I had the privilege of officiating the wedding of Gettysburg College alumni last weekend. Revelation 21:1-8 has become my favorite passage for marriage ceremonies because it gives a vision of the greatest wedding of all time — God’s. In heaven, Jesus will take His bride (the church) as his own and they will live happily ever after. This passage at the end of the Bible hits all five senses as it compares the mysteries of eternity to marriage .
- Sight: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and . . . I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:1-2) In heaven, God’s people will be like “a bride adorned for her husband!” Is there anything more beautiful? Consider the hope this offers those ashamed of their flaws and failures — to be seen as supremely beautiful by God!
- Sound: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.’” (Rev. 21:3) These are the most anticipated words in the whole Bible. Before that great wedding day, we enjoy visits from God, messages from God, and walks with God — engagement, but not marriage. But starting that day, all boundaries will be removed. We will share one home and finally get to enjoy full, intimate access with the one for whom we were made! Consider the hope this offers those who are alone and forgotten.
- Touch – “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 21:4) Notice the tenderness of the divine touch. In heaven, God will wipe away all tears. Verse four continues, “death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” If there is no mourning, what tears remain for God to wipe away? I think these are wedding tears. The kind you shed when you look at your beloved and realize “I don’t deserve you, but I am so thankful you are mine!” Before heaven, we share lonely and painful tears. In heaven, we will share tears that result from laughing until you cry and God will be right there: laughing, smiling, and pulling us close to gently wipe away every happy tear! Consider the hope this gives those who presently drench their pillow with bitter tears.
- Taste – “I am making all things new… It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:5-6) All things will be made new as we drink from the spring of life, without payment! “It is done” echoes the words Jesus cried from the cross. We feast for free because God already paid the bill for the wedding banquet. Savor the feast — living water, a new earth… resurrected bodies! Only God can afford such a lavish spread. Consider the hope this offers to those who, after tasting all this world offers, remain thirsty for more!
- Smell – God’s wedding banquet delights four of our five senses, but God reserves the sense of smell to warn us of an alternate reality. Hell will be God’s final divorce from covenant breakers. “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.” (Rev. 21:8) Burning sulfur tops the list of terrible odors. The warning is clear. Hell, like divorce, stinks! All those who choose separation from God – through covenant breaking – will eventually be granted their divorce.
People mock the idea of hell the same way newlyweds mock the idea of divorce. They think they are too good for it. They believe their hearts are too pure and their love is too strong. While such thinking appears honorable and optimistic, it is actually quite naïve. We are all capable of turning heaven into hell, through covenant breaking – with God or with our earthly spouse. The relational principles that govern present reality reflect the ones that govern ultimate reality. A healthy marriage, like a right relationship with God, is heaven on earth. But a sick marriage, like a broken relationship with God, is a living hell. Covenant breaking always creates a living hell – in this world, and the next – apart from God’s intervening grace.
So, take warning. Let the mere scent of hell snap you awake like smelling salts. Recognize the stench of: faithlessness, sexual immorality, idolatry and lies. Turn back to your beloved (both God and your spouse) in repentance, humility, and love.
For those struggling in marriage, you will find endurance as you first realize what Jesus has done for you. As covenant breakers, you and your spouse are bigger sinners than you both realize. But, at the same time, you are also more deeply loved than you can imagine. Jesus Christ died for you and your spouse while you were still sinners. (Romans 5:8) Your heavenly spouse entered the hell you created for him. He tolerated its stench and absorbed its pain so that you could delight in the undeserved benefits he provides.
So, take hope! God’s love can transform any marriage, even ones that reek with the stench of hell. Lean on your divine spouse, Jesus Christ, who absorbed hell and offered heaven in return. Only then will you have strength to absorb the living hell that your earthly spouse sometimes drags you through, and discover the miraculous love that empowers you to offer heaven in return.