INDUCTIVE STUDIES ON REVELATION
Part Four: The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
THE SCRIPTURES (19:7-10)
7 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." 8 And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 And he said to me, "Write, `Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' " And he said to me, "These are true words of God." 10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
It is this passage that many conservative Christians again claim proves that the rapture of the church occurs BEFORE the tribulation. Why? According to this interpretation, the marriage supper of the Lamb (Christ), the marriage of Christ to the church occurs before His return in Rev. 11:19. That interpretation could very well be true; however, that interpretation does not HAVE to be true. There is another interpretation of this verse which I think makes more sense than the one above.
The second interpretation of this verse claims that this passage like Rev. 12-14 is not in chronological order (the same claim made for Rev. 7:9-17). Instead of the marriage supper of the Lamb to His bride the church occurring right before His second coming, this supper/marriage is actually taking place later after the 1,0000 year reign of Christ. Just like Rev. 7:9-17 is showing what will happen to people during the tribulation after Christ returns, so here John again shows the future for those who are faithful to Jesus Christ during the Great Tribulations in order to encourage them to be faithful to Christ. There are several reasons for this interpretation we will now explore.
First, when John describes the new city of Jerusalem in Rev. 21-22, he describes it as the bride of Christ: "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2). Maybe Christ is having 2 marriages, one in Rev. 19 and one in Rev. 21. I sincerely doubt it. Rev. 21-22 most likely qualifies as the time for the marriage supper of the Lamb, the time when all suffering is over and true marital merriment can ensue.
Second, the purpose of Revelation agrees with the second interpretation. If God gave us the Book of Revelation in order to encourage us to be faithful to Him especially during the time of the Great Tribulation, how in the world would the first interpretation ever encourage those Christians going through the Great Tribulation? If the first interpretation is true, then this passage would tick me off rather than encourage me if I were going through the Great Tribulation. "Oh, great! My timing was off when I got saved. If I had gotten saved BEFORE the Great Tribulation occurred, then I would be participating in the marriage supper of the Lamb. But noooooooooooooooo! I messed up. I have to suffer while all those pre-trib Christians are having a great time in heaven." Does anybody really seriously believe that God would be partying in heaven while Christians are suffering down here on earth? I don't think so. Whatever else the Book of Revelation shows us, it shows us that God is definitely engaged with His people during their times of suffering. He is not partying while they are suffering.
BACKGROUND TO THE MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB
Old Testament Background
The Old Testament uses different images in order to describe the relationship of God with His people: Shepherd, sheep; King, subject; Father, child; Husband (fiancé), bride (fiancée). Although the image of King, subject dominates the Old Testament descriptions of God's relationship with His people, the image of husband (fiancé), bride (fiancée) plays a significant part in describing God's relationship with His people.
Probably the most important passage describing the relationship of God to His people as that being between a husband and his bride is The Song of Solomon. Now many will claim that Solomon's song has nothing to do with God's relationship with His people, that it is merely a song describing erotically Solomon's relationship to one of his brides. Those who make that claim really never present any support to buttress that claim. Paul himself describes Christ's relationship to His people as that between a lover and his bride. In fact, Paul claims that marriage is a primary tool God uses to show the world the relationship of Christ to the church (Eph. 5:32).
Although there are numerous other verses in the OT which depict God's relationship to His people as that of a husband to his bride (see Is. 54:5-6), the second-most important passage on this subject is the prophecy of Hosea. In that prophecy God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute in order to inform Israel that God views His bride Israel to be nothing less than a prostitute herself.
The New Testament Background
Already above we have referenced Paul's description of Christ's relationship to the church as being that of a lover to his bride. Paul uses this image again in 2 Cor. 11:2 to describe the betrothal of the Christian to Christ.
Jesus' teachings and first miracle though ground this concept even more. When the Pharisees complain that Jesus' disciples do not fast, Jesus explains that it would be inappropriate for them to fast. Why? Because you don't fast during a marriage celebration. When the groom has arrived at the wedding feast, it is time for merriment, not fasting. Well, who do you suppose Jesus meant was that groom? It was Jesus.
Next, it is probably no accident that the first miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospels is the changing of water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana. Jesus doesn't simply replenish the wine supply which is running out. He provides the feast with an abundance of wine. Not just any wine either. He furnishes it with wine that is so superior that the maitre d' complains to the groom that he has saved the best until last. This miracle alone would not lead us to conceive of Jesus’ relationship to the church as being that between a groom and his bride; however, in light of the other passages mentioned above, it is hard NOT to view this miracle in light of Jesus' relationship to the church.
MEANING OF THE MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB
Whatever else this image points to, it first points to the intimate relationship that Christ now enjoys with His followers--to a limited extent, and to the most intimate relationship possible with His followers in the future when He returns. Of all human relationships, that of the groom to his bride should be the most intimate. Unfortunately we normally just szero in on the sexual element of the word "know" in the passage where it says that Adam knew Eve. The sexual element IS there; however, this word is not to be reduced just to sex. It has the idea of a relationship that is so intimate that it can express itself in sexual relations.
I had the privilege of working with Newman McLarry while serving at Lake Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas. He was probably one of the wisest men I ever worked with in the ministry. He once told me not to judge a marriage based upon what you see in public. Sometimes when I would see the way a man treated his wife (or vice versa), I would think (or even say underneath my breath): "How could she ever love such a man? Why does he put up with her? Why doesn't she leave him? I wouldn't put up with that." Newman said: "Carey, you don't know everything about a marriage based on what happens in public. You don't know what goes on behind closed doors." My mom and dad had a good marriage; however, it had its ups and downs like any marriage. I always thought though that my mom was never in the wrong during those down times. After my dad died, my mom told me that just before he died, they had had a really good talk and basically cleared the air. They BOTH asked forgiveness for things they had done wrong in the marriage. I wasn't shocked that HE had asked for forgiveness; I was shocked that SHE had anything to ask forgiveness for. Marriage relationships can be so intimate that people on the outside have no idea about everything going on in the inside.
At the second coming of Christ our relationship with Christ is going to be consummated. Paul writes: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully" (1 Cor. 13:12). Although Christ is using the present tense of the verbs, He is actually speaking futuristically (it is called the "futuristic present"): "I [will] _____________ My own and My own [will] ________ Me, to the same extent that I __________ the Father and the Father __________ Me" (John 10:14-15).
Second, the marriage feast refers to the joy that Christians are going to experience in their relationship with Christ after He returns, joy being an element of any marriage feast. In speaking of the age of the Messiah, Isaiah writes: "For you will go out with ________ and be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of __________ before you, And all the trees of the field will __________ their hands" (Is. 55:13).
The other day one of my nieces wrote on Facebook about how much joy her children bring her. They are a delight. I wrote back to her that the joy she is experiencing with her children right now are a true indicator, even a true taste of the joy we will experience in heaven. Heaven in many ways is an exponential increase of the good things we have experienced here on earth. Just more so.
According to Paul, the marriage relationship between Christ and His people points to the deep sacrificial love He has for His people. According to Eph. 5:25 what did Jesus do for the church which demonstrated His great love for her?
We are all familiar with what Paul says in verse 25; however, Eph. 5:26 presents a picture of Christ's love for the church which escapes most people. Jesus not only sanctifies His bride, He also does what to her?
This probably refers to the bridal bath. Normally bridesmaids were responsible for helping the bride with this part of the preparation for marriage. Not so in our relationship with Christ. It is such a tender, intimate relationship that He, not the bridesmaids, help His bride in this part of the preparation. He prepares the bride; He provides the clothes of righteousness which adorn her. This is not an erotic scene. It is a scene of great tenderness and intimacy that only a husband and his bride can experience to a limited degree here on earth.