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.
Before we can jump into the actually descriptions of the church, we must allow for some further explanation of the covenantal structure. For those who are already forgetting that structure, I recommend doing a quick review. There are some substantial changes to the purpose of the seven churches when viewed through this lens and Chilton brings us to the point quickly,
The second part of the covenantal treaty structure (cf. Deut. 1:6-4:49) is the Prologue, which recounts the history of the Great King’s relationship with the vassal, reminding him of his lord’s authority and covenant faithfulness, listing the benefits that have been provided, enumerating the vassal’s transgressions of the law, commanding the vassal to repent and renew his obedience, and promising future rewards. An important aspect of the Prologue is the covenant grant, the command to take possession over the land, conquering it in the name of the Great King (cf. Deut. 2:24-25, 31; 3:18-22; 4:1, 14, 37-40).
The Seven Messages to the churches correspond to the Covenant Prologue in several ways. Their structure follows the same general pattern: Christ’s lordship over the Church, the individual church’s record of faithfulness or disobedience, warnings of punishment, and promises of blessings in response to obedience. Moreover, in each case the church is given a covenant grant, a commission to conquer, to overcome and exercise dominion under Christ’s lordship (2:7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3:5, 12, 21).In addition, each message itself recapitulates the entire five-part covenant structure. (DOV, 46)
Some individuals may not have fully caught the gravity of the duality. Each church will work as its own covenant structure (very simply to recognize). But over all hangs a larger demonstration of the covenant structure while also being the "Historical Prologue" of the full book of Revelation. So how does this look? I'm going to quote a lot from Chilton,
1. Ephesus (2:1-7). The language of Paradise is evident throughout the passage. Christ announces Himself as the Creator, the One who holds the seven stars; and as the One who walks among the lampstands to evaluate them, as God walked through the Garden in judgment (Gen. 3:8)...Nevertheless, Eden’s gate is open to those who gain victory over the Tempter: “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the Paradise of My God.”
2. Smyrna (2:8-11). The situation of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) and of the children of Israel in Egypt appears to be reflected in the words of this message. Christ describes Himself as He “who was dead, and has come to life,” a redemptive act foreshadowed in the lives of Isaac (Gen. 22:1-14; Heb. 11:17-19) and Joseph (Gen. 37:18-36; 39:20- 41:45; 45:4-8; 50:20), as well as in the salvation of Israel from the house of bondage...The “tribulation of ten days” followed by victory reflects the story of Israel’s endurance through the ten plagues before its deliverance.
3. Pergamum (2:12-17). The imagery in this section is taken from the sojourn of Israel in the wilderness, the abode of demons (Lev. 16:10; 17:7; Deut. 8:15; Matt. 4:1; 12:43); the Christians of Pergamum also had to dwell “where Satan’s throne is . . . where Satan dwells.” The enemies of the church are described as “Balaam” and “Balak,” the false prophet and evil king who tried to destroy the Israelites by tempting them to idolatry and fornication (Num. 25:1-3; 31:16)...To those who overcome, He promises a share in the “hidden manna” from the Ark of the Covenant (Heb. 9:4)...
4. Thyatira (2:18-29). St. John now turns to imagery from the period of the Israelite monarchy and the Davidic covenant. Christ announces Himself as “the Son of God,” the greater David (cf. Ps. 2:7; 89:19-37; Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-28; Hos. 3:5; Acts 2:24-36; 13:22-23). He rebukes the angel of Thyatira, whose toleration of his “wife, Jezebel,” is leading to the apostasy of God’s people (cf. 1 Kings 16:29-34; 21:25-26)...The concluding promise alludes to David’s Messianic psalm of dominion: “And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; like the vessels of a potter they shall be broken to pieces, as I also have received from My Father” (cf. Ps. 2:9).
5. Sardis (3 :1-6). The imagery of this section comes from the later prophetic period (cf. the references to the Spirit and the “seven stars,” speaking of the prophetic witness) leading up to the end of the monarchy, when the disobedient covenant people were defeated and taken into captivity...all are reminiscent of prophetic language about the Remnant in a time of apostasy (Isa. 1:5-23; 6:9-13; 65:8-16; Jer. 7:1-7; 8:11-12; Ezek. 37:1-14), as is the warning of imminent judgment (Isa. 1:24-31; 2:12-21; 26:20-21; Jer. 4:5-31; 7:12-15; 11:9-13; Mic. 1:2-7; Zeph. 1).
6. Philadelphia (3:7-13). The Return from the Exile under Ezra and Nehemiah is reflected in this message, which speaks in the imagery of the synagogue and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple...Christ promises the overcomer that he will be made “a pillar in the Temple” and share in the blessings of the “New Jerusalem.”
7. Laodicea (3:14-22). The period of the Last Days (A.D. 30-70) provides the motifs for the seventh and last message. The “lukewarm” church, boasting of its wealth and self-sufficiency yet blind to its actual poverty and nakedness, is a fitting image of the Pharisaical Judaism of the first century (Luke 18:9-14; cf. Rev. 18:7). Warned that she is about to be spewed out of the Land (the curse of Lev. 18:24-28; cf. Luke 21:24), Israel is urged to repent and accept Christ, offered in the Eucharistic meal. Those who overcome are granted the characteristic blessing of the age brought in by the New Covenant: dominion with Christ (cf. Eph. 1:20-22; 2:6; Rev. 1:6). (DOV, 46)
That is a lot to take in at one time. I strongly recommend coming back and reading this again after a break. Enjoy a casual reading of Revelation 2-3 and perhaps try to read Chilton's complete PDF section.
In your reading of Chilton's commentary, I would strongly recommend indulging in the section the describes the first four churches as a overview of the theme of Revelation. It is an interesting section but proved to be more of a stretch in my opinion. The greater option to help understand the seven churches is the covenental history described above.
I can't let the irony pass that futurist believe the seven churches are a history of the church. Chilton essentially is saying the same thing except he is starting in the garden of Eden for the history of God's people. Neither of these "historical" approaches need be true but they are interesting ways to project into the rest of the book.