The King Marries His BrideErwin W. Lutzer | September 26, 2010
Selected highlights from this sermon
Believers in Christ are already engaged. Our dowry was paid with the blood of Jesus. While we wait for Him, He is preparing our new homes and the wedding feast. And when He returns for us, we will be revealed with Him in glory.
What I’d like you to do today is to think about the most joyous happy wedding that you have ever been at. If you are married, and you are here today I hope that you are thinking of your own. Unfortunately, we have many interesting and good weddings but they end up oftentimes creating disastrous marriages. Like a friend of mine says, “I was married by a judge. Now I wish I had asked for a jury.” (laughter)
By the way, I read the other day I think something like 2,640,691 people were married in America last year. I hate to start anything, but shouldn’t that be an even number? (laughter) Well today I want you to think about a marriage in heaven–a wedding ceremony–and this is one that is very distinctly out of this world. It has no such thing as vows that say until death do us part because there is no death that will ever part us. It is the marriage between Jesus Christ and His Church.
Today I can speak these words. We can read the Scripture, as we are going to do, but only the Holy Spirit of God can really show us what it is that the text says because it is so overwhelming and so unbelievable. But it is in God’s Word and we believe it, and as a result of it I believe our lives are going to be changed forever because we are listening to His Word.
Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Revelation 19. Let’s look at how far we have come. If you’ve been here before, you know that this is the third in a series of messages entitled “When He Shall Come” [retitled “The King is Coming”] In the first message we talked about the rapture of the Church because we said that it is best if we try to think of the return of Christ in two stages. So the Church has been raptured to heaven. That is us-all believers throughout the world before the throne of God. And then last time we studied the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ, and I want you to visualize that that judgment seat is now over because now it is time for the second phase of Jesus Christ’s return to take place, and that is His glorious appearing on the Mount of Olives and He shall bring us with Him. He came for the saints in the rapture. He now will be coming with His saints in what is called the glorious appearing. But just before that happens there is now this Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and I want to read a few verses from the text. It says in Revelation 19:6, “Then I heard what seemed to be 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 to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’-for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” That’s the account.
In order for us to understand this we have to go back to the way in which weddings were conducted in those days so let’s walk through the stages and we can see them reflected here in Jesus Christ’s relationship with us as His Church.
First of all, there was the engagement. The engagement often was arranged by parents. They got together and they decided which son and which daughter would marry. Today, of course, we say, “I have to fall in love and then I marry.” They said, “Marry first and fall in love later,” and maybe they were on to something. But this engagement was so solid and so firm that actually it was considered to be equivalent to the marriage vow itself. Oh, there was an elaborate ceremony as to how you might be able to get out of it, but the engagement was a period that lasted a year or two and that would give each the opportunity to see whether or not each was being true to the vows that were about to be made. That’s why Joseph had such a problem with Mary when she was pregnant. He was engaged to her. He was betrothed to her and now suddenly she is pregnant and he believes that she violated their agreement and he doesn’t know what to do. And an angel had to come and explain to him what had happened.
In addition to that in the engagement period a dowry was paid. This was, in effect, a way in which you purchased a bride. You paid a dowry. Sometimes it was paid to her but more often it was paid to her family. In the case of Jesus, He paid a dowry for us. The Bible says that He shed His blood and He purchased us with Himself and I think that’s why it is called in this particular context the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Why isn’t it the Marriage Supper of the Creator or the Marriage Supper of the King? After all, that’s what happens in verse 11 in this chapter. He returns as king. I believe the reason is it’s the Lamb that we fell in love with, and it is the Lamb who gave Himself for us. Jesus is the only groom who laid down His life for His bride and then was resurrected again, that He might be able to redeem her, cleanse her, and marry her.
First of all, there was then the engagement period, and then after that period was over, it was then that the groom would come to get his bride. Now, mind you, during the time of waiting (during that engagement period) he was very busy. He would oftentimes build an addition onto the home of his father, and this addition was the place where he and his bride would now live. Sometimes it had one room. Sometimes it had many rooms, but he would prepare it. He would furnish it. He would make sure that it was ready so that when his bride moved in she had some furniture and hopefully the rooms were in accordance with her standards and her desires. That’s exactly what Jesus was referring to. He said to the disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me. In my father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (He’s working on the place that we are going to be.) And when I do that I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am there you may be also.”
It’s at the rapture of the Church that Jesus Christ comes and takes His bride to the father’s house, and there in the father’s house there is a great deal of rejoicing when the bride arrives. And what does she look like? The Bible says that there are people who are saved from every kindred, every tongue and every nation. The bride is going to be so diverse, representing all the different countries, all the different cultures, and all the colors of the world. That’s why so many of us rejoice in the fact that when we took a survey recently we discovered that here at The Moody Church we have more than 70 different countries of origin. We are looking more and more like heaven all the time. And that’s the way it’s going to be.
So the bride comes and she comes to the father’s house. So first of all you have the engagement. Secondly, the groom returns to get his bride, and then third we get to the feast itself. Now the Bible says here in the last part of verse 7 in Revelation 19, “The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.” Where did that happen? Well it happened at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. If you weren’t here last week, you should get that message because I explain how all of the things that are left undone in this life finally are adjudicated at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. You see, when the bride arrives in heaven she is legally perfect because she has the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to her account. I love to tell people that you can’t get to heaven unless you are as perfect as God, which usually helps them see that they have a problem. But the good news is that when we trust Christ as Savior, His righteousness is credited to us and we arrive in heaven in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne. That’s legally, but in practice there’s a great deal of discipline that God has done in our lives, and there’s a great deal of imperfection, and as I explained last time, people die with unresolved conflicts and it’s at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ where Jesus takes His Church that arrives in heaven in practice, and what does the Bible say? With spot and blemishes and wrinkles, and then he cleanses the Church so that he presents it to himself without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that “she might be pure and holy before him.”
So now the Bride is ready and now we come to the attire. What is this Bride wearing, we might ask? You’ll notice that she is clothed in fine linen, and the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Now, you see, we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ when we receive Him as Savior. Most assuredly, we receive His righteousness–the gift–but that righteousness now is worked out in our lives through our obedience. As we obey the Lord we discover that we become righteous not only legally, but we become righteous in experience as we draw on that righteousness, and we do good deeds that are very, very precious to God. And so the clothes that are worn–the linen that is white and pure and clean–that’s really what God does with our works at the Judgment Seat. Whatever comes out of the fire (and when you think of the fire–gold, silver and precious stones) is used then to weave our garments. Someone has put it this way. What we weave on earth we wear in heaven.
Now does that mean that all of us are going to be dressed exactly the same? Everybody gets the same gown–everybody gets the same attire? Well, that’s a possibility, but another possibility (because the Bible makes such a great emphasis on rewards) is that it might be something like graduation garments. You know, when you walk down that aisle you have the very same garment as somebody else in terms of what it was made of, but there were some (perhaps the faculty) when you graduated, who had special decorations because they had made some significant achievements. I don’t know how it will be. I just know that everyone that is there is going to be happy. Everyone is going to be accepted, but the righteousness that we have, that is what we wear, the linen white and clean, is the righteous deeds of the saints. And that’s why it’s so important for us, indeed, to have those righteous deeds because what you do on earth you will again meet in heaven. And of course on earth the big question is always what the bride is wearing. Nobody ever asks what the groom is wearing, but when we get to heaven all that is going to be changed as we shall see in a moment.
So we’ve talked about the attire, but what about the invited guests? What about them? Now you’ll notice it says in verse 9, “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.’” Who are these that are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb?
You know, there are some people who want to say, “Well, this must be the bride,” but a bride isn’t invited to her own wedding. A bride invites people. The bride and the groom invite their friends to the marriage supper, so who would be these invited guests? Well the Bible doesn’t tell us but I have an idea who they might be and if we connect some dots maybe we can come up with something that might actually be correct. Think of it now. The Church of Jesus Christ is raptured and taken to heaven, and then there’s a period of great tribulation on the earth that lasts at least seven years and maybe beyond seven years. During that great tribulation that takes place Daniel says in chapter 12, verses 1 to 3 that at the end of this tribulation period there is going to be a resurrection, and I think that that’s where all of the Old Testament saints are going to be resurrected. Now the marriage supper takes place at a time when Jesus is about to return to earth in glory, and in future messages we will talk about the Tribulation and we’ll talk about this passage and others that speak about Jesus returning to earth, and so please keep that in mind.
But if it is true now that the Jews are resurrected, and by Jews I don’t mean only Jews. I mean all those of the Old Testament no matter what ethnic background or whatever race they may be if they believed in Jehovah. If they are resurrected after the great tribulation they would then be arriving in heaven just at the time when the marriage supper was happening and they would then, of course, also descend to earth, I am sure, with the Church that Jesus has redeemed. What makes me think this is in the New Testament there’s an interesting story. Jesus was criticizing the Jews for thinking that they had an entitlement to the kingdom because they said to themselves, “Well, you know we have the right lineage,” and Jesus said, “You might have the right lineage physically but you’ve never received Messiah. You do not have a heart that is open to God,” and then He meets a centurion, and the centurion has great faith, and Jesus says these words. He says, “Verily I say to you. Many shall come from the east and from the west, and from the south, and they shall sit in the kingdom with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” In another account He also adds the prophets, and then he says, “But the children of the kingdom (that is to say those who thought they had entitlement) will be shut out in a place of darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Oh, the words of Jesus are words of rebuke, words of warning, and words of great care. So I can imagine that the people who are there may indeed be the Old Testament saints.
Now I just want you to visualize it. Millions of people comprise the bride of Jesus Christ. Now it’s time for the wedding and suddenly all of these Old Testament saints that have been resurrected come marching in. There is indeed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I’m sure that we instantly recognize them. We think to ourselves, “Look there. For sure there is Sampson. After all, he was mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, and you have all of these people. Oh, there’s Rahab. I remember something about her, and there she is in the heavenly kingdom. Rank after rank, thousands upon thousands are gathering together for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, who is going to serve us?” Well, I don’t know who is going to serve us, but I know one person who will, and I’m not making this up. This is a passage of scripture I have often contemplated and if I think about it too long I might break out weeping, so I am going to go very fast. It occurs in Luke 12:37. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who, when the master comes, are found to be waiting for him. For they shall sit down and the master himself shall gird himself with the clothes of a servant and shall serve them.”
I can imagine there are many of us who, like Peter, are going to say, “Lord, you’re not going to serve me.” Do you remember when Jesus wanted to wash Peter’s feet? He said, “No, no, not my feet, Lord.” Can’t you just imagine people jumping up and saying, “Lord, you sit down. We’re going to serve you.” And then He’ll say, “Don’t you remember how I taught you that in the kingdom he who serves is greater than he who rules?” And Jesus is going to serve us.
You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, it’s a wedding feast. What are we going to eat?” Isn’t that what you’re thinking? What’s on the menu? I don’t know exactly what’s on the menu but I do know what we’re going to drink. I do know that much. In a Jewish wedding it was very important for the bride and the groom to drink new wine. I mean we’re talking about the finest of all wines. They would keep that wine as long as it was necessary and they would save the very best for the wedding feast. Maybe the wine that was saved is something like the wine that Jesus made at the Wedding of Cana where they were upset with the host because they said, “You have kept the best wine till last.” They didn’t know where it had come from. It’s going to be very good wine. There’s no doubt about it. That’s what was served in the orthodox Jewish weddings.
Now come with me to the New Testament. One day Jesus gathered His disciples together and said to them, “I am going to invite you to share with me the Passover,” and so they gathered together and in the midst of that feast, as all of you know, Jesus Christ took bread and He said, “This is my body which was broken for you. This do in remembrance of me.” And then we discover that He took the cup and He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This drink in remembrance of me.” And then in Matthew 26 He made this amazing statement. He said, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until I drink it anew with you in the father’s kingdom.” The best wine will be saved for that, and even those of us who don’t drink wine on earth, it’s going to be good wine, as we enjoy the wedding feast.
As I say, it’s very difficult for us to put our mind around all of this because some of it may be symbolic, but you say today, “Pastor Lutzer, what is really the bottom line?” I mean if you’re going to bring the plane down, where are you going to land? I’ll tell you that if there’s anything in this passage that is important it is the intimacy and the closeness that we are going to have with Jesus Christ. And when I said that Israel was invited to the wedding, I don’t mean to imply that there are going to be various gradations in heaven, that there are going to be some second class citizens and some first class citizens. No, no–we’ll all be together but God oftentimes makes distinctions on earth, and for a time He may make distinctions in heaven, but the thing that is most remarkable is the closeness that we have with Jesus. Do you know what Paul said in Colossians? He said, “When Christ, who is our light, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.” Do you realize what that means? The entire universe is going to see how close we are to Jesus. Every demon, every angel, every unconverted person who is on planet earth, when Jesus Christ returns and they see that we are next to Him, it says, “We will also be revealed with him in glory.” Can you even imagine what that’s going to be like?
I know that in weddings today the big issue, of course, is the beauty of the bride–what she’s wearing, how she comes down the aisle. The groom can be standing there not doing much of anything and nobody would know the difference. But I’ll tell you that in heaven it’s going to be very different than that. Throughout all of eternity people are not going to ask the question, “Who is the bride?” That’s not the question. The question that is going to be asked is “Who is the groom?” Who is that? Who is the Lamb of God that redeemed His Church and cleansed her that He should marry her? Who is this king that descends? Who is this alpha and omega? It is Jesus Christ, the Lord, King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all gods. That’s who it is. (applause) And the focus will be on Him.
The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11, “I have betrothed you to Christ,” and he said, “I want you to be a pure virgin.” Do you remember that during the engagement the whole point was whether or not we are pure, whether or not the bride and groom are being faithful and true to each other in waiting for one another? And then Paul says, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
So I want to ask you today: Are you being true to the bridegroom today? You are engaged to Him if you are a believer.
And let me speak now to a different category of people. Do the names Tareq and Michaele Salahi mean anything to you? Maybe you’ve forgotten about them. They are the ones who snuck into the White House and got past security and ended up actually being able to shake hands with and speak to our president. It was an embarrassment for the Secret Service needless to say. I just want you to know that nobody arrives in heaven and gets past security. Nobody arrives and says, “Well, here I am. I think I should be admitted too.” That will never happen there.
Jesus told an interesting parable about a man who showed up for a wedding feast and didn’t have the right garment, and he was instantly spotted and he was asked to leave. I don’t know how I can make this any clearer to you today than I am making it, but unless you accept Jesus Christ as your savior, unless you believe on Him, you will not arrive in heaven.
I love to tell that story that some of you may have heard me tell years ago about the time that I was actually in the White House and in the Oval Office. I was speaking in Washington, D.C., and a member of the President’s Secret Service detail asked me if I would like to go into the Oval Office. It was a holiday and the President was out of town. This was when the first President Bush was the president, and so security maybe wasn’t as tight as it is today, but he asked me if I wanted to go into the Oval Office the next day. Have you ever had somebody say something to you and you know without praying about it that it is God’s will? (laughter) I wasn’t going to say no to that.
So we met there, and two of my three daughters were with me, and we went past that little house with all the Secret Service agents. They basically looked at us and then they looked at him and said, “Oh, you’re with him? Just go on in.” When we got to the steps of the White House other Secret Service agents just looked at us and then at him and said, “Oh, you’re with him? Go on in.” And then you go in the hallway and standing there at the door of the Oval Office there was one more guard and he allowed us to go in, though we could not go to the President’s desk, but we could put our foot into the Oval Office.
Imagine with me that we die in a great holocaust. Imagine with me that we land on the other side and suddenly there it is on the other side of the curtain that we meet Jesus. And I want you to visualize centuries of angels all the way to the Father’s house standing guard, and then the angels look at us and they see Jesus who is going to accompany us and they say, “Oh, you’re with Him? Go on in.” We meet more angels who say, “Oh, you’re with Him? Go on in.” And then in the distance we see the glory of God, and God is more holy and more righteous and more pure than we ever dreamed that He was, and suddenly we have a flashback. Some of those among us are really big sinners, some who committed crimes of immorality and theft and selfishness and among those of us who perhaps didn’t commit those sins but we have enough of our own, and we begin to look at ourselves and we begin to say, “We can’t go in.” We can’t go in but the angel says, “You’re with Him. Go on in,” and so we get escorted all the way into the Father’s house. Why? It’s because we have the righteousness of Christ credited to our account. It’s the only way to get to heaven and to make it to the wedding feast.
Let’s pray together.
Now if God has spoken to you today and you’ve never received Christ as savior, you can do that even right now. You can say, “Jesus, save me.” You can accept Him. For those of you who know Him, I have to ask you if you and I are being pure for the one to whom we are engaged.
Father, throughout all of eternity we will sing over and over and over again, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain.” We thank You in Jesus’ name. Amen.