In the Megiddo Message for November 1998, the Q&A page, we read ‘Why did Jesus compare Himself to a lord returning from the wedding? If we understand the Bible right, the wedding is on the earth, not up in heaven.’ Careful reading of the Bible doesn’t appear to bear out the above.
The wedding of Christ and His bride is surely an event of sufficient importance to merit our concern and deep interest, and we are thankful that the Bible reveals as much as it does, although I am sure we agree that we would like more details. But given what is told in Scripture, what do we have?
I believe we agree on the identity of both the bridegroom and the bride, the bridegroom being Christ and the bride being the Church, composed of all faithful believers in all ages up to the time of Christ’s second advent. Christ is the “one husband,” and the faithful are a “chaste virgin” which will be presented to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2).
Now let us think about the location of the wedding. First, where are the respective parties before the wedding takes place (i.e., now)? Again, I am sure we agree that the bridegroom is in heaven, at the Father’s right hand, awaiting the time when He will return to earth. Those making up the bride are on earth. A few are living, the majority are sleeping in death, awaiting the appointed time of resurrection (at the return of Christ) when they will be restored to life and together with the living believers be caught up to meet their returning Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
One more event is necessary before the wedding, and that is the Judgment which will determine who among the believers are faithful and therefore eligible to attend the wedding feast, and who are not. The apostle Paul mentions the Judgment in several of his Epistles, saying that “each of us shall give account of himself to God ” (Rom. 14:12); “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10) and “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10 NIV). He was also very conscious of his own personal accountability, as he said in 1 Cor. 4:4-5: “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God” (NIV).
Jesus describes the Judgment scene using the simile of a shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats. “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:33-34).
In the description in Rev. 14:4, of a scene following the Judgment, both Jesus and the saints (the bride) are on the earth. The Revelator saw in vision the Lamb standing on Mount Zion with the one hundred forty four thousand redeemed ones. He noted also their high achievement: “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (verses 4-5).
At this point the stage is set for the wedding. From Revelation 19 we get the timing and the picture of the ceremony: “After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, Alleluia: Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, belong the Lord our God:…Let us be glad and rejoice, and give Him glory: for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:1, 7). Who are the “much people” in heaven? It seems that they must be angels (they are also the “us” in verse 7), and they are giving honor to “Him” (the Bridegroom) because “his wife” (the bride) “has made herself ready.” It does not seem in the context of the passage that the “much people in heaven” could refer to either the Bridegroom or the bride.
There are other passages of Scripture which indicate that the bride could not be in heaven. Jesus said to His disciples shortly before His crucifixion, speaking of Himself going to heaven, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 13:33). We realize that it is widely believed that the bride does go to heaven, either at death and/or at the time of the rapture, but a careful reading of Scripture does not support this position. Jesus said, “I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also” (John 14:3). He did not say that He would receive them to Himself in heaven. Rather He said, “I will come again.” Likewise in 1 Thess. 4, after it is stated that the living believers along with the resurrected ones will rise to “meet the Lord in the air,” and it goes on to say, “so shall we ever be with the Lord” (v. 17), it does not suggest or state that being together will be in heaven. Many other passages in Scripture let us know that it will be on the earth, that Christ is coming to reign on the earth, to establish His kingdom on earth, with headquarters at Jerusalem (Zeph. 2:12; Matt. 5:35); to sit upon His throne, and to share His authority with His faithful bride (Rev. 2:26; 3:21).