Rev. 19:9 – Then he said to me, “Write: Those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb are fortunate!” He also said to me, “These words of God are true.” (HCSB)
Those invited are fortunate
In verse 9 John is told, “Write: Those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb are fortunate!” But who are the ones invited? The bride, of course, is the church, so who are the guests? There are several views. One view is that the invited guests are the Old Testament saints. Another is that these are heavenly beings – angels, cherubim and seraphim – who gaze with wonder upon the work of God in redemption and yet are not the objects of salvation (see 1 Peter 1:12). Yet another view is that the invited guests are those who have responded positively to the gospel message. “If a person accepts the ‘invitation’ and goes to the marriage feast of the Lamb, his faith will make him part of the wife (the church). It is called a feast because it endures, beginning on the evening of the wedding and continuing for days” (HCSB Study Bible, p. 2225).
While there is merit to each of these views, the last view seems consistent with Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet in Matt. 22:1-14. In the parable, a king hosts a wedding celebration for his son. The invited guests, who initially say they will attend the banquet, change their minds when the king’s servants are sent to summon them to the festivities. Some, in fact, treat the servants harshly, killing them. Enraged, the king sends forth his army to destroy these insurrectionists. Since Jesus’ immediate audience is made up of the religious leaders of His day, the parable no doubt refers to Israel, which has dishonored both God the Father and His Son. In the parable, Jesus prophesies events that will happen 40 years later, when the temple is destroyed, Jerusalem is sacked, 1.1 million Jews are killed and the nation of Israel ceases to exist.
But the parable doesn’t end there. The king insists that His banquet hall will be filled. So he sends his servants to the highways and hedges to invite everyone they find to the wedding feast. This indiscriminate gesture on the king’s part illustrates the diverse nature of the church as people from every tongue, race, and nation are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. The story takes an interesting turn, however. The king singles out a solitary guest who is not dressed appropriately. The guest gladly has come to the feast to partake of the food, drink, dance, and fellowship, but he has dishonored the king and disdained his son by refusing to wear the simple white robe the king requires – and provides – all guests to wear. The man is bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness, far away from the party.
Jesus ends the parable with the words, “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). This summary statement illustrates that many people are invited into God’s kingdom, but only those who repent and honor the Son are chosen to enter.
It should be noted that W.A. Criswell argues that the invited guests are the Old Testament saints, citing the parable of the 10 virgins in Matt. 25:1-13. The virgins “are the friends, they are the guests, and they are waiting until the couple come out and they can enter in with them to the feast, to the supper, to the bridal refreshments. It is thus in Revelation 21:9, 10. The city includes the bride and all her friends” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 5, p. 33). Criswell notes that John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, not only denies being the Messiah, but also excludes himself from the church: “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” (John 3:29-30).
Criswell does not mean to imply that the Old Testament saints are secondary citizens in the kingdom of heaven. “[L]est someone think that they are less honored and less blessed, these guests of the ‘old dispensation,’ the commandment was given to John to write down a special blessing for them. ‘Blessed are they [the guests] who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ This is a special blessing for the saved of the Old Covenant. With holy imagination we can see the guests come in to the marriage supper of the Lamb. I suppose John the Baptist will be the most honored of all. He comes in and is seated at the great banquet of our Lord. Then, maybe, Abraham is next, who saw the day of our Lord and rejoiced in seeing it. Then think of the others who come, all the prophets, all God’s children who lived in the old days and under the Old Covenant. They sit down and break bread with the bride in that glorious day of our blessed Lord” (p. 34).
There is one more troubling aspect of John’s written message in Rev. 19:9. The reference to “those invited to the marriage feast” implies that some – perhaps many – are not invited. If that’s the case, what does this say about the universal nature of God’s offer of salvation, and the finished work of Jesus on the cross? Does God unconditionally elect some people and then irresistibly draw them to Himself, while leaving the rest to their own devices? Or does He entrust all people with the freedom to accept or reject His gift of eternal life? Is Jesus’ atonement for sin limited? Or did His death on the cross pay the sin debt for all humanity? These are weighty matters that have been explored and debated for centuries, and they go beyond the scope of our study here. For a more in-depth look at this subject, click here.
However, we can make a few brief observations. First, the emphasis in this verse seems to be on the happy state of those invited to the banquet, not on the number or identity of the people invited – or those excluded from the banquet. Thy joy of those in the presence of God is not diminished by the realization that many people are not there. Second, keep in mind that Revelation tells us there are representatives of every people group before the throne of God in heaven (Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9-10). This makes it clear that God’s love extends into the remotest parts of the world and penetrates even the most spiritually dark habitations. Third, the apostle Paul points out that every person will stand before God “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20), implying that no one is cast into outer darkness innocently.
Perhaps we will never come to a full understanding of the doctrine of divine election on this side of heaven. But we can be encouraged that God is moving graciously and with all deliberate speed to fill the banquet hall in heaven for the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Next: I fell at his feet to worship – Revelation 19:10