Eugene Peterson and the Smell of Barbecue

The Christian world is this week awash with stories and reflections on Eugene Peterson, pastor, spiritual theologian, and author best known for his multi-million selling Bible paraphrase, The Message. In fact, not only the Christian world, but the New York Times and the Washington Post each published obituaries for this eminent pastor who was, by all accounts, very nearly the opposite of a ‘public figure.’ What was the appeal of this unlikely public pastor?

Eugene-Peterson_2

I have only a limited personal encounter with Peterson. I attended Regent College from 2005-2009, where Eugene had been on staff, and while I was there his presence was still very much felt in what Regent did and the kind of place Regent wanted to be. He had become an inextricable part of the ethos of the school. For my part, I’d honestly never heard of the guy before showing up in Vancouver, and so I, quite naturally, began a program of reading some of his books, and listening to some of his recorded courses, available in the school library. I listened to Soulcraft (a study in Ephesians). I read Reversed Thunder, his book on John’s Revelation. I dabbled in The Message. And later, when I was in full time ministry, I read his The Pastor: A Memoir.

Peterson_Pastor MemoirAt this point, I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve never really been able to connect with Peterson’s work. I found his teaching in Soulcraft lackluster and forgettable. With the exception of Reversed Thunder (which I hold to be one of the best books on John’s Revelation available), I simply don’t like his writing. The Message—ugh!—The Message reads to me like a car with one square wheel, all herky-jerky and awkward and nearly unreadable. I can’t stomach it. When I read his biography of the life of a pastor I couldn’t shake the lurking feeling that “this simply isn’t my story.” If Eugene Peterson’s pastoral soul represents one shape of gear, and my pastoral soul another, then, regrettably, we are tooled for incompatibility.

All the same, for scores and scores of my friends and fellow pastors, Peterson’s writings have encouraged, restored hope, challenged, and been a balm. To read their stories, for many of them Peterson’s writing saved their ministries, if not their souls. (Which, incidentally, makes me suspect that the problem of connection I feel in reading Peterson’s stuff might lie with me.) They look to Peterson like a father, a friend they’ve never met, a spiritual guide and rock of stability, uniquely situated in our time to provide a bulwark against the present darkness. He gave them hope. But why?

Peterson_Long ObedienceI can’t help but conclude that a portion of Peterson’s appeal lay in his retiring attitude. He wasn’t interested in fame. He didn’t set himself up to be a public figure, with a large ministry and wide range of influence. Instead, he sought faithfulness in the small plot of a church which he and his wife had planted. The affirmation of small church, small obedience, is very likely a key factor in his ability to encourage the pastors I know, for whom the allure and appeal of ‘big’ churches and ‘big’ ministries is a constant temptation. In an age of church growth, marketability, and relevance, Peterson championed small obedience and long faithfulness. Additionally, I wonder if part of Peterson’s appeal lay in his reticence to align with the political wing of modern evangelicalism. Sometimes, giving one’s allegiance to a Christian figure has meant giving one’s allegiance to a political position or party. But in Peterson we encountered a Christian figure who was deeply counter-cultural and yet starkly unlike the array of alternatives.

In light of this, I confess a further worry—what is it about people like Peterson that drives us, in the Church, to make of them heroes, public figures, and celebrities? Why, despite Peterson’s avowed desire to avoid such popularity, do we insist on giving it to him? One of my professors at Regent told me that once he was in line with Eugene to get a coffee in Regent’s atrium. Students would come up and stare at him, as if they hoped that some of the glory might rub off on them. At that moment, my professor realized one of the reasons why it was that Eugene was retiring: he felt was being made too much of. Why is it that instead of taking Peterson’s teaching as it was stated—to pursue a long obedience in the same direction—that we inveterately try to sidle up to him so as to catch a bit of the glory, to hasten our own spirituality through proximate encounter? Why, to the man who taught us to avoid all short cuts in spirituality, would we turn him into a short cut?

Regent_Well

Regent’s Bookstore/Coffee Shop is a lovely place to visit.

I can think of many reasons to answer that question, some of them less than complementary, but I will conclude with a generous one. When I arrived at Regent in 2005, language of Eugene’s presence, and stories of his teaching and life, were still fresh in the air. It seemed to me that he had only left the place a year before. It was only reading his obituary the other day that I realized he had retired from Regent in 1998! For seven years the memory of his presence had remained so fresh that when I arrived I thought he had only just left. That is an astonishing, unprecedented legacy. Upon reflection, it makes me think of Ephesians 5:1-2, where Paul writes the following: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Those closing two words, a “fragrant aroma” are in Greek the words οσμη ευωδιας (osme euodias). They are the words used throughout the Old Testament to describe the fragrance of a burnt offering to the Lord—it is the smell, in other words of barbecue. You know the smell, it wafts over the neighbourhood, and makes you wonder if, just maybe, you might gatecrash your neighbour’s dinner for a taste. It is alluring, and good, and calls you to goodness. In the same way, Paul says, Christ’s life is for us such a fragrant aroma, wafting over other lives, calling us to participate and join in. Furthermore, we are to imitate that life so that our lives become similarly fragrant. It seems to me that Eugene Peterson’s life gave off such an odor that seven years after departing Regent his aroma still brought life to the place.

I’ve been immensely blessed to know several people in life for whom this aroma is part and parcel of their walk with the Lord. Where they’ve been, you know it, because the vestiges of their presence hangs about. They are naturally attractive people—we want to be around them, to soak up their goodness, their perspective, to ‘catch’ some of the glory if possible. I never met Eugene Peterson in person, but it seems clear to me that he was such a person as well. And yet the very best thing that such people can do for us is to remind us that our lives give off an odor, too. To that realization, we can only ask, “What kind of odor will it be?”

Rest well in Christ, Eugene. You gave off a good smell. May we learn from that and, instead of turning to you as a proxy, seek to do the same.

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Revelation 19—On the Worship of Prophecy

“Oh No! We’re going to get barcodes, right? I heard they’re doing this already in….”

“Revelations is about the end of the world, right? Scary stuff.” On a regular basis I hear some variation of that phrase. And it betrays the fact that many people have many ideas about the book of Revelation and its contents. Few people, however, have actually read that book. Even fewer, it can reasonably be argued, understand it. As one New Testament scholar observes, “Few writings in all of literature have been so obsessively read with such generally disastrous results as the Book of Revelation.”

From Hal Lindsay to Tim LaHaye, from Left Behind to The Thief in the Night, from an obsession with Israeli politics to Harold Camping, the end of the world is a subject which is, without debate, fascinating to many. We buy books, attend seminars, and watch YouTube videos promising to tell us “how it’s going to happen.” Our focus in all this is in error. And it is an error that John himself addresses in the book of Revelation. Consider his words here:

Revelation 19:9-10

Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

In this part of John’s vision an angel announces good news to John—”the true words of God”—about the wedding supper of the Lamb. This ‘supper’ is the long awaited wedding feast of God’s people. They had been promised to God in the Old Covenant. Their betrothal was sealed with the death and resurrection of Christ. Now, the Church awaits the final consummation of her relationship with Christ (mystic union, if you will). To a people who struggle against sin and Satan in the world, whose life is a struggle against foreign powers (that is, to the recipients of John’s Revelation), this is the best news imaginable.

It is such good news that John falls to his feet to worship the messenger. Immediately he is rebuked. “Don’t!” says the angel, “I’m like you—worship God instead!” Seizing John’s attention, the Angel redirects him to Jesus, the object of prophecy.

There are a few observations that are in order here. First, whenever John performs an action in the book of Revelation, I think we are to see ourselves as performing the same action. When John falls at the feet of Jesus in Revelation 1:17, it is because we ought to fall at the feet of Jesus. When John eats the bittersweet scroll in Revelation 10:9-11, it is because we ought also to eat a bittersweet scroll to remind us that the message of the book of Revelation is both good and bad news (i.e., that the telling of the gospel is always tinged with compassion and sadness). When John asks for help interpreting what is going on in Revelation 7:13-14, it is because we ought to be asking for help with what is going on. And here, in Revelation 19, when John falls down in worship at this message, it is because we also might be tempted to worship the word, rather than the One to whom the word points. John stands in our place and as our example throughout this book.

With his body, then, John has identified a great temptation for us who read this book—that we would worship the words of the prophecy rather than the Lord of Prophecy. It is a depressingly overlooked fact that the title of this book is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Not just ‘Revelation’ (or even ‘Revelations’—where did the ‘s’ come from?). The unveiling that this book performs has a highly specific purpose: to reveal Jesus Christ to the world. We are reading to get at Christ, and no other thing.

FINALLY! IT MAKES SENSE!!!!1!

Our human temptation to worship the words rather than the Person to Whom the words point is clearly a kind of idolatry. It shows up in our world in a host of ways. It is present in the endless speculation about the end of the world (e.g., Harold Camping). It is present in the dispensationalist focus on Israeli politics as an indicator of the end of the world. It is present in Left Behind, in The Thief in the Night, in Hal Lindsay and a host of other sources as well. It is present in charts, maps, and diagrams of the end times which are all harbingers of that most deadly of exegetical dangers, the combination of Math + Revelation (which always, incidentally, = Confusion). All these focus on the words of prophecy and obscure the object of that prophecy. In short, we get a ‘Revelation’ that doesn’t focus on Jesus.

There is great pleasure in speculation—it is the pleasure of the conspiracy theory. We feel that by reading this book we now have special, spiritual insight into the end of the world. But Christ has made it clear that his return will be unpredictable (Matthew 24:36), unavoidable (Romans 14:11), and highly visible (Mark 13:26). He has also made it clear that the signs of his imminent return are present even now—wars, rumors of wars, false Christs, persecution (Matthew 24). Furthermore, to read Revelation as a kind of newspaper for the future is a grave error. Eugene Peterson writes that “Everything in the Revelation can be found in the previous sixty-five books of the Bible. The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know” (xi). What this means is that we do not read it for news, we read it to experience teachings we know in new and fresh ways. Given all this, the central message of the book of Revelation is simply this: we live in the end times right now, and Jesus is coming soon. Are you ready for his return?

John offers us this clear warning in Revelation 19. He warns us against speculation and obsession with the prophetic. Yes, these are good words; in fact they are great words! They are the true words of God. But if they take our attention away from Christ rather than driving us toward Christ they are idols and must be destroyed.

‘Zest’ versus ‘Excitement’

Lately I’ve been reading Baron Friedrich von Hügel’s “Letters to a Niece,” which are a series of letters of spiritual direction that the Baron wrote to his niece, Gwendolen Greene, early in the 20th century.  These letters are something of a classic in spiritual direction for their wisdom and perspicacity, and so far I have found them highly enriching.  In one letter B. von Hügel writes the following:

Zest is the pleasure which comes from thoughts, occupation, etc., that fit into, that are continuous, applications, etc., of extant habits and  interests of a good kind—duties and joys that steady us and give us balance and centrality.  Excitement is the pleasure which comes from breaking loose, from fragmentariness, from losing our balance and centrality.  Zest is natural warmth—excitement is fever heat. For zest—to be relished—requires much self-discipline and recollection—much spaciousness of mind: whereas the more distracted we are, the more racketed and impulse-led, the more we third for excitement and the more its sirocco [def: a hot, dry, and dusty wind from North Africa] air dries up our spiritual sap and makes us long for more excitement.” From a letter of 31 August 1920.

There is a brilliant and critical simplicity in this distinction.  Where Excitement is the pleasure of the new, Zest is the pleasure of excellence—the pleasure brought about by faithfulness, commitment, and the accomplishment of a goal.  The pleasure of Zest takes longer to attain, but is purer and lasts longer.  The pleasure of Excitement is easily attained at first, but becomes more elusive as our senses are dulled (in much the same way that more and more salt added to food renders the taste buds incapable of taste).  Excitement, bluntly, is the pleasure of adultery; Zest is the pleasure of marriage.

The essential but oft ignored truth embedded in this comment is that every worthwhile undertaking demands a period of disenchantment.  The excitement of ‘the new’ fades, and we are left with the mundane plodding, the fog, the cloud of obscurity which tempts us strongly to abandon our goal and pursue something which brings us excitement again.  We become addicts for the rush of the new and never truly attain to excellence, let alone proficiency, in any matter of consequence in our spiritual lives.  And against this von Hügel calls us to a daily faithfulness, to an attention to and rejection of the distractions which keep us from right service in our lives.

C.S. Lewis wrote something similar in an essay titled, “Talking about Bicycles” (it can be found in the collection Present Concerns).  There he speaks of four stages—a first where we are unaware of the bicycle, a second where we are introduced to it and it becomes the most wonderful thing in our lives, a third where it becomes a plodding boredom, and a fourth where we rediscover a hint of our original pleasure and, with wisdom, are enabled to see that it pointed to something significant beyond itself.  This fourth stage (which he terms ‘re-enchantment’) is a stage of maturity.  There we are enabled to take the good with the bad, the plodding alongside the original joy, and move toward something more fully realized and satisfying.  Maturity in matters of faith and life comes as a product of our journey through these four stages—we have stepped beyond excitement and plodded into zest.  In zest lies true joy and enjoyment.

Interestingly, there is a physiological component to Von Hügel’s comment as well.  Dr. Archibald D. Hart in his book Adrenaline and Stress writes in one chapter about the interplay of adrenaline and creativity.  He there addresses the commonly held myth that creativity increases with stress—quite the opposite, he observes that in moments of stress the mind is most likely to fall back on old habits of thinking, and never stretch into new, truly creative areas.  Our most creative moments occur, physiologically, when we are at rest, and this is in part because “High arousal is the stage of efficient action, but of inefficient creativity for the obvious reason that the brain is focused on engagement”—in other words, it is focused on accomplishing the task, rather than being creative (191).  The rush of excitement is a rush of adrenaline—we enjoy the way it makes us feel and we can become dependent upon it.  The irony is that when we depend upon excitement to trigger creativity we end up sabotaging the very rest we need to be truly creative.  True creativity, then, is a product not of excitement but of zest—it is not the byproduct of frenetic energy and constant new experiences, but of slow and plodding perseverance.

There is a great and insipid tyranny of the new that runs throughout our spirituality.  We grow weary of faithfulness and chase novelty; we tire of obedience and seek thrills.  Our wandering hearts betray our adulterous idolatry—or perhaps I should say our idolatrous adultery—against God.  A flash of this chronic confusion appears in our frequent misreadings of John’s Revelation.  We peruse its pages searching for the new—for the future—searching for excitement.  When what John desired to create in our hearts was zest—not novelty, but faithfulness.  Eugene Peterson wisely remarks about John’s book that “Everything in the Revelation can be found in the previous sixty-five books of the Bible.  The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know… There is nothing new to say on the subject.  But there is a new way to say it” (Reversed Thunder, xi).  John’s purpose is to create in us a renewed passion (zest, re-enchanted, truly creative) for God by offering us a reframing of well-known truths.

This delineation between excitement and zest runs down the centre of all our spiritual activities.  And so we must query ourselves: if we were to look for zest, rather than excitement in the Church, how would that change our commitment to matters ecclesial? Of worship? Of attendance? If we were searching for zest, rather than excitement, in our private devotions, how would that change the standards by which we evaluate our daily walk with God? Our scripture reading? Our prayers? If I, as a preacher, am striving to create zest, rather than excitement, in my hearers when I preach, how will that change the planning and execution of my sermons? If our goal in these matters is to be zest, re-enchantment, and true creativity, then attaining that goal will demand a profound reevaluation of many of our motives and methods.

Compressed Sight: Revelation 12 and Federalism

Revelation 12 documents what is arguably one of the most vivid and compelling images in all of John’s vision—we read:

1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

A representation of John's vision by Giusto de Menabuoi. I wonder why the dragon isn't red...

This is a vivid picture—the woman, radiant and elegant, contrasted with the dragon, wicked and twisted.  Here stands a portrait, placed in the heavens as a sign for all to see, that is expansive in its implications.  I hope, in the exercise that follows, to touch on these implications.

However, before we can address these implications  some preliminary work is necessary.  And this preliminary work is necessary for a pair of reasons—first, because the most common way to read John’s vision—as a word about the future—is the most misleading way as well.  And while there is vast misunderstanding about the nature of apocalyptic literature as a whole, let me say at this point only that John wrote this to the first century Church, that he expected them to understand him, and that his dominant desire was to encourage them while they endured persecution under Roman authority.  Our attention, so long attuned to the future implications of John’s words, has been robbed of its present, rich, and potent encouragement for us.  The second need for this preliminary work is because John’s imagination is fed and fired by his immersion in the Old Testament—in fact, it is not too strong a statement to say that without some knowledge of the Old Testament, the meaning of John’s Revelation is impenetrable.  Permit me, then, to jaunt through this passage now, in as brief a fashion as possible, in order to illuminate some of the images John employs to illustrate his ‘sign’.  From those images, I want to draw our attention to a series of ‘compressions’ that John makes.  From those compressions, I want to make an observation about Federalism.

Mary, crowned as queen in an altar piece by Jan van Eyck

The first ‘sign’ in this passage is the woman, and the description of her clothing echoes one of the dreams of Joseph found in Genesis 37:9.  There, Joseph sees his father (the sun) and mother (the moon) and brothers (11 stars) bowing down to him—Joseph’s dream was a sign, foreshadowing the future when Joseph would indeed be raised above his family in authority in Egypt.  The clothing, here, is the first witness to the woman’s identity—she represents Israel, dressed as God’s elect queen (an image which also hearkens to an abundance of Old Testament references).  But her identity shifts as quickly as we get a handle upon it, because in the next verse (12:2) we read that she is pregnant and about to give birth.  Reading ahead (verse 5), we can see that her child is Jesus, the one who would “rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (a reference to Psalm 2).  Therefore the second witness to the woman’s identity shows that she is Mary, mother of Jesus.

The second ‘sign’ in this passage is of the dragon—seven-headed, seven-crowned, ten-horned, and red (the sevens here document the utter completeness of his evil); displaying his opposition to the ways of God in his disregard for God’s creation (the sweeping away of stars), and in his intentions to devour the child of God’s promised people.  He knows, from the curse declared by God in Genesis 3, that this child will “crush his head” (Gen 3:15).  That he is in fact the same serpent is made clear at 12:9: he is Satan, the devil, the ancient serpent from the garden.  This revelation has two interesting implications: first, that in some sense the woman in our passage is also Eve, and second, that the dragon here is also Herod, who sought to devour the Christ-child at his birth.

The woman in this passage is rescued and preserved for ‘1,260 days’ (v6).  Later, after the dragon has been defeated, he pursues the woman again—she, once again, is rescued—this time for ‘a time, times, and half-a time’ (v14).  The language of ‘time, times, and half a time’ is an echo from the book of Daniel, and stands for a period of three and a half years, which is, for all intents and purposes, identical to 1,260 days.  Here, again, the Old Testament is our friend, and what I believe we must see is that this number—three and a half years—represents the period of exile.  For more clarity in this matter we need to turn back to chapter 11, where these numbers occurred together again, along with a third figure—that of 42 months (11:2—also three and a half years).  This third figure enhances our understanding in a couple of ways; first, because the period of Israelite exile in the wilderness was, in total, 42 years (40 for the exile, 2 traveling to and waiting at Sinai); second (and perhaps more obscurely), that the number of encampments that the Israelites make while exiled is 42 (cf. Numbers 33).  This number, then, identifies not only periods of exile, but also testifies to God’s provision and ultimate plan superintending exile.  And perhaps it is not too far a stretch to observe that the two periods of the woman’s exile equal 7 ‘years’—a completion.  Enraged at his impotence to harm God’s chosen queen, the dragon makes war “against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (v17).  Here, then, the Church steps into view as the target of the devil’s schemes; unable to harm God, to harm God’s son, or God’s chosen queen, he turns his ire against God’s servants.

The Slaughter of the Innocents, a floor panel from Siena Cathedral.

There is a great deal more that can be said, contextually and historically, about this passage, but for our present purposes we have enough information to move forward, and here I would like to draw attention to a number of ‘compressions’ in this passage.  What we must see in this passage is that John has compressed heaven and earth, he has compressed time, and he has compressed individuals and nations.  This ‘sign’ he documents is a sign that points to a heavenly reality, it is an ageless sign, and it is also a representative sign.  Consider, for the next moments, the ways in which these ‘characters’ play throughout all of salvation history.  First, the woman represents Eve, the first queen, and the dragon/serpent is her enemy from the garden, Satan.  There also is prophesied the enmity between her offspring and the serpent.  Second, the woman is nation Israel in Egypt, giving birth to children while Pharaoh, the dragon, attempts to kill her children (and succeeds).  From her comes Moses, a chosen child who leads Israel out of exile (a forerunner to Christ).  Third, the woman is Mary, who gives birth to Jesus, and must flee Herod, another dragon, who kills infants.  Fourthly, then, and with the most impact upon us, the woman is the Church, God’s chosen and radiant bride, we are her children, persecuted by the dragon, and the dragon—especially for John’s audience—is Rome (which, ominously, is a city built on seven hills).  Here, then, in John’s sign, we see that the material and the spiritual are compressed—heavenly realities are revealed in earthly actions; we see that time is compressed—we shift from the beginning of time, to the dawn of the exile, to the birth of Christ, to the new ‘exile’ of the Church in the world; and we see the compression of individuals and nations—the Heavenly Queen/Eve/Israel/Mary/Church acts in a play against Satan/Pharaoh/Dragon/Herod/Rome.

What is the encouragement, then, from this passage? The encouragement is manifold.  First, John is providing his suffering churches with a framework for interpreting the persecution they are undergoing.  Their enemy, he claims, is not Rome itself, but the serpent who has long opposed God’s ways.  John is simply casting into vivid imagery a teaching that Paul casts in statements: “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).  The good news in John’s Revelation is also that this enemy is thoroughly defeated (go read the poem at 12:10-13 and this will become clear).  Second, we can rest assured that we, as God’s chosen Church, are secure with God’s provision during this period of exile—He Himself superintends our care.  Third, that we are marked as targets of the Serpent’s enmity because we declare ourselves through our obedience to Christ—in other words, persecution is a mark of our faithfulness, and we should, in some ways, be ‘encouraged’ that our service to God makes us targets.

A curiosity in this passage is that, though Jesus stands at the centre of this story, he is not its primary focus; the focus falls upon God’s people and the enemy of God’s people.  And this, I suppose, is because the ‘sign’ that John sees stands in the heavens because it is a picture of our entire age on earth—all of the history of God’s people thus far and all the history into the future is captured in this image.  This ‘sign’ testifies to us about the nature of both God’s chosen people, and also about His people’s hate-filled enemy.  And perhaps that is the most encouraging aspect of the entire vision: our enemy is predictable: we can anticipate how he will behave in a given situation.  But so also, in some sense, God is predictable as well, and will always care for and save His chosen people.  Take heart, then! What you are part of is part of the greater story, of which God is victor and you are secure in Him.

An Ikon of Christ

The final observation I want to make is not, specifically, a point that John was making—John’s specific point was the instruction and encouragement of the Church.  This point is something we can extrapolate from John’s image, and although it was not John’s purpose to communicate it, I believe it is part of the fabric of his image.  The final point I want to make is about Federalism.  Federalism is the name of a theological idea which attempts to explain how it is that we (a) participate in Adam’s sin and (b) participate in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.  Essentially, it states that we all are represented by Adam (as a government representative stands for the people of his/her constituency), and that his actions have correlative implications for us.  And this is where John’s vision is helpful, because John, here, clearly sees a bright correlation between heavenly and earthly realities—his ‘compressions’ testify to a broader picture of what is happening at this moment in what we call ‘reality’.  Employing John’s ‘compressed’ sight, we can take a long view of our salvation history and see the following things: first, that John’s picture provides us with a way to see that Adam sinned, and therefore we all participate in the sin of Adam through this heavenly matrix—more even than that, we are presently participating in Adam’s sin.  And second, John’s compressed sight can also help us to see that the same mechanism is active in applying Christ’s death, atonement, and resurrection to us, and how we (through belief and baptism) become participants in his work for us.  And employing the same implications of John’s compressions, we can see that we are presently dying with Christ—indeed, dying with him each hour of each day—and also presently living with Christ in his resurrection.  And even further, we can perhaps elucidate the sense in which Christ is the “lamb slain from the foundations of the world” (Rev 13:8).  In the end the message I want to communicate is that in the economy of God’s work in the world, events in the past have present and continuing impact.  In other words, the atoning work of Christ is an eternal sign in the heavens which is actively working in and informing our present reality.

So tell me, read this way, are you encouraged by Revelation 12?