Anticipating the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:1-10)
Another reason is the futility of living for the world, for the city of man. In other words, it’s not just that when the wicked die, they go to hell. It’s also that because they lived for the world – for Babylon, as John pictures it – they have lived for nothing. All their labors will end up amounting to nothing. It will go up in smoke. This world will pass away and the lusts thereof, but the one who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:15-17). It’s not just that the individual rebel will be punished, but that the world in all its pomp and wealth and power and productivity, summed up and culminating in the final city of the Antichrist, will perish. This is what we see in Revelation 17-18. Sinful humanity in rebellion against God has been building a city of its own. Babel in Genesis 11 was in some sense the first incarnation of it. It’s been seen in Egypt and Assyria and Babylon and Persia and Greece and Rome, and its current incarnation is seen in the present-day nations and states. What John calls Babylon, the city of the Antichrist at the end of human history, will be the zenith of mankind’s effort to make much of his imagination and ingenuity apart from the good constraints of God’s holy law. But it will all perish. It will all die, be overthrown, burned up forever: “Her smoke rose up forever and ever.”
But we can’t be motivated just by the emptiness of the world’s promises or the futility of its future. We have to have a positive motivation. We can’t just be against something; we must be for something. We can’t just hate; we must love. We can’t just look forward to the destruction of our enemies; we need a hope for the future. This is what Revelation 19, and the following chapters provide for us. Here we really are at the end of the age. Here we really are looking at the very end of all things. And here we see the surpassing glory of the age to come.
How is the glory to come described here? It is described in terms of a wedding. In and through the fluidity of apocalyptic language the church is described here both in terms of the Lamb’s bride (7-8) and in terms of guests invited to the wedding (9). We should not imagine two different groups of people here (as if the bride is the church and the guests are OT saints, or some other type of distinction between groups). To see two different groups of people here is to forget the nature of symbolic language. Our Lord himself variously described participation in the age to come in terms of guests invited to a wedding (cf. Mt.9:15; 22:1-14; 25:1-13), but then the apostle Paul describes the church as the bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-33). In fact, both are true symbols that depict important truths about our relationship to the Lord.
I think the fact that the believer is described as a guest to the wedding of the Lamb is meant to point us to the fact that God has by his word and Spirit called and invited us to the joys of the age to come. There are no wedding crashers in the age to come. We are there at the behest of the King of heaven. On the
other hand, the fact that the believer is described as a part of the bride of Christ is meant to underscore the reality of the love that Christ has for us. Both are meant to point us to the incredible blessing and joy of the age to come.
It has been observed that though the wedding feast is announced here in Revelation 19, we never actually see it described as taking place. John does see “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). However, this is more likely a description of the new heavens and new earth prepared for the people of God. But the language is appropriate because there is a connection to the marriage supper of the Lamb. According to Mounce,
In biblical times a marriage involved two major events, the betrothal and the wedding. These were normally separated by a period of time during which the two individuals were considered husband and wife and as such were under the obligations of faithfulness. The wedding began with a procession to the bride’s house, which was followed by a return to the house of the groom for the marriage feast. By analogy, the church, espoused to Christ by faith, now awaits the Parousia when the heavenly groom will come for his bride and return to heaven for the marriage feast that lasts throughout eternity.1
We will enjoy an eternal wedding feast in a new heavens and new earth. The bride of Christ will enjoy eternal fellowship with her Savior in a city that is itself adorned as a bride dressed for the wedding day. Hence, though the event itself is never specifically described, we should understand the unfolding of the glories of the age to come in the coming chapters as the thing the wedding feast here in Revelation 19 is meant to point us to.
It is at this time that God’s kingdom will fully come. It is for this reason that John “heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready” (6-7). The word “alleluia” is instructive: it is a transliteration of the Hebrew for “Praise Yahweh!” Though it is never used in the NT outside of Revelation 19 (where it occurs four times), it occurs multiple times in the OT, especially in what are called the Egyptian Hallel Psalms (because of their connection to the celebration of the Passover) in Ps. 113-118. These were psalms especially associated with the three pilgrim feasts under the law, when the people of God went up to the temple to worship the Lord, to offer sacrifices, and to rejoice in his blessings. But that is a faint picture of what John is seeing here. If there will ever be any occasion to praise the Lord, this is it! For in the age to come, God’s people will take the ultimate journey to the temple of God, to be ushered into his immediate presence in the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.
Those who praise the Lord are probably the angels who surround the throne. They praise the Lord in terms of his rule and reign: “for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” It is important to point out the fact that the verb “reigneth” is not technically in the present tense. It is what language scholars call an inceptive aorist and is probably best translated as, “for the Lord our God omnipotent has begun to rule.” In other words, this is not a description of God’s sovereignty over all the world from the beginning of time. It is true that God has always reigned. As the hymn puts it, “The Son of David holds his throne, and sits in judgment there.” There has never been a time when God did not rule over the nations.
And yet we all recognize that the enemies of Christ have not yet all been put under his feet. But that will happen: “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). The nations in rebellion against God, finally culminating in the reign of the Antichrist, will be destroyed. Babylon will burn. This is what we see celebrated in the first five verses of the chapter. The first three “Hallelujahs” are praises to God for the overthrow of the harlot Babylon, the city of man (Rev. 19:1,3,4). But in verse 6, this hallelujah introduces us to the Lamb’s bride and the joy of the age to come. This is when God’s reign takes on a whole new dimension, and this is what is being referred to here in verse 6: “the Lord God omnipotent has begun to reign.” The thing we have been praying for when he say, “Thy kingdom come,” will have come.
So we pray for this, and we long for this. The church, espoused to Christ, is waiting for her bridegroom to come and take her to the wedding feast. As individual believers, invited to the wedding feast, we are eagerly awaiting for it to come. This is what I think this text should do for us. As it celebrates the age to come in terms of a wedding feast, as it celebrates salvation in terms of the marriage of the church to Christ, we are meant to be filled with longing for it and to be encouraged to endure through trials and tribulations for the present. Therefore I want to consider with you what it is about the way salvation is celebrated in this analogy of marriage that helps us to do this. Let me suggest the following.
What the imagery of the marriage feast teaches us about the glory to come
First, it reminds us of the love that God has for the church, and for each and every believer that makes up that church. You know, there are different types of love. We are all called upon to love our neighbor as ourselves. That in itself is a tall order! However, we all understand that a husband does not and should not love the lady next door in the same way his is called to love his wife. In fact, there is a sin that names that sort of thing, and it’s called adultery. The love that a husband has for his wife is meant to exceed and to be on a different level altogether for the love he might have for his neighbors and friends, and even his own children. When God wanted to talk to Ezekiel about his wife, he called her “the desire of thine eyes” (Ezek. 24:16). She was the desire of his eyes in the sense that she captured the affections of his heart in the way no other human being did. Marital love, in other words, expresses one of the deepest and richest of human relationships that exists in this world.
It is therefore significant when the Lord uses the marriage relationship to describe his love for his people. It means that God delights in and desires the fellowship and company of the believer. In Isa. 62:5, the prophet describes the love that God has for his people in exactly this way: “For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.”
However, we need to be careful here. God does not love the church the way men generally come to love their wives. God does not love the church because it was beautiful: he loves the church in order to make it beautiful. In other words, God’s love to us is a gracious love; we need to remember that. When the apostle Paul exhorts husbands to love their wives, he tells them to love them like Christ loves the church: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Eph. 5:25-30). Christ so loved the church that he died for it, so that – and we must never forget the so that – “he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having
spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Think about that: he didn’t die for the church because the church was lovely; he died to make the church lovely. He cares for and cherishes the church (29), but his care and affection does not depend upon our worthiness. It is his worthiness that makes us worthy. His love, in other words, is far greater and beker than the love you see among men and women.
And of course the love of the Son is shared by the Father and the Spirit. Our Savior prayed that his disciples would know “thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (Jn. 17:23). The Spirit of Christ communicates the love of God to us by pouring it out, shedding it abroad, in our hearts (Rom. 5:5).
We need to remember this: God loves you, Christ loves you, as a husband loves his wife. It means that he delights in us and that he is always for us. Here is the way Isaiah put it: “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a likle wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer” (Isa. 54:5-8). We may feel at times that the Lord has forsaken us. And indeed, there are times when we are disciplined through our trials. There are times when it seems as if God has hidden his face. There are times when it seems as if everything is against us. But God will never forsake us; with everlasting kindness he will have mercy on us. And because of this, one day the Divine bridegroom will come and take his espoused bride to himself to an eternal wedding feast: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well- aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” (Isaiah 25:6–9, ESV).
Believer, God loves you and nothing can separate you from that love. Remember that, rejoice in that, hope in that.
Second, it points us to the love that the church has for Christ. We love him because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:10, 19). God’s love for us begets our love to him. Hence we are told in verse 7 that “the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” The bride of Christ has prepared herself for this day because she loves her husband. She is no unwilling bride. There is an eagerness, an anticipation for day of the wedding by the Lamb’s bride. The apostle Peter put it this way: the believer is to be characterized by “looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12). This is because the people of Christ love him: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8).
One of the primary ways the people of God show their love to him is by obedience to his commandments: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15), our Lord told his disciples. Hence, we go on to read, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (8). Though it is true that we are righteous before God through the righteousness of Christ (cf. Rom. 5:18, where the same word for “righteousness” is used), and that this is the basis of our relationship with God, that is not the idea here. The “righteousness of the saints” is a reference to their
righteous acts, to their obedience to the Lord. We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Faith works through loved (Gal. 5:6). Good works, though not the basis of our justification before God, are the necessary evidence of it.
Brothers and sisters, it makers likle whether a person says they love the Lord. The question is whether or not they are prepared to obey him. If you love him, you will obey him. If you do not obey him, you do not love him: it’s as simple as that. Of course none of us obeys the Lord as we ought. There is not a single one of us who perfectly exemplifies the Beatitudes in his or her life. But the true believer is becoming the Beatitudes, and if that is not the case with you, you probably should do some serious self-examination.
What do I mean by this? Well, let’s march our way through the Beatitudes. Are you becoming more and more poor in spirit or are you becoming more and more characterized by pride and blame-shioing and always defending yourself? Are you seeing more and more clearly the evil of your sins so that instead of making excuses for them you mourn over them? Are you becoming more and more meek, more approachable, more easily entreated, or are you becoming the kind of person who quenches every smoking wick and breaks every bruised reed? Are your more and more hungry and thirsty for righteousness or are you filling yourself up on the things of this world? Are you more and more merciful and kind or are you selfish and cruel? Are you becoming more and more pure in heart or are you giving your heart to the things God hates? Are you more and more of a peacemaker or are you divisive and envious and a stirrer up of strife? Are you becoming the kind of person who can suffer persecution for Christ’s sake, or will you wilt under it and like Demas go running back to the world?
Notice that there is no other bride of Christ. The only bride of Christ is a bride decked out in the fine line of righteous deeds. Holiness is not an optsion; without holiness no man will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
But this is not the entire picture, is it? Thank God it is not: “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (8). In other words, our good works do not find their origin in us but in the grace of God. Of course I’m not saying that our good works are not our good works, but that they are the product of the effectual grace of God in us through the Spirit and the word. It’s as the apostle Paul put it: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). God works in the hearts of his elect, writes his law in their hearts, so that they are no longer hostile to God but through the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body that they might live. The righteousness of the saints is nothing they can boast in, for even our good works are the gio of God. The one who glories, let him glory in the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31)!
Third, the imagery points us to the joy that awaits the believer in the age to come. The age to come is pictured for us, not in terms of a school or hospital or training camp or even the shallow and fleeting fun of an amusement park. It is pictured for us in terms of a wedding feast. There is deep, deep joy here and exuberant delight. There is cheer and happiness here. Did you note the way the heavenly hosts praise the triumph of God? “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him” (6-7). There is a three-fold emphasis upon the volume and exuberance of the praise: it was like the voice of a great multitude, like the voice of many waters, like the voice of mighty thunderings. This is praise that cannot be restrained; this is triumph that must be expressed: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give glory to God!”
My friend, there will be no sorrow in heaven. It will not be because God will make us forget our lives on earth. It is because there is no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. It is because there is no pain that heaven will not swallow up, and in such a way that it will give way to undiluted, irrepressible, and eternal joy. If there is someone who went through some terrible tragedy and had to endure unimaginable suffering on the earth who is in heaven, they will not be grieving over their earthly suffering, for they will be rejoicing in the experience of the overwhelming wonder of seeing and enjoying the glory of God in Christ.
All this points us to the reality that Paul underlines in Ephesians 5: that marriage in this world is a picture of the union between Christ and the church. One of the things that means is that no one in the age to come who wasn’t married in this age is going to be living in regret in the age to come. On the contrary, even those who were the most happily married in this age will in the experience of the marriage supper of the Lamb realize for the first time the overwhelming glory and irrepressible joy and deep delight to which earthly marriage only faintly pointed.
What a contrast to the harlot Babylon! She is burned up; all her glory is fading and temporary. On the other hand, the Lamb’s bride, the church will be clothed with fine linen, pure and clean, and enter into an eternal celebration of her salvation in fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
What should be our response?
There are at least two ways we should be responding to the truths revealed to us here in these verses.
The first is to believe God’s word concerning the glory of the age to come. At the end of verse 9, the angel who is with John says this to him: “And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.” What is being revealed to John is not the hallucination of some half-starved guru on the top of some remote mountain. It is not the forecast of a politician. It is not the word of a man at all, for “these are the true sayings of God.” We must never forget that what the apostle John saw here was not the result of some impressive navel-gazing, but the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1). There is always a reason to doubt the best of men. It is wicked to doubt the words of God. And it is stupid to do so: the words and promises of God are always true; he cannot lie. They are a pillow upon which the weary Christian can rest his head. This is medicine for the soul.
Sometimes I think we Christians can think that unless we are out there doing something we aren’t doing anything. However, the Bible does not equate the pursuit of holiness with activism. I’m not saying of course that we are to retreat into Christian ghettos and do nothing! But I am saying that there is a lot of unappreciated value in meditating upon the truths of God’s word. How ooen do we do that? How ooen do we really think about and mull over in our mind and fix our affections upon the truths and promises of Scripture? The point of passages like this is to make you think, and it is to make you think about your relationship to Christ and to cause you to anticipate the age to come. Now if you do that, it will make a difference in your life. If you think this way, it’s going to inevitably change the choices you make and the paths you go – without someone telling you to! But you have to start with lepng the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom. We have to learn to cultivate the art of not just thinking Biblically but of taking God’s truths and storing them in our hearts so that we can take them out and apply them at the appropriate times. It’s worthwhile doing this because what we are storing up in our hearts is not the cheap
sentiments of a Hallmark card but the word of God which is true and without error and therefore trustworthy at all times.
Second, these realities ought to create in us a heart of worship, the worship of the true and living God rather than worship of the creature. In verse 10, we are told that John was so overcome by the sheer wonder of it all, that he fell down and began to worship the angel who was showing it to him, but the angel rebuked him: “And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
At one level, John’s response was appropriate: he wanted to worship. But he directed his worship at the wrong thing; hence the rebuke. But the angel didn’t tell him to stop worshiping – only to direct his worship at the only one for whom it is worthy – to God: “worship God!” It’s an admonition for you and me as well.
We are all worshippers. The tragic thing is that we tend to want to worship all the wrong things. Here again is where the perspective of Revelation helps us. We worship the creature partly because we have small thoughts of God. Revelation helps us to see that God is not small. We are small, infinitely below the God of heaven. God is the Lord God omnipotent, the Alpha and the Omega, the thrice Holy One who sits upon his throne, who brought everything into existence and who rules and presides over all things. He is the one who will bring all the nations to account before his throne. He will bring about the overthrow of Babylon and usher in a new heavens and new earth.
This worship must also include the worship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our Lord put it this way: “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath commiked all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (Jn. 5:22-23). You see that here in our text. The angel refuses to be worshiped, and places himself right alongside John and his fellow believers. Instead, he directs him to worship God.
Now some like to argue that Jesus is not God, and that the NT doesn’t teach that Jesus is God. But this is not true. In the book of Revelation, we see that angels are not to be worshiped (see also 22:9) and that God alone is to be worshiped. However, throughout Revelation, we also see that Jesus is worshiped (for example, chapter 5!). In fact, when the angel talks about the testimony of Jesus and how the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy, he seems to be saying that his testimony he has been giving is about Jesus and that therefore John should have directed his praise to Jesus, not to the angel. The angel was not pointing to himself, but to Jesus. The Spirit of prophesy, the Spirit of God who inspires the prophets and gives them the words of God, is the Spirit who testifies to Jesus. The Scriptures point us to Christ as our Savior and our God (cf. Jn. 20:28), and we should worship him and we should submit to him and we should put our faith in him.
We don’t need to point people to ourselves. We need to be like the angel. People need Jesus. We can’t save anyone; only Jesus Christ the Lord can save us. We are to carry with us the testimony of Jesus and to point people to him. As the apostle Paul put it, let this also be our moko: “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:5-7).
In fact, let our entire lives be a testimony to Jesus. Let everything we are and do be a living witness to the trustworthiness of Jesus, to his kindness, his glory, his worth, his power, his grace.
1 Mounce, p. 347.