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.
After a good look at the church of Ephesus, it is time to move on to Smyrna. As with Ephesus we should begin with an introduction to the peculiar nature of the culture surrounding the church,
There were two characteristics of Smyrna that meant severe problems for the church there. First, the people of the city were strongly devoted to the Emperor cult; and, second, Smyrna had a large population of Jews who were hostile to the Christian faith. To this faithful church, suffering mightily under the persecutions of these unbelievers, Jesus Christ announces Himself as the First and the Last, a name for God taken from Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12. It is obvious from the contexts of those verses that the expression identifies God as the supreme Lord and Determiner of history, the Planner and Controller of all reality. (DOV, 51)
Chilton points to Isaiah 44:8 and the admonition resounds deeply with persecuted churches, "Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one." How great a fact that Christ continues to associated Himself with the faithful God of the OT. This is a comforting thing for those who believe and trust in Him. But as we shall see, this means that He is able to bring about the judgments promised and described throughout Scripture. This is able to become critically practical to the church of Smyrna in a Biblically faithful sense,
Perhaps they were subjected to confiscation of their property (cf. Heb. 10:34) or vandalism; it is also likely that they were the objects of an economic boycott on account of their refusal to align themselves with either the pagan State worshipers or the apostate Jews (cf. 13:16-17). Yet in their poverty, they were rich in the most basic and ultimate sense: regarded by the world “as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:10). I know all about what you are enduring, their Lord assures them; He identifies with them in their sufferings, so much so that “in all their afflictions He is afflicted” (Isa. 63:9; cf. v. 2-3). As the Puritan theologian John Owen observed, all our persecutions “are His in the first place, ours only by participation” (cf. Col. 1:24). (DOV, 52)
On an increasingly practical topic, Chilton enters into a discussion of the Jew who rejects Christ. This unquestionably can be a contentious topic today. There are many differing views on the status of Jews today but I think Chilton's wording will present a new perspective to even those who agree with him,
A popular myth holds that non-Christian Jews are true believers in the God of the Old Testament, and that they only need to “add” the New Testament to their otherwise adequate religion. But the New Testament itself is adamant on this point: Non-Christian Jews are not believers in God, but are covenant-breaking apostates. As Jesus said to those Jews who rejected Him: “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me...You are doing the deeds of your father...If God were your Father, you would love Me...You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the deeds of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks the Lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:39-44). The truth is that there is no such thing as an “orthodox” Jew, unless he is a Christian; for if Jews believed the Old Testament, they would believe in Christ. If a man does not believe in Christ, he does not believe Moses either (John 5:46). (DOV, 52)
Even I had fallen into the trap of thinking Jews need only to "add Christ". However, it didn't take long for me to adopt a different view and then have that view confirmed here by Chilton. It is an expansive and Bibilical view of apostate Jews. And it is crucial to recognize that apostasy when considering how to deal graciously with Jews.
Historically, these false "Jews" were not going to treat the church of Smyrna with the same level of graciousness. The continuing persecution of individuals who claim to know the true God will persist for the faithful church. And the faithful church should do its best to prevent false persecutions. Chilton's comments on the purpose of persecution are helpful,
The trials of Christians are not ordained ultimately by Satan, but by God; and the outcome is not destruction, but purity (cf. Job 23:10; 1 Pet. 4:12-19). The tribulation of the church at Smyrna would be fierce, but relatively short in duration: ten days. Daniel and his three friends had been tested for ten days, but they passed the test, and were promoted to high privilege (Dan. 1:11-21). Similarly, the Jewish persecution of the church in Smyrna would be allowed to continue for only a short while longer, and then the church would be free: Ten days of tribulation in exchange for one thousand years of victory (20:4-6). (DOV, 53)
While I don't mind Chilton's inclusion of Daniel, I think the more appropriate imagery is that of Israel in Egypt. If (major if) there is a continuing thread of Israel's history being played out in the seven letters, this persecution would correlate to Egypt's bondage on Israel and the ten days would be symbolic of the required amount of time to remove them from bondage. And what is their reward for their faithfulness? Death having no power. This would correlate to the death that ravaged Egypt as the final event before the freedom of Israel.
To close, I will allow Chilton to have the final say on the theological importance that the phrase "second death" gets utilized in the context of a first century church,
The faithful Christian who overcomes opposition and temptation shall not be hurt by the Second Death. The fact that this was originally said to a firstcentury church helps us understand the meaning of another passage in this book. Revelation 20:6 states that those who are not hurt by the “Second Death” are the same as those who partake of “the First Resurrection; and that they are priests and kings with Christ – a blessing St. John has already affirmed to be a present reality (1:6). Necessarily, therefore, the First Resurrection cannot refer to the physical resurrection at the end of the world (1 Cor. 15:22-28). Rather, it must refer to what St. Paul clearly taught in his epistle to the Ephesians: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins. . . . But God, being rich in mercy, . . . even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him” (Eph. 2:1, 4-6). The Christian, in every age, is a partaker in the First Resurrection to new life in Christ, having been cleansed from his (first) death in Adam. (DOV, 53)