The Essence and Structure of the Revelation
In it’s essence, the Revelation describes the end of this age, and the judgments that will systematically fall on mankind for violating God's ‘Ketubah’. While this particular word is probably not familiar to most Christians, the Ketubah was simply a Jewish wedding contract, and it's structure and content happens to be reflected throughout scripture. Most Christians understand the concept of the 'Wedding Supper of the Lamb', where we find Jesus Christ as the groom and the Church as the bride. But rarely have we heard of the Jewish wedding contract that provides the basis for this future marriage. So the first thing we need to to is examine the basic tenets of the typical Ketubah, because one day soon this divine contract will determine who is at the Wedding Supper, and who is not.
In it’s structure, the Revelation is based on the ‘Tree of Life’, which is a master menorah that contains seven mini-menorahs, for a total of 49 separate events that take place throughout the book. Since the order of these events is dictated by the structure of this master menorah, the second thing we will have to do is examine the strict set of rules that these events must obey.
As we progress through this series over the next several months, it's my hope that you will find yourself abandoning some of the pre-conceived notions that you may have held, and adopting some of the ideas that can only come from this Hebraic perspective. In truth, I hope you will never view this book in the same way again.
The Revelation and Ancient Hebrew Betrothal
In Western culture, the marriage process is typically preceded by an ‘engagement’, which is the promise of marriage at a later date. This concept springs from the ‘betrothal’ process that has been conducted in the east for thousands of years, although engagement and betrothal are not necessarily synonymous. Betrothal actually takes on many additional legal ramifications, and forms one basis for the entire New Testament. Then, the book of Revelation describes the culmination of that process in the future ‘Wedding Supper of the Lamb’;
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:9)
Because of the importance of this process and how it relates to the message of the New Testament, and therefore the Revelation, it becomes essential to learn how the ancient Hebrew betrothal process unfolded. So let’s jump in.
As you may already know, most ancient marriages in the east were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom, and Hebrew culture was no different. A friendship between families was often the basis for such an arrangement, however sometimes the respective families were completely unknown to each other. Parents sometimes chose a prospective mate for their son or daughter based on financial or social advantage, however sometimes it had no bearing at all. In addition, these arrangements were sometimes made early in their life, and sometimes later. The arrangements were as varied as the people involved. But the one constant in the process was that the parents, particularly the father, had to approve of the prospective spouse before betrothal could take place.
In ancient Israel, when the parents of a prospective groom determined that it was time for their son to marry, a prospective bride would be identified in one of the several ways noted above. Once this matter was settled, the next step would be to leak the news of a pending marriage proposal to family and friends. This news would quickly spread thoughout the community, allowing the prospective bride and her family time to prepare accordingly. In other words, if the prospective bride was inclined to accept the prospective groom's proposal, her entire family would often be there to welcome him.
The Father Decides
When the groom’s father decided the time was right to make the marriage proposal, the father and son would go to the prospective bride’s house carrying three traditional items;
1) the ‘betrothal cup’
2) some wine
3) the ‘bride price’.
The wine would be quite necessary, since the bride and groom and their families would all share in several cups during this process, if all went well.
Once sufficient time had passed for the bride and her family to prepare for their coming, the prospective groom and his father would set out for her home. When they arrived, the prospective groom would stand at the door and knock. This in itself constituted a formal marriage proposal, as modeled by Jesus in Revelation 3:20;
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock……….”
It should be noted that opening the door alone did not denote a marriage, it was merely an agreement to pursue the terms of a prospective marriage. But the proper terms would first have to be negotiated before any legally binding contract could be made.
It’s an interesting commentary on Jewish culture that while this process was legally binding on the groom at this point, it was not legally binding on the bride. In fact, the bride could legally withdraw from the betrothal at any time throughout the entire process, including right up until the time of the actual marriage ceremony. Notice the ramifications this has with Jesus and His betrothed bride, the Church.
Opening the Door
When they heard the prospective groom's knock at the door, the bride’s father would look at his daughter for a sign of her approval. If she agreed to this arrangement, he then opened the door and allowed the groom and his father inside. By opening the door, the bride was announcing her intent to marry the groom. But again, a proper legal arrangement would first have to be made. At this point, the marriage was far from a done deal.
CUP 1 - The Cup of Sanctification
As soon as they were invited inside, a 1st CUP of wine was consumed by the groom and his father, along with the bride and her entire family. This could be a rather large group, since her entire extended family was generally in attendance, having been warned ahead of time.
This first cup was called the “Cup of Sanctification”. The Old Testament equivalent was known as a ‘blood covenant’, which we will refer to in later lessons, and it was a literal covenant that each family was making to serve the other. This was no small promise, since servanthood demanded responsibilities from each party involved, and there were legal remedies if the various parties did not perform these duties.
CUP 2 - The Cup of Dedication
At this point, both parties would sit down for a meal in the bride’s home. But before the meal could be served, the 2nd CUP of the betrothal was consumed, this time by just the two fathers, along with the bride and groom.
This was known as the “Cup of Dedication”, but was also known as the “Cup of Betrothal” or the “Cup of Plagues”, which was an interesting implied warning for those that would dare break the covenant. This cup initiated the meal that would follow, which in Old Testament terms represented the “salt covenant” that declared eternal friendship. This covenant was historically sealed by the dipping of bread into a bowl of salt that had been combined from the personal salt pouches of the respective parties.
In an interesting bit of symbolism, once this ritual was completed, each party would pour half of the salt back in their personal salt pouches. But at this point, some of the salt now in their bag would have come from the other parties bag, and vice versa. It would be impossible to separate them again, and they would remain intertwined with the grains from the other pouch for as long as that salt lasted. In the same way, this act symbolized an irrevocable relationship between parties that could not be undone.
Let the Negotiations Begin!
Once the 2nd Cup had been consumed, the meal would be served as the betrothal negotiations between the parties began in earnest. These negotiations were often quite intense and were conducted as a business proposition during this meal. This was an important cultural tradition, and was recognized by Jesus in the same verse, Revelation 3:20, that was noted earlier;
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
By this statement, Jesus was alluding to the meal and corresponding negotiations that always took place at this time. These specific items could include almost anything, but they were generally limited to highly practical issues such as how the groom would support his bride and provide for her, or what kind of housing he would arrange. For his family, it would generally revolve around how much they would contribute to the wedding feast, or how his family would help care for the bride and her subsequent family. For the bride, negotiations generally would address what possessions she would bring to the marriage, what skills she had in the home, and what she would need to do to become a ‘Proverbs Wife’ (see Proverbs 31). But again, these negotiations could include just about anything that each party would agree to.
If you’ve ever been involved in any intense negotiations, you know that they can easily fall apart, and sometimes these betrothal dinners did not end well. I sometimes wonder what the batting percentage would be in those ancient cultures, where haggling often led to heated disagreements. I imagine this was particularly true during periods where resources were not easy to come by. So if the betrothal was going to fail, it was going to happen here. And since this betrothal process mirrors the salvation process, then perhaps this is what Paul had in mind with the following;
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling….” (Phil 2:12)
When mentioning the “fear and trembling” of our salvation, I can’t help but equate this salvation to our status as bride, and therefore the ‘fear and trembling’ could actually be a reference to the negotiations with God that takes place in our hearts every day. If that is true, then we should indeed ‘fear and tremble’ if we haven’t yet accepted the terms of His proposal.
CUP 3 - The “Cup of Inheritance”
Assuming that the negotiations were ultimately succesful, the bride and groom alone would consume the 3rd CUP, known as the “Cup of Inheritance”. It was alternately known as the “Cup of Redemption”, however it essentially served as the 'inheritance covenant' between the parties. This Cup signified that the bride now had a shared inheritance with the groom. At this point, if either of the betrothed parties died before the wedding took place, they would still inherit from the other’s estate.
Hopefully another antennae is going up in your mind when you read this, because in our betrothal with Jesus Christ, well…….we have to note that He did in fact die before His wedding took place. So, is this simple Jewish tradition worthy of note for us as Christians? Most definitely so, because our inheritance in Jesus’ kingdom is still legally binding as His 'betrothed'.
The concept of inheritance has an interesting symbol in the Old Testament that applies to the betrothal process. If you’ve spent any time reading the Old Testament stories, you may recall several instances where sandals were taken off and given to others when land deals were made, or when people inherited or redeemed property. This has a fascinating application in the wedding ceremony that we will cover in a later lesson, but for now, just know that sandals were always used to symbolize inheritance in ancient cultures.
This concept is what Jesus was presenting to the disciples in the upper room before the Last Supper. Jesus was taking off their sandals and washing their feet, signifying their inheritance in His Kingdom. But this was not understood by the disciples, and Peter initially balked at the idea;
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”…..
But Jesus knew that unless Peter took part in this ceremony, he could not inherit in His kingdom. So Jesus made it quite plain to him with His reply as recorded in John 13:8;
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Jesus was essentially entering into the 'inheritance covenant' with Peter and the disciples, which Peter was unknowingly rejecting. But this concept will become clearer when we address the wedding ceremony in a later lesson.
Okay, back to the betrothal. Once the 3rd CUP had been consumed and this was finally considered a ‘done deal’, the fathers would call for a Scribe. This was often a Priest, and the Scribe/Priest would record all of the details and terms of the agreement that they had reached during negotiations. The resulting wedding contract was known as a 'Ketubah', and it’s content will be the subject of next week's lesson.
Once the Ketuba was signed, the bride and groom were now legally bound, and all that remained was for each to fulfill the requirements of their contract. The groom’s parents now legally had a ‘daughter-in-law’, the bride’s parents had a ‘son-in-law’, and the two sets of parents were ‘in-laws’. This legal arrangement was illustrated in the account of Lot in Genesis 19:14;
“So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters.”
Although Lots daughters were not yet formally married, Lot had two sons-in-law because they were formally betrothed. This concept stands in stark contrast to our western culture, where this legal arrangement does not actually occur until the wedding day. But keep in mind that throughout this entire process, the bride could still withdraw at any time, even though the groom was still legally bound to continue.
Hitting the Streets!
Once the legal agreement had been made, the young men of each family would traditionally hit the streets for a celebration, blowing shofars and announcing the joyous occasion, which was generally acknowledged and shared by the community.
The Wine Abstention
Once he was betrothed, it was customary for the groom not to drink any wine again until the actual marriage ceremony and subsequent wedding supper. At the Last Supper, Jesus seems to allude to this in the following statement in Luke 22:18;
“For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
Going to Prepare a Place
Once all of these things were accomplished, the groom would then make a promise to his betrothed wife to go and prepare a place for her to live, which was often an addition to his father’s home. In eastern cultures it was traditional to keep extended family units together, and you rarely had a break-up of the family unit. So here is yet another instance where Jesus observed the cultural mandates of the times;
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (Jn 14:2-3)
The 4th CUP
There is one more cup of wine that was consumed in this process, however it was not consumed until the actual wedding ceremony took place. So we'll reserve this discussion for a later lesson, but this was called the “Cup of Praise”, and it was consumed only by the bride and the groom. A few additional details about this cup will be added when we discuss the actual ceremony.
In summation, each of the cups that were consumed in this process had to be consumed in their proper order. None of them could be skipped, and all three had to be consumed before the 4th and final cup could be consumed at the wedding ceremony. This is a good point to keep in mind as we proceed over the next few weeks and months, because it will resurface time and again in the study of the Revelation.
For review purposes, this week we covered the following;
1) Cup of Sanctification (Blood Covenant)
2) Cup of Dedication (Salt Covenant)
3) Cup of Inheritance (Sandal Covenant)
4) Cup of Praise - saved for the wedding ceremony
In the Jewish betrothal process, the covenants occur in this order;
1) Servant (Blood Covenant)
2) Friendship (Salt Covenant)
3) Inheritance (Sandal Covenant)
But in the Upper Room, Jesus actually reversed this order;
3) Inheritance (Sandal Covenant) - WASHED THEIR FEET FIRST
2) Friendship (Salt Covenant) - BROKE BREAD NEXT
1) Servant (Blood Covenant) - SPILLED HIS BLOOD ON CROSS LAST
Perhaps this is a good time to examine where we are, personally, in the covenant-making process with Jesus. Have we consumed each of the first three cups yet to qualify as His bride? Or perhaps just one? Maybe two? Maybe this is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 22:14 when he said;
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Next week we will examine the ‘Ketubah’.