Note: This is a continuing evaluation of the book The Days of Vengeance written by David Chilton. Chilton at the time of writing this was a partial preterist who later in life (after a massive heart attack) turned to full preterism. Sections will be taken from the book and commented on to the fullest extent possible. A PDF of the book can be found
While many have sat under multiple teaching sessions of Revelation, few of those many (a remnant perhaps?) have listened to a full series under a preterist teacher. Because of this, there are many gaps in knowledge on how a consistent preterist approach to the book of Revelation. Technically speaking this will not satisfy as "teaching series" since I will only be commenting on sections of a technical commentary. But for the advanced student, this in-depth technical commentary is available in PDF (linked above) and really can satisfy a lot of theological need. It is a wonderful source for asking "what would a preterist think of this passage..." and find yourself a reasonable contextual answer. Ideally you'll be stimulated to read larger sections after reading my brief write ups. The regularity of these post will coincide with the regularity of my reading of this rather larger book.
I must start by openly admitting that the language of the book is antagonistic to futurists and non-postmillennials. I won't apologize for it but will attempt to not quote (and thus endorse) it as often as possible. In my own personal life, I am discouraged by the obsession of the futurist position but I am every day being reminded that the pinnacle of this Dispensational position was in and around the 70s and 80s. Dispensationalism and Amillennialism have both changed a lot since the writing of Chilton's book and some of his accusations are no longer accurate. In light of this, much of the book is written with the intent to explain Revelation and criticize alternate perspectives popular and prevalent in his day. While I am in agreement with almost all of Chilton's perspective (aka. appreciate his candor about the assumed absurdity of the futurist view), I don't think the book reads kindly for those dedicated to the futurist, idealist or historicist positions.
As a way of introducing the very subject I am talking about and establishing what magnitude this book received when it was released, I quote the conclusion of the publisher's preface to the book,
David Chilton has provided us with a masterpiece. He has issued an epitaph: PESSIMILLENNIALISM, 71 A.D. -1987 A.D. “WE PREACHED DEFEAT, AND GOT IT!”
I am throwing down the gauntlet to the opponents of the Christian Reconstruction movement. I am challenging all comers, and I am doing it the smart way: “Let’s you and Chilton fight.” Furthermore, “Let’s you and Bahnsen fight.” If anyone wants to fight me, I will switch on my word processor and give him my best shot, but I am such a sweet and inoffensive fellow that I don’t expect that anyone will waste his time trying to beat me up. But someone in each of the rival pessimillennial camps had better start producing answers to what Christian Reconstructionists have already written. Specifically, someone had better be prepared to write a better commentary on Revelation than The Days of Vengeance. I am confident that nobody can. From this time on, there will be only three kinds of commentaries on the Book of Revelation: Those that try to extend Chilton’s, Those that try to refute Chilton’s, Those that pretend there isn’t Chilton’s.
With such a resounding conclusion to the mere duo of prefaces, it is hard not to be entertained by the build up for this commentary. If it lives up to expectations then it will be quite a feat and if it flops then this will be a wonderful punchline. While I don't endorse the Christian Reconstruction movement, I enjoy their fervor in defending gospel-victory passages (more on this to come in the following months) and recognize they it is within their ranks that postmillennialism is seeing a resurgence.
Postmillennialism has a tattered history of brief popularity in many denominations. In fact David Dockery, dean of Union University and former dean of theology at Southern Seminary, speculates that in the nineteenth century the SBC was predominately postmillennial (though in a futurist/historicist type of way...more on that to come too)! Since the current resurgence in postmillennial thought has been in the Reformed camp it has taken a strictly Reformed viewpoint. This Reformed view is due to a renewed understanding of covenental documents and structure. Chilton is quick to get to the focal point of this viewpoint by stressing the book of Revelation as a covenental book,
Unless we see the Book of Revelation as a Covenant document – i.e., if we insist on reading it primarily as either a prediction of twentieth-century nuclear weapons or a polemic against first-century Rome – its continuity with the rest of the Bible will be lost. It becomes an eschatological appendix, a view of “last things” that ultimately has little to do with the message, purpose, and concerns of the Bible. Once we understand Revelation’s character as a Covenant Lawsuit, however, it ceases to be a “strange,“ “weird” book. (DOV, 19)
This is a relief in two parts really. The first relief is the denouncing and detachment from liberal theology which reads Revelation as the Godly form of "sticking it to the man" through their social agendas. This eventually leads to rejection of ultimate Godly truth. The other relief is that it refutes the concept that Revelation is distinct from the rest of the Bible in its content. It is obvious to see that the quantity of prophetic language is unique but honestly the common layman isn't even sure what the book is talking about. Many may not admit it openly but there is obvious confusion and concern over whether the book is even meant for private reading, interpretation and application beyond just revealing Jesus Christ's magnificent glory (which all Scripture should do anyway). It has become common to think that only scholars and Greek linguist have the necessary tools to understand the book. Thankfully, the apostle John was neither of these and the revelation of God rarely requires these things for the principle message to be heard loud and clear. So why isn't it being heard?
Now, I am not saying the book is equally accessible to everyone with their differing opinions and world views. But in the very least, we should accept that if we are given John's view, we should be able to understand what God intended to deliver unto him. If we can understand what John's audience knew of Scripture and the Old Testament, the book may not be as thick a mystery as is often described. Chilton has some ideas for this very view and it takes a very Jewish flavor. He builds off of Meredith Kline's outline of Near East covenants to find the pattern within the book of Revelation,
1. Preamble (identifying the lordship of the Great King, stressing both his transcendence [greatness and power] and his immanence [nearness and presence]);
2. Historical Prologue (surveying the lord’s previous relationship to the vassal, especially emphasizing the blessings bestowed);
3. Ethical Stipulations (expounding the vassal’s obligations, his “guide to citizenship” in the covenant);
4. Sanctions (outlining the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience).
5. Succession Arrangements (dealing with the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations)...
1. Preamble: Vision of the Son of Man (1)
2. Historical Prologue: The Seven Letters (2-3)
3. Ethical Stipulations: The Seven Seals (4-7)
4. Sanctions: The Seven Trumpets (8-14)
5. Succession Arrangements: The Seven Chalices (15-22) (DOV, 20)
It must be readily admitted that this surely is beyond the scope of the average laymen to have recognized this theme on their own. Historically speaking, Kline's work is still ground breaking and opened up many new views of the same books the church has been reading from all time. However once these similarities have been shown, the patterns provided (using the framework of Deuteronomy and Hosea) open up a new Biblical way of thinking about the book of Revelation. Much like the audience of that day, laymen today aren't expected to know this from a casual understanding of Scripture. But for those who were dedicated to John's apostolic teaching and were well acquainted with the OT, these themes may have been seen independent of their technical terms, etc. With this basis, the modern laymen can take what they know about Scripture and see if this new framework compromises any of the essential truths. If instead it only requires a fuller perspective of previously neglected texts, then perhaps we have something to work with as an approach to this book. And hopefully this approach will remain faithful by using Scripture to interpret Scripture,
St. John plainly tells us in his opening sentence that the Revelation is written in signs, in symbols. He did not intend it to be read like a newspaper or a stock market analysis. He expected his audience to respond to his prophecy in terms of the Bible’s own system of symbolism.
I repeat: the Bible’s own system of symbolism. The meaning of a symbol is not whatever we choose to make it; nor did St. John create the images of the Book of Revelation out of his own imagination. He presents Christ to his readers as a Lion and a Lamb, not because he thinks those are pretty pictures, but because of the connotations of lions and lambs already established in the Bible. The Book of Revelation thus tells us from the outset that its standard of interpretation is the Bible itself. The book is crammed with allusions to the Old Testament. (DOV, 25)
Yet again it is reassuring that Chilton acknowledges and places symbolism in its proper place. It is not the reader who decides what the symbols stand for. Instead we are to use what has previously been given to understand (this should be true of the futurist, idealist and historicist too). Needless to say, Chilton will go to the Old Testament to explain the imagery and is still accused of turning symbolism into whatever he wants. And this is because there is disagreement over what the OT imagery truly is meant to communicate. A never ending circle of confusion!
Well I think that is about all my head can handle for right now. Plenty of homework for the extra eager students. The next post will look even more closely at the covenant structure as well as introduce some basic outlines for the book of Revelation. As I will regularly do, I recommend everyone download the book in PDF form and read along as we inspect this commentary.
Joshua Torrey is the sole proprietor of Torrey Gazette (don't tell Alaina) and the fullness of its editorial process. That means everything wrong with TG can legitimately be blamed on him.