20 Studies in Bible Prophecy
Study 6 - The Marriage Of The Lamb
This is one of the prime features of eschatology, and it can be safely stated that it will be conducted in heaven, following the removal of the Church from earth and the review of the believer at the judgment seat of Christ.
This shows that the period separating the Rapture and the Revelation is not a vacuum. Indeed the events which are to take place following the translation of the Church, i.e. the bema, the presentation of the Church to Christ, and the marriage of the Lamb, make an interval of time necessary.
As we view the Scriptures, the next great event in the drama of our redemption will be the Rapture of the saints, an event which concerns the Church, and must be distinguished from Christ's appearing on earth as indicated in (Zech. 14 and Revelation 19:11-16).The first will be to the air as the returning Bridegroom to claim His bride, and the second will be to the earth in company with His bride, then the wife of the Lamb, to execute judgment and reign in equity.
To confuse these two events and class them as one is to do an injustice to prophetic truth.
Since this nuptial celebration concerns the Church, it is necessary to take a look at this spiritual superstructure, composed of all regenerated believers from Pentecost to the Second Coming.
This Church is the bride of Christ and nothing is more descriptive of the union that exists now between Christ and His Betrothed bride, consummating in this marriage in the heavenlies, subsequent to the removal of the saints from the earth at the Rapture. It is imperative, therefore, that we trace the Church of God in this parenthesis of grace, and in the glory yet to be revealed.
The Relationship That Exists
In this present age, God by His Holy Spirit is calling out a people from among Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15:7, 13,14). This "Church" (in the Greek, Ecclesia) means "a people called out by God from all the rest of humanity." This is not an organisation but a spiritual organism.
Various designations are used in the New Testament to depict the relationship which exists between this "called out" company and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Church is likened to a "body" of which Christ is the Head (1 Cor. 12:12, 13; Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18).It is also referred to as a "building" of which Christ is the Foundation and Cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:9; Eph. 2:19-22).But in (Eph. 5:23-33) the mystery of the Church as the "bride" is revealed.
This figure is not novel since in the Old Testament Israel is described as the wife of Jehovah, albeit an unchaste wife, whose restoration awaits the coming of Christ's earthly kingdom.
Hosea's own marital experience in the three opening chapters was a plain parable for the
nation to see.
Before following this figure to its ultimate, we should look at the Church in this parenthesis of grace, leading to the Church in God's ultimate.
Viewing the present we have the CHURCH MILITANT on earth, going forth at her Lord's command to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). At the same time "part of the host have crossed the flood", forming the CHURCH TRIUMPHANT in heaven, albeit in an unclothed state (2 Cor. 5:4). They are not yet perfect in that they await our arrival as it reads in (Hebrews 11:40) "that without us they should not be made perfect".
With the ultimate in view we have the CHURCH IN RAPTURE - in the heavens with the Lord.
This will lead to the CHURCH UNDER REVIEW, and then to the CHURCH IN JUBILATION. This will be succeeded by the Church in the eternal state, the CHURCH REIGNING in the new heavens and the new earth.
Returning to the figure of the Bridegroom and the bride, a number of passages in the New Testament make the point, as in (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:31, 32; Rev. 19:7; 21:9).
The Bridegroom in this greatest of all marriages is Jesus Christ. He likened Himself to the Bridegroom in (Matt. 9:15). John the Baptist referred to himself as the "friend" of the Bridegroom in (John 3:29).
In (Matt. 25:1-13) we have a vivid picture of the Bridegroom claiming His bride. The BRIDE is the Church, composed of all those who are "saved by grace, through faith", and "saved through the blood" (Eph. 2:8; Rev. 5:9). There can be no doubt that the "Lamb's wife" is the "Bride" (Rev. 21:9), and that this is the Church, identified with the "heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22, 23).
The Matrimonial Customs Of The Ancient World
It is necessary to remember that the Bible is an eastern book, and to understand the symbolism we need to know a little about Hebrew marriage customs. There were three stages from the initial betrothal to the final marriage union.
(1) The first stage was that of contract, known as betrothal. This was a legal enactment and was considered to be more binding than what we know as an engagement. It afforded the betrothed parties the opportunity to develop their relationship before the eventual consummation of the marriage vows. In some cases the contract would be signed while the respective young couple were small children. Whatever the circumstances, it could only be broken by unfaithfulness, in which case a bill of divorcement was required. This course was open to Joseph when Mary was expecting her Child during this betrothal period, but Joseph was going to do it all privately until of course God made the truth known to him. The Christian believer is betrothed to Christ, the contract having been drawn up in eternity past, before we were born (Eph. 1:4). This is an indissoluble contract.
(2) The second state was that of conjugal union. There was an interval between the betrothal and the actual wedding. As Dr. Skevington Wood says in PROPHECY OF THE SPACE AGE, writing with the Church and Christ in view, "The interval has now come. That is the period in which the witness of the Church is at present set. It stretches from the Ascension to the Second Advent. It is in this dispensation that the bride must make herself ready. The procession itself will take place at the end, when Christ comes to call His beloved and conduct her to His own home in heaven". STUDY 6b This second state of the marriage process took place when maturity was reached by the contracting parties. On a given day the bridegroom, suitably attired, and in company with his friends, would travel to the home of the bride-to-be, and after the fulfilment of the existing marriage contract would escort her in processional march to their future home or that of his parents. This was the stage when they were legally married and began their life together as man and wife. When we think of our betrothal to Christ we move into that realm of anticipation when God will send to the home of the bride to conduct her "by resurrection and translation into His home, so that the Father may present the bride to the Bridegroom in the Father's house."
(3) The third stage was that of nuptial celebration, lasting for one or two weeks, depending on the financial and social status of the bridegroom. To this banqueting occasion the groom would invite his many friends to share in the joy of the marriage. It is clear that the guests in the context we are considering must be distinct from the Bride, the Church. Opinions differ as to who these very privileged ones are, some suggesting the godly of the ages prior to Christ, while others would contend for the Tribulation saints. Perhaps this could include both. If we study (Rev. 19:8, 9, 14) a little deeper, it would seem to suggest that the celebrating which begins in heaven, eventually spills over on to the millennial earth. Lewis Sperry Chafer writes, "Distinction is called for at this point between the marriage supper which is in heaven and celebrated before Christ returns, and the marriage feast (Matt. 25:10, R.V.; Luke 12:37), which is on earth after His return." This would seem a fitting fulfillment of the Christ-centred utterance of (Eph. 1-10).
The Challenge Of The Prospect
As the believer anticipates the consummation of his union with Christ in heavenly matrimony, he should be both conserved and challenged. In this interval between our betrothal to Christ and the actual marriage ceremony, we may expect trials, difficulties and temptations, but the prospect of our wedding day sustains. See what Peter says in (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
God's elect are kept by His power and guarded through faith for future salvation. It will be worth it all when we see Jesus! But we should also be challenged by the prospect. The longing of every bride is to appear before her bridegroom looking her best, and this should be the constant desire of every Christian in the light of the return of the heavenly Bridegroom.
This is surely the Advent challenge - "They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage" (Matt. 25:10). To attain this state of preparedness requires not just an outward profession of religion, but an inward possession of reality.
In his book ISRAEL AND PROPHECY, J. M. Davies takes the four terms used to describe the conditions or attitudes of the virgins as a prophetic foreview of the four periods in the history of the Church relative to Advent expectation.
In the Apostolic era the Church waited expectantly - "going forth to meet the Bridegroom." From the days of Constantine the Church began to slumber, like the virgins. In the Middle Ages the Church went to sleep with regard to this truth and many other fundamental issues. But for the last 200 years there has taken place an aroused interest in eschatology and an increased interest in the imminence of our Lord's return.
It was this increased interest in prophetic truth that brought the Advent Testimony Movement to birth. In 1917 when the Movement was inaugurated the cry was going forth round the world. One of the outstanding personalities of the day. Dr. F. B. Meyer, declared
"There must be one more great cry to the world, that it may prepare itself for the coming of Christ."
He then went on to press the need for a sanctified Church and the Movement was renamed - the ADVENT TESTIMONY AND PREPARATION MOVEMENT.
If this great anticipation really grips us, we will do three things.
First, we will be looking for the Lord of the Advent (Matt. 25:13; Mark 13:34-37).
Secondly, we will be living in the light of the Advent (1 John 3:3). Thus the hope becomes connected with holiness.
Thirdly, we will labour to precipitate the Advent (2 Pet. 3:12). The words "hasting unto" come from the Greek pseudo, meaning to haste or urge on.
To believe in the return of Christ does not mean that we want to contract out of the responsibility of service. Rather the doctrine has always been a force to diligence in witness and work. In that light of His appearing the believer should spare no time or talent in helping to fulfill the commission.