Taking Our Place at the Table
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe the hope that is available for God’s faithful as John reveals it.
2. Explain the imagery that John uses to describe how the faithful can have confidence in their future.
3. Be able to correct false popular ideas of what worship should be.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, April 30—Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1–14)
Tuesday, May 1—The Song of the Lamb (Revelation 15:1–5)
Wednesday, May 2—He Will Reign Forever (Revelation 11:15–19)
Thursday, May 3—The Heavens Praise (Psalm 148:1–6)
Friday, May 4—The Earth Praises (Psalm 148:7–14)
Saturday, May 5—Hallelujah! (Revelation 19:1–5)
Sunday, May 6—Give God Glory (Revelation 19:6–10)
I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.”
Why Teach this Lesson?
“Where do I fit in?” is a lifelong question. This question seems to be particularly painful in the Junior High years, but it never really goes away. Adulthood is filled with job transfers, layoffs, continuing education, marriages, etc. Each major life change is a shock that causes that question to come up all over again.
The Bible tells us where we fit in! We are the church. As the church we anticipate that great wedding feast with our groom, Jesus Christ. This lesson provides a foretaste of the glory and gladness of that day.
A few years ago, I had a very capable senior-level student in my class—let’s call him Jason—who simply could not bring himself to complete one last, easy, two-page assignment. Jason had a case of senioritis. If you know a student, then you’ve no doubt heard that term. Right when it counts the most, college and high-school seniors find that the repetition and hard work begin to take their toll.
As a professor, I see this all the time at this time of year. Even our very best students can succumb to the effects of senioritis. Their hard work begins to wear on them, they lose the plot, they take their eyes off the prize of graduating. Before long we have bad grades and a halfhearted effort that characterizes their work.
Jason’s senioritis caused him to think that such a small assignment wouldn’t really matter. But while it was only a small assignment, it was still very much a part of the course and thus the degree. And you can’t graduate without completing all of your courses. Jason and his parents were horrified to find out the day before graduation that he was going to fail the course and thus not graduate. He had family coming in from around the country to celebrate, and his friends assumed everything was fine. Sadly, Jason failed to achieve what he had worked hard for. It was all because he lost his focus and thus his motivation.
The daily rigors of life take a toll on our ability to stay the course. It may be finances, relationships, or “everything in general”; all of us sometimes find that we just want to give up. And, of course, this is only too true of our spiritual journeys. The terrain becomes difficult to traverse and we begin to falter and fall. We often don’t want to get up again.
But there is a solution. The same solution that enables students to complete their requirements is what can help us continue our spiritual journeys. That solution is a confident expectation of the future. Students keep working because they know that if they stay the course, they’ll earn a degree. And we can keep going in our spiritual lives because we know that there is an eternal reward waiting for those who are able to stay the course.
B. Lesson Background
As we come to the next stage in our discussion of the book of Revelation, let’s consider where we’ve been so far. John’s Revelation has been a story of hope. John repeatedly makes the same point throughout Revelation: if you are faithful to God, then you will be a part of God’s eternal victory.
In the chapters previous to Revelation 19, we encounter Babylon, the great prostitute. Historically speaking, the early church used Babylon as a way to refer to Rome (1 Peter 5:13). The reason for this was that Babylon, in the history of Israel, was a place that brought about the destruction of many of God’s people. Babylon thus stood as an icon of human arrogance, a place that put itself before God in its pursuit of worldly pleasure and success (even though God used it as his instrument). The early Christians referred to Rome as Babylon because they believed it represented the same sort of worldly values.
Worldly pleasures—fame, possessions, etc.—appeal to virtually all of us on some level, don’t they? And this appeal is characterized as the lure of a prostitute; thus we have Babylon as the great prostitute who lures people away from God. As we look into the next part of the story, we find John using this image of the great prostitute to contrast the virtuous character of the bride of Christ.
I. God Destroys (Revelation 19:1–5)
A. Praise for Justice (vv. 1, 2)
1, 2. After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
These two verses comprise the first of a series of praises. Note that the praise has two components. Verse 1 shows us the worshipful attitude of those who belong to God. This praise is a personal statement of acceptance of God’s authority and an appreciation for his provision. Worship at its core is the recognition of the nature of our reigning God.
Verse 2 provides us with the reason that God’s creation should praise and give honor to him: for true and just are his judgments. Thus we worship God because of who he is (v. 1) as we recognize that a central feature of God’s nature is his justice (v. 2).
As John pens these words, it is easy for Christians of his day to think of Babylon from chapters 17–18 as a reference to Rome. The great prostitute of the pagan Roman culture tempts and ravages the people of God. However, the fact that John uses another, very broad figure of speech (corrupted the earth) to describe unholy effects indicates a concern for any influence that leads people away from their heavenly Father. In the final analysis, Babylon and the great prostitute thus can refer to anyone or anything that opposes God’s purposes. So this first praise is recognition for the way God destroys any who work against his mission of salvation for his people.
Anyone who does not submit to God’s authority is an opponent of God. There is no neutral ground in the spiritual world (see John 1:5; 12:46; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 John 1:5–7). Verse 2 emphasizes the fact that God’s destruction of the great prostitute is a just act.
It is important, however, not to take this as a morbid celebration of death. Instead, John is emphasizing the way God is proven to be who he claims to be: a just and righteous God. John does this to show his original readers, who are under persecution, that God is all-powerful and able to keep his promises.
If we remain faithful to him, then God will save us for all eternity. The multitudes of Heaven see the destruction of the great prostitute for what it really is: a magnification of the power of the God who is faithful to keep his promises to those who are faithful to him.
B. Praise for Complete Punishment (v. 3)
3. And again they shouted:
The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”
The praise for God’s victory over his opponents continues. John uses repetition to bring home the point: God is truly victorious and thus truly worthy of our praise! The phrase for ever and ever emphasizes the idea of completeness and permanence (compare Isaiah 34:10). The destruction of those who reject God’s authority will be just that.
C. Praise for Victory (vv. 4, 5)
4. The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried:
Following the “great multitude” of verse 1, the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures are two more groups who praise God for his victory. We were introduced to the elders and the creatures in Revelation 4 (Lesson 7). They are always found giving special recognition to God.
What Do You Think?
What are some of the victories for which we should fall down and worship God, both as individuals and corporately as the church? Why do we fail to do this as often as we should?
Again, this worship of God emphasizes that God really is victorious. Those who appreciate that fact will have eternal blessing.
5. Then a voice came from the throne, saying:
“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
both small and great!”
The throne always refers to the presence and authority of God (examples: Psalm 9:7; 11:4; 45:6; 47:8; Hebrews 1:8). The voice we hear from the midst of God’s presence issues a direct call to all the faithful to yield praise. If we understand the true nature of God, then we can still praise him even in the midst of our deepest sorrow and toughest trial. We can do this because we understand that he is worthy.
What Do You Think?
How do you praise God when you are going through tough times?
We also offer praise because we know that his purposes are eternal, that his salvation is sure, and that his victory is guaranteed and complete. We have a hope that transcends our temporary, earthly existence and daily difficulties. How marvelous is his eternal salvation and deliverance! How can we not worship? Worship in spirit and in truth reflects the fact that we understand the true nature and purposes of God. Fear of the Lord is related to our praise of him in Psalm 22:23.
A cartoon showed two teenage slackers reading a newspaper. The headline read, “Asian Students Superior to Americans in Science and Math.” The caption to the cartoon has one teenager saying, “That may be, but I’ll hold our self-esteem up against theirs any day!” This points up an ongoing debate within American culture concerning how to motivate children, how to bring out the best in them. The relationship among praise, self-esteem, and accomplishment is frequently debated.
Culture makes an idol out of self-esteem. We praise children disproportionately for minor accomplishments, assuming this will create high self-esteem and make the children successful. We outlaw comparisons between children in order to save the self-esteem of underachievers. A few years ago, schools in Nashville, Tennessee, decided to do away with honor rolls. Low academic achievers might be embarrassed to see their names missing!
We can debate the role that praise plays in the lives of youngsters. But there is no debate about God’s worthiness to receive praise! Such praise is not an attempt to manipulate an underachiever into thinking well of himself. God is not an underachiever, and he suffers no self-esteem problems. Praise will be offered by a multitude who have experienced the greatness of God because he has saved them from their sins. He deserves our praise. —C. R. B.
II. God Provides (Revelation 19:6–10)
A. Everybody Loves a Wedding (vv. 6–8)
6. Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
The praise that results from the command in verse 5 is indeed loud! The sounds of a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, overlap to create a sense that this is an intense moment of praise. And why not? This is the moment all the faithful have been waiting for, as verse 7 will show. It is the moment when the faithful servants of God enter into eternal, heavenly fellowship with their Savior, Jesus Christ. Such joy! This will be the time when all of God’s work throughout history moves toward its magnificent conclusion.
And all this can come about because the God we serve is omnipotent (all-powerful). His power is demonstrated by the overwhelming and complete victory over his opponents; now his all-powerful nature brings his promises to their completion. Thus John shows us why we can have courage to be faithful, even in the midst of great trouble: our God reigns over all and will always be able to deliver us. No wonder the praise from the multitude is thunderously loud! How can it be anything less?
What Do You Think?
In what ways have you experienced God’s awe-inspiring power at work? How do you know when the power at work is from God and not your own ability?
7a. “Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
John now shifts to a picture of a wedding. Using our “sanctified imaginations,” we can see that our spiritual lives parallel the practice of getting married. We may say that the cultural practice of becoming engaged parallels the occasion when we first give our lives to Christ. Then the period between the engagement and the wedding parallels the period in which we faithfully await and prepare for the Lord’s return. The wedding itself parallels the time when the faithful are finally with Christ for all eternity.
The groom here is identified as the Lamb. A pure and spotless lamb has always been the ideal sacrifice offered to God. The Passover, in particular, celebrated God’s deliverance with the slaughter of a lamb (Exodus 12:21; 2 Chronicles 30:15; 35:1; Luke 22:7).
John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). The apostle Peter said that Jesus was “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). And in Revelation, the apostle John frequently uses the term Lamb to refer to Jesus (Revelation 5:6; etc.). The idea of Christ as the sacrificial lamb lies at the very heart of our redemption and our salvation.
7b. “ … and his bride has made herself ready.
John also draws our attention to the fact that the bride of the Lamb has been busy getting herself ready. She is the community of the redeemed. She consists of the faithful who have submitted themselves to Christ’s authority. Their faithfulness is their preparation. Thus the marriage that John now describes unites Christ, who sacrificed his life for humanity, with all those who accepted this sacrifice.
Visual for Lesson 10
Jesus the lamb is also Jesus the rock! Point to this visual as you ask, “How has Jesus been your rock?”
But let us pay attention to the implicit warning in this verse: there will be no person at the wedding who is not ready to be there. Jesus used the image of a wedding to warn about the need to be ready. Matthew 25:1–13 offers the Parable of the Ten Virgins, five of whom were unprepared for the groom’s arrival and so failed to enter into the wedding celebration. When they begged to be let in, the groom’s response was “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you” (Matthew 25:12). Jesus also told the Parable of the Marriage Feast. One man who had not made himself ready through proper attire was thrown out (Matthew 22:1–14).
8. “Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
This verse develops the previous verse’s idea of the bride’s readiness for the Lamb. The nature of the clothing projects an image of purity: fine linen, bright and clean (compare Isaiah 1:18; Revelation 3:4-5; 6:11; 7:9–14). This wedding attire is not something the bride herself could have acquired. Instead, as John says, it is given her to dress in this manner.
The final phrase of verse 8 reveals that the description of the fine wedding outfit reflects the righteous acts of the saints. We don’t have a righteousness of our own. Rather, it is the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that enables the bride to present herself in the white and clean wedding dress (compare Philippians 3:9). The imagery of Isaiah 61:10 is powerful: “He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” (See also Romans 1:17; 3:21-22; 5:17–21; 1 Peter 2:24.)
What Do You Think?
What can we do as a church, as the bride of Christ, to make ourselves ready for his return? What mistakes do churches sometimes make in this regard?
Dressed for the Wedding
Brides usually spend a great amount of time and money getting ready for the ceremony. Choosing the attendants, musicians, and menu for the reception demands attention. Not to be overlooked are personal elements—getting rid of those extra pounds, choosing a good hair style, etc., will make everything “just perfect.”
But the centerpiece of all the preparations is the bridal gown. White seems to be an enduring color of choice. Years ago, a wedding advice columnist observed that while white wedding gowns were traditional, gowns in off-white and other colors had gained in popularity. Even so, the color white has shown its staying power.
The purity of the bride of Christ is an important, vivid image in this Bible text. Her “fine linen, bright and clean” signifies this purity. But the bride of Christ doesn’t have to try to construct her own gown. We can’t make ourselves pure enough; our faith in the Lamb is the means by which his purity becomes ours. Thus we are counted worthy of the pure white linen robes he shall provide. —C. R. B.
B. Everybody Loves a Meal (v. 9)
9. Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
The “bride” of verse 7 is an image of the faithful who join Christ forever. Now John refers to the same group as those who are invited. There is a slight change in the dynamics of the story here because now John tells us that he has been asked to write the true words of God. While all Scripture has its origins in God, John now draws even more attention to the vital nature of the message. His readers must know of the utter reliability of the point that anyone who is faithful to God, and thus participates in this wedding supper of the Lamb, is truly blessed.
We recall that John’s original readers are in the midst of suffering and are in desperate need of maintaining hope. John helps them, and us, with a reminder of the reliability of God’s promises. This is a major theme of the book of Revelation: God is faithful and true to those who are faithful and true to him. The book of Revelation is thus a source of hope for all Christians of all centuries who suffer and experience attacks against their relationship with God.
C. Only God Is to Be Worshiped (v. 10)
10. At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
We may think that the apostles were not prone to make mistakes, but here John reveals his own error. John is so overcome by the magnificence of God’s blessing of his people that he attempts to worship the angel who is delivering the message. The angel rebukes John for the mistake but also helps John to understand the problem (see also Acts 10:25, 26; 14:11–18; Revelation 22:9).
What Do You Think?
We readily say that Jesus alone is Lord and that only he is to be worshiped and praised. But like John, we too can be guilty of falling down and worshiping the wrong one. In what ways have you done this? How have you guarded yourself against this error?
The final statement, for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, is difficult. There are numerous explanations that attempt to take in the various ways of dealing with the original language. For example, does the phrase testimony of Jesus (used twice) mean “testimony that comes from the lips of Jesus” or “testimony that is about Jesus” or both?
Perhaps the best way to approach this is to note first that the angel recognizes that he is a fellow servant of the brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. We take the word brothers to refer to all faithful believers, understanding that they represent Christ to the world. These faithful people have a testimony or witness about Jesus that results in their persecution (Revelation 6:9; 12:11; 20:4).
The word prophecy also can cause confusion. It is important to understand that the word translated prophecy does not always signify “telling the future.” The idea, rather, is one of “speaking on behalf of God” (it’s just that sometimes God speaks about the future). So, speaking on behalf of God in testimony is prophecy. The angel thus is talking about the faith of the saints as they live out their relationship to Christ. The Holy Spirit enables them (us) to do so.
The Christian life is filled with challenges that wear us down and threaten our ability to remain faithful. Satan knows all our weaknesses, and he doesn’t hesitate to exploit them. The book The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis offers us a hypothetical account of demons trying to figure out the best ways to tempt humans. We may see ourselves as willing victims on every page!
If we understand the true nature of God—that he really is victorious, destroying his enemies and blessing his faithful—then we have what it takes to remain steadfast, even in the face of suffering. If we are steadfast in our faith, then we will be ready for the groom’s arrival. Our eternal future is under his protection. What a reason for praise this is!
Thought to Remember
Be ready for the wedding feast.
Our mighty and gracious Father, we thank you for the hope you have given us through the sacrifice of the Lamb. Help us to remain steadfast and faithful to you as we await your return. To be with Jesus for all eternity will be worth it all. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing