The Perplexity of the Prophets

The Perplexity of the Prophets

September 30th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM

1 Peter 1:10-12

Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 Peter 1:10-12

9-30-73    10:50 a.m.



We are happy to welcome you on radio and on television sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Perplexity of the Prophets, or The Witnesses to Christ.  It is an exposition of verses 9-12 in the first chapter of 1 Peter [1 Peter 1:9-12].  Reading the context, beginning at verse 7:


That we might be found unto the praise and honor and glory at the parousia—the personal appearance, the personal coming of Jesus Christ.

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

[1 Peter 1:7-9]


And that was the sermon last Sunday morning: the joy unspeakable and full of glory, mentioning the salvation of our souls, which is the consummation, and outreach, and ultimate end of our faith.  Then, he speaks upon it in the passage of our text:


Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 

Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

[1 Peter 1:10-12]


These are long and involved sentences, but they have infinite meaning and significance for us.  He speaks of these who witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he names first the prophets:


Of which salvation the prophets . . . have prophesied unto us of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. 

When by the Spirit of Christ that was in them, they testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 

[1 Peter 1:10-11]


The salvation is the same, the message is the same, the gospel is the same all the way through the entire revelation of God.  Whether the message is presented by a prophet, or whether it is declared by an apostle, it is always the same.  The Old Testament and the New Testament are one book.  They were inspired by the same Spirit [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], and their subject matter is the same subject matter—old and new alike point to Christ, the Son of God.  The messenger may change, but the message is always the same. 

Whether the gospel is preached by a prophet who foreviews it or whether the message is declared by an apostle who looks back to it, the message, the gospel, and the salvation are always the same.  Whether it is an Isaiah, who is describing the sufferings of Christ seven hundred fifty years hence [Isaiah 53:1-12], or whether it is an apostle Paul, who is describing the message of Calvary thirty years after [1 Corinthians 2:2], the message is always the same.  Whether it will be the prophet Daniel, who is writing down his apocalyptic visions [Daniel 7-9], or whether it is the sainted John, who is delineating the consummation of the age [Revelation 1:1], the revelation is always the same.  

Could I illustrate that?  The gospel message, the Bible, presents has always been one of grace.  It is without cost, it is without price, it is a free gift and whether that message is presented by the prophet or by the apostle, it is always the same.  Isaiah will speak of it like this:


Ho, ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters . . . yea, come, buy without money and without price.

Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor expended for that which satisfieth not?  hearken.

Incline your ear . . . and your soul shall live—this is Isaiah. 

[Isaiah 55:1-3]


Now listen to the same message of grace without money, without price, a free gift of God as it is preached by the apostle Paul, “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9].  Lest he should say, “I did it.”  It is something God bestows upon us without money, without price.  Whether Isaiah preaches it, or Paul, it is the same salvation in the same way. 

Look again: the message of salvation is presented as one of faith.  The channel, the medium through which it is extended to us, and by which we save it is one of faith.  Whether it is the Old Testament or the New Testament, it is always the same.  Moses will write of it like this: “Abraham believed God; and his faith was counted for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6].  Now, the apostle Paul will preach it like this: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” [Romans 4:5].  Whether it’s in the Old Testament, spoken of by Moses, or the New Testament, spoken of by the apostle Paul, the message is always the same.

Look again: in the Old Testament we are told that we are saved by looking to God, and in the New Testament it is the same gospel message.  We are to look and live [Numbers 21:8].  Isaiah will say it like this, quoting the Lord Jehovah in heaven, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none other” [Isaiah 45:22].  That’s the way Isaiah will speak of it, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved.”  Now the apostle John, writing of our Lord, said it like this:


As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up:

That whosoever looks to Him, believes in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life.

[John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]


Whether it’s by Isaiah, or whether it’s by the apostle John, the message is always the same.  It is, “Look and live! Believe and be saved!” [Acts 16:30-31].


I have a message from the Lord: Hallelujah!

It is only that you look and live. 

Look and live, my brother, live!

Look to Jesus Christ and live! 

It is recorded in His Word, hallelujah!

It is only that you look and live. 

[“Look and Live,” William A.  Ogden]


The message is always the same.  On any leaf in the Bible, on any page, by the voice of any prophet or apostle, the salvation is ever the same. 

That is why the four Gospels are called “Gospels.”  They are the euangelia, they are the “good news” of God.  And it was by inspiration.  I think, that the early Christians called those four narratives by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, “the four Gospels.”  That was the message, and the revelation, and the incarnate Word toward which all of the prophets looked.  And it was the message of the good news that every prophecy had been fulfilled in Him that the apostles speak and preached it to the people. 

It’s the gospel message of salvation that never changes.  If our Lord Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], it is the gospel of kingdom citizenship.  If our Lord Jesus is working miracles, the miracles are a gospel of hope and of faith, as we stand before the awesome mysteries of disease and death [John 10:38].  The tears of Jesus [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7] are a gospel of the compassion and sympathy of our Heavenly Father [John 3:16].  The blessedness of the ministries of our Lord—in His love for the people and in His love for His disciples—is a gospel of God’s sympathy and understanding with human error and human weakness [Hebrews 4:14-15].  The death of Christ on the cross [1 Corinthians 1:23-24] is a gospel that in His sufferings and the travail of His soul, God shall be satisfied and for His sake forgive our sins [Isaiah 53:11; Ephesians 4:32].  And the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a gospel that shall assure our ultimate victory and triumph [1 Corinthians 15:20-22; Romans 8:11]

Always it is the great central revelation that God placed into the prophets by foreview and into the heart of the apostles in their proclamation.  Our Lord died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3], according to the prophecies of the prophets [Isaiah 53:5].  And the third day He was raised again according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:4], as the prophets had foreseen it [Hosea 6:2].  And He was received up into glory and is sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high [Hebrews 1:3]. 

The prophets spoke of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow [1 Peter 1:10-11].  Our humanity is exalted to the throne of deity itself and He is there, the King of the universe, not by popular decision but by divine right.  All authority has been committed unto Him in heaven and in earth [Matthew 28:18].  His power is unspent.  It is immeasurably augmented.  And though now we see not our Lord reigning over God’s creation, yet by the prophetic foreview and by the revelation given to the apostles, it someday shall come to pass, and He will reign King over all God’s creation [Revelation 11:15].  This is the message unchanging, whether the prophets saw it or the apostle declared it. 

Simon Peter says of the prophets that they inquired and searched diligently what manner of message it was that the Spirit of Christ in them was delivering to the people [1 Peter 1:10-11].  That’s a most unusual thing: that the prophet himself searched and inquired diligently into the meaning of the message that he bore.  You have that expressed in 2 Peter, the second letter of Simon Peter’s, chapter 1, verse 21, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man” [2 Peter 1:21].  It was not a human speculation; it was not a knowledgeable judgment.  The prophet did not consider the times, and weigh the evidences, and give a human judgment. 

But the prophecy came in old time, not by the will of man.  It was not originated in him, it was not something that came out of his human discernment, “but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:21].  What the prophet wrote down was what the Spirit of God moved him to say and to write.  And most of the times the prophet did not fully understand the Word that was delivered unto him, and he inquired and searched diligently into it, he could not understand it [1 Peter 1:10-11].

You have pointed illustrations of that in the Old Testament.  The prophet Daniel says, I heard, but I did not understand [Daniel 12:8].  He wrote down the message that the angel delivered unto him [Daniel 12:4].  He wrote down the vision that God revealed to him.  But Daniel says, I heard the words, and I write them down.  I saw the vision and this is it.  But, I don’t understand it.  That amazing conjuncture of time and eternity, of travail and triumph, of life and death, of suffering and salvation was revealed to the prophet.  But he says, I heard it and I have written it down.  But, I don’t understand it [Daniel 12:8].

Look again, just once more, at Isaiah, the prince of the prophets, the court preacher in the days of the kings of Judea.  In one breath, the prophet Isaiah, in language beautiful, beyond any poetry the world has ever heard; in exalted imagery that has never been rivaled by human pen or spoken voice, in one breath the stately minister of the court of the king of Judea will say:


For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall rest upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.  And of the increase of His government and of peace there shall be no end . . . to establish it for ever upon the throne of His father David. 

[Isaiah 9:6-7]


The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . .  And the carnivorous and voracious lion shall eat straw like an ox…  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain, for the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

[Isaiah 11:6-9]


In one breath, then in the next, “Who hath believed our report?” [Isaiah 53:1]. Such an amazing, startling, unbelievable thing that when our ears hear it, how do we receive it, accept it?


Who hath believed our report? . . .

For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him . . . 

He was a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him . . .

Surely He hath borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 

He hath borne our sins and carried our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace is upon Him; and by His stripes we are healed. 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 

[Isaiah 53:1-6]


How did he put those together?


 Unto us a Child, a Son . . . and His name shall be called Wonderful, the Mighty God.  A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…No beauty, that we should desire Him.

[Isaiah 9:6, 53:2-3]


He didn’t understand.  The apostle Peter says the prophet spake, moved by the Holy Spirit of God [2 Peter 1:21] and into the message revealed to him, he inquired and searched diligently [1 Peter 1:10-11].  He couldn’t understand it. 

John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets, Jesus said so [Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28].  And he was just like that, he couldn’t understand.  And he sent to the Lord and said, “Lord, are You the ha ba, the Coming One, the great Prince of Glory?  Are You the King of the universe?  Is it You, or do we look for someone else?  Is there another Christ?  When the prophet speaks of the suffering Servant and the humble One [Matthew 11:29], could that be You?  Then when the prophet speaks of the glorious and shining and reigning One, is that another Christ?” [Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:20]  He didn’t understand.  The prophets couldn’t see.  We understand.  He came the first time to wear a crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29]; He is coming the second time to wear the crown of all creation [Revelation 11:15-17].  We understand it now, but the prophet didn’t.  And when he gave his message, he inquired and searched diligently what manner it was that the Spirit within him testified that the Christ should suffer and then enter into glory [1 Peter 1:10-11].  He didn’t understand. 

But the apostle Peter says one thing that they did—though they did not minister to themselves, they did not understand it themselves— but they have ministered unto us [2 Peter 1:21].  We who are now preaching the gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit, they ministered unto us.  What he’s saying is that the apostle, the prophet, did not understand it.  But in delivering his message faithfully, he ministered unto us for we now can see that the prophetic message of the Old Testament confirms and corroborates that this is the Child, the Son of God. 

The gospel message is verified and authenticated because 750 years before it was preached by Isaiah; 1,400 years before it was preached by Moses; 2,000 years before it was preached by Abraham; and thousands of years before that God revealed it to Adam and to Eve in the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:15, 21].  And what they said now ministers to us; we have corroboration, authentication beyond dispute, that this is the truth of God [Matthew 1:20-21]. 

Not only is it the prophet witnesses to the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ, but he says, “We who ministered to you in these things and now preach the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, the apostles are witnesses to the verity and the truth and the saving grace and power of the Son of God” [1 Peter 1:12].  The apostle proclaiming in a warrior world, in a militaristic nation, the grace and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. 

Oh, how effective they were!  They had no other robes except those of poverty; they had no other distinctiveness except shame and suffering; they had no other power but the weapons of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  But how faithfully they delivered their message, evangelizing in the homes of the people, in the rural areas, the country, and the villages, finally to the cities, and even to Caesar’s household. 

There did the apostles faithfully bring the message of the truth of the cross of the Son of God, and finally bore it far away to the Parthians [Acts 2:9], and to the Scythians [Colossians 3:11], and to the heathen and pagan of the known world—witnessing, their very name a witness, a martyr, marturos, witness, laying down their lives for the faith.  How glorious is their testimony to the truth of God in Christ Jesus! 

Then he says, the third witness: the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, they preached the gospel in the power, in the unction of the Spirit of God from heaven [1 Peter 1:12].  It was the Holy Spirit that empowered the prophet to see.  It was the Holy Spirit that fell upon Jesus to do [Luke 3:22].  It was the Holy Spirit that came upon the apostles in their preaching [Acts 2:16-17].  And it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us today and works with us today [John 14:16-17]. 

There is no possibility of revealing the fullness and the glory of the gospel of Christ, apart from the Holy Spirit of God.  Nor is there any possibility for a man to be converted and saved by it, except in the unction, and urgency, and conviction, and saving power of the same third Godhead of the Trinity. 

We can say the gospel but the heathen and the pagan remain just the same.  Unless the gospel is borne in the power and on the wings of the Holy Spirit to the human heart there is no conversion.  He remains a pagan or he remains a heathen though he hears the words, unless they are empowered in the convicting presence, usefulness, of the Holy Spirit of God. 

It was the Holy Spirit that worked with Christ in the days of His ministry. 

First, He must be baptized.  The Holy Spirit must come upon Him as He begins His messianic ministry [Matthew 3:16-17].  And the apostles were told, “You wait in Jerusalem until ye be endowed with power from on high” [Luke 24:49].  And that same blessedness must come upon us in unction, in heavenly grace, if we are to be used of God to reach the human heart and to convert the human soul today. 

I wonder if I could maybe crassly and crudely illustrate that in this day.  In reading the story of Christendom, I read of the pioneer preacher, the man who converted the frontiersmen.  What kind of a man was he?  He was uneducated and he spoke in coarse grammar and in rude language.  His library was a Bible and a hymnbook; many times his message was mixed, inter-commingled, with error.  But he pressed across the Alleghenies, and into the wilderness of Kentucky and Tennessee, and through the broad prairies of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.  And he pressed ever westward under an arbor, under trees, in log cabins; wherever men would gather together, there did he preach the gospel of the Son of God.  Finally pressing to the West, where I grew up and where I was converted as a boy, and eventually to the waters of the western sea.  Those men, though uneducated and though coarse, and crude, and rude—unacceptable in any modern, cultured pulpit in America—yet they turned this continent to Christ.  They established all the churches and the institutions that now bless our homes and our hearts.  The Holy Spirit worked with them and God used them to turn America to Christ. 

Today the leaders of the Christian theological world are highly educated, they write learned tomes, and they speak in deep and recondite nomenclature.  In the pulpit they snore theology and the people listen, sound asleep.  They have emptied the churches of Europe, and they are beginning to empty the churches of America. 

I so well remember in Nashville, Tennessee when I was presiding as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, there was a large convocation at a dinner of all of our Baptist leaders in the Baptist Zion.  And Billy Graham was the speaker, and he said, “What I cannot understand is this: why would a people embrace a theology that has emptied the churches of continental Europe?”

I don’t understand it either: the theology of a Barth, and of a Bultmann, and of a Bonhoeffer that is learned and dead, and has not in it the moving, convicting Spirit of the saving power of God.  And I cannot but compare the two: coarse frontiersmen, preaching the message of Christ in language that would be ungrammatical and rough, but the Spirit of God in their hearts witnessed with them and the people were saved.  And the churches were founded and organized and the institutions were launched.  Today their successors, speaking learnedly, academically, intellectually, theologically, but without power!

When we have no Christ, we have no message.  When we have no Spirit, we have no power.


Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,

With all Thy quickening powers,

Kindle a sacred flame of love,

In these cold hearts of ours.

[“Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,” Isaac Watts]


O blessed God, work with us, help us; take the words that we say and the message that we bring and empower it to move, to convict, to convert in the hearts of the people. 

He has, and I briefly mention it, one other witness: which things the angels desire to look into.  Isn’t that an astonishing last clause, “which things the angels desire to look into?” [1 Peter 1:11-12]  It was an astonishment to the angels in heaven, the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow after.  Isn’t that an astonishing thing that the angels want to look at it, and want to see it, and are desirous of inquiring into it?  It’s just turned around what we think. 

You know, if I were to say to you, “Come, here is a door that opens into heaven.  Come, let’s look in that door.”  Wouldn’t we all eagerly gather around?  And when the doors open, there are the vistas of glory; just imagine seeing it!  Look at those gates made out of solid pearl; look at those foundations all of pure gem, look at that jasper wall!  I think jasper is a word in the New Testament for diamond—made out of solid diamond.  It says, “Jasper” clear as crystal, made out of solid diamond! [Revelation 21:10-21].

You know what I found out yesterday?  One carat of a diamond that is big as five will cost you $20,000 a carat, $20,000 a carat; a smidgen! And in the city we’re going to look at, the walls are made out of solid, pure white diamond.  Wouldn’t you like to see something like that?  Oh, wouldn’t you be amazed and wonder? 

And look at the golden streets [Revelation 21:21].  Did you know gold is now so high that one little American gold coin costs you $200?  I mean a common one.  And one that’s hard to find will cost you $10,000-$15,000—a little piece of gold!  It’s such plenty up there that you use it for paving, it’s just blocks.  Can you imagine that? 

And look at the throne; and look at the water of life; and look at the tree of life [Revelation 22:1-2]; and look at God’s redeemed [Hebrews 12:23].  Why, my brother, when I think of just standing there looking at the door—just in amazement and wonder, looking in—you know what the apostle says?  He says that’s not it.  He says it’s turned around.  He says what is amazing, and wonderful, and glorious is that the angels crowd around the windows of heaven looking down at us and are amazed and filled with desire to understand, and to know [1 Peter 1:10-12], as they see Christ dying for our sins, raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]; and the Spirit of God wooing, and winning, and convicting, and saving the human heart [John 16:7-15]. 

They’re looking down on us and they are filled with wonder and amazement at what they see.  Just like the two angels, the cherubim, the two angels with their wings overspread, looking down upon the hilasterion—the mercy seat—the sprinkling of the blood of atonement, steadily gazing upon it in awe, and in reverence, and in amazement [Exodus 25:18-20].  Just a like thing, the angels of God looking down upon the work of Jesus in the earth and the power working in the heart of the preacher, and the gospel message that brings men to salvation, the angels look down on this world upon us in amazement and wonder at what they see [1 Peter 1:10-12]. 

That’s not a speculation.  Why, in the Book it says, “Verily, verily, our Lord avows, I say unto you there is joy in the presence of the angels of God, over one sinner that repenteth” [Luke 15:10].  They look down, they watch, and they are amazed and overwhelmed by the grace that they see flowing from the wounds of Christ; the salvation that pours from His heart, the blessedness of His cross, and the winning of somebody, maybe you, who turn in faith, who look in belief and who are saved. 

Oh, what a preciousness and a blessedness, what a glory, what a wonderment! And it is ours for the receiving, the accepting, the taking, the having. 

In a moment we stand to sing this appeal and while we sing it a family, a couple, or just you; down one of these stairways, or into the aisle and here to the front, “Pastor, I make that decision now and here I come.  Here I am” [Romans 10:8-13].  On the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle and down to the front, make it now.  Do it now, while we stand and while we sing. 





Dr. W.
A. Criswell

1 Peter 1:9-12


I.          The prophets (1 Peter 1:10-12a)

A.  Salvation
is the same, message is the same, the gospel is the same throughout the
revelation of God

Delivered beforehand by the prophets, declared by an apostle who looks back to

Messenger may change, but the message always the same

By grace (Isaiah 55:1-3, Ephesians 2:8-9)

By faith (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:5, Isaiah
45:22, John 3:14)

B.  Truly inspired that
they are called the four “Gospels”

It was the message of good news that every prophecy had been fulfilled in Him

Prophets inquired and searched diligently what manner of message it was (2 Peter 1:21)

1.  Did not originate in
him; but moved by Holy Spirit of God

Did not always understand the message they delivered (Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:6-9, 53:1-6)

Even John the Baptist did not understand (Matthew

Prophets minister to us for we can now see the prophet message confirms and
corroborates that this is the Son of God

II.         The apostles (1 Peter 1:12b)

A.  Prophecies
come to pass now preached in the power of the Holy Spirit

So effective their ministry

III.        The Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:11a, 12c)

A.  Holy
Spirit spoke through the prophets, witnessed through the Christ, repeated the
gospel through the apostles, bears witness to Christ today

No possibility of revealing fullness of gospel apart from Holy Spirit

No Christ, no message; no Holy Spirit, no power

IV.       The angels (1
Peter 1:12c)

An astonishment to angels that Christ should suffer, and glory follow after

B.  If
we had an open door to see into heaven, wouldn’t we all
gather around to look in?

They rejoice at our salvation (Luke 15:10)