The second coming of Jesus Christ has a twofold effect: judgment and salvation. God reserves judgment for those who, in this present age, persistently refuse his offer of forgiveness and choose instead to continue sinning against him and against their neighbors. But God freely forgives any and all who turn to him with repentance and hope for salvation.
In John’s vision, judgment and salvation are depicted using a variety of graphic images. Judgment, for example, is urban destruction (Rev. 18.1–19.5) and battlefield carnage (19.11–21). Salvation, by contrast, is a wedding feast in which Jesus Christ marries his bride, the church (19.6–10).
Now, I can think of few images of salvation more evocative of joy than a wedding feast. In my pastoral ministry, I have officiated at numerous weddings and attended more than my fair share of banquets and receptions. I have never attended a boring reception or one full of misery or sadness. A wedding is always a happy event, and the banquet following it always reflects this fact.
Why is this the case? Because, I think, marriage is an expression of the way things are supposed to be between a man and a woman. Their relationship is supposed to be a thing of beauty, brought into existence by vows of faithful love, in the presence of friends and family, with the promise of children and the blessings of God. How can one fail to celebrate such a glorious thing?
No wonder, then, that both Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles saw in marriage a metaphor of the relationship between God and his people, at least the way that relationship is supposed to be. Our relationship with God too is brought into being by vows of faithful love on his part first, and then ours. It too is not a solitary event, but a social one in which we are supported by spiritually like-minded friends and siblings. As we grow in our love of God and neighbor, we bring into the world spiritual children through the practices of evangelism and discipleship. Such a relationship with God is truly blessed.
In John’s vision, “the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder” cried out: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 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.”
Are we in fact ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb? Have we clothed ourselves with “fine linen, bright and pure,” which is “the righteous deeds of the saints”? Do we celebrate—exuberantly, joyfully—the wonderful salvation God has freely offered us through his Son, Jesus Christ?
Sometimes, I look out at the church as it worships and see many mouths closed, arms crossed, eyes set, and jaws clenched. I never see such posture at a wedding banquet or reception, and I wonder why the church is not happier. The marriage supper of the Lamb is no momentary party but an eternal feast. Shouldn’t our faces reflect that fact as we gather each week for worship?