What is the final word about the church? Who is she? According to Revelation 21, the church is the bride of Christ.
God’s relationship with his church is a love story. It’s a true story, and an old one. It goes back to the Garden of Eden, where God created his people to have fellowship with him. At the heart of the covenant is God’s statement: I will be your God and you will be my people. The prophets speak of Yahweh as the husband and his covenant people, Israel, as his wife. Paul compares marriage to the relationship between Christ and his church. All that leads up to the note on which Revelation closes. Revelation 21 and 22 make clear that the whole book, with its sometimes difficult imagery, is a love story—Christ is winning his bride.
See God’s love against the background of a broken relationship. But this is not a fairy tale romance. Back in Eden the fellowship between God and his people, made in his image, was broken by sin. The Old Testament prophets repeatedly compared the idolatry, which Israel continued to pursue, to adultery, unfaithfulness to her God. The book of Hosea is a dramatic, but tragic, picture of the unfaithfulness of Israel. Jeremiah 3 describes God divorcing his unfaithful bride—after repeated warning and calls to repent. But that is not the end of the story. Jeremiah describes the Lord pursuing his his unfaithful bride and drawing her back to himself. Hosea buys back his enslaved wife after she deserts him. Notice how Revelation 21 identifies the husband of the bride—the Lamb. In Revelation 5 it is the Lamb that was slain. Notice the point of comparison between Christ and husbands in Ephesians 5. The focus is not on authority and submission, but on self-sacrificial love. The Lord draws his bride to himself, not by overlooking her faults, but by giving himself to die in her place. He not only dies for her, he rises to take her for himself. Notice that the bride is beautiful, not because she has been to a beauty spa, but because her Lord has cleansed her.
As the bride of Christ, rejoice in your Lord! John describes the bride of the Lamb in her glory. The reality is too grand for words to describe. She is a bride, beautifully adorned for her husband. Her beauty includes the righteous deeds of the saints. There is a connection between the beauty and purity of the church here below, with all of her faults and struggles, and the church in glory. When John is taken to see the bride, what he views is a city. If you try to picture it, if you lay out the dimensions, it becomes clear that the language is figurative. But it is overwhelmingly perfect in every respect. The glory of the heavenly city is not first of all the streets of gold, nor even fellowship with saints in glory, nor the absence of tears. It is the presence of the Lamb. It is his triumph—he has not only redeemed his church, he has completed the work of perfecting her, the process of sanctification through which the body here on earth is going.
No wonder that the Book of Revelation ends with an invitation, not only as a prayer to the Lord to return and return quickly, but also to those on earth to come to the Lamb and to drink of the water of life.
“Jesus calls us to see his church through his eyes and to have our hearts gripped by her beauty, as his heart is enraptured by his love for her. Who would have guessed that we could ever look so good to the Son of Man whose flaming eyes search minds and hearts? We are so stained with anger, lust, conflict, pride, division, confusion, falsehood and failure. Surely with such a sordid record, not only as individuals but also as congregations, we are unworthy to serve at the wedding, much less be the bride in whom the Lamb delights! Yet the almost scandalous wonder of grace is that he pays the ultimate price to wash us clean from our defilement, to clothe us with his purity, the fine linen that he gives to make his bride lovely. (Dennis E. Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb, p. 343).