Saturday, December 30, 2017

Revelation Introduction: Glory In Marriage

Because I am a pastor, I have officiated at a lot of weddings. One part of the ceremony will never get old to me—watching the groom watch his bride come down the aisle. That slow stroll almost always draws out of the soon-to-be-husband a big smile. I imagine that he is usually thinking, “Wow! She’s beautiful and she will be my wife!  How in the world did she agree to marry me!”  That was certainly what I was thinking on my wedding day!

Another reason I love these scenes is because they picture for us an important and powerful part of the gospel, which announces to us there is coming a time when another groom, Jesus Christ, will smile with great delight, pleasure, and love as he sees his bride making her way toward him in the new heaven and earth. Consider what we read in Revelation 21:1-2: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

There are seven joy-producing truths that verse two moves us to think about in relation to that future groom and bride.

1. Verse 2 is not just talking about a place, but more to the point, it pictures God’s people, his bride. We know this because in Revelation 3:12 it is promised by Jesus Christ to the one who conquers in the midst of a hostile and persecuting culture: “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” Additionally, in Revelation 20:9 God’s people are referred to as “the camp of the saints, even the beloved city” (which refers to Jerusalem).  You see, in the Old Testament “Jerusalem” or “Mt. Zion” often referred to the place where God dwelt with his people in a more realized and outward way to bless them. This terminology in the New Testament is applied to God’s people with whom he is present (see Heb. 12:22; Rev. 14:1). Also, the fact that the “bride” refers to God’s people and not just a place will also be seen below from the Old Testament background to this passage.

 2. Unlike grooms and brides we see at a wedding today, this future groom (Jesus Christ) will not be standing there looking at his beautiful bride in a passive sense. You see, almost no merely human groom has anything to do with the beauty of his bride. He simply gets to enjoy and delight in the gift given to him. Yet, with our Savior, he has everything to do with the beauty of his bride. We know this because the word translated “prepared” (the Greek word hetoimazō) conveys the reality that ultimately the bride has been prepared by another in the past with the result she continues to be prepared. It is true the same verb is used in Revelation 19:7 to say that the bride prepared herself for the bridegroom. Yet, there it also says she was able to do this because it had first been graciously given to her to do by God (19:8). Christ’s bride, the Church, is able to be transformed by the renewing of her mind (Rom. 12:1-2) because of God’s transforming grace that is ours in and through Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1-11:36).

3. The preparation of this future bride, like most any bride we would see today, involves being beautified for the big day. In Revelation 21:2 we read that this bride is “adorned (from the Greek verb kosmeō) for her husband. In other words, she is put in order, given a cosmetic makeover so she is ready for her husband, most likely to bring him joy and, in this case, to honor him. Like the preparation, this cosmetic makeover is not something she merely does to herself, but can take place because the Savior has been transforming her. This beautification of the bride is primarily ethical (helping her conform to the will of God and to be conformed to the likeness of Christ: cf. Rom. 8:29; 12:1-2; Eph. 4:22-24) and doxological (i.e. helping her to worship God as she ought to: cf. Rev. 5:9-10; 14:1-5). More detailed meaning behind this preparation and adornment is also found in the Old Testament background to this verse. This lead us to the next point to ponder from Rev. 21:2.

4. The Old Testament background for the thread of teaching in Rev. 3:12 and 21:2 is found in Isaiah 62:1-4, which reads: “For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.”

The book of Isaiah makes clear to Judah they are heading into captivity because of their rebellion and sin (cf. 39:6-7), yet, God will save and restore them after this (ch’s. 40-66). He will do this by sending his suffering Servant to atone for them (52:13-53:12; 61:1-2). Once this Redeemer comes, empowered by the Spirit, he will not only save, but also transform God’s people so that the glory of the Lord shines through them and draws the nations to God (59:19-62:12).

Specifically, here in Is. 62:1-4, we discover that God is taking an unfaithful lewd bride (who had been forsaken by her husband for her behavior) and he is restoring her, giving her a new name, and transforming her ethically and doxologically so that nations and kings will see this new glory. The new glory will draw nations and kings to the true God, and this is why the nations and kings will be present in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:24-26). What we discover, then, in Revelation 21:2 is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Because the Church has been saved and sanctified—and so she has lived on mission as a transformed bride—nations and kings have been won! Here in Is. 62:1-4 the focus is on initial and progressive sanctification (her initial and ongoing preparation and adornment). The picture in Revelation 21:2 is the finished and fully completed result! She, the Church, is beautiful, radiant with the very glory of God, and redounding to his glory!

5. An interesting background to Isaiah 62:1-4 and the fact that the new name for God’s people is “My delight is in her” (Hephzibah), is this: By the time Isaiah wrote this prophecy, Manasseh (Judah’s most horrific, evil, and idolatrous king) was on the throne. He had certainly made the situation in Judah even more grievous than it had previously been. In 2 Kings 21:2 we learn that the name of Manasseh’s mother, the wife of the good king, Hezekiah, was “Hephzibah.” What Isaiah is saying to Judah in Isaiah 62:1-4 (esp. to the genuine believers who would either remember the reign of the good king and the name of his wife or they would at least have heard about it) is that in the future God will save and return them from their evil and idolatry to a place of fidelity to him and to a state in which God’s delight truly is in them (his bride).

6. If the content of Isaiah 62:1-4 that goes beyond the bride picture is also to be read into Rev. 21:2 (which is often how Old Testament quotes in the New Testament work, especially in Revelation), what we see here is God’s people finally fulfilling the initial purpose of mankind, and that is to serve as kings and queens, vice-regents, who serve and reign under God as those who are created in God’s image and crowned with his glory and honor—which results in their reflecting that glory and honor as God-glorifiers. This also shows that the bride in Rev. 21:2 also reigns underneath the triune God (she is a royal bride!) and redounds to his glory!

7. Finally, we can say that most likely part of the reason God created marriage (based on the line of thought in Eph. 5:32 and seen in light of what we have just presented) is to help display this picture: All of us are part of the lewd bride of Christ whom the Savior saves, transforms, sanctifies, and beautifies and he does this for his glory and joy (see Rev. 21:2 [“for her husband”] in light of the OT background). Whenever we see a bride walking down the aisle toward her bridegroom and we see his joy and delight displayed, this reflects that storyline. It reflects it whether she is a virgin (which is the kind of purity to which God restores to his people [cf. Rev. 14:1-5]) or if she is not a virgin, yet now has been taken into the love and into the holy matrimony she is entering with her spouse.

Bottom-line, what we have, then, is the encouraging good news of how God is graciously working in us to beautify us ethically and doxologically for his joy and glory, as well as for our joy also!  I pray we will never again attend a wedding without thinking about this glorious hope we have in Christ.

Joyfully Being Transformed With You In Christ!