Saturday, 19 August 2017

The King’s War (Rev. 19:11-21)

John is given another vision of the war that is taking place between Jesus and his opponents. It is not a literal war – after all Jesus does not ride into battle sitting on a horse. Nor do believers or angels, depending on who his army is composed of. If we interpret this passage literally, we will have to imagine a literal battlefield at which all the opponents are slain by a sword that comes out of the mouth of Jesus. Instead what we have here is a description of Jesus and his eventual victory over all his enemies.

Several interpreters regard this passage as focussing entirely on the second coming of Jesus, with the Saviour being presented as marching out to the Battle of Armageddon or to the Day of Judgement. It is obvious that the passage ends with a description of a final conflict, but it seems to me that the previous part of the passage is concerned with the age-long spiritual war that Jesus had been engaged in since his ascension and enthronement.

The description of Jesus mentions four names that he has, the cause for which he fights, and the outcome of his campaign. There are clear references to several Old Testament prophecies of the reign and activities of the Messiah. Some of the activities are connected to what he does for his people and others to what he does to his enemies.

The description of Jesus
John observes that Jesus is seated on a white horse and this posture is a threatening one. Military commanders often rode on white horses into battle. Jesus is not described as about to take part in a ceremonial parade. Rather he is on the march in a war. When did this war begin? It commenced with his ascension and will last until all his enemies are defeated.

What is he called? Earlier we mentioned that four names are given to him in this passage. The first one is ‘Faithful and True’ and this name reveals his character. He is also called Faithful and True in the description of him in chapter 3:14, in the message to the church in Laodicea, a church that he had threatened with judgement for their lukewarmness. Since he is called Faithful and True, we need to ask to what or whom he is faithful and true. The answer is that he is faithful and true to his Father and his will, which means that he is also faithful to his people, because their deliverance is his cause. Therefore, the war in which he engages follows the Father’s plan for their salvation, which involves the defeat of his enemies. His character is revealed in his righteous actions. We should note the order of his actions – first, he judges and, second, he deals with the enemies. Therefore those whom he punishes deserve it.

What would a commander need in ancient warfare? He would need good eyesight to observe everything that his opponents were planning and to see what would be the best positions to fight from. Moreover, he would need to have authority from his king or emperor to engage in whatever strategy he chose to implement. When it comes to the leader of God’s army, Jesus has unusual vision because not only does see all things visible he can also see all things invisible. Therefore his enemies can hide nothing from him. Indeed, he knows all possible responses by them as well as all actual activities in which they engage.

How much authority does Jesus have? In the vision, he has many crowns on his head. Of course, in real life, a king can only wear one crown at a time. Yet it is possible to be the ruler of more than one kingdom, and some monarchs have a list of countries over which they rule. Jesus having many crowns in the vision is a way of saying that he has full authority, and he has received this authority from his Father. The Saviour is not like the beast who wore temporary crowns, with temporary describing a very brief period in contrast to the permanence of the reign of Jesus.

What is his second name? Connected to his authority is a special name that he possesses. His name is a secret of some kind. John cannot mean that the Father and the Holy Spirit don’t know what the name means. Instead he must mean that no creature knows about it. Moreover, what is meant by knowing here? Does it mean lack of information about the name or does it mean a lack of understanding of the name? Maybe it is the name ‘Son of God’, and no creature knows the full meaning of that divine name. Perhaps the name is Lord, and who apart from God can fully grasp what that name means for Jesus? If it is the name Lord, then we are reminded also of the place Jesus was given at his ascension when he was enthroned at the Father’s right hand. Whatever this second name is, it reminds us of the supremacy of Jesus because there are aspects to his person that are beyond human discovery.

What is he wearing? John sees that the royal robe of Jesus is bloodstained and is connected to the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 63 where the prophet predicts that he would defeat the enemies of his kingdom. This would suggest that the war had started, and what John sees is a king already engaged in battle, with the blood of his opponents already on his garments. From an external viewpoint, the persecution that was affecting John and other believers at that time did not seem as if Jesus was doing much to prevent what was happening. But that assessment would only be made by those who could not see the full situation. In contrast, the king was at war already defeating some of his opponents.

What is his third name? John is then told that Jesus is also called The Word of God. This could be a reminder of who Jesus is as the eternal God. In John 1:1-14, Jesus is called by this name. As the Word, Jesus spoke the universe into existence and as the Word he maintains everything in existence. And he did not cease to be the Word when he became a man. He is the almighty God. This is a reminder of the incredible power that he possesses, and later on in this passage we will see that he can defeat his opponents by the power of what he says. All he will have to do to ensure judgement will be to announce it.

What about his army? We are told that his soldiers are holy and pure, riding on white horses. It is difficult to work out if these soldiers are angels or saints. Elsewhere in the book, angels are depicted as riding on horses. Recorded in the Bible are numerous occasions when angels dealt with the enemies of God’s people. Yet the description of the army is similar to how believers are described in the preceding section about those called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. So I would say that here we have a picture of the justified people of God engaged in righteous activities, because that is how they engage the enemy. They do so by following their King and imitating his love of righteousness.

What is his weapon? His weapon is unusual because it is said to be a sword that comes from his mouth, in other words, his powerful pronouncements. Through the use of this weapon, Jesus will bring judgements to his opponents because of their behaviour. He does this to implement God’s just anger against the behaviour of those who oppose him.

What is his fourth name? Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Here we are reminded of a truth about Jesus that was once prominent in our outlook, which is that he is King of the nations as well as the King of his church. So from this position or power he executes judgments on those who disobey his will.

It is important that we have this reality before our minds when we see all the injustices taking place on the earth, whether in the past or in the present. We are not to imagine that the only activity that Jesus supervises as King is the spread of the gospel. In addition, he functions as a Judge, and sometimes before the final day of judgement he brings strong judgements to bear on governments and others that oppose him. This would have been a powerful message for the persecuted Christians of the first century as they faced the might of the Roman Empire. It would have been hard for them to believe that one day the powerful empire would be gone. But it did, and so will all forms of opposition to the King. He does it at his own timing and when he does nothing can stop him because he rules with a rod of iron.

The Final Battle
John hears a second invitation to a supper, this time a very different supper from the marriage supper of the Lamb, and this time a call to birds of carrion to have a very large meal. It is pictured by use of a description of an ancient battlefield. We are told the outcome in terms of that kind of situation, not the processes of the battle. John mentions the gathering together of the enemy forces, and then describes their destruction. He may want to stress how weak they were against Jesus even when gathered together. The leaders of the enemy are captured alive and then given a special punishment and the troops that followed them are all slain. We have a description of what will be the state of things regarding his opponents once Jesus has finished his campaign for righteousness.

We should remember that the beast and the false prophet don’t refer to specific individuals but to the political and religious systems that opposed the reign of the King. Their being thrown into the lake of fire tells us that their influence will come to an end and will never reappear. Those who followed them will all be destroyed by the word of the King, which is a graphic way of him pronouncing judgement and experiencing total victory. We are not to deduce that the statement of them being slain suggest annihilation in the sense of avoiding conscious eternal punishment – that would be to take a detail of the illustration and make it contradict clear statements elsewhere in the Bible.

We can take a message of hope from this passage because Jesus is going to win. He is able to fulfil all the promises made about the conquering Messiah. Sometimes he conquers sinners graciously. The rest will be defeated by him. At the end of the day, or should we say the night, he will emerge totally triumphant.

Second, we should always remember too that all attempts to defeat Jesus will fail. It does not matter how strong they seem. This is one way we can look at history. Consider how powerful the enemies of Jesus seemed in the past at different times. Then consider how powerful his contemporary enemies appear to be. This passage shows how impotent they are against Jesus even when they are all gathered together.

Third, Jesus is going to win by himself. The description presents a group of powerful people ranged against the Saviour. Yet it does not matter how many of them there are. They may be mighty, but he is always almighty. He has defeated many and will defeat the rest through his divine authority.

Fourth, Jesus is going to associate his people with him in his victory. They are described as marching behind him. Yet they don’t contribute much to the victory and nothing apart from the King. Any involvement they have requires his power to implement it. This is how we are to understand this holy war.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Evening in Capernaum (Matthew 9:27-34)

Matthew continues his record of what took place on the day when he was called by Jesus to leave the tax desk and follow him. Maybe one reason for all the activity was a desire of Jesus to show his new servant the amazing things he could expect to see as he was being prepared by Jesus to serve him.

It looks like Jesus was making his way home when the two blind men followed him. There is something ironic here because how could the blind men see the road to follow Jesus. Or maybe Matthew is pointing out that there is more than kind of following Jesus. There is a kind of following that gets you nowhere and there is a kind of following that gets you somewhere.

We have already seen examples of the kind of following that got people nowhere – the following performed by the Pharisees and the disciples of John when they set themselves up as the judges of Jesus. In reality, they were spiritually blind although they had physical sight. In contrast, the two blind men could see spiritually even although they were blind physically.

What the blind men saw
To put it simply, even although they had not seen Jesus they had discerned who he was. We can see that this was the case from the titles they used of him and the request they made to him. One of the titles they used was to address Jesus as the son of David. This was a royal title because David was the first in the official line of kings in Israel. But the title was more than an indication he was connected to David. In addition, it is very likely that they knew the prophecies about the Son of David, the One who would be the Messiah, who would come as the Saviour.

This is why they asked him for mercy. Although they were blind and deserving of sympathy they knew that they needed much more than a few alms that kind people would give to them. They knew that they needed something from God, and we should note that what they needed was not merely their sight, but also mercy. In asking for mercy, they said that Jesus was divine and confessed that they were depraved sinners. After all, only a divine being can give this kind of special mercy, and the only type of person who needs it is someone who has sinned against God.

What the blind men did
They revealed their priority when they cried aloud for mercy. As far as they were concerned, they did not have a list of benefits, such as if they could not get the one at the top they would accept a smaller benefit. So, if Jesus would not give them mercy, he would give them some alms. Imagine if we had asked them, ‘Would you prefer mercy or a million shekels?’ They would have replied that they wanted mercy. The awareness of their need and the awareness of what Jesus could provide made them totally earnest.

Moreover, they revealed the benefit of seeking Jesus with others. Sometimes, people get converted by themselves with no one else involved in the process. Obviously, that is a very good method. Yet, when you get converted, who do you tell? At that moment of great discovery, when you find riches incalculable, who can you share the experience with. In contrast, these two men sought mercy together, and found it together. Right away, they could share it with one another, even pointing out the details they now could see.

Moreover, their shared experience would help them in the future. Imagine one of them saying ten or twenty years later when his eyesight began to fade, ‘I wonder if Jesus did give me my sight because I don’t see everything clearly now.’ His friend could say to him, ‘I was there when your eyes were opened and I shared with you the joy of seeing Jesus and his gracious presence.’ And the friend could go on to relate what some of those things were. In a higher sense, those who have been converted together can remind one another of what they understood on the day they were born again.

It used to be quite common for people to be converted together. They would start seeking the Lord and find themselves attending the same means of grace. Then, perhaps in the same sermon, they heard the voice of the Son of God speaking life into their souls. And when the sermon was over, each of them knew what had happened. We do get converted as individuals, but it is precious for seekers together to find him together.

Again, we can observe that the blind men discerned the proper response to Jesus when he seemed not to be listening to them. Those with natural sight might have concluded that he did not want to speak to them. That thought does not seem to have entered the minds of the blind men. Instead they thought it was appropriate to follow him right into his house. They sensed that there would be the opportunity to have Jesus to themselves. And he did give them the opportunity.

When they started to speak with Jesus, they discovered that he already knew what they wanted. Yet although he knew what they desired, he wanted to hear them request it of him. Why did he follow this process? Because it was a form of spiritual communion in which two sinners and a great Saviour interacted. In a sense, they had no idea what they were asking for. But they would have heard from others about the great things they could see. And that is what discovering salvation is like for the first time.

Jesus asked them what they thought of him. What is faith? Faith is not an attitude merely based on desperation. Nor is it a response based only on emotion. Instead faith is based on knowledge of who the Lord is. Faith is not the discovery of how bad we are; instead it is the discovery of how great and how suitable Jesus is. If we don’t want to know about Jesus, it is questionable if we really want the salvation from sin that he provides. 

They knew that Jesus was the Messiah (the Son of David) who could perform miracles predicted of him. This does not mean that he will do such miracles today. Instead we are to search the Bible to discover what we should expect from the exalted Saviour and base our confidence on what is revealed about him.

The warning they received
Perhaps unexpectedly, the two men were sternly warned by Jesus. Why would Jesus speak in this way to those he had helped? It could have been because he knew that while he had given them a miracle he had not yet given to them the greater miracle of sinlessness. Although they had new eyes, they did not have a perfect heart.

From one point of view, we can understand why they told everyone about what had happened. Their actions may have come from a desire for Jesus to be acknowledged as great. What was wrong with their action? They listened to their own ideas rather than to the wisdom of Jesus. Of course, we know that every person whom Jesus has helped has made this response in one way or another. The outcome of their action would be to make Jesus popular in a way that he did not wish to be popular. He was the Messiah, not a miracle worker, and he was the Messiah who was on his way to the cross, a direction and intention that most people did not understand.

The mute man healed
Matthew then briefly refers to a man who could not speak because he was possessed by a demon. There is much about demon possession that we don’t understand except to say that often it mimics illnesses and disabilities that people have and which have nothing to do with demon possession. All that Matthew wants to tell us about is the response to the deliverance.

Surprisingly we are not given the information we may like to have been given – the first words that the mute man spoke. No doubt he said something to Jesus and this is a reminder that some things don’t need to be made public. Matthew informs us what the crowds affirmed and what the religious leaders concluded. Neither of the responses linked the activity of Jesus with God. The crowd merely said that the activities of Jesus were unique and the Pharisees concluded that Jesus was working for the devil. We could say that the crowds were guilty of the sin of omission and the Pharisees were guilty of the sin of commission. The crowd stated a half-truth and the Pharisees stated a lie.

Both answers reveal that the speakers were still spiritually blind. Saying something commendable about Jesus that does not reach the truth about him is not evidence of spiritual sight. They are still in the dark, although not as dark as those who wilfully insult him.

The Wedding of the King (Psalm 45:14-19)

Psalm 45 celebrates beforehand some of the significant activities of the Messiah. The author was guided to say who the Messiah is – he is both God and man. He also writes his song from the point of view of the Messiah’s enthronement, which we know occurred when Jesus ascended to heaven following his resurrection. The psalm does not mention all the important events that follow on from the enthronement. In the main, two activities are mentioned – his warfare and his wedding.

The story is told of an incident in the life of St Columba when he reached Inverness and was attempting to convey the gospel to King Brude. It happened one evening when Columba and his friends were singing their evening hymns. Several local Druids tried to stop the praise. In response, Columba sang Psalm 45 and did so in such a way that the king and the people were struck with amazement and fear. Columba was known as an excellent singer and his voice could be heard one thousand yards away. While we may not be able to sing the psalm with the same ability as him, we can sing it with the same understanding.

The drawing of the king (vv. 10-12)
The psalmist describes the expectation of the King in these verses. She is asked to listen to what he has to say and then respond to the information. Her response will involve separation from her past, satisfaction for the King, and devout submission to him. What does this all involve? Here are six suggestions.

The warfare of Jesus in the psalm is depicted under the imagery of a swordsman and an archer. We suggested that the sword he uses is the gospel by which he pierces the hearts of sinners, and both the sword and the bow are connected to what he does. As an archer, he fires arrows into the hearts of his enemies, and we suggested several such arrows such as comprehension of reality, conviction of sin, contrition for sin, slaying of self-confidence and challenge to trust the Saviour. At the time, those affected don’t realise it, but what the king is doing is finding sinners who will eventually make up his bride. This a reminder that those who will come to the wedding have all been wounded by the Beloved.

Yet they do not resent the wounding once they have realised why it took place. The reason for this is that the King also makes them wise. As Paul reminded the Corinthians whom Jesus had wounded, he was made unto them wisdom, among other blessings. Becoming wise is the same as becoming enlightened and the matters in which they become enlightened are all to do with salvation. They discover who Jesus is and what he did for sinners. The instruction comes to them from the Bible, a book that they find they can understand. Many are the insights they begin to appreciate as they read its pages. The One who wounded them becomes their teacher and remains so forever.

The outcome of becoming wise is that the wounded become worshippers of the King. They engage in worship because they realise his greatness. The Bible tells them that he is the Creator and Upholder of the universe, and that he does so continually merely by the power of his word. They also discover that he has loved them for a long time, far longer than the years in which they have been in existence. In fact, he has loved them eternally, which means that he has always loved them. There has never been a moment when his omniscient heart has not been focussed on them. Moreover, they hear that he who wounded them in his gospel was wounded for them so that there would be a gospel to declare.

The worship in which they engage affects their entire life. It is not just what they do on Sundays, although the gatherings with God’s people in which he is worshipped are very precious to them. Nor is only what they do when they engage in activities such as Bible reading and prayer, although they are important as means of fellowship with the King, whether done privately or with others. In reality, their worship extends to the whole of their life, and one way by which the Bible speaks about this lifestyle is by calling it their walk. Walk implies at least two ideas – progress and destination. They are travellers and they are making their way to the wedding and there is only one road that will take them there. This road, the Bible says, is the narrow way. Sometimes it goes uphill, and the path is tough, yet they keep going because it is the only way to the wedding. At other times, the road is easier, but they still walk on.

As they make their way along the narrow path they remain watchful because they know that there are enemies beside it waiting to attack them. Sometimes they get wounded by those enemies (the world, the flesh and the devil) and when they do they discover that such wounds are not like the wounds of the King. Instead they have no good purpose and instead are designed to destroy them. Often, they confess, the troubles they find are because of their own carelessness and sinfulness. As they travel, they discover the importance, indeed the necessity, of walking with their eyes fixed on their destination, the wedding.

The path they are on is observed by others who sometimes wonder why they are walking on a different road. This gives them the opportunity of witnessing about what they are doing. They tell those who ask that they are on this road because they are going to a wedding. Since the time they were wounded by the King they sense his drawing. His wisdom, their worship, the walk on the narrow way, the watchfulness and the witnessing all say to them that the wedding is nearer now than it has ever been. And when they receive such reminders their hearts become glad and they long even more for the great occasion. They know that one day it will happen and they will find themselves there.

The psalmist also points out that their privilege in knowing the King will lead others to ask them for advice. In the picture in the psalm, people from faraway Tyre would seek the favour of the one chosen to marry the King. Is this not a picture of the situation described by Peter when he said that people will ask believers about the hope that they have in Jesus?

The delight of the King (vv. 13-15)
We are used to events called the wedding of the year or the wedding of the decade or even the wedding of the century. In contrast to all of them, the wedding we are thinking about is the wedding of the ages. There will never be another one like it. What makes this wedding so special? Here are three reasons. First, it was prophesied – there are many references to it in various books of the Bible. Those books were written at different times, but they share the desire for this wedding to arrive. Second, it involves more than two people – the Bride numbers a figure that no can count, drawn from all periods of history and from all people of the earth. Third, it is permanent; in fact, it is the only permanent marriage. All others are located in time, but this one lasts for eternity.

In the psalm, the author moves quickly from the days of preparation for the wedding to the actual day itself. His words now focus on the moments prior to the marriage. Of course, the picture of the wedding is only an illustration of what will take place when Jesus and his people meet. There are other pictures in the Bible of this occasion, such as a family gathering after being apart or travellers reaching their destination after a long journey or seamen coming to the harbour after a storm.

Concerning the customs of the time, the stage described here was when the bridegroom came to where the bride was resident to escort her to his home. She is depicted as waiting for him in her chamber and after he arrives she and her bridesmaids make their way with him to the marriage festival that will take place in the palace. What features of that glorious day are depicted here? I would suggest that there are four.

The first suggestion is that she is royal – she is said to be a princess or a king’s daughter (v. 13). It would be unusual for an earthly monarch not to marry a person of royal rank. What rank belongs to the Bride of Jesus? They are the sons of God. Even as the apostle John says in 1 John 3:2: ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’ After all, it is a royal wedding. At one time, the members of the Bride of Jesus did not belong to the family of God, but had to be brought into it one by one. But all of them will be family members when the wedding day comes.

The second feature of the Bride is that she is robed; in fact, she has more than one robe, and what marks the robes is that they are multi-coloured. Clothes pointed to status, and we are told that hers are laced with gold, which indicates that her attire is very valuable. Perhaps the colours came from many jewels that would be attached to the robes and which would glint and sparkle in the light. The obvious idea is that of splendour to behold and gaze on. What will believers be like on this amazing day when the wedding comes? We are told that they will be glorified. Whatever else is indicated by the splendour of the attire, the state of being sinless and Christlike is what glorified means. It is impossible to imagine the beauty of glorification because it is beyond our ability now to do so.

The third feature is that they are rejoicing. In order to convey the amount of happiness that they have, the psalmist uses two words to express it – joy and gladness. Of course, in the poem the King and the Bride are now together, having left the palace where she had been staying, and are making their way with their friends to his palace. It is a very happy procession. Obviously, the joy they have is mainly connected to them being together. It is the joy of perfect communion as they and he enjoy one another’s presence. Perhaps he was telling her what is in his palace.

The fourth feature is that they reach the King’s palace, but in the poem we don’t go in with them. We are taken to the door, as it were, almost like the travellers in the Pilgrim’s Progress whom we watch entering the Celestial City. What is beyond the door is greater than can be described by those living on this side of it. We can ask, ‘What is the palace of the King? What is the royal residence in which Jesus and his people will live in together forever?’ The answer to that question is the new heavens and new earth, the place where he and they will dwell endlessly.

What should be our response to the information we have received about the wedding? We should imitate the psalmist in the closing verses when he resolves to speak about the King and endeavour to bring glory to him. The psalmist did it in the way that was open to him, and we have to do it in the ways that are open to us. May we do so, and then one day find ourselves in the wedding party of the King of kings.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-10)

This vision is connected to the previous one through the contribution of the heavenly choir who celebrated the events described in each. The connection is made by contrasting the prostitute Babylon with the true Bride. Both are described as cities in the Book of Revelation and the activities of each are summarised – the activities of the city of man is described as immorality and those of the Bride as righteous deeds.

The contrast is also shown in the outcome of the lives of the citizens of each city. Those who belong to Babylon are destroyed with her whereas those who belong to the heavenly city are going to a celebration. This celebration is endless. It is common in the Bible to describe the fullness of salvation through the illustration of a wedding feast. In those descriptions, details may differ because they are highlighting different features of the occasion.

There is also a possibility that readers are given another reminder of heaven before further descriptions are given of awful events that will take place in God’s judgement on his opponents. This has been a common feature of the Book of Revelation. John was given a description of glory before then being given descriptions of judgement.

The arrival of the wedding day
We can see from the account that God gets the glory for the arrival of the wedding day. It has happened because he is the One with universal power. Down the centuries, there has been many attempts to resist his aims, but all those attempts were futile. No matter what the opponents did to his kingdom and his people, his cause has survived and will triumph in the end.

There is an important lesson for us here as we live in our situation which we often assume is more difficult than what was faced by previous generations. Of course, it all depends on where God’s people live. Life has been fairly comfortable for the church in our culture and we have assumed that was the norm. The reality is that the church survives because of who God is. And his plans will be achieved.

Who are those praising God in this vision? It could be angels, it could be the saints, it could be both. In favour of identifying them as angels is the fact that those praising are referring to the church as a distinct body which could be regarded as separate from the heavenly choir. Yet it could also be the expression of praise by the saints because at last the church is complete. One thing is certain – this is a greater Hallelujah chorus than Handel ever imagined.

We can learn from this expression of praise in heaven how we should engage in it on earth. First, there is affirmation, then there is exhortation, and then there is anticipation. The affirmation rehearses who God is and what he has done, the exhortation is a mutual expression of encouragement, and the anticipation concerns the banquet. Obviously, on this occasion, worship is at its height. Yet even when it is more mundane, we should imitate the heavenly worshippers in how they did it. We could apply this as follows: before we come together we think about God; when we come together we encourage one another to participate; and having done so, we then look forward to what God might provide for our spiritual benefit.

The attire of the bride (vv. 7-8)
It is helpful when thinking about the details of the marriage supper to realise that the process in view here is how betrothals occurred at that time. An agreement was made regarding the couple; this was followed by a period between then and the actual wedding in which the couple were regarded as husband and wife; and then there was the actual wedding. One of the activities of a Jewish bride during the period between the agreement and the actual wedding was for her to make her wedding dress.

It is not difficult to see the parallels between that and what John says here. Jesus and his people become one at conversion – that is like the agreement. As his people wait for the wedding day, they make their wedding garments – this activity has nothing to do with merit, but is an expression of devotion. Then when Jesus returns, there will be the actual wedding.

Some are puzzled by the words that say the fine linen represents the righteous deeds of the saints. Their surprise is connected to the common explanation that the garments of salvation that believers wear is the imputed righteousness of Jesus. Of course, all the saints receive that garment when they believe in Jesus and it is their permanent attire as far as their standing with God is concerned.  Yet it is unlikely that such a garment is the one described here.

Instead, it looks as if at the wedding feast the members of the Bride will be allowed to wear as a garment the actions that expressed their love for Jesus when they were in this world – instead of imputed righteousness, it is imparted righteousness that is intended. In a sense, this should not surprise us. Even although none of his actions were sinless, the apostle Paul expected to receive a crown of glory as a reward for his years of service of the Lord. And he said that the same blessing would be given to all who loved the appearing of Jesus.

Of course, if we will wear then what expressed our love for him in this life, there is a real challenge for us to meet. Regarding earthly marriages, a lot of care is taken with the bride’s dress. How much more care should be taken with the attire for the heavenly wedding!

It is amazing to think about the nature of the attire. Linen was the type of garment associated with kings and priests, and the mention of it is a reminder of who God’s people are. They were a royal priesthood even when they were on earth and frequently in the Bible they are addressed by those names. Moreover, the actions are now described as bright and pure. Often on earth those actions of obedience were a struggle and always they were marked by sin to some extent. Others were forgotten about long ago, yet here they are contributing to the beauty of the Bride. Although she is now glorified (bright), the glorification is connected to what they did for Jesus out of love. And although she is pure, she is so because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and can wear them on this notable day.

I suppose we could say that we as a congregation are helping one another to make our wedding garments. And we could say that our activities today are connected to our wedding garments. Even although we will fail, we need to ensure that what we do comes from love to Jesus so that we will be able to wear it in a transformed manner on that great day. On that occasion, we will see the outcome or effects of what we did for Jesus. Maybe we gave financially in a sacrificial way and Jesus used those gifts to bring the gospel to many people. Maybe we prayed earnestly for something and Jesus made the something into an incredible outcome far beyond what we could imagine.

We should note that these garments are the ones that God will want his people to wear. He is the One who will grant it, who will give permission for them to wear such attire. Moreover, he is the One who has brought them to a state of perfection, who has given them total sanctification, who has completed what they did for him. This is a reminder that he is pleased with what his people do for him out of love. And we know that they only did them because he enabled them to do them. As Paul says to the Philippians, believers work out their salvation because God had already worked in them by his grace.

The affirmation (v. 9)
The angel then states a benediction. He says that those who are invited to the marriage supper are blessed. This is not a reference to the general call of the gospel in which everyone is invited to believe in Jesus. Instead the invitations to the marriage feast are sent to those who, in line with the illustration, have already signed the agreement and are now in the meantime waiting for the feast to begin. In a mixing of metaphors, the members of the Bride are now the guests.

Those who would have read this statement from this book for the first time would have been going through difficult circumstances connected to persecution and other problems connected to their profession of faith in Jesus. We could say that their making of the wedding garments was bringing them great trouble. They needed to hear divine consolation and comfort. And they are reminded that, despite their circumstances, they are truly blessed.

The rebuke (v. 10)
Most believers have had their embarrassing moments. John here has one when he attempts to worship the angel. Maybe he was so caught up in the glorious description that he forgot the messenger was not the subject of his message. Yet even the rebuke he received was a statement of assurance because John was told that he was still a servant of God and a member of his family. We can learn from the method of the angel how we are to correct one another.

Good angels and converted humans share one purpose, which is to testify to Jesus. His glory is their common theme, and instead of bowing to an angel John should have joined him in bowing before God. This is our testimony too as we speak in a prophetic manner to the world.