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.
In this final section of "The Preamble", Chilton covers John's commission before Christ begins to dictate letters to the seven churches. In this section is the direct command to John on what the book of Revelation is to contain. This is incredibly valuable to us as simple practice of exegesis of this symbolic book,
St. John’s commission was interrupted by his falling into a dead faint; now that he has been “resurrected,” he is again commanded: Write therefore the things you have seen, and what they are, and what things are about to take place after these things. Some interpreters read this as a threefold outline of the whole book: St. John writes about what he has seen (the vision of Christ), then about the present (the churches, in chapters 2-3), and finally about the future (chapters 4-22). Such a division is quite arbitrary, however; the Revelation (like all other Biblical prophecies) weaves past, present, and future together throughout the entire book.
A more likely meaning of this statement is that St. John is to write what he has seen – the vision of Christ among the lamp stands holding the stars – and what they are, i.e., what they signify or correspond to. The word are (Greek eisin) is most often used in Revelation in this sense (1:20; 4:5; 5:6, 8; 7:13-14; 11:4; 14:4; 16:14; 17:9, 10, 12, 15). Thus verse 20 goes on to do just that, explaining the symbolism of “the things you have seen” (the stars and lampstands). St. John is then commissioned to write the things that are about to happen, or (as he told us in verse 1) “the things that must shortly take place.” It appears that the phrasing is intended to provide a parallel to the description of the One “who was and who is and who is coming” (DOV, 43-44)
This is a different understanding of the passage then is typically taught. It allows us to sharpen our teeth so to speak before diving into tougher symbolic passages. So what would be the purpose of this symbolism? Chilton is quick to turn his cannons upon fellow preterists who he believes take an easy way out on the symbolism discussion,
We might pause at this point to consider an error that is common among those who adopt a preterist interpretation of Revelation. The two facts of St. John’s symbolic style and his clearly anti-statist content have led some to believe that the politically sensitive message determined the use of symbolism – that St. John wrote the Revelation in a secret code in order to hide his message from the imperial bureaucrats...
There may be some truth to this, as a tangential slant on the use of the number 666 in 13:18 in reference to Nero (not Domitian) – a “code” that the Romans would be unable to decipher correctly. But even without that reference, the Book of Revelation is a clearly treasonous document, and any State bureaucrat would have been able to figure that out. Consider what we have seen already in St. John’s description of Jesus Christ: The mere assertion that He is Ruler of the kings of the earth is an assault on the emperor’s autonomy. The very first chapter of Revelation is actionable, and the symbolism does not obscure that fact in the slightest. The reason for the use of symbolism is that the Revelation is a prophecy, and symbolism is prophetic language.
We must remember too that the Roman government knew very well who St. John was. He was not “a mad old man” who had been exiled for mere “senile musings.” He was an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, under the imperial ban on account of the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus (1:9). (DOV, 44)
This is some helpful insight. Prophetic language isn't quite the same as apocalyptic language. And it would serve us well to understand how they are different and where they are the same. The modern futurist opinion is solely in the apocalyptic camp and thus separate the book of Revelation from other books of prophecy which incorporate ethics, judgment and marriage imagery. It is my personal opinion that Revelation needs to be seen nearer in content to the great books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentation and Ezekiel.
In the upcoming weeks I will comment on Chilton's exposition on the seven churches. There is some significantly awesome stuff here that helps us to sharpen our exegesis of Revelation even further.