The Book of Revelation and ‘The Days of Vengeance:’ A Fresh Look at David Chilton’s Path-Breaking Commentary

The Days of Vengeance (David Chilton) book coverAccording to my one-year Bible-reading plan, I should have finished reading the book of Revelation sometime around New Year’s Eve.

Well, as luck God’s providence would have it, that didn’t happen.  I am still reading, still making my way through the final chapters.

That’s good.  Because, in doing so, I felt compelled to pull out (and dust off) my hardcover copy of David Chilton’s block-buster magnum opus: his 700-page, verse-by-verse commentary on the book of Revelation, The Days of Vengeance.

Holy interpretive maximalism, Batman!

Just kidding.  I will not join the throngs of Reformed — and not-so-Reformed — critics who dismiss the views expressed in this bulky but highly readable tome as springing from the fevered imagination of an otherwise gifted pastor and theological-hermeneutical heavyweight such as Chilton.

I am not worthy to loose the sandal strap — had I been anywhere near his vicinity while he was still alive — of this former missionary kid and Southern California transplant turned likable lightning-rod of biblical, postmillennial eschatology.

Let me say at the outset that this book, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, belongs on every Christian’s book shelf and in every pastor’s library.  Period.

Why?

Because whether you read it or not, whether you agree or disagree with Chilton’s provocative and evocative analysis and invariably consistent interpretive approach to Scripture, you need this book in your midst if for no other reason than to bear witness to the fact that, Yes, Virginia, there is an evangelically uncompromising, conservative, Calvinistic, Bible-believing commentary on the most misunderstood, misinterpreted and scrupulously avoided (by many pastors and commentators) of all the 66 books of the Bible, that ISN’T either amillennial or premillennial!

Chilton pays excruciatingly close attention to every word in the text, seeking to uncover not only what it says, but why it says what it says.

The mark of a good Bible teacher is that he is constantly asking: Why is the story told in this particular way? Why is this particular word or phrase repeated several times? (How many times?) What does this story have in common with other stories? How is it different? Why does the text draw our attention to seemingly unimportant details? How do the minor incidents fit into the argument of the book as a whole? What literary devices (metaphor, satire, drama, comedy, allegory, poetry, etc.) does the author use? Why does the book sometimes depart from a strict chronological account (e.g., placing some stories “out of order”)? How are these stories related to the larger Story that the Bible tells? What does this story tell us about Jesus Christ? What does this story have to do with our salvation? Why did God bother to give us this particular information?

Hard to argue with that.

Like his previous (and equally polarizing) book, Paradise Restored, The Days of Vengeance raises the bar, sets the course and bends the arc of biblical hermeneutics towards an eschatologically optimistic, dominion-oriented, presuppositional and covenantal perspective of Scripture for all future commentaries that might and should be written, not only on the Revelation of St. John the Divine but also on the other sixty-five books of the Holy-Spirit-breathed, self-authenticating text of God’s holy Word!

I, David Chilton, was in Tyler, Texas on the Lord’s Day

If I were to attempt a real, honest-to-goodness, thorough book review of Days of Vengeance, it would probably either turn this into a 5,000-word blog post, or else an interminable series of installments that would drag out like a D. Martin Lloyd Jones sermon series, and seem like I’ve got nothing else to write about!  (I do, really.)  So, I’ll be brief.

After a Foreword by British theologian Gordon J. Wenham, his Author’s Preface, Publisher’s Preface by Gary North and then a lengthy (and highly informative) Introduction, Chilton divides the book into five parts.

Did you get that?  Five parts.  He does this deliberately.  VERY deliberately!

These five parts correspond exactly with the five-part covenant model that Rev. Ray Sutton had discovered shortly before Chilton finished writing the book, which caused him to rejigger the manuscript and complete it a few months later after three and a half years of work.  It fits beautifully with the five-part covenant structure found in Deuteronomy and (as Dr. North discovered) in the Ten Commandments and throughout Scripture.

So, in the final published edition, here is how the book is divided:

  • Part One, the Preamble: Revelation chapter 1.
  • Part Two, Historical Prologue: letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3).
  • Part Three, Ethical Stipulations: the seven seals (Rev. 4-7).
  • Part Four, Covenant Sanctions: the seven trumpets (Rev. 8-14).
  • Part Five, Covenant Succession and Continuity: the seven chalices (Rev. 15-22).

That pretty well constitutes the lion’s share of the contents, obviously.  After this, there is Chilton’s epilogue, “Conclusion: The Lessons of Revelation,” followed by three very helpful appendixes (appendices) which should be read just as earnestly as the rest of the book:

  • Appendix A, “The Levitical Symbolism in Revelation,” by Phillip Carrington
  • Appendix B, “Christian Zionism and Messianic Judaism,” by James B. Jordan
  • Appendix C, “Common Grace, Biblical Eschatology and Common Law,” by Gary North

A bibliography and three separate indexes (indices!) push the book past the 700-page mark when all is said and done.

Something that Chilton makes crystal-clear as far as his methodology is concerned, right up front in the first two pages of his Author’s Preface, he refers to the five “crucial interpretive keys” which he uses to guide his textual exposition throughout the commentary.

They are:

  1. Revelation is the most “Biblical” book in the Bible. (He explains why.)
  2. Revelation has a system of symbolism. (He refers to the “systematic structure” and unique biblical “language” in which it was written.)
  3. Revelation is a prophecy about imminent events. (This places him squarely in the preterist camp of biblical prophecy.)
  4. Revelation is a worship service. (He places great emphasis on the “very considerable liturgical aspects of Revelation.” calling attention to it because “the worship of God is central to everything in life.”)
  5. Revelation is a book about dominion. (It’s “not a book about how terrible the Antichrist is, or how powerful the devil is.”  It is about Christ’s lordship over all things and “our salvation and victory in the New Covenant.”  Amen to that.)

Contrary to popular opinion, Chilton states emphatically that the book of Revelation is NOT an “apocalyptic” book.  It is not intended by God (or John) to be a cryptic and obscure, mysterious, nearly-impossible-to-understand -without-a-dispensationalist-prophecy-professional-to-help-you-understand-it collection of weird, scary symbols and “secret” code words.   No, the symbolism and language that were used by St. John were commonly understood in his day, being “rooted firmly in the Old Testament” — which is why we 20th and 21st-century readers (even evangelical and Reformed) have such a hard time trying to figure it out!

Speaking of scary, Chilton points out that, “though John depicts evil realistically, his book is fundamentally optimistic.”  He contrasts the contemporary apocalyptic literature of the day with the biblical prophetic literature, summing up their stark difference in this way:

The apocalyptists said: The world is coming to an end: Give up! The Biblical prophets said: The world is coming to a beginning: Get to work!

Yes!

It is this unsinkable, unflappable tone of historical optimism and victorious confidence in the triumph of the Gospel and the Christian church prior to the Lord’s returns that permeates all of Chilton’s commentary on Revelation, and is what sets it apart from all the others.

Also, his very illuminating inclusion of excerpts and important historical details from the works of Flavius Josephus (The Jewish War) and Alfred Edersheim (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) make his case for first-century fulfillment of the majority of the prophecies in Revelation that much more compelling.

So, if you’re looking for a book on the Book of Revelation that will help you truly understand the unfamiliar biblical language and symbolism of it — even though Pastor Joe Morecraft (whom I respect and admire greatly) says DON’T go near Chilton’s book, Paradise Restored, or the interpretive maximalist school of interpretation he adheres to — you can either buy the book (somewhere) as a hardcopy, or else download it FOR FREE in a number of places.

Or, you can download it right here:

The Days of Vengeance

Either way, I think you will be encouraged, edified and instructed quite profitably by reading it.

Surely all those folks on Amazon.com and Goodreads can’t be wrong!

(Reading The Days of Vengeance and taking the time to write this brief review has allowed me to veer from my one-year Bible reading plan for a good reason, leaving me with a clear conscience void of offense towards God and towards men!)

Enjoy the book.  Happy New Year!

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6 thoughts on “The Book of Revelation and ‘The Days of Vengeance:’ A Fresh Look at David Chilton’s Path-Breaking Commentary

    1. Yes, he did. It was after he had a massive heart attack and stroke which did serious damage to his brain and affected him significantly in his mental capacity. His eschatological views were fully orthodox up until that time. That is why Gary North in 2007, ten years after Chilton’s death, could still highly recommend Chilton (pre-illness) and Paradise Restored when he wrote the new preface to it.

  1. Don Preston used to sell an audiotape of a talk by David Chilton after he converted to Full Preterism. In that talk, Chilton has a speech impediment but he is quite lucid, clear, and logical as he goes through the reasons for his conversion and what he then came to see as the problems in Days of Vengeance. If you can find a copy of the audiotape, listen and decide for yourself whether he was brain-damaged or not.

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