I think it appropriate to describe the traditional picture of the marriage customs of the ancient world. I have read no better description than that offered by Walvoord:
Though marriage customs varied in the ancient world, usually there were three major aspects: (1) The marriage contract was often consummated by the parents when the parties to the marriage were still children and not ready to assume adult responsibility. The payment of a suitable dowry was often a feature of the contract. When consummated, the contract meant that the couple were legally married. (2) At a later time when a couple had reached a suitable age, the second step in the wedding took place. This was a ceremony in which the bridegroom accompanied by his friends would go to the house of the bride and escort her to his home. This is the background of the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. (3) Then the bridegroom would bring his bride to his home and the marriage supper, to which guests were invited, would take place. It was such a wedding feast that Christ attended at Cana as recorded in John 2:1-12.1Please note the three phases in a traditional marriage. First, the parents pay the dowry. Second, the bridegroom comes with his friends, picks up his bride, and goes to his home. Third, the marriage supper takes place at the home of the bridegroom.
I used to think that the marriage supper of the Lamb was referring to the whole time of the tribulation, the period when the church is pulled up to heaven and the final 70th week of Daniel takes place with Israel on earth. I was not quite right in my thinking. It actually comes at one of two places, either in heaven, just before Christ returns with his saints, or on earth just after Christ and the saints return.
“William R. Newell is certain that the marriage of the Lamb occurs in heaven. He writes, “Where is the marriage, with its attending marriage supper, celebrated? The answer can only be—in heaven; for the scene is wholly heavenly. No one can read verse 6 without coming to this conclusion.””2 But Walvoord himself is not so certain, “This event is obviously subsequent to the destruction of Babylon, but, if this occurs at the end of the great tribulation which is immediately climaxed and succeeded by the second coming of Christ, the more normal presumption would be that the supper would take place on earth in connection with the second coming to the earth itself.”3
Revelation does seem to jumble its facts together. If Newell is right, the chronological order is followed when we read of the coming of the Lord with his saints after the marriage supper takes place. It is possible that this event would be the last part, the best part of the Rapture, the period of seven years when the church is in heaven with Christ. That is my inclination, at any rate. It seems to me as if heaven itself will want to observe this marriage, but it could take place in either place.
Chafer, too, suggests that it is in heaven, “Two truths are to be recognized in this passage beyond the central fact that there will be a marriage in heaven: first, this marriage precedes the glorious return of Christ, as that is described later in verses 11-16; and, second the Bride will have made herself ready.”4 Wherever it takes place, it is a foregone conclusion in the mind of God. Interestingly, the communion statement by our Lord may shed some light as to the when, “For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come” (Luke 22:18). From this statement, we can be certain only of one question, and that is, when does the kingdom come? Is it at the Rapture, which does not seem certain to me, or is it after the Second Coming, and thus the beginning of kingdom? It does seem likely to be the latter.
In reflecting on the five foolish virgins, I do wonder if that means there might be half of our professing Christians who are going to find themselves without the oil necessary to wait for their bridegroom. The oil, I take it, is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps the parable is warning the church most severely to be sure that you are indeed sealed in the oil of the Holy Spirit. I have for many years assumed that my generation would be the generation to see his coming, and I would see his coming, if it be that the Lord lets me live. This parable is warning most sternly for the Christian to be sure that he is prepared, that he has the earnest of God, even the very Spirit of God, by whom we are sealed unto the day of redemption. May it come soon, and find us all well prepared!
Sitting down to a marriage supper with the Lamb of God will be the highest event of all time. In a sense, God was preparing for this supper before creation started, and all that he has done since, has been with this design in mind. He will clothe his church in white robes, signifying the righteousness that we have received from God, and from the head of the table to its foot, there will span more than fifty generations of Christians, all of who will find themselves more closely related than words can possibly say. It is the largest feast ever conceived, and both the groom and his bride, will be on the stage, with all of the heavenly host watching and rejoicing at the union which has finally found its fulfillment. The sheer joy in the life of one saint during this festival is utterly inconceivable, but multiplying the millions of saints who will be sharing the same joy with each other, and perfectly, in ways we do not understand, through the Spirit, both sending and receiving our joy to our Groom, the Lord and Savior, must be the absolute expression of the divine. I have no doubt but that all of history will look back to this time, even as every generation of his faithful ones have longed for, and looked forward to this great event. History will meet prophecy, and will become one on that glorious day!
1. Walvoord, John (1989-03-01). The Revelation of Jesus Christ (p. 271). Moody Publishers - A. Kindle Edition
2. Walvoord, John (1989-03-01). The Revelation of Jesus Christ (p. 270). Moody Publishers - A. Kindle Edition.
3. Walvoord, John (1989-03-01). The Revelation of Jesus Christ (p. 270). Moody Publishers - A. Kindle Edition.
4. Chafer, L. (1948). Systematic theology. (Vol. 4, p. 377). Grand Rapids: Kregel, Inc.