All this talk and blogging on Love Wins, and the fact that the world is clearly going to end on May 21, has got me thinking about the end times. Or, to be more accurate, it’s got me thinking about the end of the Bible.
Revelation is a tricky book. It’s difficult to understand and interpret because of it’s apocalyptic nature. The images are extreme, the language is deeply biblical and often coded, and the timeline seems to skip around a bit. Some of it is clearly in the past, while other parts of it seem to be yet in the distant future. That’s what I want to write about today: the future parts.
Revelation 17-19 deal with the fall of Babylon, which is probably a code for Rome. You have to remember that the people to whom Revelation was first written (the seven churches of Asia Minor in chapters 2 and 3) were under severe persecution from Rome. Rome and her emperor stood against Christ, and often waged a violent war against the followers of Jesus. So, for those saints, the fall of Rome meant the destruction of God’s great enemy on earth.
In the middle of chapter 19, we get this wonderful song:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Babylon falls. People rejoice. And a wedding is coming. But we don’t have the actual wedding; we only have a song. The wedding is coming between the Lamb (hint: Jesus) and his bride. And as chapter 19 continues on into chapter 20, we see Jesus portrayed as this conquering King who throws Satan and his minions into the Abyss for a thousand years. And then his people rise from the dead and reign with him for that thousand years, after which the devil and his crew come out of the Abyss and wage war against Jesus again, only to be defeated again, and cast into this awful, horrible lake of burning sulfur to be tormented for ever and ever.
Thus the groom. The twice-conquering King. But do you know who hasn’t shown up yet? The bride. As in weddings today, the bride doesn’t show up until she’s ready. And in this wedding, she doesn’t show up until chapter 21.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. …One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
Thus the bride. But what does this mean? Does Jesus marry a city? That can’t be right, can it? Maybe this is another one of those parts in Revelation where the language shouldn’t be taken literally. Maybe the New Jerusalem is something else—someone else. In fact, the bride is us, the Church, all who have called on the name of Jesus and overcome the world. You and I are the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, beautifully prepared for the wedding by God, and being escorted down the aisle, from Heaven to Earth, by God himself.
And this “Heavenly City”, the New Jerusalem, which is us, dwarves the “Eternal City”, Rome. By a lot. And not just in size, but in grandeur. There is no temple because God Almighty and the Conquering King-Groom are the temple. As Jesus declared from the throne,
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
There is no need for the light of the sun or moon, because God himself will give us light. The gates will never be shut, not because it is all-inclusive, but because there is nothing to fear. The night and its terrors have fled away, and there is no reason to hide behind city walls and closed gates. And “nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Why? Because God has already prepared the bride. He has already brought his people through tribulation and great trial, and they have overcome by the blood of the Lamb. God’s work of preparing the bride for the wedding is done. She is ready. She has gone down the aisle.
The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is not heaven; it’s us. We are being made ready for a wedding, our wedding, where God walks us down the aisle and gives us over to his son, the Conquering King-Groom, the Lamb, Jesus Christ. We are far, far greater than Rome or any of God’s enemies, because we are being made suitable for the Son of God.
At the end of the book of the Revelation is an invitation—a wedding invitation. But it’s not simply an invitation to the ceremony; it’s a call to participate, to be the bride.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
This is how love wins.