The direct reference to these two subjects comes in the closing book of the Bible and connected with events that are a precursor to the fulfilment of God’s prophetic programme, Rev. 19. 7-9.
Commentators are divided regarding the identity of the Lamb’s ‘wife’, is it ‘Israel’ or the ‘Church’ dispensationally?
The metaphor of a bride and bridegroom to describe the relationship of the Lord to His people is frequently used in the Old Testament regarding Jehovah’s relationship to Israel.1 Although Israel is described as an ‘apostate wife’, nevertheless the nation is yet to be restored and that future restoration and blessing will certainly have the joy of a wedding about it, Isa. 62. 4, 5.2 However, identifying the bride with Israel is not without its problems. Notable amongst them is that John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets and the closest to Christ, described himself as being ‘the friend of the bridegroom’ thereby disclaiming any personal place in the bride of Christ.3
It is sometimes stressed that nowhere is the metaphor of a ‘bride’ used in relation to the church. It is, however, clearly implied in Ephesians chapter 5 verse 31, where Paul, having quoted in the previous verse Genesis 2 verse 24, ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh’, then says, ‘This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church’. The language, ‘a great mystery’, implies that the relationship that existed between Adam and Eve as husband and wife finds a parallel in the relationship between Christ and the Church. While the metaphor of a bride is only inferred in Ephesians chapter 5, that is not the case in 2 Corinthians, where Paul refers to the assembly at Corinth as a ‘chaste virgin’, 2 Cor. 11. 2. In comparing the two chapters, in the former, the subject is the Church, embracing every believer from Pentecost to the Rapture, in the latter, a church locally, the assembly at Corinth.
Usually, at a wedding the focus and centre of attention is the bride, but, on this occasion, it is the Bridegroom. That He is spoken of as ‘the Lamb’ surely recalls what He suffered to acquire a bride.
‘The marriage of the lamb is come and his wife hath made herself ready’, Rev. 19. 7. Behind the language there lies an oriental pattern of marriage which consisted of three stages.4
1 The betrothal stage: When the bride was espoused or pledged to the groom. Although these marriage contracts were often initiated when the couple were still quite young, they were, nevertheless, legally binding. In Jewish culture, this stage was akin to virtual marriage, as illustrated in Matthew chapter 1 in the relationship between Mary and Joseph. Verse 18 refers to Mary as ‘espoused to Joseph’, but in verse 19 Joseph is described as ‘her husband’ and in verse 20 Mary is called his ‘wife’. With that in view, the marriage of the Lamb is still in the betrothal stage, as suggested in the language of 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verse 2.
2 The presentation stage: At the appointed time the Father would send to the house of the bride servants carrying the proper legal documents, who would then lead the bride to the home of the groom’s father. The custom varied, but, when all was ready, the father of the bride would place the hand of his daughter into the hand of the boy’s father. The boy’s father would then place the hand of the girl into the hand of his son, at which point the marriage would be fully ratified. In the experience of the Church, this stage is referred to in Ephesians chapter 5 verse 27, ‘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’. This presentation of the Church will take place in heaven following the rapture, probably shortly after the Judgement Seat of Christ and prior to the Lord’s manifestation in glory.
1 The celebration stage: The marriage supper, or marriage feast, is comparable to today’s wedding reception. In the case of oriental weddings, the marriage supper, did not always follow on immediately from the wedding ceremony. The bridegroom’s friends would be invited to the supper, at which time the bridegroom would joyfully display his bride and they would rejoice together. An example of such a supper, is the marriage in Cana of Galilee, John 2. 1-11. In New Testament days, the length and cost of the supper was determined by the wealth and resources of the groom’s father.
Revelation 19 verses 7 to 9 are concerned with the second and third of these three stages.
The chapter opens with a time pointer, ‘after these things’; chapter 18 beginning in the same way, links together chapters 17 to 19. In chapters 17 and 18, the focus is upon Babylon, a vast commercial, political and religious empire that will serve as the capital of the kingdom of the Man of Sin in the last days. In chapter 17, the subject is religious Babylon, seen under the guise of ‘a harlot’, while in chapter 18 the subject is political and commercial Babylon under the figure of ‘a city’. Since Genesis chapter 11 and the temple-city of Babel, it has been the ambition of men to bring together religion and politics in one vast system, something that will be realized in ‘Babylon’ of the future day. But, like Babel, and the later Babylon, this vast system is destined to be overthrown by the Lord, the description concluding with the lamentation of monarchs, merchants, and mariners, all who had profited from its commerce and favour. But, while earth laments, heaven is exhorted to rejoice, Rev. 18. 9-20. A summons answered with a chorus of hallelujahs, 19. 1-4. Another summons is given, ‘Praise our God all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, great and small’, vv. 5, 6.5 The resounding praise of these opening verses is based on three things: ‘the great whore’ has been judged; ‘the Lord God omnipotent reigneth’; and ‘the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready’. With the removal of the ‘great whore’, the time has come for the true bride to be brought forth.
‘To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white’; the godly attire of the Lamb’s wife stands in marked contrast to the gaudy adornment of ‘the mother of harlots’, Satan’s counterfeit bride, arrayed in purple and scarlet and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, 19. 8; 17. 4. The fine linen of the bride’s wedding dress is described as ‘the righteousness of saints’. The verse must be viewed in the light of rewards given at the Judgement Seat of Christ. The word ‘righteousness’ is a plural one denoting ‘righteous acts’, their works have been judged, necessary adjustments have been made, and she is given, by divine appointment, to be arrayed in that which speaks of her own moral beauty and glory. We cannot pass over that without thinking of our own responsibility in this matter. When our history is reviewed will we be seen to have contributed to the wedding garment? So, He will present the Church ‘to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish’. The verb ‘present’ [Gk. Paristemi] means ‘to place beside’, and speaks of Christ’s presentation of the Church to Himself ‘without one spot of defilement or wrinkle of age, sacred, pure, without any stain of blame, a beautiful bride.6
‘Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb’, 19. 9. Many able Bible teachers assert the marriage supper takes place in heaven. They observe that at verse 1 John speaks of events in heaven and at verse 11 that he saw ‘heaven opened’ and so they conclude that everything recorded in between must take place in heaven. But is that so? In determining the answer attention must be given to the identity of those called to the marriage supper and how they come to be present on that occasion.
A pointer to the identity of those called is surely found in the words of John the Baptist quoted earlier who, describing his own relationship to the Lord, took up the illustration of a ‘bridegroom’ and ‘the friend of a bridegroom’, identifying himself as akin to the latter, and we suggest the position of Old Testament saints, John 3. 29. Added to that, the Lord’s own teaching in the parable of the ten virgins helps to further identify those ‘called’ as embracing, in context, tribulation saints. The virgins waiting to go into ‘the marriage’ [‘wedding feast’ JND] are obviously to be viewed as distinct from the bride, Matt. 25. 1-13. Likewise, this third stage is seen in the parable of the marriage for the king’s son and those invited to the wedding and equally the parable of men who wait for their Lord ‘when he will return from the wedding’.7 Since it appears that Old Testament saints are not raised until the commencement of the millennial reign8 and, if, as the parables intimate, saints on earth are waiting for the return of the bridegroom from the wedding to go in with Him to the feast, it seems evident that the marriage supper must take place on earth and not in heaven. Old Testament saints, the restored nation of Israel, Gentiles saved during the tribulation all called to join in the celebrations. We have already said the celebration of a traditional eastern wedding could last several days, and some suggest that the marriage supper is virtually ‘parabolic’ of the millennial age. Understood thus the statement in Revelation chapter 19 verse 9 is simply anticipatory of what was yet to transpire.
Whatever our understanding of these events, one thing is certain. What a glorious prospect lies before us!
See, for example, Isa.54. 5; Jer. 3. 1-20; Ezek. 16. 1-59; Hos. 2. 1-23.
J. Riddle notes on The marriage and marriage feast of the Lamb.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 4, pg. 129.
H. L. Willington, The King is coming, pp. 41-49.
Most commentators view the rejoicing of verses 5 and 6 to also be in heaven, but is that so? Clearly, the ‘great multitude’ of verse 6 is different to the ‘much people’ of verse 1 and both companies are distinct from the bride. The ‘great multitude’ of verse 6 is described in verse 5 as ‘all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great’. ‘Small and great’ relate generally to social distinctions that pertain upon earth, which, in the opinion of the writer, favours the view that this company is upon earth!
J. Riddle notes on The marriage and marriage feast of the Lamb.
Matt. 22. 1-14; Luke 12. 35-37.
See Dan. 12. 2; Rev. 11. 18.