(Except when another version is noted, Bible quotations are from English Standard Version, ESV.)
Chapter 19 is divided as follows.
19:1-5--Continuation of the chapter 18 as heaven rejoices over the destruction of Babylon; this was discussed in a previous post
19:6-10--Announcements of the marriage of the Lamb and marriage supper of the Lamb
19:11-21--The great battle (probably “Armageddon”) between the Lamb and the Beast
I shall focus only on part 2 (19:6-10) in this post.
THE CALL TO PRAISE FOR THE REIGN OF GOD (VERSE 19:6)
Verse 19:6 begins almost exactly as verse 19:1 as John hears an extremely loud sound from heaven. He describes it in three ways--a great multitude, a roar of many waters (like a waterfall or “white water” river), “mighty peals of thunder.” These sounds are sounds of rejoicing. Arrowhead Stadium is home of the Kansas City Chiefs National Football League (NFL) team. The crowd at that stadium once held the record as the loudest crowd in the NFL at 142.2 decibels. This exceeds the noise of a stock car race, a loud rock concert, a siren at 100 feet. That’s loud, but perhaps heaven’s rejoicing was even louder!
The rejoicing is for two reasons: the Lord reigns and the marriage of the Lamb has come.
In one sense the Lord has always reigned, but in some ways that reign becomes more evident at certain times of human experience. When the Lord pronounced creation to be “very good,” the Lord’s triumph was evident. (Genesis 1:31) When the Lord defeated the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Lord reigned triumphant. (Exodus 14:30-31, see also 15:1-21) When the Lord raised Jesus from the dead, the Lord exhibited his powerful reign. (Matthew 28:1-10) The Lord had just defeated Babylon, and the citizens of heaven rejoiced, and that rejoicing is described in 19:1-5. So, when the statement is made, “For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns,” it is a reflection of the victory over Babylon. But, because of its position in the text, it is evident that this rejoicing also is looking forward and not just on a recent victory.
The tense of the verb “reigns” is aorist. Aorist is a tricky tense. Generally, the indicative aorist depicts past actions. However, this example may be what is called the “gnomic aorist,” which is used for a generally universally-accepted truth. (Brooks and Winbery, 101) In that case, the present tense in translation is justified. The following versions use the present tense: King James, New American Standard Version, English Standard Version, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version. In fact, I triple-checked to make sure it was aorist in the Greek. So, the translators believe that the statement is not describing God’s action at a particular time, but at all times. Eternally, God reigns.
Because God reigns, the citizens of heaven encourage one another: “Praise the Lord,” which is what “Hallelujah” means.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB AND THE READINESS OF THE BRIDE (19:7-8)
The praise continues, but now for another reason: “the marriage of the Lamb has come…” This statement and the material that follows is a very difficult subject. In 19:7-10, five subjects are addressed, as follows:
The Marriage of the Lamb (19:7)
The readiness of the Bride (19:8)
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:9)
Those invited to the Marriage Supper (19:9)
The rejection of worship by the angel (19:10)
Dispensationalists, at least from the view point of Pentecost (205, 226-228) understand the marriage of the Lamb and the Marriage Supper with the following ideas:
The Bride of the Lamb is the (largely Gentile) church.
The Marriage takes place in heaven before the Second Coming of Christ (after the Pre-tribulation Rapture).
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is “parabolic of the Millennium” (it is a parable for the Millennial period).
Those who are invited to the Marriage Supper are, first, Israel, and, then, Gentiles who have survived the Tribulation period.
One of the central issues in Dispensationalism (which I am going to abbreviate to D in this post) is a sharp distinction between Israel and the church. D considers the church as a “parenthesis” in the program of God. The central program of God on earth is the Kingdom with Israel as its center. The church is a “mystery”--a plan that God did not reveal in the Old Testament period, but only after Christ came. When the church age is completed, then the church will be raptured from the earth, and God will begin to deal again with Israel and the Kingdom during the seven-year Tribulation period, at the Second Coming of Christ, and in the Millennial (1000-year) reign of Christ. So, it is crucial to D that the church should get married to Christ in heaven, totally separated from Israel. D insists that the people of the church are a “heavenly” people and that the people of the Kingdom, especially Israel, are of the earth. (Pentecost, 193-218 and elsewhere)
I believe that this distinction is an inaccurate reading of Scripture. I believe that the People of God are united in Christ. See Ephesians 2:11-3:6 and my previous two posts, in which I discuss Dispensationalism. In this post, I shall focus--or not--on the following:
The timing of the Marriage
The “fine linen” of the Bride
The Marriage Supper
Who is invited to the Supper
The forbidding of angel worship
THE TIMING OF THE MARRIAGE: For those not immersed in these topics, focusing on these little matters, such as “when does the Lamb get married?” seem to be pursuits of the trivial. The BIG ISSUE behind all this is the Pretribulation Rapture theory. So, allow me to back up a bit and explain.
D has taught for years that the Second Coming of Christ is in two stages. First, there will be a rapture of the church from earth to heaven. Second, there will be a seven-year period of intense suffering called the Tribulation. The Beast will reign during that time. Third, Jesus will return to earth in the Second Coming. He will defeat the Beast and set up a Kingdom, with headquarters in Jerusalem, and He will reign for a thousand years (the Millennium).
Thus, the marriage of the Lamb to His Bride, which is the church, will take place in heaven between the Rapture and the Second Coming. Therefore, D takes the announcement of the wedding of the Lamb BEFORE the great battle (19:11ff) as proof that the church is in heaven during the Tribulation.
I do not agree with the Pretribulation Rapture theory. So, how can I account for the position of the announcement in the narrative? In fact, it is a common feature of Revelation to insert announcements “proleptically” (as though a future event has already or is about to happen).
So, for example, there are two announcements of the destruction of Babylon (14:8 and 16:19) before Babylon is focused on in 17 and 18.
Moreover, 17:16 announces the destruction of Babylon and then 18 describes the destruction in more detail.
Similarly, the career of the Beast is described in chapter 13, but then is described from another viewpoint in parts of chapter 17.
Armageddon is mentioned in chapter 16:16 as a component of the sixth bowl of wrath. This mention of Armageddon is before the mention of the destruction of Babylon in 16:19 as a component of the seventh bowl of wrath.
On the other hand, the destruction of Babylon is detailed in chapters 17:1-19:5 before the description of the battle, which seems to be Armageddon, in 19:11ff.
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is announced in 19:9. It is not clear whether it is part of the announcement of the Marriage of the Lamb. If the Supper is considered a separate event and is equivalent to the Millennium, then this announcement is also “proleptic.” One could argue that 19:9 rules out the equivalency of the Supper and Millennium or could make other conjectures. The point is that the position of this announcement in the narrative rules against any conclusion about the Marriage announcement in 19:7.
Finally, the Bride is described as equivalent to the New Jerusalem in 21:2 and 21:9ff, and it is ambiguous whether the Bride is one about to be married or already has been married.
THE “FINE LINEN” OF THE BRIDE: In 19:8, the Bride is said to wear “fine linen” and this linen is “the righteous deeds of the saints.” Pentecost believes that this is evidence that the the “marriage…[follows] the events of the bema of Christ.” Pentecost, 227) The “bema” was a place of judgment, usually where the judge sat. See John 19:13, where Pilate sits on the bema. In Romans 14:10 Paul asks why the Christians pass judgment on their brothers, because we will all “stand before the judgment seat of God.” In II Corinthian 5.10 we find that we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive what is due us for what we have done in the body.
So, “when the wife appears she appears in the ‘righteousness of the saints’ (Rev. 19:8), which can only refer to those things that have been accepted at the the judgment seat of Christ. Thus the marriage itself must be placed between the judgment seat of Christ and the second advent.” (Pentecost, 227)
This view of the bema judgment--as a sort of purging of the church, almost like a purgatory--needs to be understood with caution. Paul, in Ephesians 5:25-27, describes how Christ Himself, by His death, sanctified the church so that he might “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” In II Corinthians 11:2, Paul is concerned about the church at Corinth as it is being influenced by false apostles. These teachers came from Jerusalem to exert authority over the Corinthian church, supposedly in the name of the Jerusalem apostles. But Paul recognized that they were opportunists and would endanger the church to false doctrine. So, he exerted apostolic authority to bring the church back to the gospel of Christ in order to present it “as a pure virgin to Christ.” In II Corinthians 6:14-7:1, Paul describes how the individual members of the church, as well as the church as a body--the temple of God--should be holy, living “separately” from the corruption of the world. In these instances, the church is not viewed as needing purging, but is experiencing purification in this present life.
THE MARRIAGE SUPPER AND WHO IS INVITED: At this point, I am going to “punt” on these topics. They are certainly important, but I believe that they should be considered in conjunction with a discussion of the Millennium.
THE FORBIDDING OF ANGEL WORSHIP: “The angel” has spoken concerning the marriage supper and comments that “These are the true words of God.” (19:9) John responds by preparing to worship the angel. However, the angel forbids him, and then comments: “I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy.” (19:10)
The angel puts himself on the same level as John. He is a fellow servant with John and his “brothers.” Our knowledge of angels is very limited. Almost all of the descriptions of angels in the Scripture describe them as having much greater abilities, position, and knowledge than ourselves.
An angel went up in a flame of fire. (Judges 13:20)
An angel caused fire to consume a sacrifice. (Judges 6:21)
An angel cleansed Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal. (Isaiah 6:7)
An angel announced the coming birth of Jesus. Luke (1:30-31)
An angel rolled the stone from the tomb. (Matthew 28:2)
An angel locked Satan in the Abyss. (Revelation 20:1-3)
However, the message of this angel is that he and John share the same task and purpose: they labor together as servants of God.
The angel includes himself among other servants, the “brothers” of John. This could include all Christians, but it seems especially to focus on those “who hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Although “hold to” (ESV) is a possible translation of the word, which is most simply translated as “have,” there are a number of possible meanings. The “verb” is actually a present participle which can be translated as part of a dependent clause modifying John and the “brothers.” I believe the connection of the verb with “testimony” implies the meaning “to testify.” The present tense implies continuous action. Hence, the best meaning seems to be “who continue consistently to testify about Jesus.” The angel is a fellow servant of those who consistently testify about Jesus.
Having forbidden John’s angel worship, the angel clarifies his meaning by simply saying “worship God.” There was an angel fad that went around about 15 years ago. People put angel figurines everywhere. It was part of the folk religion that passes off as Christianity. It does seem to have died down.
The final statement in this passage (19:6-10) is a mind-blower: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The “for” is in reference to “Worship God.” The connection is as follows:
Cause: “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Result: “Worship God.”
We have two problems: to understand the cause and to understand how the cause brings about worship of God.
How is the testimony of Jesus the spirit of prophecy? I believe that a “low” understanding of how “spirit” is used is merited. By “low” understanding, I mean that “spirit” is not referring directly to the Holy Spirit nor to other spiritual beings. I believe that “spirit” here refers to the state of mind or disposition. (One possible meaning of pneuma in Arndt and Gingrich.) See I Corinthians 4:21 and I Peter 3:4 where pneuma is used in this way. This use of “spirit” is also found in the Old Testament. See Numbers 5:14, Judges 15:19, I Samuel 1:15, etc. So, the “spirit” from which prophecy comes is a disposition to testify concerning Jesus. JESUS IS AT THE CENTER OF ALL PROPHECY.
How does the fact that Jesus is the center of all prophecy lead to or entail worshiping God? The testimony concerning Jesus is that He is the centerpiece of the plan of God to bring about redemption, reconciliation, and salvation of the human race. “[In] Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…” Thus, we have the following series of causes and effects: the desire or disposition to testify concerning Jesus (the spirit of prophecy)→ prophetic revelation about Jesus (prophecy) → belief and salvation → a new relationship with God that leads naturally to a life of worship of God (worship of God).
These brief clauses (“Worship God” and “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”) remind us of the following about prophecy:
It is not a branch of Scripture that is separate from the central message of God’s redeeming work.
It is not an esoteric set of interlocking puzzles that must be solved to unlock some secrets of the universe.
We are also reminded that
Prophecy is part of the testimony about Jesus.
Prophecy reveals components of God’s redeeming work.
Prophecy is difficult to study and full of possible pitfalls. It puts many people off and confuses some and has been the occasion for a number of cults and other forms of deception. Nevertheless, it is an important part of the revelation of God. Ultimately, our study of it should bring about a deep appreciation for who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He is about to do. From that appreciation should flow a praise of God.
Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Brooks, James A. and Carlton Winbery. Syntax of New Testament Greek. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979.
Crossway Books. English Standard Version Study Bible. Good News Publishers, 2007.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ., 1958.