Turkey. Peter had had some hand in founding at least some of these churches, and now they were experiencing increasing persecution from their unbelieving neighbors. In response, he wrote this letter to encourage, instruct, and teach these churches on how to endure persecution, and to respond to it righteously.

To begin the letter, Peter first describes himself and his audience. He’s an apostle, or “sent one”, of Jesus Christ, and they’re God’s chosen aliens, or foreigners, that have been scattered from their original homeland of Israel, and are now living among mostly unbelieving Gentiles. However, Peter explains that they’ve been blessed with an amazing salvation that has changed them, is changing them, and will be brought to completion at the end of this age, when they’ll be proven to be God’s people, and be given new, perfect, sinless, bodies like Christ’s. In the meantime, Peter says, it’s necessary that they’re saddened by various trials, to show that their faith in Jesus is real. Nevertheless, they still rejoice at the thought of their glorious future, since God has bestowed a complete and ongoing salvation on them.

After explaining that they rejoice because they know that God has saved them, is saving them, and will save them, Peter next teaches on the relationship between their salvation, the Old Testament prophets, and the New Testament prophets in verses 10-12:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 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.” (ESV)

In this passage, Peter explains three main things about the Old Testament prophets and their prophecies:

  1. The Prophets Carefully Searched for the Circumstances of Christ (vss. 10-11)
  2. The Prophets Came to See that they were Serving Christians (v. 12a)
  3. The Prophecies were Consummated for the Saints by the Spirit of Christ (v. 12b)

The Prophets Carefully Searched for the Circumstances of Christ

In the first two verses, Peter shows how great the salvation is that the aliens have by telling how the Old Testament prophets responded to their prophecies about it:

“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.”

First, Peter tells the aliens what the basic content of the Old Testament prophecies was — it was “the grace that was to be yours”. The word “grace” is translated from the Greek word charis, which literally means “favor” or “benefit”. This is one of most often used words to describe God’s saving work in the New Testament. It refers to His favor and blessing that’s bestowed on sinners who deserve nothing but His wrath, hatred, and punishment. Anything He does toward those whom He has chosen to be favored by Him can be called a “grace”, or “favor”, but it can also be used to describe His attitude toward those same people. God’s grace is supremely manifested in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom He sent from heaven to earth to become a man; live the perfect life; suffer and die on a cross to take God’s punishment for sinners; to rise from the dead; to ascend into heaven as the High Priest of His people and King of the universe; and to bestow God’s forgiveness on all who repent and trust in Him as Savior and Lord.

Peter says that this grace, which encompasses all of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ through the power of God the Holy Spirit, is what the Old Testament prophets were generally foretelling in their prophecies. And what was their reaction to them? They “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating”. The word “searched” simply means to “look for”, while the word “inquire” means to “ask questions”. The prophets may have even asked God what He meant by the prophecies that He gave to them. But they didn’t just search and ask, but did so carefully. In other words, they made the greatest efforts to find out what they were trying to learn.

According to the ESV, the thing they were trying to learn was “what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories”. Although it’s possible that the Greek word translated “person” refers specifically to a person, it’s likely that the prophets already knew that these prophecies had something to do with “Christ”. The word “Christ” literally means “anointed one”, and refers to the One in the Old Testament who is said to be anointed, or poured upon, with the Holy Spirit, in order to be the ultimate Savior, Prophet, High Priest, and King of God’s people. The most notable passage about this is found in Isaiah. So, if the word “person” isn’t the most accurate translation, what is? Well, the Greek word behind it can also be translated “circumstances”, as the NIV does. This makes more sense, given what the prophets already knew about their prophecies that clearly pointed toward the long-awaited Messiah. Thus, the prophets weren’t necessarily trying to find out the person or time of Christ’s coming, but the circumstances or time of Christ’s coming. In other words, they wanted to know when and how Christ would come.

Next, Peter describes the means by which the prophets foretold the coming of Christ. He says that it wasn’t them who were predicting “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories”, but “the Spirit of Christ in them.” What does Peter mean by this? He’s clearly referring to God the Holy Spirit, who was “in” them, and “indicated”, the circumstances and time of Christ’s coming. But why does Peter call the Spirit the Spirit of Christ? Because, just as in the New Testament, in the Old Testament, the revealing work of the Spirit mainly consists of revealing who Christ was going to be.

Finally, Peter finishes explaining how the prophets reacted to their prophecies by saying that the Spirit of Christ “predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories”. First, He foretold Christ’s “sufferings”. This mainly refers to His betrayal, trials, crucifixion, and suffering on the cross. Second, the Spirit foretold the “glories” that came afterward. This refers to Christ’s resurrection, ascension into heaven, and glorification as the King and Judge of everyone. All of these things were prophesied by Old Testament prophets. However, Peter’s main point is that the prophets diligently tried to find out how and when these prophesies would be fulfilled.

The Prophets Came to See that They Were Serving Christians

In the first part of verse 12, Peter explains what God revealed to them through their efforts to find out the circumstances of Christ’s coming:

“It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you . . .”

Here, Peter begins to show how the Old Testament prophecies relate to his audience. The first thing they have to do with them is that they were made for them, rather than for the prophets. In other words, it was not for the prophets to know how the prophecies about God’s grace and Christ would be fulfilled, but for Christians to know.

The Prophecies were Consummated for the Saints by the Spirit of Christ

In the rest of this passage, Peter explains why and how the Old Testament prophecies were meant to be understood by Christians by saying that the prophets were serving Peter’s audience “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.”

So, how are the prophecies to be understood? As being fulfilled in what the New Testament preachers of the good news, or gospel, announced to the aliens. What are the things that were announced? The things of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, and through the power of the Spirit. By preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, the New Testament preachers announced the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that hadn’t been understood by the prophets. This is why Peter says that the prophets came to see that they were serving Christians, and not themselves.

But how did the New Testament gospel preachers do this? “By the Holy Spirit sent from heaven”. By saying that the Holy Spirit was “sent from heaven”, Peter is calling attention to the fact that the Person who gave the New Testament preachers the power to preach the gospel was also foretold by the prophets. In multiple places in the Old Testament, God promises to send His Spirit from heaven. By “heaven”, He means the spiritual realm where His glory is most manifested, and where Jesus went to receive the authority to send the Holy Spirit to His people. This began on the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were first indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and empowered to preach the gospel to many people in Jerusalem.

Peter finishes this passage by noting God’s angels’ reaction to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He says that the things that gospel preachers announced to the aliens are “things into which angels long to look”. So, not only did the prophets long to know and understand God’s salvation in Christ, but even His angels long to “look into”, or understand, the salvation that God has given to Peter’s audience. This is significant because the angels have some of the most intimate experience with God’s glory, and yet they don’t understand the glory of Christ and His salvation to the degree that Christians do.

Old Testament Prophecy is Fulfilled in New Testament Grace in Christ

So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?

First, Peter tells us that, in general, Old Testament prophecy is about “the grace that was to be yours” and “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories”. That is, most prophecies find their ultimate fulfillment in the grace that God has given to us through the sufferings and glories of Christ. If we study Old Testament prophecy, we ought to be considering how it’s fulfilled in these ways. The only way to do that is to use the New Testament teaching to interpret Old Testament prophecy.

Second, we get a good example of how we ought to study the Bible in the prophets’ study of their prophecies. They “searched and inquired carefully” to understand what their prophecies were exactly referring to. We ought to do the same when we seek to learn and understand the Bible, since knowledge and understanding of God’s Word will enable us to know and understand God more if we believe it, and put it into practice. Before we can know it, though, we need to search it, and to ask it questions with great care to find its answers.

Third, we need to remember that the New Testament gospel, and its teaching, is the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament prophecies foretold. Since we are called to share the gospel as we have the opportunity, we can say with the authors of the New Testament that the Old Testament foretold exactly what we are sharing.

Finally, we need to be like the New Testament gospel preachers, and share the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not by human power. To do this, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to give us what we need in order to share the gospel, and not our human minds or bodies.

So, have you believed the good news of Christ’s sufferings and glories, and of God’s grace? This is the gospel that God sent His eternal and divine Son to become the man Jesus, to live the perfect life, to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take God’s punishment for our sins, to rise from the dead, and to go into heaven as our King. God now commands everyone to change their minds about Jesus and themselves, and to trust in Jesus as King and their Savior from sin and His wrath to receive His forgiveness, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish those who rebel against Him forever in a place of torment. Please make sure that you’ve repented of your rebellion against Jesus, and are trusting only in Him as your Savior and Lord to have God’s peace, forgiveness, and mercy.

Unless Otherwise Noted, All Scripture Quotations are Taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.