"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, May 10, 2010

Learning to read the book of Revelation: Wedding Feast

This will seem like I am talking about the marriage feast in Isaiah, but what I am actually talking about is how to read the book of Revelation. Is the book of Revelation a chronological account of the events at the end of time, or is it a series of visions that give account of the events at the end of time from different perspectives, and not necessarily chronological (but a recapitulation)?

Throughout the book of Isaiah are many promises of judgment. Chapters 1-39, especially, include much distress with little relief. The one major exception to this litany of judgments is the promise of relief and deliverance in Isaiah 25. Here Isaiah delivers the oracle that:

Isaiah 25:6-8 -
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.
Here, Isaiah promises a reversal of the pain of the fall, sin and the exile. Full restoration is pictured as a feast on a mountain with rich food and aged wine. This is the time of comfort, where the Lord “will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:8)

This feast is again considered near the end of Isaiah's prophecies. Again, the picture is of restoration:

Isaiah 65:13-17 - Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart and shall wail for breaking of spirit. You shall leave your name to my chosen for a curse, and the Lord GOD will put you to death, but his servants he will call by another name. So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.
Isaiah here connects the feast with the act of new creation, when the new heavens and the new earth are created/renewed. The feast is the time of realization of the promises of creation. Taking the passages together, Isaiah 25 and 65 picture the feast at the end of the age as the time of 1) wiping tears from the eyes of God's people 2) the realization of the time of the new heavens and new earth.

John picks up this image in the book of Revelation, with his vision of the wedding feast of the lamb that Isaiah predicted:

Rev 19:6-9 - Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."

However, the re-creative act that Isaiah located at the time of the feast is not described until Revelation 21:

Rev 21:1-5 - Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

Thus, the one event of Isaiah 25 and 65 are described in two places: Revelation 19 and 21. However, we have been told this is one event, one time.

This, of course, makes it difficult because between Revelation 19 and 21 is Revelation 20. Revelation 20 is the passage that speaks of a period called the millenium, a period of time before the judgment of the wicked.

Revelation 19: wedding feast of God's people, while battle of judgment occurs.

Revelation 20: period called the millenium followed by judgment

Revelation 21: Comfort (wiping every tear) and New Creation

One view (chronological) sees these as presented in chronological order: feast, then judgment battle, then millenium, then judgment, then new creation.

This view has a few problems, however, in that the book of Revelation would then present a series of similar looking battles (Revelation 16:14-16, 19:19-21, 20:7-10), which would be odd. However, it would make empty the picture of the marriage feast that would not be the time of new creation, but separated by 1000 years and more death, rather than the end of death and the end of death.

The choice is one of two views of the book of Revelation:

1) Insist that Revelation is to be read chronologically and so to divorce New Creation and the Marriage Feast, leaving the feast, if we can say it this way, a meal of empty calories, no longer signifying the great reality that Isaiah promised.

2) Allow that Revelation contains visions of recapitulation and so see the visions as parallel accounts of the same reality. Then, New Creation and the marriage feast are still wedded, and the marriage feast retains its intended picture of hope.

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