12 September 2014Revelation 19:6-10
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure’— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (vv. 7-8)
The practice of 'ritual marriage' to a god, usually involving some kind of 'temple prostitution', was found in most ancient religions of the ancient near east, including Egypt, Canaan and Babylon. So the Jews of the Old Testament would have encountered it, and their prophets (such as Hosea) used it as a powerful metaphor, warning Israel not to be 'unfaithful' to her God. The experience of exile in Babylon, around 600BC, had left particularly painful and raw memories of the dangers of turning away from God and worshipping 'foreign gods'. And it is this powerful image that the writer of Revelation uses as a vivid metaphor for Rome, warning the Church against "the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication" (Revelation 19:2). "Babylon", he says, will fall, and will be held to account for "the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slaughtered on earth" (Revelation 18:24).
With the impending destruction of Rome, those who persevere in the face of persecution can look forward to blessing, which the writer, extending this vivid metaphor, describes in terms of "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (v. 9). His 'bride', those who have kept themselves "pure" and have "held the testimony of Jesus", will be "clothed with fine linen". And it is significant that this 'ritual marriage' is with "the Lamb", and not "the Lord our God", because it is not always clear whether Jesus is explicitly regarded as God in Revelation: the command of the angel (as with the Old Testament prophets) is "worship God" (verse 10), not "worship the Lamb".
"The testimony of Jesus" (verse 10) could also be translated "the witness about Jesus", which probably means to confess Jesus (and not the Emperor) as "Lord" - which is the true word of the 'prophets' who have died for their faith.
- Some Christians claim to take the Bible literally - how might they explain the idea that the Church will one day marry a young male sheep? If the Church is the 'bride of Christ', in what ways might it understanditself as feminine?
- Is this image of 'ritual marriage' still helpful today? What other image might you use instead? To what extent is Christian thinking still shaped by 1st-century metaphors?
- To confess Jesus as "Lord" meant a challenge to imperial authority. What 'empires' might Christians challenge today?