Revelation 19. The Bride of Christ prepares for her marriage. The enemies of God are struck down by his sword, their flesh providing a banquet for vultures. Jerusalem is delivered.
The great multitude is not identified, but the language parallels that of the ‘great multitude’ who emerge from the great tribulation in 7:9f, having heard and accepted the gospel. ‘Corrupt’ is the verb phtherein, meaning ‘corrupt morally’. It has a less comprehensive sense than diaphtherein in 11:18. The reason for the judgement on Babylon is twofold: she corrupted the earth and its inhabitants through her sexual promiscuity, and she brought about the deaths of God’s apostles and prophets. The smoke of her destruction goes up like that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:28), examples of irreversible destruction (‘eternal fire’, Jude 7).
This is the third time that God’s judgements have been declared just and true (15:3, 16:7), and the declaration has to be made, because we do not naturally assent to the destruction or see that it is just. It troubled Abraham. “Will you sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Gen 18:22ff) God said he would not destroy the city even if there were only ten in it, and went out of his way to rescue Abraham’s nephew and his family before the fire came down. Although it is difficult to rejoice beforehand, we shall be glad after it has happened.
‘Alleluyah’ occurs nowhere else in the NT. It is straight Hebrew, and as such evokes the psalms’ exhortations for all to praise Yah (the shortened form of Yahweh) – all Israel, all the nations, all creation. The psalms climax with the cry. The rejoicing is a response to the call in 18:20 and a reprise of the song at 15:3f, rounding off the revelation of the seven last plagues. Those who fear him among the small and great should also rejoice. As at 11:18 and 14:7, fear of God is commended, and in praising him there is nothing to fear.
Again, the great multitude is not identified, but their sound is overwhelming. ‘Many waters’ suggests a great host taken from the nations (17:15), to which the angels add their thunderous clamour. ‘Has reigned’ means ‘has become king’. As stated before (11:17), the reign begins from the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and it is the Lord God the Almighty who reigns (1:8). The emphatic combination of ‘rejoice’ and ‘exult’ is common in the Old Testament (e.g. Ps 68:3, Song 1:4, Isa 61:10).
‘Wife’ is gune, literally ‘woman’ (Rev 2:20, 12:1, 17:3). Preceded by a possessive, it means ‘wife’, as does the Hebrew word (e.g. Gen 2:23f); ‘bride’ would be numphe. She is dressed in the same apparel as the angels who bear the bowls of wrath (15:6). The linen represents the ‘fruit of righteousness’ that faith in God produces (Heb 12:11) rather than something imputed unilaterally (Rom 4:3, I Cor 1:30); she puts the linen on herself (cf. Isa 52:1, 61:10), the fruit of having ‘put on the new man created after the likeness of God (Eph 4:24). ‘Acts’ is implicit rather than explicit in the plural word dikaiωmata, the plural converting the abstract idea into something concrete. In 15:4 the word refers to the righteous acts that God himself has done. This is the extent to which the woman is exalted!
Invitations go out first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. To receive one is a privilege, for they come from the king, the occasion is one of joy, and admission is free. Only a few accept (22:14). Most consider the affairs of their daily lives more important and make their excuses (Luke 14:18-20). In his wrath, God destroys Babylon the Great by fire. Instead the poor, crippled, blind and lame inherit the kingdom, those whom the gospel of grace did not reach, who had nothing in this life. ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he has sent away empty.’ Those who accept the invitation are of course the bride herself.
There were several stages to a Jewish marriage in ancient times. A man who wished to marry went to the woman’s father, agreed with him the price, and paid it (Gen 34:12). Then the couple entered into a binding covenant with each other, similar to the medieval practice of ‘handfasting’. A cup of wine was shared to seal the vows, and the man would give gifts to his bride. From that point they were betrothed and legally married, any dissolution of the relationship requiring a divorce (Matt 1:19). Then the groom returned to his father’s house where he lived and prepared a place for her. When all was ready, he went with his friends to his wife’s house at a time unknown to the bride and either he or a friend acting as forerunner gave a shout to announce his arrival. Usually this was at night, so both she and her bridesmaid friends needed to have lamps ready. On their return, the couple consummated the marriage, celebrated for seven days, and concluded their celebration with a feast.
It is indeed a great mystery. Adam was created on the third day, before vegetation (Gen 2:5) and before the animals (Gen 2:19). On the same day God planted a garden – in Greek, paradeisos – and after putting the man there, he caused to spring up every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food, including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But the man was alone. On the fifth day God brought to him every bird and animal of the field. Adam saw that none of these could be called his counterpart, so on the sixth day God put him to sleep. Out of his side he fashioned woman, and brought her to him. Adam’s awaking was a prefigurement of Christ’s resurrection from the tomb in the garden, and the creation of Eve a prefigurement of the birth of the Church following his death and resurrection. The wound in Christ’s side was like the cut that God made in the side of the first human son of God, for it is by water and the blood from his wound that his bride is regenerated. We eat his flesh and drink his blood as a sign that we are part of him. On the eighth day the Father will present the woman, pure and spotless, to his son, who loved her even as his own flesh – for so she was – and then the two will be one.
Kings in the Ancient Near East planted gardens next to their palaces in imitation of the tree garden planted in Eden. In Persia the royal garden was called a pairi-daeza, a place enclosed by a wall. The biblical texts mention several, including the garden kept for the king of Judah (II Ki 21:18, 25:4, Neh 3:15, Est 1:5, Ecc 2:5). Reliefs from Ashurbanipal’s palace at Nineveh depict waterways running through the orchards reminiscent of the river flowing through Eden, and inscriptions have him boasting of animals collected from across the empire, many of which were placed in the gardens. The garden symbolised the empire in the midst of uncultured wilderness, the king was the man entrusted by God to look after the garden, and the animals corresponded to those brought to the man to see what he would name them. Ritual lion hunts represented the king exercising his dominion over creation. On the occasion of his defeating his enemies, he would hold a banquet in the garden, sit on his throne and drink the fruit of the vines growing in the garden there, while his wife celebrated opposite him, musicians playing on their harps and tambourines, and the decapitated head of the enemy king hung from the trees. A similar scene is shown on an ivory from Megiddo, dating to the reign of Solomon.
John is moved to worship the angel because he speaks the very words of God. In correcting him, the angel points out that he speaks as one who testifies about Jesus, just as Jesus testified about the kingdom. The gospel is a prophetic message, and part of that message is, “You shall worship the Lord your God; him only shall you serve” (Matt 4:11, Rev 14:7).
Angels, being sons of God, look like human beings, and human beings like angels. We are made in the image of the man of dust, who was made in the image of God, his first son Jesus Christ. For a little while, Christ himself was made lower than the angels, but now he is crowned with honour and glory. He will bring many sons to glory and not be ashamed to call them brothers. So, after his resurrection, he referred to his disciples as brothers (John 20:17). We shall be like him in his glory (II Thes 2:14).
Unlike the man who appeared on a white horse at the opening of the first seal, the man here is an individual, but the picture is similarly militaristic. It contrasts with his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey two thousand years ago. He is ‘faithful and true’ (Rev 3:14), and called the Word of God because it is he who inspires the Scriptures and makes the will of God known. In the context of God’s wrath his name is no longer ‘Yeshua’ (Yah saves); he cannot now be personally known and his name called upon. He rides on a white horse as commander of heaven’s armies (Jos 5:14, Rev 10:13), angels that involve themselves in human struggle behind the scenes (II Ki 6:17, Rev 12:7). The sword of the rider is the power to strike and kill (Num 22:31, Isa 27:1, 34:5f, Rev 2:23) in judgement. “I kill and I make alive, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut 32:39).
The words from Psalm 2 have been quoted twice before (Rev 2:27, 12:5). The repetition serves to emphasise that the only-begotten son of God will one day rule the nations in person, and with a firm hand. His garment is dipped in blood because of the treading of the winepress, already described (14:20) and about to be described again (19:17ff).
In reverse order, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ repeats the Lamb’s title at 17:14. The first to call himself ‘King of kings’ was Tikulti-Ninurta I, who reigned over Mesopotamia in the late 2nd millennium BC. The statement was largely factual, for the kings were chiefly rulers of cities, over which the supreme king ruled as emperor. Later examples include Nebuchadrezzar, head of the Babylonian empire (Ezek 26:7, Dan 2:37), and Artaxerxes, head of the Persian empire (Ezra 7:12). ‘Lord of lords’ was also a common title and sometimes combined with ‘King of kings’, as in the designation of Tiglath-pileser I of Assyria (beginning of the 1st millennium BC): ‘Tiglath-pileser, strong king, unrivalled king of the universe, king of the four quarters [of the new ‘Eden’], king of all princes, lord of lords, chief herdsman [or shepherd], king of kings.’ Both the titles could be applied to gods as well as kings. In Egypt their earliest occurrence goes back to the New Kingdom (late 2nd millennium), with reference to the god Osiris. Moses referred to Yahweh as ‘God of gods, lord of lords’ before any of these kings (Deut 10:17).
The people who settled Mesopotamia after the Flood-Cataclysm found there a lush, well-watered land that seemed like a new Eden. They named its major rivers after the Tigris and the Euphrates in Eden, and the upper part of Mesopotamia they named Assyria, the land west of the Tigris in the new world as well as the old. Kingship, they said, had come down to earth from heaven, so that God (Enlil) would rule the land in the person of a king, his human son and image – a kind of second Adam. Ultimately the destiny of the king of Babylon was to defeat the enemy of mankind and subdue the whole earth. Thus, as it passed orally from one generation to the next, the Genesis tradition underpinned the new ideology. But it was deliberately distorted. In reality – and this is the essence of the gospel – there is only one Saviour of mankind and legitimate King of kings, born of the woman in heaven. To him will be the obedience of the peoples (Gen 49:10).
The sacrifice is by way of cherem (vv. 2, 5), whereby God pronounces on whatever or whoever is an abomination to him a curse of utter destruction (Deut 7:2).
‘All the nations of the earth’ in Zechariah 12 and ‘all men’ in v. 18 above are all the nations that surround Israel, rather than the ‘whole world’ in the strictest sense (Rev 16:14). They have allied themselves with Satan; they have besieged, captured and plundered the city of the great king, sent half of its inhabitants into exile, enslaved them, raped them, killed them (Zech 14). It is through these atrocities that they war against the Lamb, and it is at this point that he will go out and fight against them.
God will strike Jerusalem’s assailants with a plague, so that their flesh rots while they are standing, and they panic and fight each other (Zech 14:12f, Hag 2:22). Then all the nations will see his glory (Ps 97:6, Isa 40:5, Ezek 39:21, Rev 18:1).
The remnant of Israel take part in the day of vengeance (also Isa 41:15, Obad 18, Mic 5:8, Zeph 2:9, Zech 12:6, Mal 4:3).
With these words the book of Isaiah ends.