"Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear.
The imagery of marriage is one that is often used in the Scriptures. A marriage celebration was one of the greatest social events of biblical culture. Wedding preparations and celebrations of ancient times were more elaborate and more involved than they are today. They consisted of three distinct stages that a person would go through from the time one was single to the time the couple was married and declared husband and wife.
The first stage was the betrothal or engagement. This was usually arranged by both sets of parents and was legally binding. Joseph and Mary were in this stage when Mary was found to be with child. The two were betrothed but not yet married as husband and wife. Even in this stage of the relationship, one could only sever ties with the other by means of divorce. That was exactly what Joseph had planned to do, had the angel not intervened. During the betrothal there were the years of preparation for marriage. The young man would learn a trade—usually his father’s trade—and the bride-to-be would learn all about maintaining a home.
The second stage of the wedding preparation was the presentation of the bride and groom to one another. Although they may have known one another before this stage, they were formally introduced to each other as future husband and wife. This was a time of festivities that would take place before the actual wedding ceremony. The festival could last up to a week or more, depending on the economic and social status of the bride and groom. The wedding feat at Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle, took place at this particular stage.
The third—and most significant—stage of the wedding was the actual ceremony, during which the vows were exchanged. Then the groom and bride were officially pronounced husband and wife.
In the vision that John received in Revelation 21, the church that had earlier been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ is the bride of the Lamb. As long as she is here on earth, she is the bride in the betrothal period—promised to the Lamb and awaiting the great wedding feast. Upon the return of Christ, she will be His wife, and the great ceremony of the bride and the Lamb will take place. After that they will never be separated again. They will be one forever.
The Great City
In Revelation 19, we witness the marriage of the bride and the Lamb. The betrothal period is over; the time has come for the wedding. Just a few chapters later we read about the new heaven and the new earth—the bride has finally and officially become the Lamb’s wife. In that familiar chapter, John is carried away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain on which he sees the holy city of Jerusalem come down out of heaven from God. The city is protected by the encircling walls of God’s power. Its foundations are strong and immovable. Everything about the city is magnificent and full of grandeur—gates of pearl and streets of gold.
This is the city that the Lamb has prepared for His bride—their new home as husband and wife. In John 14, Jesus had said, “I am going to prepare a place for you.” This is the place He has prepared. In this city darkness is banished forever. There is neither death nor pain, only life everlasting in perfect joy and peace. This is what the bride of Christ—the church—has to look forward to! In the meantime, as long as the bride is here on earth, she is absent from her Bridegroom. The church is in the first stage—the betrothal.
The Chosen Bride
The betrothal imagery between Christ and the church is very significant for us. First of all, just as it was the custom of the day for the parents to select a bride for their son, so also God the Father has chosen the bride for His Son. The union of love between Christ and the bride did not begin with the bride. The Son of God loved us first. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
In our society, when a young man sets out to choose a bride, he looks at several qualities that might attract her to him—spiritual maturity, looks, and personality. When we were first introduced to the Son of God, He found us to be altogether unlovely. We were filthy, vile, and loathsome. In fact, when we were first formally introduced to our future husband, we hated Him and wanted nothing to do with Him.
The beauty of Revelation and the joy of the gospel is that for some reason the Lamb set His heart on us and chose us to be His bride. He showered us with His love—not because we were charming or beautiful, but to make us charming and beautiful. The Lamb’s desire is to sanctify and cleanse His bride and to present her to Himself without spot or blemish, holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25–27).
Jesus did not just approach the guilty, rebellious, sin-stained bride and say, “Now you are mine” and everything was fine. Long before the words in Revelation are fulfilled, the Bridegroom shed His blood to save her. Jesus suffered the agony of the cross and plunged Himself into the sorrows of hell so that His beloved bride might be set free. The church was made pure by His grace. Through the wondrous grace of God she is given a new wedding dress.
The cross shows us to what great lengths the love of the Lamb went for His bride. Love nailed Him to the cross. Love permitted the nails to be driven into His hands and feet. Love kept Him on that accursed tree as the wrath of the Father for our sin was poured out on Him. Love went to the grave. Love rose triumphantly from the dead on resurrection morning. It is this irresistible love that the Lamb showers on the bride that draws the bride to Him. As we become overwhelmed by so great a love, we cannot help but respond to it with love.
The bride of Christ was purchased at an unspeakable price. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:17–19).
The Glorious Day
Betrothed since before the beginning of time, purchased almost two thousand years ago on the cross, the bride awaits with her Groom the great wedding feast of Revelation 19. To be sure, during this time of engagement there is another who seeks to woo the bride—Satan, the rival of the Lamb. He offers luxury, fame, and power to the bride. Everything the world has to offer, he offers to the bride. Sometimes, it seems, he may even captivate her for a while.
At long last the Bridegroom will come, and He will banish Satan forever and rescue His bride out of the world and deliver her from the power of sin. Then the great marriage supper for which the redeemed of every age have prayed will take place. This will be the glorious day God has been preparing for already before the world began. It is the day that Satan has been trying to prevent since the dawn of time. It is the day Christ made certain with His own precious blood. It is the day for which the Holy Spirit has gathered the redeemed from every kindred, every tribe, every people, and every nation. It is the day that has been the subject of thousands of prophecies.
The corridors of heaven will ring with the mighty voice of the multitude, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!” The saints of every age will be there. All the chosen, redeemed descendants of Adam and Eve will gather together for this blessed reunion.
Yes. It will be a grand reunion with many loved ones. At the wedding, however, to whom does the bride look? Whom does she look for and long for more than anyone else? Out of all those invited to the great wedding feast, the bride will have eyes only for the Bridegroom. He will be there. He will take His bride by the hand and present her to the Father holy and blameless. The father will welcome the bride into His kingdom—forever to be the wife of the Lamb.
Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the co-pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and the editor of The Outlook.