Previously: Salvation, glory, and power – Revelation 19:1-5
Rev. 19:6 – Then I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder, saying: Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign! 7 Let us be glad, rejoice, and give Him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has prepared herself. 8 She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints. (HCSB)
The marriage of the Lamb has come
In verse 6, John once again hears something like the voice of a vast multitude, further described “like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder.” Likely, this is the same heavenly choir we encounter in verses 1-3, but it is singing a different tune. Rather than praise God for his righteous judgment of the notorious prostitute, the multitude now exults in the coming reign of the Lord and the marriage of the Lamb.
“Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign!” the choir sings. We should not imply from these words of celebration that our eternal and omnipotent God has ever failed to reign. The earth – indeed the whole universe – is always under His watchful eye and sovereign hand.
However, these heaven dwellers know full well that Satan, too, has a kingdom. He rebelled against God and took a vast number of fallen angels with him. He usurped the dominion God entrusted to Adam through deceit. As the god of this age and the prince of a dark kingdom in opposition to God, he is the “strong man” of whom Jesus speaks in Mat. 12:29. But in coming to earth and putting on the veil of the flesh, Jesus has entered the strong man’s house and bound him.
Since His finished work on the cross 2,000 years ago, the Lamb of God has been plundering the strong man’s goods – the souls of people – and bringing them into the kingdom of heaven. The judgment of Babylon the Great signals the complete collapse of Satan’s rebellious kingdom. Yet we should comfort ourselves in knowing that the reign of God over all creation has never been in jeopardy.
Jesus as the Bridegroom
Verses 7-8 read, “Let us be glad, rejoice, and give Him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has prepared herself. She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.”
There is no doubt that the Lamb is Jesus, the Bridegroom, and the wife is the church. Jesus often refers to Himself as the Bridegroom. For example:
- When the Pharisees and others find fault with Jesus’ disciples because they do not fast, the Lord replies, “Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matt. 9:15).
- In the parable of the wedding feast for the king’s son, it is clear that He is the unmentioned groom (Matt. 22:1-13).
- In the parable of the 10 virgins who are to meet the bridegroom when he comes, His listeners understand that He is speaking of Himself (Matt. 25:1-10).
John the Baptist also refers to Jesus as the bridegroom. He says, “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28-30). The apostle Paul also refers to Jesus as the bridegroom in 2 Cor. 11:2 and Eph. 5:23-32.
The church as the bride
It is equally clear that the wife, or bride, is the church. She is not Old Testament Israel, as some argue. Old Testament Israel in Isaiah, Ezekiel and Hosea is the put-away wife of Yahweh. Because of her spiritual adultery, God has divorced her. W.A. Criswell comments, “The prophets say that some day she will be restored. But when she is restored, when she comes back, even then she will not be a bride. No restored wife is ever referred to as a virgin. But this bride in Revelation is a virgin” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 5, p. 28).
The church is depicted in the New Testament as a bride and as a virgin. For example, Paul writes, “I have promised you in marriage to one husband – to present a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). In Eph. 5:29-32 he adds, “For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
In the days of Jesus, when a young man’s father negotiates a bride for his son, the two young persons are “espoused,” or engaged. This arrangement is binding and may only be dissolved through a formal bill of divorcement. Yet the young couple is kept apart for a lengthy period during which time a wedding chamber is prepared in the father’s house. The bride-to-be is to prepare herself for the wedding. She covers herself when in public so the world will know she is spoken for, and she keeps herself chaste for her wedding night. Finally, when the father declares that all is ready, the son travels to the bride’s home, accompanied by his friends, and calls her out of the house. Her father then gives her away, and the bride’s friends and family join the groom’s party and make their way to the father’s house where there is a celebration, often lasting for days. During that time, the groom and bride consummate their marriage.
What a picture the Lord gives us in the Jewish wedding custom of the special relationship between Christ and the church. The Father arranges the wedding and pays a precious price for the bride – the death of His Son. The Son goes back to His Father’s home to prepare a place for the bride while she stays on earth and keeps herself chaste, watching for the day the groom will return in power and great glory. When that day arrives and the church age ends, Jesus will step into the clouds of heaven and call out His bride. She will be caught up into heaven and welcomed into the place prepared for her. There will be a great celebration as Christ, His church, and the friends of the wedding party rejoice over the wonderful works of God.
A question of when
Scholars disagree as to when the bride is presented to the Bridegroom in Revelation 19. Some say it happens in the first century after the “putting away” of Jerusalem, making way for Christ’s marriage to the “true Israel,” the church. Others say the marriage occurs after the fall of Papal Rome, the harlot, when the Bride joins Jesus in His conquest of the nations and His triumphant reign. Still others see the marriage as taking place after the Rapture of the church, or at the start of the Millennium. Finally, a number of commentators see the marriage supper as a symbolic depiction of the eternal fellowship believers will enjoy with Jesus as He restores all things and creates new heavens and a new earth. Whichever view is correct, we may be confident that Jesus is in heaven today preparing a place for us, and that He has a purpose for us in time and eternity.
At the end of verse 7, we are told that Jesus’ bride – the church – “has prepared herself.” In verse 8 the heavenly chorus adds, “She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure.” In what way has the bride prepared herself? We may make several observations here:
- She has prepared herself by being watchful. In a number of Jesus’ parables, He urges us to watch for His return – to be ready at a moment’s notice (Matt. 24:36-44; Matt. 25:1-13; Mark 13:32-27).
- She has prepared herself by remaining chaste – faithful to her coming Groom (2 Cor. 11:2).
- She has prepared herself by walking the path of good works God laid out for her in eternity past (Eph. 2:10).
- She has prepared herself by faithfully running the Christian race (2 Cor. 9:24-27).
- She has prepared herself by bringing others to faith in Christ (2 Thess. 2:19-20).
- She has prepared herself by fulfilling the ministry Christ has given her (2 Tim. 4:8).
- She has prepared herself by persevering (James 1:12).
- And she has prepared herself through faithful Christian leadership (1 Peter 5:4).
No doubt there are other ways in which the true church has made herself ready for the return of Christ. In fact, it seems clear that a distinguishing mark of the true church – as opposed to merely professing Christianity – is that she lives in constant expectation of hearing the shout, “Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him” (Matt. 25:6).
Tunic and toga
Lastly, what is the fine linen she is given to wear? W.A. Criswell notes that every Christian wears two robes. As is customary in the Roman world, a person wears an inner garment called a tunic. He also wears an outer, loose-fitting garment called a toga. “Both of these garments, the inner garment that Christ gives us, and the outer garment, the weaving of our own works, we shall wear in the beautiful, consummating day of our Lord. There is an inner garment of justification by faith which is the gift of God. There is also an outer garment of our own obedience to the mandates and commandments of our Lord. There is an inner garment of imputation, the righteousness that comes to a child of faith. There is also an outer garment, the deeds by which we have sought to adorn the doctrine and to glory the name of our Saviour…. So the inner garment is something that Christ bestows upon us when He washes our sins away, when we wash our robes, our souls, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. But there is also an outer garment that we shall wear which is woven by our own hands and is made up of all of those things we have sought to do and pray to do for our blessed Jesus” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 5, pp. 29-30).
Just as the two articles of clothing – the tunic and the toga – go together, the inner and outer righteousness that Christ gives us go together. Both owe their existence and purity to Him. Both are gifts with which He clothes our naked souls. First, He provides the unseen elements of salvation – election, grace, regeneration, faith, justification, sealing, etc. – apart from any effort we may supply. Next, as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our human spirits and makes us spiritually alive, He equips, enables, and empowers us to complete the good works He designed for us in eternity past (Eph. 2:10). These good works glorify God and result in the shedding of His grace on others. When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ and receive rewards for faithful service, we will not be lifted up with pride or compare ourselves to others; we will bow in humble adoration and – like the 24 elders – cast our crowns before Him.
Next: Those invited are fortunate – Revelation 19:9