St. John’s Revelation forces me to consider the crucial, age-old question of how to act like a Colossus of Rhodes and straddle the river of living waters that flows from Holy Scripture. On the one side, I have to plant my foot into the 1st century Roman and Jewish world; on the other, I have to plant my foot in my own world in 21st century America. On the one side, I have to look with wonder and hope to the things that are yet to come; on the other, I must comprehend the wonderful things that Jesus Christ has accomplished and which are already here. Actually, I guess to do all of this I’d need four feet to keep my balance (since there are 2 sides of 2 worlds), which would explain why I seem to fall off to one side too often, as if I’ve got theological vertigo.
A long time ago I discovered a very useful way of understanding the all-encompassing work of Jesus Christ (and which therefore helps me to make some sense out of John’s Apocalypse, which means “Revelation.” I also just learned a new cool synonym for “Apocalypse” – “disambiguation”!) We should think of the comprehensive work of Jesus Christ as happening initially, progressively, and finally. I find that keeping all 3 aspects of His great work in mind keeps me out of a heap of trouble. Jesus Christ has saved us initially, progressively, and finally. There is a beginning to the work of His salvation in our lives, which we might associate with justification; there is a progressive aspect of His salvation, sanctification; and there is a final aspect of His salvation, which is our glorification.
In the same way, we might understand John’s Revelation in terms of the work that Jesus Christ initiated in His ministry that was accomplished from His Incarnation to His Session, the work that He continues to progressively work out through His Church in our lives, and the final consummation of His work at the end of all time. This trinity of time and trinity of Christ’s work is clearly seen in the Lord’s Supper. Historically, Jesus Christ initiated His Supper as a way of participating in His covenant with Him and through Him on Maundy Thursday, on the night in which He was betrayed. But this Marriage Feast of the Lamb to His Bride, the Church, is presently celebrated every Sunday in the Holy Communion, at which Jesus Christ and His Bride are truly present and truly united. But there is also a final consummation of this intimate and ecstatic union that will take place finally only at the end of time.
I find it helpful to keep all 3 aspects in mind when trying to disambiguate (I can’t believe Microsoft Word didn’t flag the word “disambiguate” as something I needed to check!) John’s Apocalypse. Speaking of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, this is where our passage for today should have begun, if we really want to interpret it correctly. I believe that Jesus Christ has already judged the Great Harlot, is in the process of judging her, and will finally judge her at His Second Coming. Likewise, I believe that the Marriage Feast of the Lamb has already begun, that we are allowed to participate in it now, and that it will finally be consummated at the end of time.
What if, instead of worrying about the precise eschatological fulfillment of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we worried about more faithfully and joyfully participating in it now? What if we, along with the angels and archangels and the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures, worshiped the God who sits on the throne, saying “Amen! Hallelujah!” (verse 5). What if we uproariously sang “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. 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” (verses 6-7)!
I believe that Jesus Christ has issued us a standing invitation to enter into His presence, into the heavenlies, and to gather around the Throne of Grace and into the glory cloud (where throughout the Bible we hear the sound of many waters and the sound of mighty peals of thunder) and come and worship the Lamb. I believe that this invitation is an invitation to come to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, and that we are invited not only as a guest but also as the Bride of Christ. And I believe that this Marriage Supper of the Lamb is the Lord’s Supper, at which Jesus Christ offers Himself to His Wife, that we might once again come into intimate union with Him.What if we really thought about our worship this way? What if we really believed that Jesus Christ in this life, the next Lord’s Day or the next time your church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, is inviting you to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, at which all who faithfully partake are blessed (verse 9)?
The answer to this “what if” is that we would worship and live in a different way. We might even worship so boisterously that it would sound like the voice of a great multitude and the sound of many waters and of mighty peals of thunder.
One of the reasons I believe that Revelation, including Revelation 19, is about us, here and now, is that the clean, bright, fine linens the saints have been given to wear are their righteous acts. Of course, these righteous acts are the righteous acts of Jesus Christ, but they are given to us because He enables us to live in a holy manner. We are the ones who are to do good works, and these good works are the wedding garments we are to wear before we come to the Lord’s Supper (see Matthew 22:11-12).
For this reason, I give a very somber and serious exhortation before the Holy Communion with Jesus Christ every week. And for this reason, the holiness of our lives here and now is extremely important to our worship.
Now when we worship this way, boisterously and ecstatically and in Spirit and Truth, amazing, miraculous things happen. First, they happen to us, as Jesus Christ gives Himself to us and we eat the Bread of Life, and the very Bread of Heaven. As we eat Jesus Christ, we become one with Him, and He dwells in us, and we in Him. And that has radical implications for our lives!
It appears to have radical consequences for the world, because it appears that it is in response to this Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the heavenly worship of which are even now participants (verses 1-10) that heaven is opened and the Son of Man goes forth to war in verses 11 and following. When we faithfully worship God and partake of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, heaven is most truly opened up for us, and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He is made known to us in the breaking of the bread.
It seems, as well, that somehow the Son of God makes war through us, having equipped us with His spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6), which I believe to be nothing less than Jesus Christ Himself. Through us, that is Jesus Christ incarnated in us as His Body, He shows forth His Word and rules here on earth. And through us, He makes known His manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:10), where we are seated (a posture of ruling) with Christ (Ephesians 2:6), where we rule with Christ. Of course, one of the ways the Lord fights and subdues His enemies is by converting us! But once He subdues us, He gives us Himself, and we are clothed in white, and then, united to Him and given His weapons, we become His army in white (Revelation 19: 14).
All of which is to say that Revelation 19 is meant for us, and not just for the 1st century Asian churches and not just for the Church Triumphant and the Church Not Yet Born.
So startling are these things to me, even though I have known them, that I need a breather to properly digest them. Sometimes the God’s daily bread gives me theological indigestion!
Prayer: Praise be to You, O Lord, because You reign over heaven and earth! Praise be to You because salvation and power and glory belong to You. Thanks be to You because You have invited us to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and have made us worthy partakers of His Body and Blood. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Sing one (or both!) of the following hymns: “The Son of God Goes Forth to War” or “Come, Risen Lord,” or some other suitable hymn for today’s theme.
Resolution: I resolve to consider my worship before the Lord, especially my preparation for and participation in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson