It is hard for me now to believe that it happened four years ago, but I will never forget the day when I was taken on a drive by my boyfriend to a beautiful national park in California in the United States. We parked and walked alongside a gorgeous river, surrounded by majestic mountains and trees. Then he got down on one knee and asked me to be his bride. I said, “Yes!”
It was a very special moment, shared with no one else except the Lord, the angels—and a family swimming on the other side of the river! They had seen us arrive, watched the whole proposal, and when it was done, started shouting and waving for our attention. I gave a thumbs-up, and my fiancé joyfully shouted back, “She said, ‘Yes!’ ” At that point, the whole family (we have no idea who they were) started jumping up and down, rejoicing and clapping as if they had known us our whole lives!
I quickly discovered everyone gets excited about weddings. The Bible speaks of a wedding that heaven eagerly anticipates.
One of the first passages of Scripture I ever committed to memory were the words of Jesus in John 14:1–3 when He said, “ ‘Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 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’ ” (emphasis added).1 Here is Jesus’ personal, powerful promise to us that He will never forget us—that He is coming back for us. As ministers of the gospel, what a wonderful message God has committed to us to share with a dying world! What assurance and hope this has brought to the hearts of His friends down through time.
Yet years later, I was surprised to discover those words carried an even deeper significance than I had realized. In Jewish culture, when a man loved a woman and proposed to her, and she said yes, the young woman would return home, gather her wedding clothes, and pack her bags, only awaiting the happy day when her groom would come for her. Before she went back to her home, it was customary for the groom to say such words as, “I am going to prepare a place for you—but I will come again.”
After promising his future return, a Jewish groom would then go to his father’s home, where he would construct a place to share with his new bride as they began their lives together. When he had completed finishing this special place for her, the groom would joyfully come for his bride, take her to his father’s home, and there would be a great celebration. When Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14, He was using wedding language—and they knew it!
Jesus’ coming to our fallen world now takes on fresh significance. We realize that the Bible is the greatest love story ever told, about the greatest Lover there ever was. When Jesus came the first time, it was as though He arrived to offer the human family a “wedding proposal.” Willingly, He yielded up His life for us on the cross, as if to say in the sacrifice of Himself, “This is how much I love you! This is how much I want to be with you! Will you be My bride?” There has never been and never will be a greater proposal or demonstration of commitment to love and faithfulness as Christ displayed to us on the cross. And then, when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, He told His followers that He was going to prepare a place for us, just like a Jewish groom. He promised that He would return to receive us to Himself in what Revelation describes as “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).
How good is our God! How deep is His love! Jesus is not sending someone else to bring us back, and He did not forget about us. No groom ever forgets to return for his bride! The second coming of Jesus, when seen against such a backdrop, is not merely a theological concept or doctrinal belief that pastors must teach—His coming is an intensely personal reality for those who love Him. It is the culmination of an amazing love story that spans the ages and will truly, really end with a “happily ever after” that actually lasts forever. And it has to be one of the great highlights of the gospel.
How many times do pastors find themselves counseling couples in crisis as life brings enormous challenges to the vows of commitment and faithfulness that two people make to each other in marriage? Unlike those relationships in crisis, however, Jesus is totally and eternally committed to us. He is coming back for you and me. It is not fake news but rather the truest news ever heard. All heaven is brimming with excitement as it anticipates the coming culmination of the romance between Christ and His people. When our heavenly Bridegroom arrives, it will be the most glorious, splendid, and amazing event of all time. He is coming with all the angels of heaven (Matt. 25:31). What a day that will be!
However, it all begs one very important question: How do we ensure that we are ready to meet our heavenly Bridegroom? How do we prepare our congregations to await a Groom like this?
Before I got married, while I was in the thick of wedding planning, I remember waking up in a cold sweat from a nightmare one night. I had dreamed it was the night before my wedding, and somehow in all the planning, I had forgotten to get a wedding dress. I woke up in a panic, only to catch my breath and realize that it was just a dream. But what would it be like for Jesus to come, and we are not ready to meet Him?
Revelation 19:7–9 says, “ ‘Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
“Then he said to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” ’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true sayings of God.’ ”
Revelation mentions only two women, and it is not hard to know which one is the bride. She is ready and radiant and looks so beautiful in white. When the Bible describes the Lamb’s bride as being clothed in white garments, which are “the righteous acts of the saints,” God is communicating a powerful reality. Aristotle is often credited with the expression “Character is revealed through action.” But how does anyone manufacture a character like that of Jesus?
Essentially, the bride, God’s church, will have developed a character that is just like her Lord’s, and that is what makes her ready to meet Him. But how does one obtain the garment? How is it possible, especially in light of verses such as Isaiah 64:6, which state plainly that our best attempts at being righteous are embarrassing?
Revelation 19 offers an answer: “And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (v. 8). The Greek word translated as “granted” means “given.” The bride’s white wedding dress is not self-made or purchased in some specialty store. Instead, Jesus supplies this dress so fine, clean, and bright to His redeemed. Having paid the bride-price for us on the cross, He now prepares a place for us in His Father’s house, and He provides the wedding garment for us, too, so that we can be ready to meet Him when He comes. He is the One who presents us faultless before “His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). How does He do this wondrous work?
It was customary for a first-century Jewish groom to express the sincerity of his pledge to his newly betrothed bride by giving her a valuable gift. It would be the bride’s assurance that he would return for her. Has Jesus left to us a gift as a guarantee of His coming?
He has given to us the precious betrothal gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16). The Holy Spirit comes to empower, transform, and teach us how to live for Jesus.2 He is the One who prepares us to be ready to meet our heavenly Bridegroom. Pastoral ministry, while it has definite challenges, is something the Holy Spirit strengthens us to do. Jesus never wanted us to feel abandoned or distressed in His absence, so He sent “the Comforter” (John 16:7, KJV) to us as an assurance of our future inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:14).
Revelation 19:8 says, “The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Christian character is not something that God expects us to produce—it is what He longs to manifest in us by a miracle of His grace and creative power. Daily we need a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit in our lives, for when we are surrendered to Him, the fruit of the Spirit will appear in our lives. Pastors must preach this message today.
Ellen White states, “The church is the bride, the Lamb’s wife. She should keep herself pure, sanctified, holy. Never should she indulge in any foolishness; for she is the bride of a King. Yet she does not realize her exalted position. If she understood this, she would be all-glorious within.”3 Have you surrendered your heart to Jesus and allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work of transformation in your life? May God help you, as a minister of the everlasting gospel, to ensure that your heart and affections belong to heaven’s soon-coming King and Bridegroom today and every day until He comes.
- Scripture in this article is from the New King James Version.
- Greg Boyd, “What Does It Mean to Be Married to Christ?” ReKnew, January 22, 2019, https://reknew.org/2019/01/what-does-it-mean-to-be-married-to-christ/.
- Ellen G. White, Letter 177, 1901.