A Survey of The Days of Vengeance: The Preamble (Part 2)

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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 here.

As we continue through the section designated by Chilton to be the preamble, we will notice an increasing bent toward and already known conclusion. I will confuse with great pleasure that the "ends" of Chilton's intent in this book is found here very early in the book of Revelation. This hopefully will work to revive all readers to inspect their own presuppositions and recognize that we pass over many things because of them. With respect to signs, Chilton doesn't even need to leave Revelation 1:1 to begin to lay out his interpretative model,

Now St. John says that these things regarding the future were signified, or “sign-ified, ” to him by the angel. The use of this word tells us that the prophecy is not simply to be taken as “history written in advance.” It is a book of signs, symbolic representations of the approaching events. The symbols are not to be understood in a literal manner. We can see this by St. John’s use of the same term in his Gospel (12:33; 18:32; 21:19). In each case, it is used of Christ “signifying” a future event by a more or less symbolic indication, rather than by a prosaic, literal description.

And this is generally the form of the prophecies in the Revelation. It is a book of symbols from beginning to end. As G. R. Beasley-Murray well said, “The prophet wishes to make clear that he does not provide photographs of heaven.” This does not mean the symbols are unintelligible; the interpretation is not what any individual chooses to make it. Nor, on the other hand, are the symbols written in some sort of code, so that all we need is a dictionary or grammar of symbolism to “translate” the symbols into English. The only way to understand St. John’s system of symbolism is to become familiar with the Bible itself. (DOV, 34)

The NIV and ESV translates this peculiar phrase "made it known". The NASB puts "communicates". None of these English translation do a service to the Greek word which is σημαίνω (4591). In all three references by John, the verb is used concerning Christ's death and are clearly made with no intent to communicate literal understanding. The word can be seen to hold that "literal" element when Luke uses it (Acts 11:28, 25:27) but John's usage is more important given the limited scope of this verb (only six times). This is what the Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament words has to say,

"to give a sign, indicate" (sema, "a sign:" cp. SIGN, No. 1), "to signify," is so translated in Jhn 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Act 11:28; 25:27; Rev 1:1, where perhaps the suggestion is that of expressing by signs.

It would be against the root meaning of the word and John's usage to assume the word means anything else. But to accept Chilton's claim that this virtually eliminates and literal(listic) interpretation is more than many are willing to accept. Conveniently, most English translations remove this idea from the watchful eyes of the Bible student who does not dig into the original language.

In another very practical way, Chilton resumes his emphasis that this book is for liturgical purposes and is meant for the edification of ethical obedience within the local church,

St. John’s benediction is thus not only for the one who reads and those who hear, but for those who keep its message. The goal of the book is not merely to inform us about “prophetic” events. The goal of apostolic instruction is always ethical: It is written to produce “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). The Revelation gives us commandments to keep; and, in particular, the firstcentury readers were to heed and obey its instruction, for the crisis was upon them. The time is near, St. John warns, again emphasizing the contemporary relevance of his prophecy. He repeats this warning at the end of the book (22:6-7, 10). The ancient world would soon be in an uproar as kingdoms shook and crumbled to their foundations, and the Christians needed the Revelation as a stable guide during the period of dramatic change which was to come. The end of the world was approaching – not the destruction of the physical universe, but the passing away of the old world-order, the governing of the world around the central sanctuary in Jerusalem. God had established a new nation, a new priesthood, a new humanity worshiping in a new sanctuary. God’s House was nearing completion, and the old, provisional dwelling, like scaffolding, was about to be torn away. (DOV, 35)

Here is a small area where I get to poke at Chilton. He is right that the goal of apostolic teaching is ethical. I'd go a step further and say that all prophetic literature in Scripture is primarily concerned with ethics. Since this is sometimes lost in the epic books of Isaiah or Jeremiah, I would recommend a quick glance through a short book like Micah or Amos and see how much of the prophetic tone is concerned with the idolatrous unethical behavior of Israel. Christ's ethical tone is now understood in the theme of a prophet. And John's detailed description of the destruction of Jerusalem (and Rome) is utterly and completely in ethical and prophetic compliance with the rest of Scripture.

In conclusion, I will allow Chilton to analyze the commonly propagated "seven stage history of the church". This is a system of thought that is not held only within Dispensational circles and is also not fully accepted within Dispensational circles.

The notion propagated by C.I. Scofield and others that these represent “seven phases of the spiritual history of the church” is a mere fiction, with no objective evidence; and it is quite arbitrarily and selectively applied. There are at least three fallacious pre-suppositions held by those who advocate this doctrine. 

First, the “seven ages” doctrine presupposes that the Book of Revelation covers all of Church history, from beginning to end. In defending his view, Scofield says: “It is incredible that in a prophecy covering the church period there should be no such foreview.” Very true, perhaps; but who says the Book of Revelation does cover Church history? St. John certainly doesn’t. His only claim is that the prophecy covers “the things that must shortly take place” (1:1), and that the time of which it speaks is near (1:3). Thus, the most basic presupposition of the “seven ages” view is utterly false. 

The second presupposition holds that the Church will end in defeat and apostasy: The Laodicean, lukewarm, practically apostate church, about which Christ has nothing good to say (3:14-22), is supposed to symbolize the Church of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. (A corollary of this view is that the “Last Days” spoken of in Scripture, in which apostasy is rampant, are the actual last days of earth’s history.) The fact that the Church ends in victory and triumph is, of course, what the present commentary is intended to demonstrate; thus no more need be said here. But it is important to note that the notion of end-time apostasy is a presupposition of the “seven ages” view; and those who hold it are assuming what they purport to prove. 

The third presupposition, of course, is that we are living in the last age of the Church (again, we should note that these people are too often unable to think of themselves as living at any time other than the climax of history). This presupposition is erroneous. The prophecies of the glorious condition of the Church, to be fulfilled before the return of Christ, are far from their  accomplishment. We probably have thousands of years to go before the End. We are still in the early Church! And, while it is fashionable for modern Christian intellectuals to speak of our civilization as “post-Christian,” we should turn that around and make it Biblically accurate: Our culture is not post-Christian – our culture is still largely pre-Christian! (DOV, 35-36)

There is a lot to be said for and against the terminology of our culture being "pre-Christian". However, let it be sufficient to show that certain presuppositions leads to the "seven stages of the church" and certain presuppositions make this seem utterly false. Those presuppositions are not casual emotional feelings (at least not in all cases) but deeply rooted Biblical themes. The interlocking nature of Biblical themes does help to show that more practical study of the book of Revelation may help to further the growth of the modern church.

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.