The Marriage Of The Lamb - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
Behold He Cometh - Chapter 45
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
10 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.
In this passage we have a new vision, the vision of the marriage of the Lamb, which is at the same time the conclusion of a series of visions which were shown and explained to the apostle by one and the same angel.
That this passage is the concluding portion of a larger section and of an entire series of visions is plain especially from verses 9 and 10. There we read of an angel who talked with John, giving him the assurance that "these are the true sayings of God." This angel is designated as "he," presupposing that he has been mentioned before. And if we look for this earlier mention, we discover it already in Chapter 17:1. He is "one of the seven angels which had the seven vials," who began to talk with John and to shew him the judgment of the great whore, the harlot-woman who is also the city of Babylon. He is mentioned again in verse 7 of the same chapter, where he is recorded as explaining to John the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her. And in Chapter 17:15 this same angel is referred to as "he." Hence, this passage must be understood as telling us of one vision which belongs to and concludes a series of visions, all of which are shown to John and explained by one of the seven angels who had the seven vials. In this series, on the one hand, we find the picture of Babylon, the great world-power, in the history of its development and in its ultimate formation, along with the prophecy and vision of Babylon's final destruction. And, on the other hand, we find in this series the contrasting picture of the beatification of the people of God. This second, positive part begins with the song of the multitude in heaven in Chapter 19, verses 1-5; and the present vision of the marriage of the Lamb follows upon that vision and concludes the entire section.
That the passage now under discussion is very closely related to the immediately preceding portion is evident from the fact that the same note of joy and praise to God is heard in both passages. In the former passage the four-fold "Hallelujah" is directly connected with the judgment of the great whore. Here the rejoicing is over the omnipotent reign of the Lord God as connected with the marriage of the Lamb. And the vision concludes with the statement of the beatitude of those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb, the assurance concerning the truth of "these sayings," and the refusal of the angel to be worshipped by John.
The vision is introduced by "the voice as it were of a great multitude." John hears a great and mighty voice, as of a great multitude, and as of many waters, and of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." It is evident that all are in heaven. The vision does not take place on the earth, as some would have it, but in heaven. Nor is it a vision which takes place in this present time, but in the beginning of the everlasting day. And the multitude is here presented as uniting in praise and joy to the Lord God omnipotent, Who reigns, on account of the marriage of the Lamb in heavenly glory. Their sound is as the sound of many waters and as the voice of mighty thunderings, roaring and reverberating through the heavens. It is as though John exhausts himself to give expression to the mighty and overwhelming impression which the vision makes upon him.
First of all, this great multitude express praise to God Almighty in the same form as in the first part of this chapter, "Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." Undoubtedly this praise is still connected with the fact of His victory over Babylon. The idea is that the power of opposition has been broken and destroyed, and now God is revealed as sovereign, as King absolute. God's sovereignty and omnipotent reign and power are, of course, always evident in the history of the world. But here the reference is undoubtedly to the fact that this sovereignty and power of God have become revealed in the judgment of the harlot-woman, Babylon. That judgment means that His kingdom has now come. He is revealed as being King alone. For a time that power and sovereignty had been disputed by the prince of darkness; and it even seemed for a time that the powers of opposition had succeeded in enforcing their challenge of God's sovereignty when they had established their mighty and glorious world-kingdom without God and without Jesus Christ. But now the power that disputed and challenged God's sovereignty has been completely destroyed. Babylon is fallen, completely and finally; and the judgment of the great whore has been accomplished. Christ has subdued all under Him and has delivered the kingdom unto the Father. This is the viewpoint in the vision. And for this reason the vision begins with the ascription of praise once more to the Lord God omnipotent, the King.
Not only does the great multitude express praise to God, however; but it also expresses joy and gladness, "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him." The reason is, evidently, that they know that after the completion of the kingdom the marriage of the Lamb takes place. The destruction of the anti-christian world-power means the completion of the kingdom of God. And the completion of the kingdom means that the marriage of the Lamb shall take place. And this marriage of the Lamb is now celebrated in this vision with great joy. At the same time, John hears the multitude once again ascribing honor to God. For God, Who is the only omnipotent one, and Who is the author of the destruction of great Babylon and therefore the author of the mighty and victorious kingdom which has now been achieved, is therefore also the author of the great salvation which is realized in the marriage of the Lamb. Hence, all honor is to be ascribed to Him alone. Thus, with glad shouting of rejoicing and with loud ascriptions of honor and praise to God, this multitude, as it were, rushes to the wedding to be present as guests.
We may notice that there are two distinct elements in the vision, that of the marriage as such and that of the marriage supper, or feast. Neither one of these is described in the text as being witnessed by John himself; but they are pictured by him in terms of the words of the multitude and of the angel. The multitude is pictured, first of all, as saying: "For the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready." Then the bride of the Lamb is described, also in the words of the multitude: "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." And, finally, the marriage supper is introduced into the picture in the angel's words of beatitude which John is specifically instructed to write, "Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
Once again we must be careful to remember that we are dealing here with a vision, with a picture which is highly symbolic. We cannot take the language of this passage literally without falling into all kinds of absurdities, as will become evident in our subsequent discussion of the various elements in this vision. What we have here is a highly symbolic picture of the wedding, or marriage, of the Lamb. And in that picture there are several elements, namely, the bridegroom, the bride, the wedding, and the marriage supper of the Lamb. Each of these elements we must try to understand.
The Bridegroom is the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the vision.
This figure of the Bridegroom is a familiar one in Scripture. He appears, for example, in the Old Testament in the highly descriptive language of Psalm 45:6-9: "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.
Kings' daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir." Also according to the testimony of John the Baptist, Christ is the Bridegroom, John 3:28, 29: "Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled." In the parable of the wise and the foolish virgins, Matthew 25:1-13, the Lord Jesus undoubtedly refers to Himself, the Son of Man, as the Bridegroom for whose coming the five foolish virgins were not ready. And, finally, when in Ephesians 5 the apostle writes about the calling of husbands to love their wives, he refers ultimately to the marriage of Christ and His church: "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church," (verse 32).
Here, however, the Bridegroom is specifically referred to as the Lamb. The marriage of the Lamb is come. Very often in the Book of Revelation He is called not only the Lamb, but the "Lamb standing as though he hath been slain." That this wedding is here referred to as the marriage of the Lamb points very evidently to the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the work and power and efficacy of His atonement. And that atonement is the central revelation of the love of God in Christ for His people. The emphasis, therefore, is upon the great love of the Bridegroom for His bride. Christ, the Bridegroom, loved the church, His bride, and gave Himself for her, Ephesians 5:25. He loved His bride even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. He purchased her with His own precious blood.
Also the bride of the Lamb, the Lamb's wife, appears as a significant element in the vision. She is described as having made herself ready; and of her it is said that "to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints."
There are various interpretations as to the identity of the bride. Some interpreters attempt to explain this entire vision as taking place before the final coming of the Lord. According to them, it takes place in the "rapture" and the "first resurrection," before the final translation into glory and before the days of Antichrist and of the great tribulation. These same interpreters deny that the scene of this marriage is heaven, but explain that it takes place neither in heaven nor on earth, but in the air. And they also severely limit the identity of the bride to a very small fraction of the saints. Others also would limit the identity of the bride of the Lamb to part of the saints, but on a different basis. They wish to take the vision literally. And then they point to the distinction between the wedding proper and the marriage supper, and maintain that some are evidently the bride of the Lamb while others are guests at the marriage supper. This distinction they explain as meaning that there will be differences in glory. Some of the saints will be the bride of the Lamb. The greatest saints will live in most intimate communion with the Savior, and they will constitute the Lamb's wife. Other saints shall also enter into glory, and they shall participate in the gladness and rejoicing of the saints in glory that is pictured in this vision. But they will not be of the number of the greatest saints. They will inherit heavenly glory and its bliss as servants and attendants in this wedding of the Lamb. They shall have a part; but that part will be a lesser part, comparable to that of guests at the marriage supper.
It is our conviction, however, that by the bride of the Lamb is meant the entire church. All the saints, both of the old and of the new dispensation, and that as one church, constitute the Lamb's bride.
In the first place, as we have already pointed out, the scene of this vision is very definitely heaven, not the air; and as to the time, this vision conducts us to the very end of this dispensation, to the last day. Babylon has already fallen and been destroyed. And before the judgment of the great whore, the last of the saints had been taken out of the world, irresistibly called out of Babylon and its plagues. We are in this vision at the time of the end, at the dawn of the everlasting day, and in heaven. Secondly, it is the presentation of the entire Word of God that the church, both of the old and of the new dispensation, is one, and that this church, comprised of all the saints, is the bride of Christ. Christ is the Bridegroom of the church, not of only a part of the church, Ephesians 5:32. This is also the presentation of this passage in Revelation 19. For the fine linen with which the bride is clothed is the righteousness of saints, not the special righteousness of a few saints. The Lamb's wife, therefore, is the saints.
Moreover, we should bear in mind that this marriage of the Lamb is essential to heavenly glory. Surely, there shall be different degrees of glory in heaven. Nor is the presentation of the text in conflict with this difference in degrees. But we must remember that whatever difference there will be as to degrees of glory for the saints, such difference will be within the framework of the union of the entire church with Christ. For the union with Christ as such, here pictured in the symbolism of the marriage, is not a matter of degree. On the contrary, the union with Christ is essential to heavenly glory. That we shall be forever and perfectly united with Christ, and through Christ to God, is, in fact, the very essence of heaven. Heaven would not be heaven and would not be glorious without that union. Hence, that union must needs involve all the saints.
As to the presentation of the text that there is one bride and many guests, we remind you that the picture of the text is not literal, but highly symbolic. If only we bear this in mind, and do not attempt to press a literal interpretation upon this vision, we can also understand this element.
Then we can understand that the bride and the guests are one and the same, but that in the figure of the bride the church is presented as a whole, as a unity, in her marriage with Christ, while the members of the church considered individually are the guests at the feast which the Father has prepared for His Son, the Lamb.
For all these reasons, then, we must insist that the bride is not to be limited to the saints of the new dispensation, and then not even all of them. But the bride of the Lamb is the whole church, comprised of all the saints of all ages, but that church considered as one whole, while the guests at the supper are the members of the church considered individually.
This bride of the Lamb is clothed in fine linen, clean and white. The text itself explains that this fine, white linen is "the righteousness of saints." This righteousness is, first of all, the fundamental righteousness of the saints in the blood of Christ, the Lamb. It is their legal righteousness, the righteousness of their state, according to which the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to them. It is the righteousness which is theirs through the very fact that the Lamb was slain and laid down His life for them, and thus purchased them to be His bride. But the reference is also to the righteousness of the saints in the spiritual, ethical sense of the word, or, if you will, to the holiness of the bride. She has kept her garments clean and unspotted from the pollutions of the world, of Babylon. She has heeded the call to come out of Babylon and not to be partaker of Babylon's sins. Hence, the church, the bride of the Lamb, appears here as clothed in garments of justification and sanctification, the pure and white linen of the righteousness of Christ. Moreover, in the vision she appears as having made herself ready. This cannot mean, of course, that the church has justified and sanctified herself, as if her righteousness were of her own accomplishment. On the contrary, the text even emphasizes that these garments of fine linen with which she is clothed are a matter of grace: "And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white." But by faith and in love, and with a view to meeting her Bridegroom, through grace, the bride has prepared herself, has put on the garments provided by the Lamb Himself, and kept herself unspotted from the world.
She is ready for her marriage to the Lamb.
The symbolism of marriage occurs very often in Scripture, both in the Old and in the New Testament. Sometimes the marriage bond portrays the covenant relation between God and His people; sometimes the picture of marriage is used to describe the union between Christ and His church. Here, as we have already noted, the latter is the case. The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. All things, therefore, are in readiness for this wedding.
As to the idea of marriage, it is an intimate union of fellowship of nature, of life, and of love between husband and wife. And here in our text it is such a union in the spiritual sense between Christ and His church. There is a union of nature between Christ and His church. Christ imparts His nature to the church, through His Spirit, so that the church, the bride, is like Him, that is, conformed to the image of God's Son. Secondly, there ... fellowship of life between Christ and His bride. Christ's life is the life of the church. The same Spirit dwells in Him as the head and in His people as the members of His body. And through that Spirit Christ imparts His own incorruptible, heavenly, glorious, resurrection life to the entire church. And, thirdly, there is a communion of love between Christ and His church, based upon the communion of nature and of life. Even as His church is like Him and has His life, so He loves His church. And that love of Christ, which is always first, finds response in the heart and life of the bride, who is like Him; and the church loves Him.
Now what is pictured in the vision of our text is the final and heavenly union of Christ and His church in everlasting and perfect glory. It is not, as some would have it, a new period of prosperity for the church on earth that is pictured here. No, it is nothing else than the final and perfect consummation of the union between Christ and His church, the final salvation. When the entire church shall be perfected in glory and shall be perfectly like Him, perfectly united with Him spiritually, and when in perfect heavenly glory, body and soul, they shall be with Him forever, then is the marriage of the Lamb. This presupposes, of course, too, that then the communion of the saints shall be perfected. The bride is one. And the bliss of the church and her perfect enjoyment of that union with Christ cannot and shall not be completed before all the members of that church are literally united. Then the bride shall appear in the perfection of righteousness, clothed in pure and white linen, prepared as a bride for her husband; and then Christ shall take unto Himself His bride forever. Such, in brief, is the presentation of the vision.
Now, indeed, that union of Christ and His church exists already essentially. Even as it is true in our earthly marriages, which are ideally a reflection of the marriage of Christ and His church, that the communion of nature and of life and of love exists already before husband and wife are united in marriage, so it is with the Lord and His church. That union already exists essentially. But here and now that union is not perfect. There are all kinds of imperfections and separations between the Bridegroom and His bride. Partly'this is due to sin. Partly this is due to the imperfection of things earthy. Partly this is due to the fact that in this present dispensation the great whore has not yet been judged: the bride and the great whore live, as it were, in the same house yet. But for all these reasons the bride is not yet ready, and the Lamb is not yet ready to take her to Himself. All the elect are not yet called and saved. There is separation as yet between the church militant and the church triumphant. Besides, for various reasons there is separation between different parts of the church militant. Moreover, prior to that final day neither the church militant nor that part of the church which is already in heaven is glorified as to the body.
But now, - such is the picture of this vision, - the bride is all glorified and united. And the union between Christ and His church is perfected. There is no more separation and no more reason for separation. The bride, the entire church shall forever be with the Lord. Publicly the Lamb takes His bride. The kingdom is prepared: for a bridegroom must have a proper house where he can make his home with his bride. He is ready to lead His bride into that kingdom at this very moment. And before all the world (a wedding is a public affair!) Christ presents His church to the Father without spot or wrinkle and takes her as His bride, to bestow upon her all the blessings of His love in His perfect and glorious kingdom.
The last element in this vision of the marriage of the Lamb is that of the supper. Plainly this is a distinct element, different from the marriage itself. The same angel who talks with John at the very beginning of this entire series of visions now instructs John: "Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb." Here, too, as with the marriage itself, John does not directly record a vision of this marriage supper, but rather is given knowledge of this supper and its blessedness this time through the speech of the angel.
Those who are called to this marriage supper of the Lamb are not some special guests, other than the church. They are the same as the wife of the Lamb, but now considered as individual believers, members of the church. We must notice also that they are called to this marriage supper. This is the calling of God Himself, the efficacious calling. All that are called, all the elect, all the glorified saints take part in this supper. Here that calling is viewed especially from the viewpoint of its blessedness: "Blessed are they which are called..." And John is especially instructed to write this, the reason being that the saints in the midst of the world, especially as they must suffer at the hand of the antichristian world-power for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God, may be reminded and assured of the hope of their calling. That same power of the calling which for a time involves them in suffering for Christ's sake is nevertheless blessed: for the end, the goal, of that calling is the blessedness and joy of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Well may the saints keep in view this hope of their calling!
For the special emphasis of the symbolism of the marriage supper is upon the fact that the marriage of the Lamb is a joyous occasion. If we may follow the parallel of such a marriage supper as it is presented elsewhere in Scripture, then the picture is that the Father prepares the feast, is the host at this supper, bids the guests. Christ and His bride are forever united in Father's home and Father's kingdom. And in celebration of their marriage, Father prepares this feast. Christ and His bride are the guests of honor at this feast; and all the individual members of the church are those who share in this occasion of great joy. Only, we must remember that this feast is not a passing event; and its joy is not only for a moment.
But it is everlasting. Eternally the saints will rejoice in the fact that now they have been perfectly united in life, in nature, and in love to Christ, the Bridegroom. This blessed covenant fellowship is also the significance of the marriage supper. At that supper the guests eat and drink together, with the Lamb and with the Father, in intimate communion of friendship. Through Christ we shall eternally have perfect covenant fellowship with God, shall know Him as we are known, love as we are loved, behold God's beauty, dwell in His house, and walk with Him and talk with Him. The Word of the Lord shall be perfectly realized: "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one," (John 17:23). Blessed indeed, therefore, are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!
At the conclusion of the vision the angel instructs John pointedly: "These are the true sayings of God." These sayings to which the angel refers do not only include the sayings concerning the marriage and the marriage supper of the Lamb and concerning the joy of the saints who are now united with Christ; but they refer to the entire vision, or series of visions, which begins in Chapter 17 and extends to Chapter 19, verse 10. All that is revealed concerning Babylon and concerning Babylon's destruction and concerning the rejoicing of the redeemed multitude over the judgment of the great whore and concerning the joyous marriage of the Lamb, - all these are the true sayings, the real words, of God. And the words of God are infallibly true; they can never lie. We can surely rely on those words of God in life and in death. For as surely as they are true, so surely also shall they come to pass. The angel makes a special point of this. This certainly does not imply that other words, apart from this vision, are less true. Not at all: all the words of God are true. But here this is emphasized. And this emphasis has its reason in the purpose of comforting and reassuring the people of God in the midst of the tribulation and suffering which are their portion in Babylon. Their lot may be very severe; and the way may seem very dark. It may appear that the powers of darkness triumph completely, and that the cause of Christ is utterly defeated. But the words of God are true. The marriage of the Lamb is surely coming! The great whore shall certainly be judged, and Babylon and all the enemies of Christ and His people shall be destroyed. Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb!
John is evidently deeply impressed. For we read that he fell at the feet of the angel and wanted to worship him. From the last statement of the angel the apostle probably concluded that it was Christ Himself speaking to him, and therefore he falls down to worship. But immediately the angel corrects him. He assures John that he is not divine and that he is not the Christ, but that he is only a fellowservant of John and of all the saints, and that God alone must be worshipped. No creature, no matter how glorious and no matter how important, even how divine, his message is, may be worshipped; only God is the proper object of our adoration and worship.
And then the angel concludes by stressing that he has "the testimony of Jesus," and that this "testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." His testimony, therefore, is about Jesus. It is the testimony which speaks of the coming of Jesus in glory and of the salvation of the saints. Moreover, this testimony of Jesus is the "spirit of prophecy." The meaning is that this testimony is also from Jesus. That prophecy is the Word of God, the true sayings of God, to which the angel has already referred. And they are prophecy not only in the sense of predicting the future, but in the sense that all the salvation of the saints is declared in this prophecy, arid that in the name of God Himself. All that God has ever promised for His people, both for the present and for the future, is implied in the words of the angel. This testimony about and from Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, therefore. That is, the entire testimony concerning Christ and concerning the salvation of the people of God is wrought by the Spirit, the Spirit of God Who is given to Christ and through Christ to His people, and Who declares all the words of God. By this Spirit the angel can deliver the true sayings of God. And while the angel is not divine, but a fellowservant of John and of all the saints, nevertheless his word is divine: for it is the testimony of Jesus, which is the Spirit of prophecy. And all the saints and fellowservants of this angel receive this testimony of Jesus, and will therefore also embrace the words of the angel as the true sayings of God.
In conclusion, let us face this question: what is our preparation? Is it a preparation for Babylon's lot? Or is it a preparation for the everlasting union with Christ and the Father in the marriage of the Lamb? For remember: the bride of the Lamb makes herself ready! Longing to be with the Bridegroom, through grace she keeps herself unspotted from the corruptions of Babylon, in order that in the day of Christ she may appear in the pure and white linen of the righteousness of the saints, prepared as the bride adorned for the Bridegroom. Hence, mindful of the blessed hope that is ours according to the true sayings of God Himself, let us purify ourselves even as He is pure!