We Have Something of Heaven
A Theology of Joy In Revelation
(Three Part Article, Con’t, Part 3)
(Article by Brian Tabb, Academic Dean, Bethlehem College & Seminary)
Joy in a Spectacular Wedding
The heavenly exultation over Babylon’s demise (Revelation 19:1–5) gives way to resounding joy because “the Lord our God the Almighty reigns” and because “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6–7). John stresses the loud and effusive joy of the heavenly multitude in Revelation 19:6 as he hears “the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder.” They cry, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory” (Revelation 19:7). The apostle John does not describe this scene of extravagant heavenly exultation simply to inform his readers of what will happen at the end of history but to encourage us to reflect this pattern of praise in our lives.18
The drama of the divine marriage unfolds in several phases. First, the wedding is planned, publicized, and prepared (Revelation 19:7–9). Next, the Bride is revealed and covenant promises are made (Revelation 21:2–3). Finally, John describes the bejeweled Bride (Revelation 21:18–21).
The Old Testament frequently depicts Israel as the bride or wife of the Lord. Ezekiel recounts how Yahweh “clothed” his bride Jerusalem in fine linen and embroidered apparel, yet she “played the whore” (Ezekiel 16:10, 16). However, the prophets announced a coming day when the Lord would call back his wayward partner and “betroth” Israel to himself forever “in righteousness” (Hosea 2:14–20; Isaiah 54:5–8). Isaiah 61:10–62:5 presents the end-time relationship between God and his restored people as a joyous wedding. The nuptial scene in Revelation 19 alludes to Isaiah’s prophecy that God’s people will rejoice when the Lord clothes his bride with “the garments of salvation . . . with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).
In Revelation 19:9 the imagery shifts from the Bride’s preparation to the guests’ invitation to the marriage supper. In this passage and elsewhere, the book sometimes uses multiple images to describe a single referent. Here John pictures God’s people as the Lamb’s betrothed and as the blessed guests invited to the party. These images convey believers’ corporate and individual joy, anticipation, and intimacy with Christ, the Groom.
While Revelation 19 announces that the Bride is ready, she is not revealed and the marriage is not consummated until chapter 21, after the Lamb has conquered all his enemies. Then the angel says to John, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9). Then John sees “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (Revelation 21:10–11). The Bride in Revelation refers to both the redeemed people of God and the eternal city of God. The attractive picture of the Lamb’s stunning Bride contrasts sharply with the repulsive portrait of the imposter harlot Babylon. We should desire the former and detest the latter and thus persevere in faithfulness to Christ while we await the joyous consummation of his promises.
Joy in a Secure Home
We have considered how Revelation presents end-time joy in the context of an ultimate deliverance, a decisive victory, and a spectacular wedding. The book’s final chapter presents a fourth picture: joy in a secure home. John writes,
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1–5)
These verses build upon the earlier description of the glorious new creation in Revelation 21:3–5. God will dwell forever with his people and bring ultimate healing, comfort, salvation, and restoration to all things. This vision also recalls Genesis’s description of Eden before humanity’s sin brought curse, disorder, pain, and death.19 Adam and Eve were sent away from God’s presence lest they eat from the tree of life (Genesis 3:22–24). However, one day God’s presence will endure forever, and the redeemed will have unending access to the tree of life (Revelation 21:3; 22:2, 14).
Revelation 22 presents not simply a restoration of Eden but its glorious end-time transformation. Gone is every trace of Adam’s sin and banishment from Eden. Gone is every threat, trouble, or temptation. Instead, the redeemed behold God’s face, are marked by God’s name, and fulfill their calling as royal priests (Revelation 22:3–5). This vision of new creation satisfies believers’ longings for full redemption (cf. Romans 8:18–23), for a renewed vocation as priest-kings, and for an enduring home in God’s presence. Tom Schreiner rightly says, “What makes the new universe so dazzling is not gold or jewels but rather the presence of God.”20 We will see, savor, and serve God and the Lamb forever. This is the ultimate consummation of end-time joy.
End-Time Joy Now and Forever
These four pictures of end-time joy are not pie in the sky or wishful thinking. This is our secure future that shapes our lives and our loves in the present. We can and must sing a new song in this old land even though now for a little while the nations still rage and we still endure hardship and heartache. We rejoice now because Jesus loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (Revelation 1:5). We rejoice now because our Savior lives and holds the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:18). We rejoice now because he is coming soon to consummate his kingdom, right every wrong, and be with us forever (Revelation 21:1–5; 22:20). We rejoice now because we have a better hope than anything Babylon can offer: an ultimate deliverance, a decisive victory, a spectacular wedding, and a secure home. We rejoice now by faith to celebrate and anticipate what we will one day know by sight.
Jonathan Edwards writes, “So far therefore as we sing this song on earth, so much shall we have the prelibations of heaven. In this way we shall have something of heaven in our closets and in our families. And this will make our public assemblies some image of heaven.”21 So now, with wet eyes and aching hearts, we join the heavenly chorus and declare, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). (end 🙂)
Brian Tabb (@BJTabb) is academic dean and associate professor of biblical studies at Bethlehem College & Seminary, an elder of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and editor of Themelios. He and his wife, Kristin, have four children.
- C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, repr. ed., The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 20. ↩
- See Genesis 1:31; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17; 1 Timothy 4:4. ↩
- See Psalms 90:14; 107:9; Jeremiah 31:14, 25; Philippians 3:1; 4:4. ↩
- “Joy,” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, accessed 2 November 2018, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/joy. ↩
- John Piper similarly explains that in Philippians, “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world” (“How Do You Define Joy?” Desiring God, 25 July 2015, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-do-you-define-joy). ↩
- See Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30; 31:29; Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 23:20; 30:3, 24; 31:31; 33:14; 48:47; 49:39; Ezekiel 38:16; Daniel 10:14; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1; Acts 2:17; 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3. ↩
- For additional explanation of inaugurated eschatology, see G. K. Beale, “The End Starts at the Beginning,” in Benjamin L. Gladd and Matthew S. Harmon, Making All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 3–14. ↩
- Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, NAC 37 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 70. Similarly Paul declares that fellow believers “are our glory and joy” now and will be “our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming” (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20; cf. Philippians 4:1). Paul rejoices in these saints for Christ’s sake, celebrating the work that he has done, is doing, and will bring to completion in and through them when Christ returns (Philippians 1:6). ↩
- Similarly Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, NTT (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 10. ↩
- For an expanded treatment of the purpose of Revelation, see Brian J. Tabb, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone, NSBT 48 (London: Apollos; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 8–9. ↩
- See, for example, Isaiah 40:3–5; 32:1–2, 16–19; 51:9–11; Jeremiah 23:5–8. ↩
- A number of commentators argue that the conjunction kai (“and”) in Revelation 15:3 it is better translated “even” or “that is,” identifying “the song of Moses” and “the song of the Lamb” as a single hymn. See, for example, G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 793; Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 564. ↩
- The beast in Revelation recalls the great vision in Daniel 7. The beast likely signifies the state’s political and military power. Satan empowers the beast for a time to wage war on God’s people while demanding total allegiance and even worship (Revelation 13:1–8), until Jesus conquers the beast and hurls it into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20). ↩
- The names Babel and Babylon render the same Hebrew word, bābel. ↩
- This list alludes to Jeremiah 25:10 and several other Old Testament texts. For details, see Tabb, All Things New, 173–74. ↩
- Lynn R. Huber, Like a Bride Adorned: Reading Metaphor in John’s Apocalypse, Emory Studies in Early Christianity 10 (New York: T&T Clark, 2007), 185. ↩
- The strange supper scene in Revelation 19:17–18 alludes to the graphic curse against Gog in Ezekiel 38–39. See G. K. Beale and Sean McDonough, “Revelation,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 1144. ↩
- Robert S. Smith, “Songs of the Seer: The Purpose of Revelation’s Hymns,” Them 43 (2018): 195–96. ↩
- In addition, Revelation’s presentation of a new, greater Eden draws upon the restoration prophecies such as Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 14. ↩
- Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 629. ↩
- Jonathan Edwards, “They Sang a New Song (Rev 14:3a),” in Sermons and Discourses, 1739–1742, ed. Harry S. Stout, WJE Online 22 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 241. ↩