In Eph. 5:27 we learn the purpose of Christ respecting the Church. He will present to Himself that pearl of great price (Matt. 13:46), the Church glorious, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. In that same epistle we are informed of the Church’s everlasting continuance, (3:21.) From Heb. 12:23 we have been taught how distinct will be its position in heaven from that of the Old Testament saints, there termed “the spirits of just men made perfect.” In Rev. 19:8 we read of the marriage of the Lamb, and of His wife having made herself ready. Her bridal attire is there also stated to be fine linen, white and clean, which is the righteousnesses (taV dikaiwvmata) of the saints.
So far, then, we read of the bride as fully answering to the desires of Christ, with whom she will be for ever and ever. But in none of these Scriptures to which we have turned is she described as visible to the eyes of people on earth, yet she will be seen by them. And John, who in vision beheld her as the world will see her, has described her appearance and special characteristics (Rev. 21:9-22:5), when she was shown to him by an angel. It was one of the seven angels, who had the seven last plagues, who took him in the spirit into the wilderness to see the great whore. (Rev. 17) It was one of the same angelic company which carried him in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed him the holy1 city Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God in her millennial character and glory, when for the first time the whole assembly of God, and of Christ, composed only of those who are members of His body, will be displayed to a wondering universe. But that cannot take place till the Lamb appears in His millennial glory. The woman, the whore, Babylon, is content to reign without Him. The Bride is satisfied to wait for Him. Then the parody of Satan, revealed in the Apocalypse, and so known to God’s saints, will be apparent to all. The true bride is a city, a metropolis, the metropolis of the universe. The great whore is a city, which in John’s day was reigning over the kings of the earth, the metropolis of the then so-called habitable earth, (hJ oijkoumevnh). (Luke 2:1.) With gold, and precious stones, and pearls is the woman of Rev. 17 described as decked out. Gold, and precious stones, and pearls will be seen to form part of the splendour of the heavenly city. To Babylon flowed the commerce and wealth of the world. (18) Unto the heavenly city (not into it) will the glory and honour of the nations flow, and to it will the kings of the earth bring their glory. So far is the parallel; now for the contrast.
The whore is decked in all her meretricious splendour to captivate the kings of the earth. The bride, when prepared to meet the Lamb, is arrayed in fine linen, clean and white. For Him we read not that she puts on any ornaments; but when she is to be publicly displayed as the Lamb’s wife, gold, precious stones, and pearls, are marked features in her appearance, (21:18-21.) It was in the wilderness, and seated on the dragon, that John saw the whore. It is as descending from heaven, and having the glory of God, that he beheld the bride. And further there was seen in the holy Jerusalem that which Satan could not imitate— the presence of God, and the throne of God. No temple (naoV") was there; for the Lord God Almighty was the temple (naoV") thereof, and the Lamb. No need had the city of the light of the sun, nor of the moon; for the glory of God enlightened it, and the Lamb was the lamp (luvcno")thereof. There also was the throne of God and of the Lamb; and in undimmed and unceasing brightness shall the Lord God shine upon His servants, who shall reign for ever and ever, (21:22, 23; 22:3-5.)
The bride then, as John here sees her, has been already presented to the Bridegroom. The holy temple, so long in building, has now been completed; and God, who by the Holy Ghost now inhabits His dwelling-place on earth (katoikhthvrion), is here seen at length enshrined in His temple. The desires of Christ about His Church have been fulfilled; the plans of God about His temple have been completed; and those on earth can see what the Church is to Christ and to God. It is a holy city indeed, into which nothing that defileth can enter. It is a select place, too, into which none have the right of entry but such as are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (21:27.)
Here then those two lines of truth, which run throughout the New Testament (kingdom truth and church truth), at last converge. The Lamb’s wife is the metropolis of the universe. Both characters are hers. The one is not merged into the other. She does not cease to be the Lamb’s wife, because she is displayed as the holy city Jerusalem. Presented then in this double character, the nations on earth, during millennial times, will have to own her. As the bride now, the wife then, of course she stands in a peculiar and special relation to the Lamb. As the seat of God’s throne, and enlightened by His glory, the glory and honour of the nations will be brought unto her. Light too, and healing, will proceed from her—light in which the nations2 will walk; healing from the leaves of the tree of life in her midst, of which they will stand in need. The world may not care for the saints of God now; men will find that they cannot do without the Church of God then.
On earth will be seen the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel, unto which the world’s wealth will flow, and which the kingdoms and nations upon earth must likewise serve. Within her walls will be found God’s earthly house, the house of prayer for all people (Isa. 56:7); and year by year must those left of the nations which came against Jerusalem repair thither to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. (Zech. 14:16.) Features too corresponding to those of the heavenly city will be seen, Ezekiel (47) tells us, in the earthly one. Waters imparting life will proceed from her midst, corresponding to the river of the water of life in the city on high. And all trees for meat will grow on the banks of that stream, their fruit for meat, their leaves for medicine. But the tree of life will be on high, and the light of the earthly city will be derived from that which shines down through the holy Jerusalem (Isa. 60:19, 20); and God’s tabernacle will in the fullest way be over His people Israel then3 (Ezek. 37:27); for the heavenly city will be above and over the earthly one. The holy Jerusalem is the Lamb’s wife. To the earthly one Jehovah will show Himself as her husband. (Isa. 54:5.)
Such is the divine arrangement for millennial times. The kingdom of God will be established in power; but that cannot take place apart from the display of the Lamb’s wife as the holy city Jerusalem on high. Then all will see how fully indeed is the revelation of the Church the filling up of the word of God; for without it, apart from it, God’s purposes in connection with the kingdom cannot be completed.
With the description of the earthly city’s glory, and the last attempt to subvert God’s order upon earth by the hosts of Gog encompassing the camp of the saints and the beloved city (Rev. 20:9), the history of Zion ends. Not so that of the holy Jerusalem. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Church will abide. And when out of the melted elements and burnt earth God will make new heavens and a new earth, in both which (ejn oi|") will dwell righteousness, the holy city, new Jerusalem, will come down out of heaven from God a second time. Time will have made no change in her appearance; for John saw her, in the eternal state, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And then in a new character will she have to do with earth and with men; for a voice out of heaven (or, as the two oldest uncial MSS. read, “the throne”) was heard, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle (skhnhV) of God is with men, and He will tabernacle (skhnwvsei) with them.” (chap. 21:3.) During- the millennium He who sits upon the throne will tabernacle over His saints, (chap. 7:15.) In the eternal state He will tabernacle with men, and grief, and sin, and death will exist no more upon earth. The whore will long have passed away from earth, (chap. 17:16.) The earthly Jerusalem, as far as we know, will also be found no longer; but the new Jerusalem will abide for ever and ever.
Here ends the revelation about the Church, or assembly of God, telling us that she will never cease to exist in her distinctive character and relation both to the Lord Jesus Christ and to God. She comes forth in the eternal state prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. She is seen in the eternal state as the tabernacle of God. The object of Christ’s love in the past, in the present, and in the future; a subject of divine revelation, and forming an integral part of the counsels of God3 precious to Christ and to Him; such is the Church, the body and the bride of Christ; the house, the habitation, the holy temple, and the tabernacle of God.
1 The four uncial MSS., A, B, P, «, which have preserved this part of the book, agree in omitting the word “great.” “Great” is an epithet applied to the whore (17:1; 19:2); “holy” is the characteristic term used of the bride, (21:2, 10.)
2 We should omit, with all uncial MSS., “of them which are saved.”
3 Over them, not with them, seems the thought in Ezekiel.