Peter reminds his readers that the message about their salvation is not new because it is found in the Old Testament. He also says that three distinct groups of the Lord’s servants are interested in the salvation that we have received.
One group were the prophets who ‘inquired and searched diligently’ into the meaning of their own predictions. Although they were guided by the Spirit as they spoke, they did not automatically understand what they were saying about the future Messiah. This is not surprising because their prophecies seemed contradictory – on the one hand he would suffer, and on the other hand he would reign for ever. Yet when they discovered that their prophecies were mainly for the benefit of others (Christians), they persevered in finding out more. And in that response they are a challenge to us to know about Christ’s sufferings and the glories that will follow.
The second group were the apostles, the ones Christ commissioned to spread the gospel. They did so with the help of the Holy Spirit. The astonishing aspect is that without the illumination of the Spirit the apostles did not fully understand the gospel. We can see this easily from the Gospels themselves. Yet when the Spirit came at Pentecost, we can see a marvellous development in their understanding of the Old Testament and they begin to apply its passages to Jesus. They encourage us to search the Bible, including the Old Testament, because it will be common to discover Jesus walking on its pages, and we will find out about his sufferings and the glories that follow.
The third group are the angels, described by Peter as ‘longing to look’ into this salvation. That translation could indicate that they are not allowed to look or that they will at some stage in the future be allowed to look. I don’t think Peter has either of these meanings in mind. Instead I suspect he says that they long to understand more about salvation but even they, with their exalted intelligences, still need divine instruction before they can understand the wonder of divine mercy. Their interest is all the more startling given that they themselves will not experience God’s grace in salvation.
Why do the angels look into salvation? Various answers can be given. Through observing the salvation of sinners, they discover wonderful things about God, especially his love and his mercy. They rejoice at seeing God worshipped in a way in which they cannot fully participate (we can see from Revelation 4 and 5 how they praise God alongside the redeemed, listening gladly to the songs of salvation). They love the people of God and they take care of them through their journey through life, waiting to take them across the river into the Father’s house, and delight to see them worshipping God throughout that journey. And they will come with the church when Jesus returns to judge the world (1. Thess. 4:13ff.).
So prophets, apostles and angels tell us that the most important things to study are the sufferings of Jesus and the glories that will follow.