I often get very emotional at weddings. When I was conducting the marriage of my goddaughter, as the vicar, tears were pouring down my face. My great friend, her father, said in his speech afterwards that when you are taking your daughter down the aisle, you expect the vicar to be ‘a rock’, but instead he found that I was ‘a wreck’!
When it came to my own daughter’s wedding, I was determined to hold it together. I was doing well until half-an-hour before the wedding! Then I went upstairs and saw her in her wedding dress. At that point, I lost it.
This powerful and beautiful metaphor of ‘the bride’ is one that is used to describe the church in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:22–32). It is used in today’s New Testament passage of the church of the future, which comes down out of heaven from God, ‘prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’ (Revelation 21:2). This picture of the bride, the new Jerusalem, is prefigured in different ways in both our Old and New Testament passages.
The bride to be proud ofProverbs 31:21-31
As you read the characteristics of ‘a good wife’ (MSG), realise that much of this applies not only to wives, nor even only to women. As we are the bride of Christ, it applies to us all; men and women, married and unmarried. This is what the church should be like – and through Jesus, one day, will be like.
This description of ‘the wife of noble character’ is the model human bride. She keeps her family warm (v.21); she is well dressed (v.22b). Her husband is respected because of her (v.23a). Her business flourishes (v.24). She is clothed with strength and dignity (v.25a). She can face the future with confidence and joy (v.25b).
Her words are full of wisdom (v.26). ‘When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say and she always says it kindly’ (v.26, MSG). What a great model! Avoid words that are full of hatred, anger, resentment and distrust. Only speak kind words.
She watches over the affairs of her household and ‘does not eat the bread of idleness (gossip, discontent, and self-pity)’ (v.27, AMP).
Her children ‘arise and call her blessed’ (v.28a). Abraham Lincoln said, ‘No man is poor who has had a godly mother.’ Not only is she appreciated by her children, her husband also praises her and says, ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all’ (vv.28b–29).
The last verses focus on all women: ‘Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God. Give her everything she deserves! Festoon her life with praises!’ (vv.30–31, MSG).
Father, thank you for this picture of what the church should be like – the bride of Christ. Help us to be the kind of church in which Jesus can take pride.
The bride preparedRevelation 21:1-27
What does the future hold? What will ‘heaven’ be like? The New Testament answer is that it will not just be ‘heaven’ but ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (v.1a). The new heaven and the new earth are very real and solid.
This passage has within it a paradox concerning the new creation. There will be ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, but Christ says, ‘I make all things new’ (v.5, NKJV) – not, ‘I make all new things’. This is an indication of the continuity with this creation. That is why Martin Luther said, ‘If I knew the world was ending tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.’ This has huge implications for our understanding of the resurrection (and also for how we treat the environment now).
In this new heaven and the new earth, John sees the church – us – as we will be. He sees the ‘Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’ (v.2). One of the angels says, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb’ (v.9).
Jesus will satisfy your thirst for God: ‘He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To those who are thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”’ (v.6).
There will be a new relationship with God. You experience a foretaste of this today through the indwelling presence of God in the church by his Spirit. On this great day, you will be brought into a place of complete intimacy with Jesus. Take the most beautiful relationship you have ever seen, multiply it a million times, and you will get some idea of the sheer beauty of the relationship you will experience with God in eternity.
The church will not just be in a perfect relationship with God, she will be made perfect. The description of this ‘bride’ is dazzlingly beautiful: ‘It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, as clear as crystal’ (v.11).
This is the place for the completed church (the ‘twelve apostles of the Lamb’), with its roots in the Old Testament (the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’, vv.12–14). The city is a perfect cube (vv.15–16). It is absolutely beautiful, peaceful and totally secure (vv.17–21).
There are six notable absences:
God himself will be with you and he will wipe away every tear from your eyes (vv.3b–4a). There will be no more suffering, sickness or sadness.
There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain (v.4b). There will be no more hospitals, no walking sticks, no funerals and no cemeteries.
There is no sign of a temple, ‘because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple’ (v.22).
It does not need the sun or moon to shine, ‘for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp’ (v.23). The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.
There is no night there: ‘On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there’ (v.25).
Those who choose to carry on living lives that destroy others have no place in this inheritance (vv.7–8): ‘Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (v.27). Nothing will be ruined by sin. It will be totally perfect.
Are you going through a difficult time right now? One day your troubles will come to an end. In the meantime, God is with you and will give you a foretaste of the future – his strength for today and hope for tomorrow.
This hope is a comfort and strength to those going through hardship and difficulty in the present (for instance, Romans 8:18), and an inspiration to live holy lives in anticipation of what is to come (for instance, 1 John 2:28).
St Augustine explains how you should respond to this hope for the future: ‘He who loves the coming of the Lord is not he who affirms that it is far off, nor is it he who says it is near, but rather he who, whether it be far off or near, awaits it with sincere faith, steadfast hope, and fervent love.’
Lord, thank you for the amazing hope for the future. Help me to wait for it with sincere faith, steadfast hope and fervent love.
The bride prefiguredNehemiah 11:22-12:47
Celebrations are important. One day there will be a massive eternal celebration. When the church comes together, our celebration is an anticipation of the great celebration that is to come. All this is prefigured in the Old Testament.
The city of Jerusalem anticipates and prefigures what is to come. The new Jerusalem is the church, glorified and triumphant; ‘The bride, the wife of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:9–10).
Much attention is given to Jerusalem in the Old Testament. This is why there was such joy and celebration when Jerusalem was rebuilt. A great celebration took place, with ‘thanksgiving hymns, songs, cymbals, harps, and lutes’ (Nehemiah 12:27, MSG).
The joy of the new Jerusalem is also anticipated in the great celebratory worship led by two large choirs (Nehemiah 12:31 onwards): ‘an exuberant celebration because God had filled them with great joy. The women and children raised their happy voices with all the rest. Jerusalem’s jubilation was heard far and wide’ (v.43, MSG).
Lord, thank you for the great joy, worship and celebration that we will enjoy into all eternity in the new Jerusalem, that will come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:2).
The ‘wife of noble character’ is extraordinarily busy doing everything. I am less impressed by her husband who ‘takes his seat among the elders of the land’. It sounds like all talk and no action to me!
Verse of the Day
‘Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised’ (Proverbs 31:30).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.