We know that God spoke through selected people prophetically. Rarely do we consider, however, that these people themselves earnestly sought to discern the full meaning of the messages they were given to proclaim. The apostle, Peter, however, in his first letter tells us clearly that the prophets desperately wanted to understand what God was revealing. They knew that these messages were from God and so it should be no surprise to learn of their burning curiosity to discern every detail within these divine mysteries.
Peter chose three verbs to describe this prophetic activity in 1 Peter 1:10-11 (eraunō: John 5:39; 7:52; Romans 8:27; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Peter 1:11; Revelation 2:23; exeraunō: 1 Peter 1:10; ekzētēō: Luke 11:50-51; Acts 15:17; Romans 3:11; Hebrews 11:6; 12:17). In John’s Gospel and 1 Peter, human beings engage in this activity and it is related to the Jewish Scriptures. In Acts, Hebrews and Romans (3:11) people search or fail to search for God. In Romans and Revelation God or the Lord Jesus “searches” human beings, but, in the case of 1 Corinthians, the Spirit “searches the deep things of God,” with the results that the Spirit has the ability to reveal them to human beings. When God “searches,” no mystery or secret remains. He discovers all there is to know. Conversely, when human beings search, there is always limitation. Humans do not always recognize the true nature of God’s revelation and, as a result their partial knowledge may lead them to false conclusions (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). In John’s Gospel the Jewish religious leaders considered themselves experts in the interpretation of their Scriptures. They know how to “search the Scriptures”, but they are not willing to let Jesus guide their searching or to change their understanding in the light of what Jesus is revealing. For this reason they fail to grasp what God was doing in Jesus.
The verb ekzētēō twice in Luke’s Gospel (11:50-51) describes a judicial search designed to ferret out those responsible for wrongdoing and affix appropriate blame. In this case Jesus warns the Jewish religious leaders that God will hold them accountable for their participation in the violent death of God’s representatives. However, in the other New Testament occurrences of this verb (Acts 15:17; Romans 3:11; Hebrews 11:6; 12:17) it expresses people’s earnest search for God, or failure to do so, twice in quotes from the Old Testament (Amos 9:12 = Acts 15:17; Psalm 14:2 = Romans 3:11). In the case of Esau, his search for the blessing was not successful according to Hebrews 12:17.1
The compound form exeraunō conveys the sense of a very careful inquiry, almost an exhaustive search for the solution. As Psalms of Solomon 17:9 shows (“God showed them no pity; he has sought out their offspring and let not one of them go free”), exeraunō can also describe the process of judicial investigation that results in a person being accused and condemned. Philo, the Jewish contemporary of Jesus, used this verb once. When examining the question whether a wise man will get drunk, reflecting on Noah’s experience, he engages in what he calls a “thorough investigation (exereunēsōmen) of the sentiments of other persons” regarding this issue.2 Josephus used exeraunō to describe a victorious army’s meticulous search in Rome for rebellious soldiers.3
The combination of exeraunō and ekzētēō with reference to divine revelation also occurs in Psalm 118(119):2, 33-34. The objects of these verbs variously included the law, God’s statutes and God’s “solemn charges.” The Psalmist demonstrates his intense pursuit of the wisdom found in God’s revealed law. But this is only the means to a more significant goal, namely to know God. He loves God and his serious inquiry into God’s Law demonstrates his desire to please God.
The simple verb eraunō occurs extensively in Hellenistic Greek writings, both Jewish and Gentile. However, Philo gives a great insight into its use within the Jewish context. As part of his commentary on Moses’ desire to see God (Exodus 33), Philo describes Moses as “a seeker regarding the Creator, asking of what sort is this Being so difficult to see, so difficult to conjecture.” However, only God has power to enable human beings to learn what God is. Despite Moses’ desire to know God, “he did not succeed in finding anything by search (erauno) respecting the essence of Him that is.” What God did reveal was “knowledge of all that follows on after God in His wake,” but he was unable to “gaze upon the Supreme Essence.”4
It is this kind of searching discovery about God’s person and purposes that Peter comments on in 1 Peter 1:10-11. The prophets’ investigation into their God-given messages was really a desire to know God. Searching the prophecies was a means to that end. While they knew these revelations had to do with “the sufferings of the Messiah and the glory that would follow,” they could not discern the timing and circumstances. They only knew that it was not for their time.
What Peter rejoices in is this – God has now revealed Himself in the person of the Messiah Jesus. God “has made him appear at the end of times” (1:20). God’s plans are now clearly understood. Some have seen the Messiah (1:8) and others, based upon their witness, even though they currently do not see him, still have put their full confidence in him. God’s Spirit “sent from heaven” is now active in this world continuing this work of revelation by the proclamation of the Gospel. There is a sense in which Peter can declare that the searching is over. We have seen God’s Messiah. God has revealed his plan. The Spirit continues to enable human beings to understand God’s plan and through faith in the Messiah enter into and become part of this great plan. In Paul’s language, the mystery of the Gospel is now revealed. Our study of the “sincere milk of the world” focuses upon a deeper understanding of God’s ways so that we might live in obedience to the will of God. We no longer, however, sit in darkness wondering what God is about. This is “the true grace of God” (5:12). As Jesus promised, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
- Paul says that God’s judgments upon Israel are “unsearchable/inscrutable” (anexaraunētos) and his ways “untraceable” (Romans 11:33). While we have direct knowledge about the “mystery of the Gospel,” God still has chosen to keep some things under wraps. We speak about God’s “progressive revelation” of himself and his plans. What more are we waiting for God to reveal and when will He do this? In the meantime to what degree should we be “searching” into these matters? Consider Jesus’ advice to his disciples regarding Israel and the kingdom in Acts 1:6.
- In Romans 1:20 Paul argues that “the unseen things of God” have been made clear from the creation of the world (Romans 1:20) and this includes his “unique power and deity.” How does our “searching” of God’s revelation in creation integrate with our understanding of God’s revelation in the Messiah Jesus?
- Do you marvel at God’s grace in revealing Himself in this remarkable ways?
- 1Philo only used this verb in quotations from the Greek Old Testament. Philo, De Fuga et Inventione 142 (quotation from Deuteronomy 4:29f) and 158 (quotation from Leviticus 10:16).
- 2Philo, De Plantatione 141.
- 3Josephus, The Jewish War, IV, 654.
- 4Philo, De Fuga et Inventione 164-165.