Formations 11.20.2016: God Wins

Revelation 19:1-10

Bayeux Tapestry Scene 43: Bishop Odo blesses the first banquet that Duke William and the Norman barons hold on English soil.

Bayeux Tapestry Scene 43: Bishop Odo blesses the first banquet that Duke William and the Norman barons hold on English soil.

For all of its troubling images of evil and destruction, Revelation ends with triumph and joy. In heaven, the victory of God is proclaimed. The heavenly multitude anticipates the downfall of Rome—its greed, its oppression, and its war-mongering—and the Lamb of God prepares for his wedding banquet.

The imagery of the coming of God’s kingdom as a banquet is explored in other texts in both the Old and New Testaments (see, for example, Isa 25:6; 55:1-2; Matt 8:11-12; 22:2; Luke 14:15). Here, that hope at last reaches its fulfillment. Yes, John admits, things are bad on earth. They are likely even to get worse. At the last day, however, Christ will reign in glory.

Discussion

• Which most influences your actions and attitudes: the vision of Revelation 19 or the nightly news? Why?
• How would you respond to someone who said this vision was too good to be true?
• How should Christians live while we await the ultimate triumph of God?

Reference Shelf

The Messianic Banquet

[Banquets were] held by Israelites on diverse celebrative occasions. As the Hebrew, misteh (drinking), implies, ancient banquets involved heavy drinking and eating rich foods. Banquets were held for many reasons….

In Isa 25:6 a promise of an eschatological banquet is found: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.” The prospect of this final banquet, where death will be swallowed up (25:8), is also relevant to the Christian understanding of the Eucharist.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, a messianic banquet is described—a meal of the community at the end of days, at which the messiahs of Aaron and Israel would preside (1QSa).

The Book of Revelation describes an eschatological banquet of a different sort. In Rev 19:9 an angel declares: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb.” Shortly afterwards (v. 17) an angel summons all the birds of heaven to “Come, gather for the supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains….” This grisly banquet has its prototype in Ezek 39:17-20, where birds and beasts are summoned to a sacrificial feast.

John J. Collins, “Banquet,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 84–85.

The Marriage of the Lamb

In addition to celebrating God’s sovereignty, the hymn in vv. 6-8 also rejoices over the marriage of the Lamb. The imagery of the people of God as God’s bride has a rich history in the Hebrew Bible (cf. Isa 54:1-8; Jer 31:32; Ezek 16:8-14; Hos 1–3). According to the Gospels (Mark 2:18-20; Matt 25:1-12; John 3:29), Jesus applies the metaphor of a bridegroom to himself. New Testament writers adapts the bride and bridegroom imagery to the church as the bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-33). In Revelation, the marriage of the bride (the church) to Christ is an eschatological event, as it apparently is in 2 Corinthians 11:2 where Paul tells the Corinthians, “I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” At the end time, Paul will present the church to Christ in marriage. During the interim, the church is betrothed to Christ, awaiting the marriage that is yet to come. (That is likely the idea in Eph 5 as well.)

The bride is ready for the marriage ceremony, clothed in “fine linen, bright and pure” (19:8). John, as narrator, intrudes into the scene to explain that the fine linen garments of the bride are “the righteous deeds of the saints.” Even though “it has been granted” to the church by God to become the bride of Christ, the church must demonstrate its readiness by its faithful living. Here is the paradox of God’s salvation as both gift and demand.

The contrast between the church and Rome is unmistakable. Rome is the great whore of Babylon, dressed in purple and scarlet. The church is the bride of Christ, clothed in fine linen, bright and pure. The former is destroyed and her flesh devoured (17:16); the latter has a wedding feast held in her honor.

After the last notes of the “Hallelujah Chorus” have faded, John is instructed to write down the fourth of seven blessings or beatitudes of the Apocalypse. The person speaking to John is not identified. (“The angel” is supplied by the NRSV; in the Greek text, the subject is not stated.) The similarity with 22:8-9 suggests that the speaker is an angel, likely the interpreting angel of 17:1 who is apparently still present with John. The blessing is directed at the faithful people of God, who are the ones “invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (19:9). How can the church be both the bride and the wedding guests? One cannot press John’s imagery for consistency. His language and imagery are fluid. This is poetic, imaginative language, not analytical or scientific language. In John’s creative presentation, the church can be both the bride and the wedding guests. These two images of the church—bride and banquet guests—draw from different biblical traditions, which John has combined here. The former has already been noted; the latter is represented in texts that speak of an eschatological banquet for the people of God (Isa 25:6-8; Matt 8:11-12; 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 13:29; 22:18) or that use the metaphor of a wedding banquet for the kingdom of God (Matt 22:1-14; 25:1-13). The imagery of a wedding and a wedding feast convey the mood of the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is filled with joy and celebration, happiness and intimacy.

Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 362–64.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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