Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV).
Abbreviations: NIVSB = New International Version Study Bible; KJV = King James Version
In Revelation 21:1-8, John has been focused on the throne of God. This is because those who have spoken to him have done so from the throne: a "loud voice from the throne" (21:3) and the voice of the one "who was seated on the throne" (21:5). Now, in Revelation 21:8ff, there is a new speaker, one of the seven angels who were introduced in 15:1. Each of these held a bowl containing one of the seven last plagues (15:7-16:1). Now an angel from that group turns attention to a glorious sight. Rather than the horrific last plagues, the angel now presents to John "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." (21:9) John is then carried to a high mountain "in the Spirit" to view the next great sight in Revelation. John had been carried by one from this same group of angels "in the Spirit" to a wilderness to view the great prostitute (17:3). That woman was a city--called Babylon (17:18). This woman of chapter 21 also is revealed as a city, "the holy city Jerusalem." (21:10) The first city, Babylon, contained the blood of martyrs (18:24). Now, the focus is on the "new Jerusalem" (it is called that in 21:2). It will be a place for the servants of God to worship God and to reign with him forever (22:3, 5).
The first description of the new Jerusalem is that it is "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." (21:9) The marriage of the Lamb is never really described in Revelation. It is announced as impending in 19:7 and 9. The theme of "wedding," "bride," and "bridegroom" are used in the gospels to emphasize certain principles of the Kingdom of God. There are major emphases in these passages:
*The wedding between two parties
*The celebration itself
*Those who are invited to the wedding celebration and how they respond
*Being ready to attend the feast
*The identity of the bride (I shall discuss this in another post.)
*The identity of the bridegroom
1. THE JOINING TOGETHER OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD WITH GOD AND THE LAMB: Revelation 21:3 and 11-14
In Revelation 21, there is considerable emphasis on the joining together of the people of God with God himself and with the Lamb. Thus, the emphasis is on the wedding between the two parties, although "marriage" or "wedding" is not used in direct connection with joining God and people. Verse 21:3 states that the "dwelling place of God is with man..." In verse 21:9, the angel says he will show John the "Bride, the wife of the Lamb." He then procedes to show John the New Jerusalem.
2. THE FEAST ON THE MOUNTAIN: Isaiah 25:6
This is called in the NIVSB the "eschatological feast of God, the Messianic banquet." It is held "on the mountain," which NIVSB identifies as "Mount Zion." It will be "a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined." Here the emphasis is on the celebration. It does not focus on who is invited. It does lift up Mount Zion in Jerusalem as the location. This is a reassurance to Israel of God's eternal commitment to Israel. In Revelation 21, the city is described as a "New Jerusalem." Just as all things will be renewed in glorious ways, so will the city of Jerusalem. And it will be the centerpoint for the great celebration.
3. THE WEDDING CELEBRATION (FEAST) THAT WAS GIVEN BY A KING FOR HIS SON: MATTHEW 22:1-14
In the passage in Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus is focused on who are invited to the wedding celebration and how they respond.
Jesus begins by comparing the "Kingdom of Heaven" to a "wedding feast" that a king gave for his son. (KJV uses simply "wedding," which is a literal translation. "Feast" is not in the Greek, but is supplied in most other translations, including a 19th century one by Young. [thanks to Bible Gateway.com]) The king had invited people to come, and, when the feast was ready, he sent his servants to inform them that the feast was ready and they should come. However, none of these invited guests came. He sent a second group of servants, and the guests either went to their own pursuits (such as farming) or they killed the servants. The king retaliated by killing the guests and burning their city. He sent his servants to find whomever they could in the streets to come to the wedding feast and filled the wedding celebration.
The Kingdom feast is by invitation only. Some will be invited, but not come. The refusal of those who are invited to come seems to be an indictment of the nation of Israel, which has rejected Jesus and refused the eschatological feast of God that the coming of the Messiah (Jesus) represented. The turning to the people in the streets and inviting them to take the place of the original ones who were invited seems to signal the fact that the Gentiles would be welcomed into the Kingdom.
4. THE GREAT BANQUET: Luke 14:15-24
This story is very similar to the one in Matthew, with the following exceptions:
*It is not called a "wedding feast."
*The invited guests do not kill the servants.
*The urgency of finding people to fill the "house" or the feast hall with people is stressed, so that the servants are sent to the "streets and lanes of the city" and then to the "highways and hedges" to find people, especially the "poor and crippled and blind and lame."
Again, as with the passage in Matthew 22:1-14, the implication is probably that the Gentiles, who were not the "chosen" ones, will be brought into the feast of God.
5. THE FEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: Matthew 8:11-12
Jesus responded to the faith of the Roman centurion, who showed great faith in Jesus for the healing of his servant. Jesus' response was to predict that there would be many from "east and west" who will "recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." But the "sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness." This is an echo of Jesus' story of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 and in Luke 14. The celebration rather than the wedding is focus, and who actually is allowed to enjoy the celebration is the message.
6. THE WISE AND FOOLISH VIRGINS: Matthew 25:1-13
Jesus tells a parable or allegory of the kingdom. It is a somewhat elaborate scenario. There are 10 "virgins," who probably played a role similar to bridesmaids. They were hanging out waiting for the groom. From what I could learn on the internet, they probably were with the bride at her house. When the groom came, he and the bride would participate in a preliminary ceremony and then proceed to the groom's house for the main event--the wedding and the wedding feast. When the groom comes, five of the virgins have no oil for the lamps, which they will carry through the streets to the groom's house or his father's house. They try to borrow from the other five, who refuse to share. So, they go out to buy oil. While they are gone, the procession is held and the party enters the house where the wedding and feast will take place. The door is shut. The five arrive late and call to the groom, but he refuses, saying, "I do not know you." The Lord then gives the warning: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
In this parable, the emphasis is on being prepared so that one is admitted into the wedding celebration. I shall discuss what it is to be "ready" in item number 8 below.
7. THE WARNING TO BE READY TO OPEN THE DOOR FOR THE GROOM WHO IS RETURNING HOME: Luke 12:35-40
This is really two scenarios or parables mixed together. In the first scenario, a group of servants are at the groom's house. The groom is at the wedding, probably being held at his father's house. The groom returns home late in the night (probably with his bride). The servants must be ready to let him in. Then, the story shifts. A thief comes in the middle of the night. If the "master of the house" (the chief steward or chief servant) knows at what hour to expect the thief, he would be on guard and not allow the thief in.
In example 6 and 7, the theme is readiness: In the story of the 10 virgins, the foolish virgins have not come prepared with extra oil. This results in their being left out of the wedding feast. In the two examples in number 7 above, servants need to be ready for a sudden arrival. They must be ready for the master, who has gotten married, to come home so they can let him in. They--or at least their leader--must be ready for a thief so that he does not enter unexpectedly.
8. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE "READY"?
What does it mean to be ready? Jesus describes cases of lack of readiness in Matthew 24:36-51. The cases are as follows.
*In the days of Noah, people were living out their lives oblivious to the spiritual crisis and the fact that Noah was building an ark in preparation for the flood. So, the flood "swept them all away." (Matthew 24:37-39)
*The same example that is given in Luke 12:39 is presented in Matthew 24:43. A thief comes during the night and the master of the house is not alert, so the thief breaks into the house.
*The most important examples are in Matthew 24:45-51. A master puts one of his servants in charge of the others. He takes care of them in a responsible way, making sure they get fed, for example. The master returns and "catches" the head servant doing the right thing and rewards him with more responsibility. However, the counter example is that the head servant decides the master is delayed and he mistreats his fellow servants and gets drunk. The master pays a surprise visit and catches the head servant misbehaving and punishes him severely.
So, "being ready" or not being ready means that a person is either engaged in responsible discipleship or not so engaged--even to the point of being oblivious, as with the contemporaries of Noah. It is not a matter of keeping an eye on the sky, waiting for Jesus. It is a matter of filling oneself with obedient love for the One who is coming back with his reward. (Revelation 22:12)
8. THE IDENTITY OF THE BRIDEGROOM: Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35, John 3:29
In the examples in the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Jesus is replying to criticism that his disciples do not fast. He explains that there is a party going on. The disciples are guests of the groom and are rejoicing with him. They cannot be expected to fast. It is obvious that Jesus is the bridegroom. The bride is not identified, but the people of God who receive Jesus no doubt are the bride. In John 3, John the Baptist is being questioned by his disciples as to the fact that Jesus is baptizing more people than John is. But John refuses to be envious and explains that he is the "friend of the bridegroom" and rejoices to see that the one for whom he is the forerunner has come.
So in this case, the identity of the bridegroom is the focus rather than the bride or those who are invited to the party. In the next post I shall discuss the IDENTITY OF THE BRIDE.
Crossway. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Thinline Edition). Wheaton, Illinois: Good News Publishers, Crossway, 2011.
Zondervan. The Holy Bible, New International Version NIV. Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, Inc., 2011.
Kenneth L. Barker, Gen. Ed. The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.