2 Peter 1:20

2 Peter 1:20  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 11
The apostle adds an important caution to the commendation in ver. 19. They did well in taking heed to the prophetic word. God alone can speak with certainty of the future, for a world in confusion and change, prone to sin; and He has been pleased, not only to speak but to write by chosen instruments, that those who believe may profit by His communications, where otherwise they were liable to stray, but thereby were enabled by faith to enjoy the measure of light thus afforded. His people could not despise it, save to His dishonor and their own loss.
Before the deluge Enoch prophesied as to the ungodly in deeds and words, whose daring would bring on the Lord's coming with His holy myriads to execute judgment on their ungodliness: a prophecy preserved and cited by the inspired Jude as yet to be accomplished on those that deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ. Later still by faith Noah, oracularly warned concerning things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness that is according to faith (Heb. 11:77By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)). Abram had not only prophecy but a prophetic vision, centuries before the facts of his seed's oppression in Egypt and of deliverance from the oppressor by divine judgments, which should also deal in due time with the enemies who filled Canaan (Gen. 15). Further, he was given as a mark of divine friendship to learn from Jehovah Himself the imminent destruction of the cities of the Plain.
Nor is it otherwise with us Christians; for if given an incomparably “better thing” now in and with Christ glorified after the accomplishment of redemption, we do not lose the present value of prophecy. The same Holy Spirit, who guides us into all the truth (as He empowered the apostles and prophets to make it known to us), was to declare unto us the things that are to come, and He in us to make all good instead of leaving us to unprofitable guesswork.
But for this reason we need the control of God's word, and here we have it, “Knowing this first that no prophecy of scripture is (or, becometh) of its own interpretation” (ver. 20). “Its own,” which is the simplest and the strictest and the most frequent usage of the disputed word, alone satisfies the context. It is hard to see why the A. V. and the Revision adopted “private” except that they did not know what to make of it. So does Dean Alford, following in his commentary Huther's idea “that prophecy springs not out of human prognostication.” Such a view may be intelligible where the freethinking of higher criticism prevails as an antidote; but it could only be regarded with horror by the Christian Jews, whom the apostle was addressing. Nor was the canon which the apostle lays down directed against such humanizing skeptics; it is a serious caution to the believer for his profit in seeking edification and intelligence in studying the writings of the prophets.
Dean A. says “two references seem to be possible” (to us, and to the prophets themselves). He has overlooked a third, which is even grammatically the most exact, the prophecy itself, “No prophecy of Scripture is, or comes to be, of its own interpretation.” If you isolate prophecy and make each part its own interpreter, you counteract its origin and character, and lose its force as pertaining to God's grand scheme for glorifying His Son, the Lord Jesus. It is divine design which gives prophecy of Scripture, like the rest, this character.
The apostle is therefore guarded in his language beyond what the commentators in general have apprehended. He does not deny that many a prophecy had its scope only in a particular and passing event of sufficient moment to call for it. And not a few such are mentioned in scripture. Take in Genesis the dreams of Pharaoh and of his two chamberlains previously. Take in the Acts of the Apostles the prophecies of Agabus as to the famine and the apostle Paul. Many such are recorded in the O.T. Yet none of them is a prophecy of Scripture as here intended, not for instance so much as Jacob's in Gen. 49 or Moses' in Deut. 33, nor yet Balaam's in Num. 23, still less the Prophets' so-called. They had their importance at the time, as the Scripture intimates.
By “prophecy of scripture” the apostle; to my mind, appears to mean exclusively such as look on to the future Kingdom of God for Christ's glory; and this is the object in the prophets, so that it may be predicated of every “prophecy of scripture” whether in O. T. or N. T. They may speak not a little of the moral evil which necessitates God's intervention to put down Satan and a revolted world, and to bring in the long promised reign of the Lord in righteousness, peace, and glory. But it is of that blessed Kingdom as His theme that the inspiring Spirit delights to speak, because it will then be the sphere of Christ's glory manifested in the universe; as He has already in the N. T. made known to the Christian His hidden glory as the exalted Man on high.
Hence it is that from Isaiah to Malachi no “prophecy of scripture,” whatever the importance of any event in God's providence and the application of prophecy to it meanwhile, stops short of the grand fulfillment, “when the powers of the heavens shall be shaken,” Satan loses his bad eminence, and Israel shall be saved, to blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit. It is what the first man never attained, neither Nebuchadnezzar nor Cyrus, neither Alexander nor Omar. It will be verified in Jehovah Jesus when “Jehovah shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall be one Jehovah, and His name one” (Zech. 14:99And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one. (Zechariah 14:9)).
We need not here speak of Christ's exaltation; over all the heavens as well as the earth; nor of the church's union with Him, as Head of the body over all things: the two parts of that mystery which, hidden from the ages in God, was now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit's power, and hence to us Christians in the N. T. But the kingdom was in full and increasing view from God's sentence on the serpent throughout the ages; and any turning aside at the comparatively small events within their compass frustrates the design of God in the testimony of them all to the coming Deliverer and King.
Yea, this was so notorious that the very heathen were aware that His birth was expected at or about the time when our Lord appeared and had the cross assigned Him by the Jews and Gentiles, instead of the crown. Tacitus and Suetonius attest this; and so does their own historian of the siege of Jerusalem. Yet prophecy of scripture predicted that so it was to be, and in the true moral order of “the Christward sufferings, and the glories after these” (1 Peter 1:1111Searching 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. (1 Peter 1:11)). For thus only could those who believe be rescued from evil and share His glories. To reign first, and afterward suffer, would be nugatory and purposeless, with utter confusion. But because Christ was thus faithful in His infinite love, the unbelieving Jews rejected Him; and therefore God rejected them for a season of rich mercy to the Gentiles meanwhile.
We can understand accordingly that “prophecy of scripture” is fraught with God's mind about Christ's kingdom in power and glory, and this after His sufferings, though the latter element is not so frequent as the former, yet well attested in one form or another in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. But where is not the future kingdom over the earth held out?
One exception may be alleged, the very peculiar but deeply interesting and instructive book of Jonah, which on the surface has no “prophecy of scripture,” but only a conditional threat of judgment arrested by repentance. Yet it conveys a true prophetic narrative on which the Lord affixed His seal, not only as preaching to the heathen Ninevites that repented, but as a sign of His own death and resurrection, when the Gentile that believes enters the blessing of grace, and the Jew who refused reaps the judgment of his unbelief. For Jonah shows us Israel shut up in a selfish prejudice that despised the Gentile, unwilling to warn and jealous lest, if Nineveh repented, God should be gracious enough to arrest the judgment, and thus set aside the prophet's denunciation.
In the way of a contrast Jonah typified Christ, though himself an unfaithful witness, and hence cast into the sea, and even for three days and nights swallowed by a great fish. Even then whilst going to the Gentiles, he sulked at God's grace, at the time when God made him feel his folly. Whereas Christ was the Faithful Witness, saved His ungrateful people, delighted in grace to the Gentile, and for the joy lying before Him in love and obedience endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God's throne. Jonah's course was a true type prophetically of Christ, but as much to his own shame as to God's glory in the end; as to which his writing the book by inspiration is the best proof of his repentance. It also contrasts strikingly with the perfection of Christ, and prefigures the mercy God as a faithful Creator will show, not only to the dark heathen but to the meanest of His creatures. Had He listened to the Jew, yea and a real Jewish prophet, not a Ninevite had been spared in honor of his woe on the city. But God is righteous to the claims and worth of Christ's atoning death, which in the coming kingdom will shine in the mercy and blessing of all nations, so that “beasts and all cattle” shall join the chorus of praise to His name from the earth (Psa. 148).
Thus even the book of Jonah in its exceptional way differs only in its form from other prophecies of scripture. All point to Christ's coming Kingdom over the earth, which was so soon forgotten after the apostles, so that there is no proper statement of it in a single ancient creed, any more than in the symbols of the Reformation. Neither the Fathers, nor the Reformers, were at all versed in prophecy. The Oxford revival of the Fathers accordingly in no way helps; still less does the rationalist school, which denies it in principle. Nor has nonconformity any light of God as to the future, least of all since it has entered the arena of politics, and become as worldly as Popery itself in setting its mind on earthly things.