“… things into which angels long to look.” 1 Peter 1:12 ESV
What do angels greatly desire to gaze at?
The obvious answer is “your salvation.” Or, more precisely, “The angels ache to gaze at what God did to bring about your salvation.” What God did is encapsulated in the gospel. So said another way, “The angels long to look into the gospel.” If you want to see how I got this read the first endnote at the end of this blog.
What more could they hope to see?
I don’t know if all the angels can gaze directly at God all the time, since Isaiah 6:2 describes, one group of them (the Seraphim) who continually worship God, with their faces covered. But we know from various scenes in Revelation and from verses like Matt. 18:10 and Dan. 10:11 that the angels sometimes see and have access to God – God who is seated on a throne – God who is surrounded by an emerald-like rainbow, lightning and thunder, a crystal-like sea, and remarkable creatures (Rev. 4:3-7) – God who, according to the Apostle John, has the appearance of jasper and carnelian, which by the way I was surprised to find, through a Google Image Search, are stones with the reds and greens of Christmas. Surely then, the angels must see something of God’s majestic glory. What could be better?
Why is the gospel so intriguing?
The gospel is not for angels; they can never experience God’s abounding grace of love, forgiveness, and mercy in redemption. So why, when there are glorious things all around them for them to ponder, are they so interested in something that doesn’t directly apply to them?
I think one reason the angels really really want to look into the gospel is because the more they look, the more they see the richness and deepness of the character traits of the God they serve. The more they look into the gospel the more they get to know God better. And at least for humans, peering into the gospel causes a reaction. I think, like humans, the angels are swept away by what they see. Revelation 5 is a big clue that this is a right assumption:
The elders and the four living creatures sang about the worth of the One who was slain and by whose blood people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” were ransomed. They sang about how these ransomed people, who will one day reign on the earth, were made into a kingdom of priest to God. Then myriads and myriads of angels responded to this gospel message with the words:
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!
The angels saw more of Christ’s worth because of the gospel; they saw more of his glory and spontaneously and joyously responded with doxology – words of praise about God’s worth – his glory – the shinning forth of his beautiful character. This reaction to the gospel (at least the human form of it) pops up many times in the New Testament.
For example, Paul:
Toward the end of Romans 11, after Paul’s comprehensive statement of the gospel in the preceding chapters, summed up as “mercies of God” in Rom. 12:1, he spontaneously breaks out into a doxology (Rom. 11:33-36) about the God’s wisdom and sufficiency. He concludes Romans by connecting the gospel of your salvation to God’s wisdom and strength (Romans 16:25-27).
Jude of course is famous for his short letter and beautiful doxology. After warning the Church not to be lead astray by those who distort the gospel of your salvation, Jude reminds Christians of God’s mercy to them (Jude 1:21). He follows with praise for God’s ability to keep believers blameless until they are presented to God with great joy (Jude 24-25).
You can find more examples for yourself in Philippians 4:20; 1 Timothy 6:16; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 5:11; 2 Peter 3:18; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 4:8; and Revelation 7:12.
Try to imagine …
I don’t think this is really possible to do with accuracy, but try with me to imagine that you are an angel. You are with God, surrounded by his glory, in one way or another, all the time but you don’t really know all about him.
You know God is holy, holy, holy, and you see that simultaneously he is merciful. After all, he has withheld the just wrath that humans deserve time and time again throughout history. But, apart from the gospel, how can you really know all about his mercy, the riches of it?
You know God is wise – after all you see the diversity and complexity of creation and God’s upholding of it. But, apart from the gospel, how can you understand the intricacies of God’s overall plan of salvation that includes creation (Rom. 8:19-24; Rom. 11:32)? How can you fathom what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9)? How can you understand God’s wisdom in showing mercy the way he chooses – the depths and riches of it (Rom. 11:32-33)?
You know something of God’s love. You have seen it displayed in the fellowship of the Trinity. But until you understand the gospel, you cannot know the breadth and length and height and depth of it. You cannot know his love that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19).
Imagine what it would be like for you, if you were an angel, to come into an understanding of these things and more. Wouldn’t God’s glory become greater and greater to you and enrapture you more and more as you learn deeper things about his character and increasingly see more of his beauty every moment for eternity?
I am not an angel.
I am human me. But, like the angels, I don’t really know all there is to know about this God; I don’t really see him – who he really really is. At times, I may think I have a firm grasp on his mercy, his wisdom, his righteousness, his love, or his faithfulness. But then, one day, I see something of God that is deeper and richer than I knew. I am altogether taken away from myself by the moment and wonder if there’s even more to see. Maybe that has happened to you too.
There is more.
God’s mercy is more abounding than you know (Eph. 2:4); the riches of his grace are immeasurable (Eph. 2:7). His wisdom is richer and deeper than you see (Rom. 11:33). His faithfulness extends to the clouds and his righteousness is like the high mountains (Ps. 36:5-6). His judgments are unsearchable, his ways are inscrutable (Rom. 11:33), and his love is deeper and higher and wider and longer than you can comprehend (Eph. 3:18-19).
I think that one thing all these superlatives indicate is that it will take a really really long time to discover all there is to know about our God. It will take eternity. I think the superlatives also scream at us that each moment of discovery from now until eternity and then on into eternity –forever and ever, will be breath-taking. Isn’t that why the angels keep longing to look?
So how do we begin to see the wonders of God that Paul and Jude were enraptured by? Paul says: “… I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul set his mind singularly on the gospel. Jonathan Edwards put it this way, “The sweetest joys and delights I have experienced, have not been those that have arisen from a hope of my own good estate; but in a direct view to the glorious things of the gospel.”
Praying that gazing into the gospel will be your longing.
1. What the angels long to look at (1 Pet. 1:12) is salvation. We see this in 1 Peter 1:10, because of the phrase, “concerning this salvation.” We know that it is “your” salvation because, further down in this verse, we see the phrase “grace that was to be yours.” (Note that “your” means both the elect exiles of 1 Peter 1:1 who were undergoing persecution because of their faith and by implication it means the Christian.)
Adding a phrase picked up in verse 11 we get a fuller description – your salvation of grace [which is] the “sufferings of Christ” and [that includes] the “subsequent glories” that was indicated by the Spirit and predicted by the prophets (1 Peter 1:10-11).
So from this we can say that the angels long to look into the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories – a description of how your salvation was accomplished – or, said another way: The angels long to look into the gift of salvation (into the grace) given to you [because of what Christ did].
Added in this passage is the idea that your salvation was announced or preached in message form. First we read that the prophets searched and careful inquired concerning salvation. They predicted (verse 10) this salvation and it’s subsequent glories (including the promises you have because of your faith in Christ, verse 11). And then, once our salvation was completed through Christ’s death and resurrection, your salvation was announced and preached (verse 12) in the form of the gospel (the good news message). So my ultimate summary is: “The angels ache to gaze at what Christ’s accomplished to bring about your salvation” and what he did is encapsulated in the gospel message.
2. It is part of God’s eternal plan for the angels to learn more about God’s character. Eph. 3:10 “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” See the fuller context in Eph. 3.