As I have read through Revelation, I have found it to be the culmination of a long story. It is the most developed and mature theology of the entire canon.
John, the Jewish apostle, from his position in the communities of Asia Minor, where Greek and Roman life abound and not so much Jewish life, represents perfectly the theology of Revelation. John brings the nations together with Israel under one Messiah. It is a theme to which Revelation turns again and again by reapplying promises about Israel’s age to come to include all of the nations. Yet in doing so, Revelation does not, contrary to many oblivious commentators, write Israel out of the story. Revelation is the retelling of the story for the nations, with Israel’s role ever in the background.
There are many ways Israel’s story and the story of the nations are merged. Not least of these is in the image of the marriage supper. On Mt. Zion (Jerusalem) a banquet will be laid out and the nations were always to be included (Isa. 25:6-8). Only in Revelation do we begin to understand how.
Israel’s Marriage to Adonai
Some people see the marriage metaphors between Israel and God beginning in the Torah itself. God rests on Mt. Sinai in a cloud, an image much like the later custom of a Jewish wedding canopy or chuppa. The chuppa custom in Jewish weddings likely comes from Mt. Sinai and not the other way around, yet there was already some idea of God covering Israel intimately even in the beginning. In Isaiah 4:5, for example, God promises a canopy (chuppa) over Mt. Zion in the last days.
If Mt. Sinai is God spreading his covering over Israel, the commandments themselves are like a ketubah, a wedding contract. In a modern Jewish ketubah, the husband promises to provide love, nourishment, shelter, and children. A ketubah is a covenant and so is the Torah. God promises Israel protection and nourishment and love in return for faithfulness.
Israel, the Bride of Adonai
The prophets make Israel’s marriage to God explicit. Isaiah says, “Your maker is your husband” (54:5). In Hosea 2, a passage now used daily when the tefillin are wrapped on the hand as well as in the wedding ceremony, we read, “I will betroth you to me forever” (2:19).
The image of God’s marriage to Adonai becomes an explicit tale in Ezekiel 16. John Goldingay says it is like a late-night mini-series we are ashamed to admit watching afterwards. Orphan Israel, found abused and bleeding, is taken in by God. The Lord of heaven and earth spreads his skirts over Israel, redeeming her from shame and abuse and taking her as his wife.
The Church, the Bride of Messiah
Paul, the Jewish apostle to the non-Jewish nations, spells out the relationship of the church, the redeemed from the nations.
In one of the rare places in which Paul addresses the role of the nations and Israel together, he subsumes the church within Israel. The church is made up of wild branches on a Jewish olive tree (Rom. 11:13-24).
Yet in marital metaphors, Paul says something about the church that is nearly identical to what is said of Israel. The church is the bride of Messiah. “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:2. Ephesians 5 has an extended metaphor about marriage and the church as married to Messiah.
The Full Vision: The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
As Yeshua is about to return, the white rider riding down his enemies and making a kingdom of peace, the multitude sings in anticipation of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7). An angel tells John to write that all who are invited to the marriage supper are blessed (Rev. 19:9).
In Revelation, Israel and the church appear in various scenes. The Jewish apostle to the non-Jewish region of Asia Minor expands the well-known promises of Israel’s prophets to include the church. And here in Revelation the theme of marriage to God at last unites the forerunners of Jacob with the redeemed from every tribe and nation.