PART 1: 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. Part II:
Following the actual marriage ceremony and the supper comes the wedding trip, description of which starts four verses after the mention of the wedding itself. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war …. and his name is called The Word of God … And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:11, 13, 16).
His new wife follows Him down to earth: ‘and the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses clothed in fine linen, white and clean’”(Rev. 19:14).
Let’s be very tidy as to whom any passage applies, and thus avoid much unnecessary confusion.
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. 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).
If Revelation 19:11 describes the wedding trip of the newly united bride and groom, must we assume that they are the ones sitting upon the “white horse,” who will “judge and make war”? Are the bride and groom also the “armies which were in heaven” which “followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean”? Does it seem that the “armies which were in heaven” is an appropriate designation for the bride of Christ?
It does not seem that any of these suggestions fit the context. The Old Testament speaks frequently of the Lord being “the Lord God of hosts,” the Lord of the armies of heaven, i.e., the angels. We know that angels will accompany Jesus when He returns. Couldn’t angels, then, be the armies in heaven which are part of the scene in Revelation 19?
We agree fully with your final statement, “Let’s be very tidy as to whom any passage applies, and thus avoid much unnecessary confusion.” However, it is not always clear to whom a passage applies, and we must be careful that we make harmony in our study of Scripture, and do our best to understand what the Scripture writer is saying, not read our interpretation into his words. As for the passage in Luke 12:35-37, which you suggest applies to “the Jewish people who have been converted and are meanwhile leading a large number to Christ,” we fail to see any reference of this nature in Jesus’ words. It is certainly possible that Jewish people may be included in those who are ready and waiting for their Lord, but is there anything that suggests that this passage applies only to Jews? We must also remember, when the Bible speaks of the Israelites, that “they are not all Israel which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6), and also that many times references are made to those who are “Jews indeed” (by training and commitment) as distinct from Jews by birth (by blood descent). Paul said in Rom. 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” This suggests an Israelite nation which is considered to be chosen people of God, who may or may not be Jews by right of birth. They are Jews because of being “circumcised at heart” and are seeking the approval of God, not of men.
In the Book of Revelation, chapter 17 describes the fall of Babylon, and the Lamb (Christ) showing His authority over Babylon, and “overcoming them,”…”for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” This indicates Christ on the scene conquering the nations of earth. Chapter 18 tells more of the fall of Babylon and the resulting worldwide cataclysm. Then chapter 19 follows with, “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven…” and the wedding feast is described in the verses that follow. Wouldn’t it seem strange that if Jesus is on earth during chapter 17 and 18, that suddenly He is seen in chapter 19 as being in heaven when the passage connects with the words “after these things”? Does He return to heaven for the wedding after He has been conquering on earth? Furthermore, chapter 19, verses 2 and 3 continue to show Christ’s victory over the evil powers of earth, right at the time the “voice of much people in heaven” is heard.
Jesus is coming to reign on the earth, not in heaven.