TWH: What is the "marriage of the Lamb" (ὁ γάμος τοῦ ἀρνίου). With these words the Apostle John refers to a future eschatological event, when Jesus is finally joined permanently with his bride—the Church.
Let's get some background and hermeneutical issues out of the way first. Marriage imagery is packed within the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the most famous example is found in the book of Hosea. The entire book centers around the theme of marriage. God is the faithful husband. Israel is his unfaithful bride. In the New Testament, most are familiar with Ephesians 5:25–27. Paul commands husbands to love their wives just like Christ loved the Church (Eph. 5:25). The parallel between the four parties is impossible to miss. “Husbands” pairs with “Christ,” and “wives” with the “Church.”
The whole realm of prophecy, eschatology, and the apocalyptic carries its own sort of hermeneutical challenges. Add to it any marriage imagery and the end cannot come soon enough. Needless to say, one’s hermeneutic will affect his or her interpretation of the event John calls the “marriage of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7–9).
Now who are the participants? An unknown voice calls out from a throne in heaven, ordering all of God’s bond-servants to praise their God (Rev. 19:5). John describes hearing heaven erupt in praise (Rev. 19:6). The singers, no doubt the bond-servants from Rev. 19:5, praise the Lord for the establishment of his reign on earth. They exuberantly rejoice (χαίρωμεν καὶ ἀγαλλιῶμεν) and give glory to him for two reasons (ὅτι). First, “the marriage of the Lamb has come” (ἦλθεν ὁ γάμος τοῦ ἀρνίου; Rev. 19:7). Second, “his bride has made herself ready” (ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ ἡτοίμασεν ἑαυτὴν; Rev. 19:7; see 2 Cor. 11:2). Two participants are mentioned: the Lamb and his bride.
When and where does the marriage take place? The marriage of the Lamb, as already noted, refers to the joining of Jesus Christ with his bride, the Church. It is difficult to speak of when the marriage itself takes place. After all, the Church is already considered the bride of Christ in Eph. 5:25. J. Walvoord’s explanation of the three steps of first-century marriage is helpful (271; see also Trail, 167). There is the agreement that unites the two parties prior to an official union taking place. This is generally referred to as the betrothal period. Next, the official wedding takes place. The third step involved the groom returning to the residence he had prepared for them. There was a marriage supper that included the bridal party and invited guests. The statement made in Eph. 5:25 points to the agreement that has been made that unites Jesus with the Church. Since the events described in Revelation up to chapter 19 have yet to take place and are future, the official ceremony uniting Jesus with his bride is also future. The marriage takes place after the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18) and is connected to the return of Jesus Christ to earth to sit on David’s throne (2 Sam. 7; Rev. 19:11–20:6).
Concerning where the marriage takes place, the only options are in heaven or on earth. Some have determined heaven because the setting of Rev. 19:5–8 is heavenly. They would be right, especially since the Church has been raptured by this point in time. It makes sense that the marriage supper, referenced in v. 9, takes place on earth after Babylon is destroyed (Rev. 19:11–21), Satan is bound (Rev 20:1–3), and those who will sit on the thrones do so (Rev. 20:4).
Who are the bride and wedding guests? What should be made of the bride mentioned in Rev. 19:7 and the wedding guests mentioned in 19:9? Do they refer to the same group of people (i.e., the Church), or is the second reference to an additional group? It is possible two distinct groups are mentioned. For example, the supper guests could refer to those saved prior to the inauguration of the New Covenant. It is also possible, though, that the bride and the guests refer to the same group from a different vantage point. Those who hold this position believe the “bride” (singular) constitutes the Church, whereas the “guests” (plural) is a way to highlight the individual believers that are invited and will participate. The most likely answer is there are two distinct groups in view (Thomas, 372).
Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach. Chicago: Moody, 1995.
Morris, Leon. Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary. 2nd ed. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1987.
Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. BECNT: Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.
Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1995.
Trail, Ronald L. An Exegetical Summary of Revelation 12–22. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2006.
Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1966.