December 8: Revelation 19:4-8

Revelation 19:1-10, continued

Revelation 19:4-5

“And the twenty-four elder (one)s and the four living (being)s fell (down) and kissed toward [i.e. worshiped] God the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, saying: ‘Amen, Hallelu-Yah!’ And a voice came out from the ruling-seat, saying: ‘You must give praise to our God, all His slaves [and] the (one)s fearing Him, the small (one)s and great (one)s (both)!'”

On the significance of the twenty-four Elders and the four Living beings, cf. the earlier notes on 4:1-5 and 4:6-13. In my view, the 24 “elders” (presbu/teroi) represent the People of God, in their heavenly aspect, perhaps alluding to the 12 apostles and 12 tribes of Israel together (see 21:12-14). Their voices come between the two songs of praise by the multitude (cf. below); all they say in response is simply “Amen, Hallelu-Yah!”. The centrality of this scene is confirmed by the fact that these beings surround the throne of God; and it is a second voice, coming from the throne, which calls on the the People to give even greater praise to God. While such a heavenly voice often signifies that it is God Himself speaking, here it more probably refers to a great Messenger (Angel), one associated specifically with the throne.

In verse 2, believers were called “slaves” (dou=loi), as here again in verse 5; in fact, this is a regular label for Christians in the book of Revelation (1:1; 2:20; 7:3; 10:7; 11:18, etc), as also in the New Testament as a whole. It specifically connotes those who are faithful to the witness of Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel (Paul uses it frequently as a self-designation for himself and other missionaries). The New Testament conception of dou=lo$ does not quite fit our modern idea of slavery, but it also rather inaccurate to translate with the softer term “servant”. While servitude is definitely indicated, here in the book of Revelation, especially, is the important idea of belonging to a master. The seal or branding provides the mark of ownership. Believers belong to God and Jesus (the Lamb), while the wicked (non-believers) belong to the forces of evil (Sea-creature/Dragon/Satan). Here all believers are addressed, collectively—small and great alike, from all backgrounds and segments of society.

Revelation 19:6-8

“And I heard as (though) a voice of a throng (of) many (people), as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of strong thunderings, saying:
‘Hallelu-Yah! (For it is) that [our] Lord God the All-mighty ruled as king!
We should be glad and leap (for joy) and give honor to Him,
(in) that the marriage of the Lamb came,
and his woman [i.e. wife/bride] made herself ready (for it),
and it was given to her that she should throw (fine) linen about (her), bright and clean,
for the (fine) linen is the just (thing)s of the holy (one)s!'”

Again, as in vv. 1-3, a “throng of many (people)” (o&xlo$ pollo/$) uttered a song of praise, only now the multitude (of believers) has blended more completely into the heavenly scene, sounding also like “many waters” and “many thunderings”, both expressions characteristic of theophany—the presence and manifestation of God Himself (1:15; 4:5; 6:1; 11:19; 14:2). At the same time, the “many waters” in the vision of chapter 17 were interpreted as the nations and peoples of the earth (vv. 1, 15); this adds to the idea that we are still dealing with a great multitude of believers, the people of God, as in vv. 1-3 (cp. 7:9-10). However, now they speak with a voice that is virtually indistinguishable from the heavenly voice of God.

What the multitude sings is a hymn of praise to God, as in vv. 1-3, again opening with “Hallelu-Yah!”. The focus is on God’s kingship and kingdom, as it has finally been realized over all the nations and kingdoms on earth. The fall of the Great City, and with it the defeat of the nations (vv. 17-21), has demonstrated the ultimate authority of God and His anointed one, the exalted Jesus (the Lamb), over the earth. The verbal tenses throughout vv. 6, 7b-8 are aorist forms, indicating something which has taken place (in the past). However, here they could be understood as ingressive-stative aorists, i.e. that things are entering into a particular state; or, perhaps, as consummative or effective aorists, indicating that a climax has been reached, etc. Certainly, the great Judgment, marking the end of the current Age, makes for a dramatic climax to the visionary narrative. In terms of the narrative, the marriage (ga/mo$) of the Lamb is something that is about to happen. On the language in verse 7, cf. Isaiah 61:10 (Koester, p. 728).

There are numerous layers of meaning and significance to the motif here of marriage and wedding ceremony. To begin with, at the close of chapter 18, as part of a list of daily activities that will come to an end with the fall of the Great City are “the voice of bride-groom and bride”, i.e. wedding festivities and the institution of marriage. While they are gone from the fallen earthly City, they remain in the heavenly City, and, indeed, there is to be a great wedding between the exalted Jesus (the Lamb) and believers (the woman). I have intentionally rendered gunh/ as “woman” rather than “wife”, despite the odd/inappropriate sound this has in English. The main reason is that I feel it is important to retain the connection with the prior woman-figures in chapters 12 and 17-18. In chapter 12, the Woman represented the People of God, especially in her heavenly aspect (Heavenly City); by contrast, the Woman (the prostitute) in chaps. 17-18 represents the forces of evil and wickedness in the world (Earthly City). After the fall of the wicked/earthly Woman, the scene shifts back to the pure/heavenly Woman; and it is this woman, the purified believers in Christ, who are to be married. This sexual imagery was introduced in 14:1-5, and reaches it climax here in chapter 19.

The richness of this motif may be summarized by noting the following strands of tradition which relate to it (cf. Koester, pp. 728-9):

    • The period of betrothal (prior to marriage) during which the bride (as also the bride-groom) was expected to remain faithful; even while living apart during this engagement, bride and groom were required to act in faithfulness, as though they were already married. For believers in Christ, the betrothal-period began with Jesus’ departure to heaven, and continues through the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$). For the author and original audience of the book of Revelation, they were thought to be living in this period, presumably at an early point in the distress. The question was whether the bride (i.e. believers) would remain faithful to Christ, or be led astray under the influence of the wickedness (fornication/prostitution) of the “Great City”.
    • In numerous passages of the Old Testament, God (YHWH) was depicted as a husband with the people Israel as His bride. Cf. Hosea 2:19-20 (and chapters 1-3 as a whole); Isaiah 54:5; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:20; 31:32; Ezekiel 16:8-13. Many Jewish readers and commentators interpreted the Song of Songs along similar lines. The question of faithfulness/fidelity was central to this tradition as well.
    • The eschatological application of marriage imagery (esp. the wedding festivities) to the end-time appearance of God (and/or his Anointed representative) bringing salvation/deliverance for the faithful. The seeds of this line of tradition begin in the Old Testament Prophets (e.g. Isaiah 25:6), and continue in Jewish apocalyptic literature, etc (2 Baruch 29:1-8; 1 Enoch 62:14-15). Jesus utilized this same imagery in his eschatological sayings and parables (Mark 14:25 par; Matt 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29). Of special significance in this regard was the idea of waiting faithfully for the bride-groom’s appearance, which could be readily applied to believers in the end-time period prior to Jesus’ return (Matt 25:1-13). Interestingly, this wedding/marriage imagery does not appear to have been generally applied to Messianic figure-types in contemporary Jewish sources, and may have been a uniquely Christian development.
    • Another Christian tradition is a corollary of the God-as-Husband motif (second item above), so that Jesus is the husband (bride-groom) and the faithful people (of Israel, etc) the bride. There is evidence for this application already in the Gospel tradition (Mark 2:19-20; Matt 19:15; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29; Gospel of Thomas log. 104; cf. also the contextual setting of John 2:1-11). Admittedly, the motif is not prominent elsewhere in the New Testament, though Paul clearly makes use of it in 2 Cor 11:2 (cf. also Eph 5:28-32). Believers as the “Bride” of Christ became a common-place idea in early Christian writings (e.g. 2 Clement 14:2), and has continued on in Christian tradition to the present.

What is specifically emphasized here in verses 7-8 is how the woman (or “wife”, gunh/) makes herself ready (vb e(toima/zw) for the marriage. This should be understood on two levels: (1) the period of betrothal (cf. above), during which she remains pure and faithful, and (2) preparation for the actual wedding festivities. Both aspects are indicated by the bright and clean (i.e. white) linen garments she is to wear. There is special eschatological (and Messianic) significance to the verb e(toima/zw in the New Testament. This goes back to the association of Isaiah 40:3 (LXX) with the preaching of John the Baptist as one who “prepares the way” for the Messiah (Mk 1:3 par; Lk 1:17, 76). In Luke 9:52, Jesus’ disciples similarly “prepare the way” for him as he begins his journey to Jerusalem (for which there may also be an allusion in Mark 14:12, 15-16 par). Otherwise, the eschatological usage tends to be on God (and/or Jesus) preparing a place in his kingdom for the faithful (Matt 25:34; Luke 17:8; John 14:2-3; 1 Cor 2:9; Heb 11:16). The idea of believers being prepared for the coming of the bride-groom (and the wedding festivities) is certainly central to the parable in Matt 25:1-13.

The motif of pure white (linen) garments is traditional (Ezek 16:10, etc), with white (i.e. shining bright) clothing typical of heavenly beings (Dan 7:9; Matt 17:2; John 20:12; Acts 1:10, etc). It indicates purity and holiness, but also can serve as a sign of honor. Believers are said to wear (or put on) white garments at several points in the book of Revelation (3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14). In the context of the visions, and according to the traditional imagery, this marks believers’ as belonging to the People of God, in its heavenly aspect. Cf. Koester, p. 314.

In verse 8 it is stated specifically that these bright linen garments are the dikaiw/mata of the holy ones. The plural noun dikaiw/mata would be translated as “things (that are) right”, “things (that are) just”, sometimes more pointedly as “just deeds”, “right actions”, etc. The word is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring only 10 times, half of which are by Paul in Romans (1:32; 2:26; 5:16, 18; 8:4). In the only other occurrence in the book of Revelation (15:4), the dikaiw/mata belong to God or are characteristic of Him. Here the word is best understood in the sense that believers have been faithful to God, in obedience to Him and the witness of Jesus His Anointed.

References marked “Koester” above (and throughout this series) are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014). This outstanding critical commentary has been especially useful in locating and confirming many related references in Classical and Jewish literature.

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