In this powerful new interpretation of the book of Revelation, the late, revered author and translator of The Message Bible offers timely insights into how we can lean into growth, not in spite of challenging times, but because of them.
“Insightful and inviting . . . This is Eugene at his pastoral best.”—Rev. Dr. Glenn Packiam, associate senior pastor at New Life Church and author of Blessed Broken Given
The book of Revelation is filled with angels and dragons, fantastic beasts and golden cities, bottomless pits and mysterious numbers. It’s dramatic, sure—but what exactly does that have to do with the tests we face today?
Actually, a lot.
When the apostle John penned the book of Revelation, believers lived in a time of deception and injustice. But his message doesn’t just reflect their cries for things to be made right; it reveals heaven’s perspective of the bigger picture.
In this never-before-published work, Eugene H. Peterson traces the dramatic symbolism found in John’s letters to the seven churches, uncovering Christ’s instructions to these ancient communities. Along the way, encounter seven key tests, of our love, suffering, truth, holiness, reality, witness, and commitment, tests from Christ that can deepen our faith and even shape our future.
This Hallelujah Banquet is your personal invitation to grow deep and begin living now in a generous, abundant, and hopeful reality in Christ.Eugene H. Peterson, translator of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, authored more than thirty books, including Every Step an Arrival, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He earned his master’s degree in Semitic languages from Johns Hopkins University and also held several honorary doctoral degrees. Peterson was the founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, where he and his wife, Jan, served for twenty-nine years. Peterson held the title of professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College, British Columbia, from 1998 until his passing in 2018.The End Is Where We Start
The last book of the Bible, Revelation, has some of the best words to start the year, works that launch us into the pages of our calendars. T. S. Eliot wrote in “Little Gidding,”
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
“The end is where we start from.” The end of the Bible is the beginning of our new year’s existence. It functions for us in this way as it speaks to our mood and condition.
The characteristic mood, the typical mental stance, on New Year’s Day is a look to the future. We have a calendar of unused days stretching out before us. There is curiosity about them and fear of them. Amateur prophets make predictions. Astrological magazines and horoscope plotters are in their peak season. Articles proliferate in magazines and newspapers: the business outlook, the literary prospects, the political probabilities, the social changes expected. And with all this, no one can avoid these personal questions: What will it bring for me? What waits to be recorded in the diary pages of the new year?
The book of Revelation is the word of God that speaks to this combination of anxiety and hope about the future. For the person who is concerned with the future, the book of Revelation is the timely word of God.
In the course of our years, New Year’s Day is a day wherein our concern about the future is expressed. The book of Revelation is the part of Scripture that deals with our concern about the future.
When we begin reading the book of Revelation, we are first confused and then disappointed. We are confused by an author who talks of angels and dragons, men eating books and giant insects eating men, bottomless pits and mysterious numbers, fantastic beasts and golden cities. The language confuses us. And then we are disappointed because we don’t find what we are looking for. We want to know what is going to happen in the future, but we find neither dates nor names. We are fearful of what may happen to the world in the next twelve months, but we don’t find anything said that helps us understand the coming days. We have some hopes for our lives and for our families, but we find nothing that is said about our prospects. We go back to reading the political analysts and working the horoscope in the paper, escaping occasionally with a science fiction novel and making do as best we can.
So, what has happened? Has the book of Revelation—a holy scripture notwithstanding—failed us? Is the Word of God, though highly regarded in previous centuries, quite inadequate to communicate to our adult, mature world? We put the writer and reader of Revelation in a class with palm readers and fortune tellers—colorful but chancy.
Or is it that we just haven’t given it enough thought? Maybe what is needed is some hard concentration to figure out the symbols, arrange the chronology, and pin down the predictions. Many people have done just that. Obsessed with the future and unwilling to concede that the Bible does not have the final word on it, they twist and arrange the material in it until it finally does yield the word they want to hear. History becomes arranged in prophetic installments. Dates are set and personalities named. The future is known. There is no more uncertainty. But the end result, satisfying as it is, is not recognizable in the book of Revelation.
Maybe this book doesn’t need ingenuity as much as open attention. Maybe we have been so obsessed with questions about the future that we haven’t heard what Revelation said about it. Maybe we have so fixed in our minds the kind of thing that will be said that we are not able to hear what is actually said. For us, the future means dates, events, and names, and if we do not find them, we either give up in disgust or invent them and put them in anyway. Maybe, though, the future doesn’t mean that at all. Maybe God is trying to say something in the book of Revelation that we haven’t thought about before that is the truth about the future. Maybe this is a new word—a really new word.
This new, unexpected quality is characteristic of Scripture. Have you noticed how often people question Jesus in the gospel narrative and how regularly his answer ignores their question? Scripture is not an encyclopedia of information to which we go when we are curious or in doubt. It is God speaking to us his own word, telling us what he wishes to tell us and omitting what is of no significance. (Have you ever made a list of all those items you are intensely curious about but for which there is no biblical data?)
The book of Revelation really is about the future, but what it says does not satisfy our curiosity or match what we think are the obvious things to say. It is not a disclosure of future events but the revelation of their inner meaning. It does not tell us what events are going to take place and the dates of their occurrence; it tells us what the meaning of those events is. It does not provide a timetable for history; it gives us an inside look at the reality of history. It is not prediction but perception. It is, in short, about God as he is right now. It rips the veil off our vision and lets us see what is taking place.
The text gives us a summary of what lies behind the veil, behind the newspaper headlines, behind the expressionless mask of a new calendar. Behind all the imaginative caricatures of future events, there is God, who sits on his throne and says, “Behold, I make all things new. . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (21:5–6).
“All things new.” Well, we would like that. A new car, maybe a new home, certainly some new clothes. And as long as it is “all things,” we may as well expand our list. Some new neighbors, some new weather, a new political climate, a new world peace, a new society of brotherhood. As long as we are wishing, we may as well wish for the works.
But wait a minute. God does not say, “I will make all things new,” but said, “I make all things new.” It is in the present tense. If he is already doing it, why are so many things old and worn out? Why are we so quickly bored with things? Could it be that we have once again missed the point of the Word of God?
To get back on track, let’s look at the way the Word was used earlier. Isaiah was a spokesman for the Word of God about four hundred years earlier. There the Word of God was,
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:18–21)
That triggers the recollection of another famous instance of the word new. This time it is from Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians: “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (5:17–18).
When God speaks from the throne in Revelation and says, “Behold, I make all things new,” he can hardly mean anything very different from what he has already said through Isaiah and Saint Paul. God is with men and women in Christ, meeting them personally, forgiving their sins, and filling them with eternal life. The new is that which God brings to humanity now—the new is now.
God is with men and women in Christ, meeting them personally, forgiving their sins, and filling them with eternal life. The new is that which God brings to humanity now—the new is now.
In one sense it is not new at all. It is the same new thing that God did at the beginning when he said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3); the same thing as when the Spirit of God came upon King Saul and gave him a new heart (1 Samuel 10:9); the same thing that the crowd around Jesus saw when they exclaimed, “What is this? A new teaching!” (Mark 1:27); and the same thing that Jesus said to Nicodemus: “You must be born anew” (John 3:7). If by new we mean the latest fashion, fad, or novel, then this certainly is not new.
On the other hand, if we mean essential life, our encounter with God, the receiving of grace so that our lives can finally be lived without guilt and with steady purpose, then yes, this is the absolutely new. It is that which can never be antiquated. It is that which puts into obsolescence all other experience and knowledge. And as we participate in this new thing, we become a beachhead from which all things are made new. We become the person Saint Paul spoke of—a new creature who has heard the good news and who shares this new report with his or her neighbors.
The statement “I make all things new” is supported by the identification “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the last. When translated into our terms, Alpha and Omega comes out as “from A to Z.” God’s being includes all things. Nothing is excluded from his will and purpose, including time.
|This Hallelujah Banquet
|Eugene H. Peterson