The First and the Final Word

Screen Shot 2016-10-15 at 9.10.12 AMBy John Frye

In the last post, I introduced Eugene H. Peterson’s book Reversed Thunder as it relates to evil. The post considered the church’s response to the recent Las Vegas massacre of 59 people and the wounding of over 500 more. It’s awkward to write “I introduced” the book because it was published in 1988. Many Jesus Creeders have read it, I suppose. Yet, I’ve heard little conversation about it among pastoral colleagues.

Let me make my confession: Eugene Peterson saved the Book of Revelation for me from dispensational oblivion. Since my conversion to Christ as a Junior High teen, I’ve been inoculated to the wonder and pastoral impact of Revelation by (over-) exposure to dispensational charts (on sheets hung across the choir loft), to rumors of a new anti-Christ every decade or so, and to endless eisegesis about the seals, bowls, and trumpets. Novel prophetic noise and date-setting all but drowned out the pastoral power of the book written to seven Asia Minor churches facing Roman Imperial persecution.

John, the Apostle, was much more a pastor, a theologian, and a poet in writing the book than he was a prophet. (Yes, I am aware of the varied approaches to interpreting Revelation: historicism, futurism, preterism, and idealism.) Yes, Revelation has to do with eschatology, but Peterson notes, “What is frequently missed is that all eschatology is put to immediate pastoral use. Revelation is about now, not just the future. Treating the Book of Revelation as some kind of “insider knowledge” about the future to which only a few find the key does damage to the book and robs the church of its clear and singular focus—the crucified Jesus is the glorified and sovereign Lord. Jesus, as such, has his churches’ backs.

Because Revelation is the last book in the Bible, Peterson plays off the idea of “famous last words.” Jesus is the Alpha and Omega; he is the First and Last Word. Revelation also contains the famous last word on a number of biblical themes. These themes shape the content of the chapters of Reversed Thunder—the last word on Scripture, on Christ, on the church (worth the price of the book), on worship, on evil, on prayer, on witness, on politics, on judgment, on salvation and on heaven. Peterson writes, “The words, for us, are famous not because they are sensationally bizarre or teasingly enigmatic. They are famous because they are so satisfyingly true, backed by years of mature experience and tested usage” (1).

John: Theologian, Poet, Pastor. “A theologian takes God seriously as subject and not as object, and makes it a life’s work to think and talk of God in order to develop knowledge and understanding of God in his being and work. A poet takes words seriously as images that connect the visible and the invisible, and becomes custodian of their skillful and accurate usage. A pastor takes actual persons seriously as children of God and faithfully listens to and speaks with them in the conviction that their life of faith in God is the centrality to which all else is peripheral. … Because St. John so thoroughly integrated the work of theologian, poet, and pastor, we have this brilliantly conceived and endlessly useful document, the Revelation” (2-3). To flatten the Book of Revelation into a scheme, an end-times chart, in my opinion, is a theological travesty and a detriment to the church. The Book of Revelation is not “cryptographic esoterica” or “alarmist entertainment” (10). We don’t read Revelation to get a jump on the “end times” calendar, but to be blessed as God’s people. “Blessed is the one who reads this prophecy, and blessed are those who take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).

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