“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (Revelation 21:9).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
As I read our text, I was reminded of the wedding announcements we used to read in our local paper. For those of you who don’t have such memories, here is an example from the Mitchell Daily Republic about 40 years ago: “[The bride] wore a gown of white satin and mandel rose galloon lace. The gown was styled with an empire waist and the bodice and bishop sleeves were of lace. The sleeves were caught in a satin cuff. Lace edged the rounded neckline. The gown featured a full-length detachable train of satin and lace… Her veil was attached to a cap trimmed with lace, satin appliques, and scalloped lace edging. She carried red roses, cushion mums, and baby’s breath tied with red and white ribbon.
“[The bridesmaids] wore floor-length gowns of red and white dotted swiss trimmed with white lace. They carried cushion mums fashioned with a red rose and accented with red and white ribbon. The bride’s gown and those of the attendants were fashioned by the bride’s mother. The bride’s mother wore a street-length red dress. Her flowers were red roses, white mums, and baby’s breath. The bridegroom’s mother wore a gown of red and white and her flowers were like those of the bride’s mother. The bride’s going-away dress was a cotton floral and was a gift of the bridegroom’s mother.”
Even the decorations are detailed: “The altar was decorated with green plants and baskets of red carnations and white mums. The pews were decorated with white lilies…The centerpiece at the bridal table matched the attendants’ dresses. A single red rose accenting the baby’s breath was laid on each table.”
Notice how the announcement goes on in such specificity of the bride’s and bridal party’s attire and the church decorations, but not one single mention is made of what the groom and groomsmen were wearing. Nothing about tuxedos, bow ties, or the uncomfortable shoes that we… er, I mean… those brave, good-natured gentlemen endured without whimper or complaint.
But I’m not bitter. It is probably only right that the bride and bridal party were the focus of the write-up. The ladies spent many hours more getting themselves prepared than any of the guys did. Make-up, hair, handmade dresses. And the results speak for themselves. I must say, the blushing bride was especially radiant that day! And she still deserves to be shown off now!
In the verses of our text, John is shown, in great detail, the Bride of Christ as she will live in all her godly beauty in the new heaven and earth. We’ll look at her more closely in a little bit. But first let’s go back to her creation and betrothal.
The Bride of Christ is the Church, or the people of God—all who believe in Him. The Bride is created on the sixth day of creation and begins with a congregation of two. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden, Paradise on earth. There is no sin, no death. God tells them to be fruitful and multiply, that more people might be added to the Bride. Because there is no sin, they can look upon the face of God and walk with Him in the cool of the day. So, the Bride is created, and the betrothal is on. God promises that the wedding day is coming.
But Paradise does not last long. Satan sneaks into the garden. Eve gives into temptation, and Adam does nothing to stop her. On that day, sin comes into the world, and death through sin. The Bride is defiled. Make no mistake. Adam and Eve are unfaithful to their Bridegroom, following their own desires instead. And, make no mistake of this, either: Every sin that is committed in the world is this same sin: unfaithfulness to God, a spiritual adultery that chooses to follow the desires of some god other than the Bridegroom.
But the Lord does not abandon His unfaithful people when Paradise is lost. Though He warns them of the consequences of sin, He promises that the Savior will come. The Bridegroom will be born of a woman and, suffering Himself, will crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:16). Although there will be misery and death in the meantime, the wedding day is still on for God’s people.
As the Lord announces this promise, another curse is clear to Adam and Eve. They can still hear the Lord, but to look upon His glory in their sin is to die. Therefore, the Bridegroom must always cloak Himself when He visits, hiding His glory so that they can abide His presence. But the Bridegroom will still visit His people as He sustains them for the wedding day.
He visits them from time to time throughout the Old Testament, present though hidden. In the wilderness of the Exodus, He leads His Bride from a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). He faithfully leads His people to the Promised Land. But His Bride is not so faithful. In just a brief time they plead with Aaron to create a golden calf for them to worship. They complain about the manna God graciously provides them to eat each day.
When the temple is built in Jerusalem, the Bridegroom descends in a cloud of glory into the Holy of Holies and dwells with His people. He is hidden behind walls and curtain, but He is there to faithfully accompany His Bride toward the wedding day. Sadly, His Bride proves unfaithful repeatedly, turning to other gods. So, the Lord withdraws Himself from the temple (Ezekiel 11:23). The city is destroyed, and its remaining citizens are led away to Babylon. All seems lost.
But the Bridegroom is faithful, and the wedding day is still on.
In the fullness of time, the Bridegroom comes to secure the wedding day. He veils His glory once again—this time in human flesh as He is born to the Virgin Mary. He has come to save His Bride. To give Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
The Bridegroom comes, and His people believe in Him; but the world has no use for such a Savior. Rather than honor Him, they do their best to make Him look as little like the Savior as possible. They scourge Him, beat Him, crucify Him. It’s the ultimate rebellion and infidelity—in service to whatever other gods they follow, they kill the Son of God. Truly, His glory is never more hidden than when He hangs upon the cross—bloody and beaten. But on the cross is when the Bridegroom lays down His life to redeem His Bride. He rises three days later, victorious but with His glory still hidden. He ascends into heaven, but not before promising, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
You see, despite the sinfulness of man, the Bridegroom still visits His people. Hidden in, with, and under bread and wine, which are His very body and blood. Hidden in the voice of His called and ordained servant, He proclaims His Word and the Gospel of forgiveness. Despite the sin and unfaithful wanderings of the Church, the wedding is still on. Here comes the Bride!
The angel speaks to John, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And John describes the Bride of Christ in all her radiant detail, much like the wedding announcement from the days of old:
And [the angel] carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. . . And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 21:9-14, 21-23).
In Revelation 21:2, John describes the holy city Jerusalem as “prepared as a Bride adorned for her husband.” Here, Revelation 21:11, John sees that adornment as “the glory of God,” which is her “radiance.” The appearance of the glory was a distinct way in which God displayed His promise to be with His people. For example, when the tabernacle and temple were constructed, we are told “the glory of the Lord filled” them (Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11). The Church on earth now bears the “glory of God” because of Jesus Christ, but it is unseen to the human eye. After the resurrection and the restoration of heaven and earth, the Church will be adorned with this glory like a resplendent jewel for all to see.
The description of the Bride of Christ is highly figurative. The beauty and the symmetry of the dimensions are meant to paint a picture of the safety, beauty, and perfection of the saints in glory. So also, the precious jewels, the pearly gates, and the translucent gold streets which radiate with the light of God’s glory are earthly symbols of what it will be like to be in God’s eternal presence.
John is a little surprised by at least one thing that’s missing in heaven: There is no temple. In this life, the tabernacle, the temple, or some building for public worship is the center of the believer’s attention. No temples or church buildings are needed in heaven because “its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22). What we receive intermittently through Word and Sacrament on earth, we will enjoy perpetually in heaven in God’s presence.
The saints of God in their state of righteousness and holiness and perfection after the resurrection can now look directly into the face of God. No longer does God have to hide His glory from our view. No longer does He have to shield us from the brilliance of His overpowering holiness and awesomeness. For God can now directly and personally live in the midst of His saints with His glory.
“The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23). God’s glory derives from many attributes, such as power, justice, and wisdom. But His greatest glory is the undeserved love He displays through the Lamb. Thus the two phrases “the glory of God gives it light” and “its lamp is the Lamb” explain each other. They mean the same thing. The Lamb is the glory of God, and the glorious love that God showed poor sinners by sending His Son will illuminate the saints forever.
Behold the Bride! The Wife of the Lamb. What makes her so beautiful? She is spotless, sinless, and she is prepared for the wedding day because the Bridegroom, the Lamb has been slain to cleanse her with His blood. So, when she is revealed in heaven, there is no spot or wrinkle, for all sin and sorrow are gone.
Behold the Bridegroom! And He is there to be behold! In heaven, there is no need for the Lord to cloak His glory—for there is no sin, and His people can look upon Him joyfully and live! He is far from hidden there: No, His glory illumines the city, and His people live and walk by His light.
Rejoice, then, people of God! The Bridegroom has prepared a place for you in Paradise by His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection. One day soon, He will come to take you, His beautiful, godly Bride, to be with Him for eternity. Go in the peace of the Lord. You are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.