Lighting Up the Apocalypse 33: Hallelujah Choruses, the Bride Who Clothes Herself, and the Invitation

Rev 19:1-10,  Isaiah 61:10, Genesis 3:21, Matthew 16:27, 1 Peter 5:5

After two chapters focussed upon the sordid state of Babylon and her condemnation, we move on in Revelation 19 to joy.  The passage includes three “hallelujah choruses,” a description of the glorious Bride of Christ to come, and an invitation to the blessed who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. We have already spoken about the danger of Schadenfreude (delight in the downfall of others), and how this is not exemplified or justified in the book of Revelation; it is not necessary, then, to “troubleshoot” the reasons for the rejoicing in heaven, which are connected with the downfall of evil.  Instead, we will concentrate upon the justice, or righteousness of God, declared in the three hallelujahs, the righteousness of  Christ’s bride, and the invitation of hope, as well as upon the words of the angel that forbid John to fall prostrate before him.

Here is Revelation 19:1-10:

After this I heard something like the great voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

“Hallelujah!

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,

for His judgments are true and just;

for He has judged the great whore

who ravaged the earth with her immorality,

and has brought judgment upon her for the blood of His servants.”

And a second time they cried out,

“Hallelujah!

The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, the One who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”

Then from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,

all you his servants,

you who fear him,

small and great.”

Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying 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;

It was granted to her that she might clothe herself

with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”  Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

All three “hallelujahs” are predicated upon the glory of God himself.  Indeed, the Hebrew “Hallelu-jah!” or “Hallelu-yah!” (in Greek, Alleluia!) is literally an exortation to “Praise the Lord.”  (Jah/yah is a short form for YHWH, the mysterious ‘name’ God gave to Moses for Himself, which Greek Bibles translate as Ho Ōn, “the existing One.”) The first hallelujah is uttered by those who have seen the triumph of God.  Now that Babylon is destroyed, it can be said, without reservation, that “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.”  This is a repetition of what was said in anticipation in chapter 11 at the sounding of the last trumpet: “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever.”  Now that Babylon’s stolen power has been taken from her, this is said with abandon.  As with nearly all songs of praise in the Scripture, a reason is given for the joy and the declaration.  We can say that salvation and glory and power belong to God because his judgements are true, and because we see this concretely in the judgement meted out to Babylon, who ravaged the earth and killed the martyrs.

The second hallelujah goes on to elaborate the reason: those who see God’s glory also can see the ongoing sign of His triumph.  Her smoke, the sign of Babylon’s demise, goes up before them, as a reminder of how God has saved them. She is like the “wicked witch” before Dorothy, her friends, and the Witch’s own slaves, who leaves behind a puddle of water where her grandeur had been.  (“All her beautiful wickedness” is gone!) This sign is ratified by the elders and the creatures, the leaders of worship, who agree, saying, “Hallelujah, Amen!”

Though the sign may be there forever, the worshipping assembly is not left simply to gaze at the evidence of her ruin, as though that were the substance of their joy.  Instead, a voice from heaven tells everyone to join in the hallelujah of the elders and creatures.  This final hallelujah dwells upon the glorious new and fulfilled situation:  “Our LORD God the Almighty reigns!”  And that is not the only reason for the joy!  Because of this fulfilled reign, those who are worshipping can anticipate the last two chapters of the book of Revelation—The wedding is coming, and the Bride is prepared.

“for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and His Bride has made herself ready;

It was granted to her that she might clothe herself

with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

These verses have been the source of a debate between Protestants who hold to the doctrine of “by faith alone,” and those who cleave to the full apostolic tradition.  There is no getting around the fact that here the text speaks of the Bride preparing herself, and clothing herself in her “righteous deeds” or perhaps  “righteous judgements.”   These verses are embarrassing to the Christian who holds strictly to “salvation by faith alone,” just as are the words of Jesus that “the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds” (Mat 16:27). In fact, unless we close our eyes to the gospel of Matthew and the letter of James, we find two strands in the New Testament that must be taken together —salvation comes on the basis of the work of Jesus, and fundamentally by the will of our human-loving God; yet salvation requires our cooperation in numerous ways, and is not thrust upon us without our acceptance and embrace.

Certainly there are passages in the Scripture that remind us that our white, priestly clothing comes from God.  After all, the strength and heart that we have to do God’s will comes from Him, as is everything that we have.  And so we read in the prophet Isaiah about another preparation, using the same imagery, which fills out this picture of cooperation or synergy::  “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).  Notice that here the LORD is the primary actor, but the prophet also envisages the bridegroom and bride taking action for the adornment. Similarly, in the letter of Peter, we are all commanded to “clothe ourselves in humility” (1 Peter 5:5) —and humility is something one must adopt for oneself; it cannot be imposed on a person.

Earlier in the book of Revelation, we heard of those who are “clothed” in white or in linen, as in chapter 7, where the great multitude is clothed. Of these it is also said that they have “come out of the tribulation” and “made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:13-14).  In this scene, too, God acts, and human beings act, in echo.  It is Christ’s sacrifice that cleanses, but the saints also undergo tribulation, and embrace the blood of the Lamb with its cleansing power. Let’s notice also the details here in chapter 19:  “it is given” to the Bride to be adorned in this way;  she doesn’t do this solely on her own steam. The language, then brings together both God’s grace and human cooperation.  The marriage of the Lamb has come —He has drawn near, and has prepared everything.  But the Bride also prepares herself. And, we are told she has prepared herself with dikaiōmata — with righteous deeds, or with righteous judgements.  The word here is not “righteousness,”  as the phrase found elsewhere, “clothed in his righteousness” —which, of course, we are!  Without that clothing, we could not do anything!  But the word here is plural, and refers to things either done or decided righteously by God’s people, which show that she belongs to the LORD.  They are her righteous deeds or decisions, matching the righteous acts of God, and the righteousness that He was won for us.

None of this should really be controversial.  After all, the letters of Paul, which speak so eloquently of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sake, focussing upon the salvation wrought by God, all go on in their second parts to enjoin us to live as we believe, and to “make righteous judgments” or discernments concerning daily living.  This is given to those of us who are in Christ, in the sense that we are being made full persons who act freely within His community.  We are no longer servants, but friends: we know what Christ is doing, and so are called to think and act in that light.

The dignity given to those who are in Christ is underscored by the final words of the angel in this passage.  He calls those of us who are invited to the wedding “blessed,” and at that word, John falls at his feet.  But John is told to only worship God, and is reminded by the angel that human beings who witness to Jesus have the very Spirit who gives all true words: “Worship God!” he says, “for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.”  The angel may have been sent to help and to announce, but human beings who are in Christ have their own dignity and calling, and God alone is worthy of our adoration.

The ancient commentator Oecumenius explains:

This is as though [the angel] had said, “Do you seek to worship me, since I announced to you ahead of time what was to take place? Whoever witnesses to the lordship and deity of Christ is filled with the prophetic grace, not I alone. Why therefore, he says, do you worship that grace which I have in equal measure with my fellow servants?” (Commentary on the Apocalypse 19.10. TEG 8:238–40.)

The angel’s words regarding the special calling of human beings reminds us of the opening words of Revelation:

Jesus Christ…made this (revelation) known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev 1:2-3)

So, then, we are all “blessed” together by these words, and can join in the chorus of “Hallelujah!” The angel, the apostle, those who read this to us, and those of us who hear and keep to what has been revealed are all recipients of God’s wisdom and love. “We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, worshipping the Undivided Trinity, Who has saved us!” In this knowledge, we clothe ourselves as we have been directed, looking forward in anticipation to the feast that lies ahead!

 

 

2 comments:

  1. Hello. I am patiently waiting for part 2 on this chapter 19. I figure that you have 3 more months of work left when you finish this excellent study on Revelation. Blessings and hope you are in good health.

    1. David, thank you for your encouragement. The second part comes out tomorrow! Yes, we are getting close to the end of the series, and then I will have to start a new project. It has been wonderful to spend the time researching what the fathers say about the book of Revelation, and making helpful connections to the Old Testament.

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