It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. – Revelation 19:8
Ever been to a wedding? I’ve been to several and one thing that has been common among all the ones I have been to is the groom waits for the bride. In our modern wedding tradition, the groom waits for the bride to come to him. And everyone ends up analyzing the facial expressions of the groom as he waits in front of the church or venue used for his bride to walk down the aisle.
Biblically, however it is the other way around. In the Bible the bride waits for the groom. One example of this is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (think modern day bridesmaids) in Matthew 25 where all ten of them wait for the groom to come and meet his waiting bride. This is why in Scripture we find the symbolism of a bride waiting for her groom used for the church waiting for Christ to return.
The symbolism of marriage is found all through the Bible. The other day I was reading through Revelation 19, which is brief interlude between the lament for Babylon in the last half of chapter 18, and the second coming of Jesus in the last half of chapter 19. Verses 7 and 8 struck me as odd the first time through:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Here’s why I found it odd. On the surface one could look at this and come to the conclusion that it is the duty of the saints to make themselves righteous. Phrases such as clothe herself and righteous acts on the surface could make people think that the saints do it all themselves. Pair that with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:20:
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
and you have the ability to make a big leap into legalism. You could make the assumption that in order to be the bride of Christ you have to, in your own power, be righteous. The biggest problem with legalism however, is you make the sacrifice of Christ obsolete. If you can save yourself through your own righteous acts, then why did Christ die?
The phrase that really sets off what is happening here in Revelation 19 is the first phrase of verse 8: It was given to her.
“Her” is the bride of Christ which is the church (Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 21:2) and “it” is the fine linen of righteous acts. We are given the righteous acts! Revelation 19 verse 8 identifies who is part of the bride of Christ in verse 7. And those that are the bride of Christ are those who have submitted to Christ completely and have been empowered by Christ to live a holy life. The righteous acts of the saints are not theirs, but Christ’s.
This text alone shows the dangers of both legalism (performance based religion) and license (ignore God’s law and count on His grace). If we believe we have to earn the robe of righteousness through our own power, we are living legalistically and in contradiction to a God who saves us by grace alone. And if we believe we can continue living in our sins after accepting the fine linen given to us we are living in contradiction to a God who expects perfect obedience.
The clean and bright linens here in Revelation 19:8 are the righteous acts of the saints given by God to them. They are empowered to live holy lives, to live lives of acts of service because they have submitted to Christ. Revelation’s bride is not a woman who looks to herself for her deeds as the harlot does in Revelation 17. Revelation’s bride fully relies on Christ, allows His righteousness to cloth her, and allows Him to empower her to do righteous acts.
This is the balance between legalism and license. This is the wonderful message of Christ our Righteousness.