Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Option Two: The Royal Wedding Reception

In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (Jesus to his disciples) John 14:2-3 NKJV
Option one is the horrific scene we have seen played out in the last few posts. The tribulation, God's wrath poured out, and ultimately eternity in hell is the default option. It is our birthright. As humans, we are born into a fallen world, with lost and depraved souls, bound for the only just and fitting fate, eternal separation from God.

BUT... There is another option! Option number two allows us to become part of the collective "church", the bride of Christ. Throughout Scripture, Jesus is referred to as the bridegroom (Matt. 9:15; Matt. 22, 25; John 3:29) It is his "bride" that is the collective "you" in the verses above, and it is this bride that will be raptured before the beginning of the tribulation, carried to safety from the coming judgments, and will partake in the grandest wedding feast in the history of the universe.

Option one is seven years of literal hell on earth. Option two is a royal marriage banquet...

When Jesus said those words above to his disciples, it was all the promise they needed that he would be back one day. For them, it was the perfect parallel to a traditional Jewish wedding of the time. For us to understand what Jesus was promising them, and has promised us, we need to understand the context in which it was given. Let's look at the culture that surrounded it and see how God revealed his perfect plan of salvation through this special ceremony.

The Five Parts of a Traditional Jewish Wedding:
  1. Selection of a partner: These marriages were arranged; the father of the groom would select a bride for his son. Much the same way, our heavenly Father, the father of Jesus, our bridegroom, chose us. Remember that He chose you; you did not choose him. This does not mean that some were "forced" to receive Christ and others were rejected or never given a chance. Without getting into a full discussion on predestination, let it just be understood that God "chose" us based on his foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2) that we would choose him. Pastor J. Mark Martin explains our "election" as described in Ephesians 1:3-4 this way: that we are chosen "in him" as the text says, that the "elect" or the "predestined" are in Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ is the only one who is elect, and that once we become a Christian and are now "in him", we also become elect in him. 
  2. Betrothal: At this time, the groom leaves his father's house, goes to the home of his prospective bride and does two things: 1. Asks her father for her hand in marriage and 2. Negotiates a price. At this point, the bride is set aside exclusively for this man. Unlike our society, where engagements can be easily made and broken, this betrothal was essentially marriage. The only difference between this stage and marriage was that the couple did not live together or consummate their union. But in order to break it, they would need an actual divorce. Likewise, Jesus left his Father's house, came to earth as a human being, to serve and to "woo" his prospective bride. And the price that was set was death on a cross, a price he willingly and lovingly paid. Also, though we as a church are only in the "betrothal" stage of our relationship with Jesus, we are fully his; we are bought and paid for. It cannot be broken.
  3. Separation: Once the betrothal was official, the groom would return to his father's house and would prepare an addition to the home, a place for his bride. The groom would not be allowed to return for his bride until his father determined it was time to go. During this time, the bride would be preparing herself for her groom, knowing that he could return at any time. She would be doing everything she could to learn more about her future husband from friends and relatives, his likes, his dislikes. She would be preparing herself to be a wife that could please her new husband. The verse above, John 14:2-3, is this very stage of the relationship. Christ was about to leave. He was returning home to his father's house. And he is there now, preparing a very real and literal place for each one of us. He is coming back, though we do not know when. Only the Father knows, and when he determines that it is time, we had better be ready. We need to be devoting all of our efforts to learning to love what our bridegroom loves, and hate what he hates, to make ourselves into the bride that he desires us to be. We must use this time to grow in love for Jesus, even though we cannot see him. (1 Peter 1:8)
  4. The return: When the time would come for the bridegroom to return for his bride, he would show up nearly unannounced. The bride's only indication of his arrival would be the sound of the processional that would be accompanying him. She would quickly ready herself and would go out and meet him in the street. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says, "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever." (NLT) Jesus is coming back unannounced. We won't have time to "get ready" so we need to be ready at any moment. As a bride awaiting her wedding day adorns herself with a garment of jewels and pearls and lace, so we need to be adorning ourselves with righteousness (Titus 2). Every righteous act of obedience and service to God is like a new pearl that has been added to that "gown". You won't have time to clean up at the last minute. Make sure you are ready to meet him now.
  5. The marriage banquet: Finally, the two would be joined in marriage and they would retreat to consummate the union. Afterward, the husband would emerge and a 7-day wedding feast would begin, during which time the bride would remain hidden in her chambers. At the end of the 7 days, the bride would come out and the groom would present her, unveiled, to everyone, as his wife. The 7 days of the marriage banquet will be the 7 years of the tribulation. As the world is experiencing an outpouring of the wrath of God, those who are a part of the bride of Christ, will be safely hidden in the home that our bridegroom has prepared for us. We will partake in a marriage feast unlike anything we could ever imagine. And at the end of those 7 years, Christ will return to earth with us, his bride, standing at his side. 
It's quite a stunning picture of the love relationship between Jesus and the church. And it's a future that we can count on as surely as the sun rises every morning. Jesus is coming back for us. And when he does, it won't just be seven years of feasting. The Bible, and Jesus in particular, talks profusely about rewards in heaven. Heaven itself and eternal life with Jesus are not a reward; they are a gift, something that is given freely according to the grace of God and cannot be earned or merited. But once we get there, we will be rewarded according to our works (Rev. 22:12). In the next few posts, we are going to take a look at this short period of time in heaven before we return with Christ to rule on the earth. We'll see the rewards that are waiting for us, the purpose for the rewards, and some incredible worship scenes that would put the loudest concert you can imagine to shame. 

Now for the fun stuff...

*For a full teaching on this topic, check out this link: The Wedding Feast.

No comments:

Post a Comment