I have long taught that the key to finding understanding, strength and growth in a Christian marriage comes from a revelation of the marital relationship between Christ and the Church, this is clearest in Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:31-32; “vs.31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” vs.32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” The problem is that very few Christian marriages seem to be in living contact with this reality; Christians fail to see in the Spirit (cf. Rev 1:10; Rev 4:2; Rev 17:3; Rev 21:10) that as husbands and wives they are a part of something MUCH bigger than their own marriage. Few seem to enter into the vision of the glory and beauty of marriage the scripture presents.
There are a number of reasons for this disconnection. One is poor teaching in the churches, this may reflect the lack of a strong biblical-theological grounding amongst pastors and/or their own marriages do not powerfully share in and reflect the communion between Christ and his Bride the Church. This is especially true if and when there is conflict in marriage, the sharpness and intensity of painful relationships, which so often leads husbands and wives to distance themselves from one another makes it extremely difficult to discern spiritual realities within a marriage.
For example, whilst the scriptures plainly counsel us, vs.26 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, vs.27 and give no opportunity to the devil…. vs.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph 4:26, 27, 30), many couples let hurt, resentment, anger, bitterness and so on stay in their hearts beyond the day on which conflict took place. This is very unwise, it is closer to the wisdom that is earthly and demonic than the wisdom which comes from heaven and pleases God (James 3:13-18).
Remembering that our marriages and meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church Paul makes this bold statement, vs.7 “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. vs.8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, vs.9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, vs.10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:7-10). What needs to happen if Christian marriages are to share in and radiate this glorious eternal wisdom?
REIGNING IN THE BATTLE
A battle has been raging on earth between the devil and God since the temptation of Adam and Eve in Eden (Gen 3). The Lord allowed Satan to enter Eden because God’s plan from the beginning was that he share his reign on earth with his people; with his Church, and so in Christian marriages.
There is an old saying, what God intended from the beginning is carried out at the very end of history. This is what we see revealed near the conclusion of the book of Revelation; vs.1 “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb vs.2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. vs.3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. vs.4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. vs.5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 22:1-5). God’s sovereign reign over the universe will be shared with the followers of Jesus. This however is not simply something that will miraculously happen; it is something we are constantly being prepared for.
Whilst Genesis provides us only with an earthly perspective of this struggle the book of Revelation pictures God’s arch enemy, “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (Gen 12:9), as conducting a war from the heavenly places. Whilst the climax of this battle is not yet clear from a worldly point of view, the centre point was the struggle of Jesus with the powers of darkness recorded in the Gospels. Jesus prophesied of his victory at the cross, vs.31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. vs.32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” vs.33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:31-33).
The Old Testament text most quoted in the New Testament says this; vs.1 “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” vs.2 The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Ps 110:1-2). The Messiah, who we know is Jesus, will not simply reign over his enemies he will reign in the middle of his enemies. In God’s wise and glorious purposes sin, Satan and death are allowed to continue to operate in this time before Jesus returns so that the victory over evil achieved in the death and resurrection of Jesus might be revealed through his Church.
This is especially clear in the structure of the story of Revelation.
When we come to read in Revelation 6 that it is Christ the Lamb who releases war and famine and disease on the earth our hearts have already been prepared for this vision of ongoing conflict because we know from earlier in the book that Jesus “has conquered” (Rev 3:21; Rev 5:5).
The Church is called to share in the victory of Christ in a battle that rages against God’s people until Christ comes again (Ps 2; Rev 2:27; Rev 11:7; Rev 12:5, 7, 17; Rev 13:7; Rev 16:14; Rev 17:4; Rev 19:11, 15, 19; Rev 20:8).
This makes Christians “overcomers/conquerors” (Rev 12:11; Rev 15:2;).
THE CONSUMMATING CONFLICT
The nature of the final great battle between Christ and the forces of evil is portrayed in an amazing and surprising way in Revelation 19. In the first part of the chapter there is a great celebration in heaven over the Great Wedding between Christ and the Church; vs.1 “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,“ Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, vs.2 for his judgements are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” vs.3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” vs.4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” vs.5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” vs.6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. vs.7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; vs.8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. vs.9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” vs.10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev 19:1-10). This marvellous union is however for a majestic purpose, that the Church be joined with Christ as a Bride to fight and reign with him over all his enemies. This only becomes clear in the second part of Revelation 19.
vs.12 “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. vs.12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. vs.13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. vs.14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. vs.15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. vs.16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. vs.17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, vs.18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” vs.19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. vs.20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur. vs.21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and mall the birds were gorged with their flesh.” (Rev 19:11-21).
The parallels between the nuptial scene in the first part of Revelation 19 and this section makes it clear that the Bride of the Lamb fights with Word as part of his army. In Revelation 19:8 “it was granted her (the Bride) to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” whilst in 19:11 “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” follow the rider on the white horse, who is Jesus. Also, the deeds of the saints are “righteous”, so they can share in the warfare of Christ who “in righteousness he judges and makes war” (11).
He is called “Faithful and True” (v.11; 3:14, “faithful and true witness”) and throughout Revelation the saints as the witnesses of/to Christ are qualified by their testimony (1:2, 9; 2:13; 6:9; 11:3, 7; 12:11, 17; 20:4).
All this means that the Church most clearly knows herself as the Bride in the midst of spiritual conflict. These realities are known in marriages in the same sort of way.
This is a spiritual war, it is not what people call the “battle of the sexes”, a fleshly struggle over whether a man or a woman is the boss of a marriage.
Things are much more spiritual than this; as Paul says, vs.3 “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. vs.4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Cor 10:3-4).
Marriage is always a war zone because things like sickness, financial stress, family pressures, sexual issues… are places where spiritual warfare happens as the devil tempts us into conflict, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness and so on.
God however has a deep purpose in allowing painful situations in Christian marriages, as the story of the unfolding war between the Lamb and the dragon/Satan/ beast in the book Revelation brought clarity and perspective to the churches about the goal of God in their suffering, a call to covenant faithfulness (1:9; 2:2-3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12), this is God’s higher purpose through marital conflict today.
This involves sharing in the way of the cross through humble submission to one another and prayer together; cf. the introduction to Paul’s section on marriage in Ephesians 5, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (v.21).
What does this look like in practice?
We are naturally proud but most of us are not in a hurry to be humble.
If however the first experiences of shame were accompanied by cover up (Gen 3:7) the Lord has ways of stripping off our protective devices to expose the things we are ashamed of. His most effective way of doing this in a marriage is conflict.
If you want to know what you’re really like in your heart have a look at yourself when you are having an argument with your husband or wife.
A friend of ours didn’t quite know what she was saying when she remarked that all the sickness that was around in our wider family, including with Donna, was a part of spiritual warfare and a sign that God was going to do something powerful in Myanmar through our teaching.
Sickness is one thing, and all you can do about it is to trust God, but conflict in marriage involves a third party, your spouse.
We should have hardly been surprised then when Donna had a serious falling out; the issue at hand was trivial, but I became angry and Donna started to feel useless and was crying.
Situations like this expose our immaturity, and there are two possible ways to deal with them.
We can either stay convinced the other person is wrong and I am right, or we can treat them as a God given opportunity (kairos) to confess weakness, that we are in great spiritual need and humbly ask Christ for help through prayer. The promise is clear, “vs.6 “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” vs.7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:6-7).
When we take this path we receive spiritual insight into something much bigger than ourselves.
Earlier in this chapter James says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions/evil desires are at war within you?” (James 4:1)
It is only when we have passions and desires that are greater than our selfishness and insecurities can we through love and sacrifice share in the victory of the Lamb of God over every evil power.
Our passions and desires for Christ’s presence in the world through our marriage must be greater than anything; “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24)
Decades ago I remember going to a wedding that had this part of scripture on the order of service; Eph 4 vs.32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Eph 5: vs.1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. vs.2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 4:32 -5:2).
The revelation of “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:10) happens in a Christian marriage when husband and wife settle their conflicts in a way that is informed by and reveals the gospel. Such a beautiful and glorious wisdom reflected from a marriage to the evil powers in the heavenly places makes known to them in the here and now that the time of their final defeat is near. This is a statement of great spiritual authority. No wonder marriages are under constant attack by the evil powers.
FIGHTING TOGETHER IN CHURCH AND MARRIAGE
Christ’s Word to the Church as his Bride will always be his word to a Christian marriage.
As the Church must listen to, “the testimony of Jesus, which is the Spirit of prophecy.” (Rev 19:10), so there must be a prophetic dimension to every Christian marriage.
The climax of prophecy in scripture is the book of Revelation, where we are repeatedly that John the seer was “in the Spirit” (Rev 1:10; Rev 4:2; Rev 17:3; Rev 21:10) and received insight from God about what was happening in the spiritual conflict between the powers of darkness and the Bride of Christ.
When we follow the example and inspiration of the prophets who call the Church to pray in the Spirit in this way the reality of the End-time conflict in which we are all engaged becomes increasingly real.
Because I am a difficult person to live with over the years Donna has had to say to me from time to time, “I’m not your enemy”.
Some years ago Donna and I went on a trip together to visit the sites of the 7 churches of the book of Revelation, and then to go across to the island of Patmos where the apostle John had been imprisoned and where revelation had been written.
I remember being in bed with Donna early one morning on the Turkish coast. Even though she was asleep, she was radiating her usual extremely attractive personal presence.
In the midst of this awareness of my mortal wife the Lord began to speak to me as so he often does of eternal things.
It became crystal clear to me that Donna is not a corrupting influence in my life but a sign and symbol of the eternal incorruptibility of the Bride of Christ.
The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis once described marriage as two friends standing shoulder to shoulder and staring at a common horizon.
The common horizon is the future glory of the marriage of Christ to the Church. In truth however all the glory belongs to Jesus, who as the Lamb of God laid down his life to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
Nothing can add to or take away from the sacrifice and power of the blood of the cross, but the Lamb of God calls us to join with him, as his Bride the Church, and in our marriages, with him in his great war against all the powers of evil.
To see such things in the Spirit is to enter into the vision of the glory and beauty of marriage the scripture presents; which is indescribably wonderful.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 2017 | Myanmar
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE PODCAST: N/A |
Related Link: Nil