PMW 2020-014 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In this, the sixth installment of a study of Revelation’s seven-sealed scroll, we must consider Christ’s coming and its consequences.
Interestingly, Christ alludes to the Old Testament marriage imagery and relates it to his own coming and ministry. In the several places where he touches on this theme, he “moves wholly within the circle of ideas of His contemporaries when he expresses the meaning and glory of the Messianic period in the images of the wedding and wedding feast.”
Early in his ministry Jesus uses wedding imagery to explain why John the Baptist’s disciples fast though his do not: “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom do not fast, do they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast” (Mk 2:19∥). “It is clear . . . that in this connection the bridegroom is an allegorical indicator of the Messiah,” with the wedding imagery being built upon the Old Testament relationship of God to Israel.
With this announcement, Mounce notes of Matthew’s parallel account and its Old Testament backdrop that “the messianic wedding feast is under way.” Indeed, the marriage analogy was “so widely used by the Jews with reference to the kingdom of God that bridegroom = Messiah would have been immediately understood.” Here “the Lord identifies himself with the Bridegroom of O.T. prophecy.”
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His next statement strikes a jarring note: “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mk 2:20). “The idea of the bridegroom being removed from the wedding scene comes as a jarring surprise,” especially in light of all the rejoicing. Here and in Matthew’s parallel, the bridegroom’s being “taken away” (apairein) echoes Isaiah 53:8 and implies violence. This serves as an early pointer to Christ’s rejection and death at the hands of the Jews, as many commentators observe.
The following two parables in Mark 2:21–22 also exhibit a like incongruity: using new material as a patch on a new garment and pouring new wine into old wineskins are both unwise actions. The new garment may represent a wedding garment and the new wine may portray the celebration of a new marriage, as we may surmise from ancient culture in general and the biblical record in particular — even in this very context (see: Mk 2:19–20∥; cp. Mt 22:2–12; Jn 2:1–10; cf. Isa 62:5). These parables indicate that the old Judaistic forms would not allow expansion and must be wholly replaced and they also leave the clear impression that Christianity is the system that will replace them.
Early also is the ministry of John the Baptist. John understands his own role as fulfilling Scripture (Jn 1:23) in calling Israel to repentance (Mt 3:1–2) in preparation for the Messiah (Jn 1:23–27). As the last of the Old Testament prophets (Mt 11:13) and being well acquainted with Old Testament imagery, he also recognizes and announces the significance of Christ’s coming in terms of covenantal wedding symbolism. This is noteworthy in that John’s preaching represents some of the earliest revelation in the New Testament (after the birth and infancy of Christ):
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but, “I have been sent before Him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. (Jn 3:28–29)
Morris, citing Murray, notes of this passage that “God Himself was in Christ betrothing His bride to Himself afresh.” John understands that “his office is to bring groom and bride together.” In this his final witness to Christ, he clearly bases his imagery on the Old Testament symbolism of God’s marriage relation to Israel. In fact, his rejoicing with the bridegroom echoes Isaiah 62:5 where “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.”
Even Christ’s first miracle appears to serve as a metaphor (a semeiōn) of his presenting himself to Israel in terms of marriage imagery (wine is associated with the messianic banquet, Isa 25:6; Joel 3:18; Am 9:13). In John’s Gospel his “beginning of signs” (Jn 2:11) to Israel turns water into wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1–10). As Barclay observes (with many others), we must read John on two levels, a surface level that is obvious, but also on a deeper level which presents a bigger theological picture. Ridderbos concurs. Morris notes that this “signifies that there is a transforming power associated with Jesus. He changes the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity.”
Morris, Michaels, and others see this miracle paralleling the synoptic use of wedding feast and bridegroom images drawn from the Old Testament, and therefore exhibiting Christ as the bridegroom who has come. Indeed, there is “little doubt” that this miracle is a sign of the coming of God’s kingdom pictured in the Old Testament wedding feast imagery. And just as the other wedding imagery alluded to his coming death, this miracle does also (Jn 2:4; cp. Jn 7:30; 8:20; Mt 26:18) and is followed by more detail of his eventual violent death (Jn 2:19–21).
And once again we witness the replacement motif substituting the better wife (Christianity) with the old unfaithful wife (Israel); we see this in mere water being transformed into wine. And not only so, but it is surprising even to those who do not know of the miracle, because the “good wine” is brought to the wedding after the first wine (Christianity comes after Judaism) (see above discussion of Mk 2 and Jn 2). In addition, Jesus produces a large quantity of wine (120+ gallons) in vessels filled to the brim (heōs anō, Jn 2:7). As Feuillet points out, “Cana is a sign, a symbol of the new Covenant” and the miracle is part of a leitmotif in Jn 2–4 where we see the old temple compared to the perfect temple (Jn 2:13–22), the old birth into Israel compared to the new birth of the Spirit (Jn 3:1–21), and Jacob’s well paling in comparison to Christ’s living water (Jn 4:1–42).
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Interestingly, Ridderbos, citing Olsson, sees John 2–4 against the “Sinai screen” of Exodus 19. Olsson draws strong parallels between the Jewish interpretation of Exodus 19 and this section of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:19–2:11). And since Exodus 19 presents the covenantal formation of Israel as a nation and bespeaks her marriage to God, this is quite significant. “The Jewish tradition concerning the events at Sinai often mentions the marriage of the Lord and Israel.”
Just two more installments to go. You can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Stay tuned.