Tuesday, 8 July 2014

I will show you the bride of the Lamb

I adore the moments of reading the Bible when a sentence comes alive. Perhaps it comes alive for the first time, or perhaps for a second (or third) time, but it's alive with possibility and meaning. Every time I do good exegesis, this happens. Sometimes it happens by accident.

This is one of those accidents.
"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God." Rev 21:9-10
I normally steer clear of Revelation, mostly because I don't have enough background context for it. There are a few points in it that anchor it to the rest of the Christian Bible and I think this might be one of them. The angel tells John that he is going to show John the bride of the Lamb, and what he shows him is the new Jerusalem. This metaphor of the bride is only used elsewhere in Matthew and John. Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is the bride.

For so long I (like others, I suppose) charged into this passage with the pre-formed idea that the new Jerusalem is the city in heaven, a picture of perfection for when God has finished the final transformation of the universe. And then I saw my mistake. The people of God don't live in this city. In fact, no one lives in this new Jerusalem. For the rest of the chapter there is no mention of anyone living there at all. People come and bring glory and honour into the city, but that's it.

So I read it again. The angel said he would show the bride, and he showed the city. The city is the bride. The new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven is the bride. This is the new work that God has done, and it is the church.
"I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it." vv22-24
This is a picture of the church as a blessing for others, not the picture of an afterlife blessing for the church. It reinforces the idea that the kingdom of God is God's interruption into this world, to bring a solution for this world rather than being a "pie in the sky when you die" solution.

For the believer, therefore, this is an encouragement to bring God's light and life and love into the world. We are the new Jerusalem that God has brought down from heaven for others. Once again, the Biblical texts show that the message of Jesus and the work of the church is for this world, in the here and now.

Picture credit: B Facundus 253v

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