Prophecy and Scripture
As we continue to study the letters of Peter, one point should stand out: how confident and how certain Peter is in what he is writing. We can see the same with Paul: clear and firm conviction about what they are proclaiming in regard to Jesus Christ and the Cross.
In the texts for this week, we will see more of this certainty in Peter. And he even tells us why he has such certainty. We don’t believe, he said, “cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:16)—such as those that comprised the pagan religions of their time. Instead, Peter was sure of what he believed in, for two reasons.
First, he was an eyewitness to “our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8). But second, and perhaps even more important (because almost everyone else will not be an eyewitness), is the “sure word of prophecy” (2 Pet. 1:19). Peter again goes back to the Bible, pointing to the Scriptures for the certain affirmation of Jesus, especially the prophetic sections that talked about Him. No doubt these are some of the same sections that Jesus referred to regarding Himself (Matt. 26:54, Luke 24:27). So if Jesus and Peter took the Bible this seriously, how dare we do otherwise ourselves?
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 3.
All through his epistles, Peter writes with a sense of certainty. He knows what he is talking about because he knows whom he is talking about. And one reason is that he knows that Jesus was the One to whom the Old Testament prophets pointed. It was Peter’s trust in the Written Word that helped him know the Word “made flesh” (John 1:14).
In 1 Peter 1:10–12, Peter points his readers to the Hebrew Bible, to the prophets of old, and what they taught about Jesus. According to Peter, the Holy Spirit revealed in the Old Testament two crucial truths about Jesus: the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories that would follow (1 Pet. 1:11). These two strands can be found throughout the Hebrew Bible.
In 1 Peter 1:10–12, Peter assures his readers that they occupy a very special place in salvation history. To them had been revealed much more than what was revealed to the prophets of old. The prophets indeed spoke to their own times, but crucial parts of their messages would not be fulfilled until the coming of Christ.
Some of what the prophets had predicted had come true only in the time in which Peter’s readers were then living. These readers were able to hear from those “who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,” truths that even the angels desired to know (1 Pet. 1:12, NKJV). Having had the gospel preached to them, the people knew in much more detail than did the prophets of old the reality and nature of the Redeemer’s suffering and humiliation. Of course, they will have to wait, as will we, for “the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11, NKJV). With the first part of those prophecies fulfilled, we can be certain about the last part, as well.
Besides the prophetic word, Peter was an eyewitness to many of the things that he preached about. Christianity, he said, is not founded on “cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:16, NKJV), but on real events that happened in history—events that he himself had witnessed.
In the Gospels, Peter was there for many of the pivotal events in the life and ministry of Jesus. He was there for the preaching, the teaching, and the miracles. From the early miracle of the fish (Luke 5:4–6) to seeing Jesus in Galilee after His resurrection (John 21:15), Peter was an eyewitness to so much of what happened.
Peter highlights one specific eyewitness event: the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John with Him to the top of a mountain in order to pray (Luke 9:28). While there with them He became transformed before their eyes. His face shone, and His clothes became dazzling white (Matt. 17:2, Luke 9:29). He was joined by Moses and Elijah, and a voice from heaven said, “ ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ ” (Matt. 17:5, NKJV).
Peter had seen a lot in his time with Jesus; yet, this incident stands out. It reveals Jesus to be the Son of God, that His time on earth was spent according to God’s plan, and that He had a very special relationship with the Father. Even with all that Peter had seen or would see, this event—which included “this voice which came from heaven” (2 Pet. 1:18)—was the one that he focused on in this letter.
“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19, NKJV).
Here, as we can see in many places in the Bible (Gen. 1:4, John 1:5, Isa. 5:20, Eph. 5:8), a division is made between light and darkness. For Peter the Word of God shone like a light in a “dark” place (some translate the word dark as “squalid,” “dirty,” as well). That’s why he’s so clear that we need to take “heed” to that light, to follow it until “the day dawns and the morning star rises in [our] hearts.” We are fallen beings, living in a fallen and dark world. We need the supernatural power of God to lead us out of this darkness and to the light, and that light is Jesus.
Peter is pointing his readers to a goal. Some believe that the expression “until the day dawns” refers to the second coming of Jesus. Though that’s certainly our ultimate hope, the idea of the “morning star” rising in your hearts sounds more immediate and more personal. The “morning star” refers to Jesus (Rev. 2:28, 22:16). His rising in their hearts seems to be about knowing Jesus, fully taking hold of Him and experiencing the reality of the living Christ in their own individual lives. Jesus shouldn’t be just a doctrinal truth; He should be the center of our existence and source of our hope and faith. So, Peter is establishing a clear link between studying the Word of God and having a saving relationship with Jesus, the “morning star.”
And, of course, with the light shining in us, we will spread it to others. “The whole earth is to be illuminated with the glory of God’s truth. The light is to shine to all lands and all peoples. And it is from those who have received the light that it is to shine forth. The day-star has risen upon us, and we are to flash its light upon the pathway of those in darkness.”—Ellen G. White, Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White, p. 220.
In stressing that Christianity is not based on cunningly devised fables (2 Pet. 1:16), Peter offers up two lines of evidence: first, eyewitnesses (2 Pet. 1:16–18); second, the prophecies of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:19–21), an argument he used earlier (1 Pet. 1:10–12).
Peter also states, “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20, NKJV). In saying this, Peter is not forbidding us to study Scripture for ourselves. That would be very far from the thoughts of the one who said, in 1 Peter 1:13, to “gird up the loins of your mind” (KJV) or “prepare your minds for action” (NRSV). Nor would it be said by one who commended the prophets of old for their diligent searching after the meaning of the prophecies that they had been given (1 Pet. 1:10).
Then what did Peter mean? The New Testament church progressed together and studied together. Christians were part of a larger body (1 Cor. 12:12–14). And Peter here was warning against the kind of study in which one rejects any insight from the community of believers. In interacting with others we can grow together as a community. The Spirit works with the community and the individuals in it. Insights can be shared, refined, and deepened. But the one who works alone, refusing input from others, is likely to come to wrong interpretations, especially with something such as prophecy.
In the next verses we find a good reason for Peter to make this observation. He is writing to Christians who have among them false prophets and false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1). Peter is urging them to submit their interpretation of Scripture to the leading of the church as a whole. How many people have drifted off into fanaticism and error because they refused to heed the counsel of a Spirit-led community of believers? It was a danger back then, and it remains one today.
As we have seen, Peter placed great emphasis on the Holy Scriptures. 2 Peter 1:19–21 is a powerful affirmation of the importance of the Bible to our Christian experience and to the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. His point is clear in 2 Peter 1:21. The Bible is not the product of human will, human devising, like other books. It is a book produced through the power of the Holy Spirit working through “holy men of God.”
After warning Timothy about the dangers facing him and the church, Paul gives a brief outline of the importance of Scripture. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Let’s look at these three points.
Doctrine: Doctrines are the teachings of the church. They express the beliefs of the community on various biblical topics deemed important in the Word of God. Ideally, each doctrine should be Christ-centered, and each should teach us something that helps us know how to live in accordance with the “perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2, ASV).
Guidance: Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is profitable for “reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter makes a similar point when he says that the prophecy in Scripture is like a lamp that is shining in a dark place (2 Pet. 1:19). In other words, Scripture provides guidance in how we should live and in what is right and wrong conduct. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Scripture is nothing less than the revealed will of God.
“Wise unto salvation”: When he says that Scripture makes us “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15), Paul is pointing out that Scripture points us to Jesus. Salvation is built on the belief that Jesus has died for our sins.
Doctrine, moral guidance, the knowledge of salvation: no wonder the Word of God is like “a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19, NKJV).
Further Thought: “It is the first and highest duty of every rational being to learn from the Scriptures what is truth, and then to walk in the light and encourage others to follow his example. We should day by day study the Bible diligently, weighing every thought and comparing scripture with scripture. With divine help we are to form our opinions for ourselves as we are to answer for ourselves before God.
“The truths most plainly revealed in the Bible have been involved in doubt and darkness by learned men, who, with a pretense of great wisdom, teach that the Scriptures have a mystical, a secret, spiritual meaning not apparent in the language employed. These men are false teachers. It was to such a class that Jesus declared: ‘Ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God.’ Mark 12:24. The language of the Bible should be explained according to its obvious meaning, unless a symbol or figure is employed. Christ has given the promise: ‘If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.’ John 7:17. If men would but take the Bible as it reads, if there were no false teachers to mislead and confuse their minds, a work would be accomplished that would make angels glad and that would bring into the fold of Christ thousands upon thousands who are now wandering in error.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 598, 599.