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Marriage of the Lamb
Fall Quarter: Celebrating God
Unit 3: Visions of Praise
Sunday school lesson for the week of November 21, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Revelation 19:1-8
Key Scripture (NIV): “
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7
- To better understand the “transcendence” of heaven.
- To better understand the nature of evil in the world and its destruction.
- To better understand the vision of marriage as it pertains to God and his Church.
Our lesson precedes the powerful visions of the Kingdom in Rev. 20-21. Satan and evil are once and for all defeated as a “new heaven” and “new earth” appear. Each vision and image have been moving toward this final end. The preceding visions and images consisted of tribulation, interspersed with visions of hope. Now, in Revelation, that hope is fully realized. The good news for the Christian community is that though life is filled with adversity, our hope in God is real. We have blessed hope now, and it will be fully realized in the end. This hope empowers us to face and overcome adversity and suffering. This is one of the great purposes in giving the Church the book of Revelation. The Church has been experiencing horrendous persecution. Most Christians most likely were asking, “Where is God?” Revelation declares God is here, moving in the earth among all humankind, moving everything toward an ultimate righteous and loving end. John reminds the ready that we are blessed just by reading this book (Revelation 1:3). We cannot yet understand all of its visions and mysteries, but we can understand God’s power to conquer evil and establish righteousness and goodness in spite of evil.
In order to better understand the visions of John in our text, we will study the text by breaking it down into three sections: 1. The great multitude, 2. The great prostitute, 3. The wedding.
The great multitude
When many consider heaven, they imagine John’s vision of the holy city. We must remember that the vision of the city is just that: a vision. The image of the city allows us to see the redeemed community living together
in utter beauty and serenity with God. However, heaven is greater. In our text, John now speaks of heaven not as city, but as an eternal reality, beyond a city. The great multitude in this vision are not described as being in the city, they are “in heaven.” These are not two separate pictures of heaven. As a city, John was allowed to see heaven as a large city, full of life and beauty. Now, he speaks of heaven is an eternal state of existence, beyond our imagination and ability to comprehend. If you read some of the most used quotes about heaven you will discover use of the word “place.” Heaven is a place. Yet, “place” is a human word trying to capture an eternal reality that has no limits. Without the word “place” it is difficult to imagine heaven. We are enriched by the image of the Holy City. Still, our words in describing heaven are the best we can do. It will always be greater than we can conceive. Imagine no east, west, north or south! Imagine timeless existence! It is difficult to do so. Thank God for the images we are given in Revelation, for they say all we need to know. Heaven is a beautiful, serene, reality of togetherness with no limitations. This is enough for me and I think most of us.
Many of us loved MercyMe’s
song, “I Can Only Imagine.” In this popular song the writer confesses the truth. All we have are the descriptions in sacred scripture and our imagination. What a day it will be when the visions of Revelation and our imaginations become reality! Though our words may fail us when we speak of heaven and the Kingdom of God, the world can witness the attributes of heaven within and through our life. We allow the world to see Jesus and the Kingdom in us!
When you consider heaven, what images come mind? Which images bring you most comfort and strength? How has John’s Revelation given hope to the Church? How does the reality of heaven remove the sting of death? How does the reality of heaven effect the here and now? What role do Jesus and the Kingdom play in your witness? If someone asks you, “What is heaven?” how would you respond in a manner they can understand?
John’s vision speaks of the “great multitude,” and especially the “sounds.” These sounds remind us that heaven is life! As the earth teems with life even more so does heaven. Yet, we are not speaking of just noise! The sounds are loud because the community is large. We are loud in our praise! In the vision the redeemed people live! Their sound is loud! Their praise and rejoicing are unavoidable! The loud sounds of heaven proclaim that what is happening in heaven has great effect upon the earth. John’s vision calls the earth to pay attention to life, both now and to come. We often think of heaven as a “separate” reality. For us, there is earth and heaven. We think of heaven as a place we go when we “leave this life.” However, in Scripture, heaven and earth are connected according to the great will and design of God. Heaven, again, is the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom has moved and continues to move in human life from the moment we fell from grace. In Jesus, the Kingdom was embodied. We witnessed the values, attributes and heart of the Kingdom in Jesus. Jesus was the embodiment of the reign of God over sin, death, humankind, and nature itself. Thus, the Kingdom was in our world, and is now moving in our world. This movement of the Kingdom is ongoing now through the Holy Spirit in us and the Church. The Church should reflect the heart of the Kingdom and proclaim its reality in and through Jesus Christ. Naturally we cannot fully understand the connection of this life and the life to come. However, it is of great comfort to know the Kingdom is here, moving in the world, in our life, and the life of the Church. Heaven will not be a strange existence. After all, we have been tasting its sweetness and experiencing its power and love throughout our life. Heaven will be an extension of all that is sacred and precious intensified. It is empowering to know all that is precious now will one day be more than realized in heaven.
Can you cite examples of when the Kingdom was visible in and through Jesus? How do we experience the Kingdom in the here and now? Can you share when and how you witnessed heaven on earth? In what way has heaven given you hope in your life? How do you think the Church can share this blessed hope of heaven with the world? What comfort do you find in knowing that all that is precious to you will be even more so in heaven?
Notice in verse 5 that God’s servants, both “great and small,” are called to praise God. The world is full of rankings. We assign people social classes and we often treat people of power with preference. Jesus never acknowledged such rankings. He cared about the woman with the issue of blood as much as he did the rich young ruler. Revelation does mention designations of people such as the 24 elders in the vision. However, in heaven, designations have nothing to do with self-importance. We understand them as functional. Whether these are real positions or images to help us understand is beyond our knowledge. However, in Jesus we learned the truth about the great and small: all are of equal value and importance!
In what ways are people great and small in our world? In our church? In what ways can we ensure all are important and valued by God and us? What ministries in our church address the equal value of all? Read I Corinthian 14. How do you understand each person having a spiritual gift, with all being equal in importance? What does I Cor.13 say about chapter 14?
The great prostitute
Many make the mistake of trying to identify the great prostitute as a specific nation or even person. Many, if not most, scholars agree that John’s vision of the great prostitute is related to Babylon. However, it is not the ancient city of Babylon to which the vision points. Babylon has become the descriptive word for the dark power of the world. Ancient Babylon conquered Judah, the last portion of the Israelite Kingdom standing. Babylon destroyed all that was sacred to Judah, especially the temple. The brightest and best, along with many others, were taken exile into Babylon. They would have to learn a different language, bow to a different king, and worship a foreign god.
In John’s vision, Babylon represents those dark powers in the world that attempt to force another language upon us. Any language that demeans and is destructive to the human spirit is of Babylon. When forced to bow to the powers that be, that prove hostile to God and the Kingdom of God is of Babylon. Any power that demands our allegiance over God is of Babylon.
John’s vision proclaims that this dark power will be utterly overthrown! We witness God’s redemptive activity in life when we witness goodness overcoming evil. When we confront all that is destructive in life with the goodness and love of God, we are participating in God’s redemption. This redemption will reach its culmination in the end!
Notice the dark power of the great prostitute corrupted the earth. Scripture has always taught that sin doesn’t just corrupt people, it corrupts the earth. People who have given themselves over to sin and darkness tend to abuse creation. The quest for money and power has led many to abuse natural resources. Scripture identifies individual sin and corporate sin. We are not only sinners in need of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are also participants in an abusive, corrupting world. We need to be saved from such corruption. Our new life in Christ calls us to confront such corruption.
Our understanding of the Church is that she is God’s community where one can find hope, salvation, and comfort. However, we must never forget that we are also called to action against the sin and darkness. Naturally, we do so in love and truth. However, we do not cower and wait for “God to fix it all.” God’s redemption of the world from all that is darkness is ongoing. We are called to participate!
What do you believe are expressions of Babylon in our world? Where do you witness obvious corruption of the earth? Where do you witness the Church fighting the darkness with the life, light, and love of Jesus? In what ways is your local church fighting the darkness in love? What do you believe to be our greatest obstacle in confronting the darkness? What can we do to become more active in God’s redemptive will?
God has allowed John to witness the beautiful culmination of the Lord’s redemption. John uses the beautiful institution of marriage to describe the arrival of God’s ultimate reign. Jewish marriages involved two phases: the betrothal and the consummation. The family of the groom established a future marriage for him through a contract with the bride’s family. The groom’s family pays a price for the bride. In time, the actual marriage process begins.
The bride is then betrothed to the groom and vice versa. The betrothal is a legal state that can only be broken through divorce and legal action. At the moment, the bride and groom are married. However, the consummation of the marriage occurs approximately one year later. At this time, the groom and his groomsmen travel to the bride’s home, bringing her to her new home with her husband.
The parallels between the Jewish marriage and the redemptive activity on the part of God is stunning. God is the groom, and the world is the bride. God contracted for the bride in holy covenant, especially the covenant with Abraham. God remained true to this promise for all years to come. This contract was binding, especially after the price was paid. Jesus paid the price for his bride. His life, death, and resurrection were the price paid to redeem the world. The Church has been in betrothal with Christ from that day forward. Jesus bound himself to the Church through his selfless act of redemption. Christ is with us in every circumstance in life. He seeks only to give life and love to his bride, the Church. God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to bind us to himself. The Spirit is much like today’s wedding band. The band proclaims to the world that we have given ourselves to another in deepest affection and love. When people witness the Spirit living in and through us, they witness the truth that we have given ourselves to God and God has given himself to us! Our relationship is sealed!
Now John allows us to envision the day of consummation. Any sin or power that sought to interfere with our Christian walk now gives way. Sin is annihilated to the uttermost as we share a holy intimacy with God. The bride has now traveled to the groom’s home! That home is heaven! The journey is over! Life indescribable awaits!
In what ways does the analogy of the marriage help you understand what God has done in your life and the life of the Church? How do you understand your present walk with Jesus in the marriage analogy? How does the marriage analogy help you understand where you are headed in life? How does knowing where you are headed empower you in the here and now?
Almighty God, we realize we are part of your great redemption story. We realize we have a story to tell and a life to be lived. We thank you for our blessed destiny in Christ. Increase our understanding of the grace that redeemed us and the love that sealed us in Christ. May our lives reflect your Kingdom in the now and our hope reflect our belief in the Kingdom still to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.