As we move toward the end of Revelation, from chapter 7 all the way to chapter 21, we’re jumping over a lot of powerful imagery. I would encourage you to take time to read it.
We’re skipping the tales of the dragon and the two beasts, the number 666 (or is it 616?), the fall of Babylon, and all sorts of other images and events more suitable for a long-term Revelation study than 20 minutes of preaching. I’ll sum up what we’re skipping by saying the battle between good and evil has long raged, is raging, and will continue to rage until God says, “No more.”
And let’s never forget that Christ’s willing sacrifice on the cross makes “no more” possible.
This week and next, we will focus on what life will be like when there is a new heaven and earth, all reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. Sometimes we talk about this moment as a remaking or reordering of all things. Anything that is to continue to exist will be aligned with God’s will. It is also important to note that God will be fully, undeniably present, seen constantly with the heart as well as with the eyes.
Revelation’s author—and the Holy Spirit, I suppose—must drive rigid English teachers crazy with the use of mixed metaphors. Life in the full presence of God is described as both a marriage and a beautiful city (the city at one point is clothed as a bride), and each metaphor reveals something special about God’s relationship with humanity.
This week, I want to explore the idea of the “new Jerusalem” adorned as a bride for her husband. This metaphor is one of the major reasons Revelation is so appropriate as the closing book of Christian Scripture. Throughout the Bible, there has been a thought running along like a thread from nearly front cover to back. It is the idea of God as the spurned husband and humanity as the unfaithful wife.
From the beginning of our Bible story, it is clear God wanted to be fully available to his creation. When God discovered the first act of disobedience, he had gone for a stroll in Paradise in the cool of the day, looking for the people he made. Sin brought on a terrible separation. Rather than a close companion, our maker by his very nature was forced to become distant, while at the same time beginning the plan to overcome sin and restore what once was.
The prophets in particular picked up on the image of God as spurned husband. Jeremiah did. Hosea certainly did, at God’s command taking a prostitute as an unfaithful wife to symbolize Israel’s unfaithfulness.
But in the end, bride and groom are restored. The Holy Spirit works within the church, healing its members and restoring them through faith in Christ. The bride is being adorned and dressed as we gather in worship and live out the church’s mission.
The metaphor also says much about the value of earthly marriage. When I take couples through premarital counseling, I make a point of reminding them that the union they are about to enter symbolizes the great work Christ is doing.
The husband stands in for God; the wife stands for the church. And to keep the husband from getting a big head, thinking this metaphor somehow puts him in a position of power, I remind him of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
In a culture where marriage is less and less valued—we are so much more about instant gratification and so much less about commitment—we need again to emphasize the symbolic value of marriage. The Roman Catholic Church has seven sacraments where we have two; if I could add a third sacrament to our Methodist practice, it would be marriage. Perhaps we would better understand how we participate in God’s grand scheme for creation when we take our vows before God.
Next week, we’ll explore what it means when our future with God is represented by a huge, cube-shaped city. We will stroll streets of gold, drink life-giving water and eat from a very special tree. In the meantime, treasure the always faithful God who calls you home.
The featured image is of an unknown Turkish Cypriot bride and groom in 1941. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)