AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER:THE FAIRY TALE DESTINY OF THE CHURCH

by Jennifer Ewing

This is the first of a multi-part essay from the pen of our Librarian, Jennifer Ewing.

Introduction

Harold Willmington in the conclusion to his doctrine of the church, specifically, the destiny of the church, asserts that “everyone likes a story that has a happy ending. The story of the church has such a happy ending. The Bridegroom gets the Bride and together they live happily ever after!”[1] This sounds like the ending to a fairy tale, specifically to those animated Disney princess films. With the work of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis about the “true myth” it can be suggested that the Disney animated princess films actually contain elements of the church’s future as the bride of Christ. [2]

The Destiny of the Church

Willmington identifies seven events in the “glorious destiny of the church.” [3] This destiny is where ecclesiology and eschatology intersect. The destiny of the church includes the rapture, the distribution of rewards, the marriage and marriage supper, co-reigning, a new home, and being an eternal illustration of God’s glory. Each future event will be briefly described, followed by a discussion of the nature of fairy tale and truth, and conclude with a review of three princess tales which suggest some relation to this destiny.

The rapture can occur at any time; it is imminent. Walvoord explains that “there are no signs of the rapture of the church, as it is presented everywhere in Scripture as an imminent event

The Rapture, or, Carried Away by the Prince

First, the church is “to be caught up by the Bridegroom at the rapture.”[4] The Rapture of the Church, the blessed hope (Titus 2:13), is the event when Christ comes back for His church and takes her to His home in heaven. It is a promise that Christ made to his disciples the night before the crucifixion, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’” (John 14:1-3). I Thessalonians 4:13-18 describes the sequence that will take place at the rapture. Christ descends from heaven and “‘with a shout’ He will issue a command for the resurrection and the translation to occur.”[5] The dead will be resurrected and the living translated meeting Christ in the air to be with Him forever. It is from this passage that the word rapture (Latin rapio “caught up”) is coined: “we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thess 4:17).

Paul describes another mystery unique to the church: that both the living and the dead in Christ will receive new glorified, incorruptible, immortal bodies (1 Cor 15:50–58). Paul, while offering comfort to the Corinthians for loved ones who have just died, describes them as sleeping. Fruchtenbaum explains that “this term, when used as a synonym for death, is used of believers only and never unbelievers. …So is death…a temporary suspension of physical activity until one awakens in the resurrection.”[6] For those who are living, Paul says that “we shall all be changed;” a necessary teaching because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” and so those living at the time of the rapture also need incorruptible and immortal bodies.[7]

The rapture can occur at any time; it is imminent. Walvoord explains that “there are no signs of the rapture of the church, as it is presented everywhere in Scripture as an imminent event;” developing world events and increasing apostasy in the church that have their fulfillment after the rapture indicate that its time is near.[8] In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, Paul describes the events that will occur after the rapture of the church as proof that the rapture has not already happened, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him…For that day [the Day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (NASB). The church is told to look forward to His Coming at anytime.

Bema Seat Judgment

Second, the church will “be examined and rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ.”[9] After the rapture, the church will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Rom 14:10–12; 1 Cor 3:13; 2 Cor 5:10) for the “distribution of rewards for faithful service to the church.”[10] Of the two words that can be used for judgment seat, critērion or bēma, the second refers to the place where the rewards are given out at the Grecian games, leading Pentecost to conclude that bēma is the correct term for this judgment since “associated with this word are the ideas of prominence, dignity, authority, honor, and reward rather than the idea of justice and judgment.”[11] It is a judgment of the believer’s works which will be tested by fire to see if they are good (gold, silver jewels) and indestructible: “the work of God, which man only appropriates and uses”[12] or worthless (wood, hay, stubble) and destructible: “the work of man which man has produced by his own effort.”[13]

Pentecost identifies five areas of rewards or crowns (victor’s wreaths): “(1) the incorruptible crown for mastery over the old man (1 Cor.9:25); (2) a crown of rejoicing for the soul winners (1Thess. 2:19); (3) a crown of life for those enduring trials (Jas. 1:12); (4) a crown of righteousness for loving His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8); and (5) a crown of glory for being willing to feeding the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:4).”[14] Walvoord affirms that “it will be a glorious day for the saints when the Lord rewards his own. Their recognition will not be transitory like the successes of this life, but will continue forever.”[15] Fruchtenbaum has an alternate view based upon Luke 19:11-27. He believes that the rewards are for determining the level of authority the believer will have in the Messianic Kingdom but that in eternity “all believers will be equal.”[16] Whichever interpretation is correct, while on earth Christ expects His Church to do the good works that God appointed for her (Eph 2:10; cf. Rev 19: 8).

This washing of water by the Word, does not refer to baptism, but to “the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and their application to the hearts and lives of believers.”[21] The transformation will be complete when Christ comes back for His church (1 John 3:2)

Wedded to the Lamb, or Marrying the Prince

Third, the church will “be united with Christ at the marriage service of the Lamb.”[17] “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7). Fruchtenbaum states that the only way to understand the marriage of the Lamb is to consider the Jewish marriage system which has four steps: (1) the father arranges the marriage and pays the bride price (Eph 5:25–27); (2) after a period of time, the bride is fetched (1 Thess 4:13–18) but only the father knows when (Matt 24:36) and the groom must have a place prepared for her (John 14:1–3); (3) a small wedding ceremony occurs (Rev 19:6–8; only those is heaven will be in attendance); and finally (4) the marriage feast which will last many days and has many more people invited to it than the actual ceremony (Matt 22:1–14; 25:1–13).[18] Only step one has been completed; church is called the bride of Christ and the bride price was Christ’s death and resurrection. Step two is the rapture. Steps three and four are the wedding in heaven and the marriage feast on earth at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.

In the third step of the Jewish marriage ceremony before the wedding, the bride undergoes a ritual cleansing.[19] Walvoord relates this to “the present work of Christ…to the sanctification of the church and her purification in preparation for the future marriage.”[20] Paul describes this in Ephesians: “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (5:27). This washing of water by the Word, does not refer to baptism, but to “the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and their application to the hearts and lives of believers.”[21] The transformation will be complete when Christ comes back for His church (1 John 3:2). A further description of this perfection is seen in the wedding gown of the bride. “And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19: 8). This verse is typically used to place the marriage after the bema seat judgment because she is clothed in “the righteous acts of the saints.” Its description of “fine linen, clean and bright” also shows that she is now “holy…perfectly conformed to the righteous standards of God.”[22] Johnson explains the significance of the cloth and its two-fold quality: “Linen was an expensive cloth used to make the garments worn by priests and royalty. It has two qualities: brightness and cleanness (cf. 16:6). Bright (lampros) is the color of radiant whiteness that depicts glorification (TDNT, 4:27; cf. Matt 13:43). Clean (katharos) reflects purity, loyalty and faithfulness, the character of the New Jerusalem 21:18, 21).”[23] The formalities of the traditional Jewish wedding are almost complete, the last step is the marriage feast.

 

 

[1] Harold L. Willmington, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible (Wheaton, Il: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981), 717.

[2] I selected the Disney films because their version of the story has essentially overwritten all other versions, even though they were based upon them.

[3] Willimington, 717.

[4] Willimington, 717.

[5] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 144.

[6] Fruchtenbaum, 144.

[7] Ibid., 145–148.

[8] Walvoord, John F., The Church in Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 49-50.

[9] Willimington, 717.

[10] Walvoord, Church in Prophecy, 145. This faithful service is connected to stewardship (146–47).

[11] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 220.

[12] Ibid., 224.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 225.

[15] Walvoord, Church in Prophecy, 152.

[16] Fruchtenbaum, 160.

[17] Willimington, 717.

[18] Fruchtenbaum, 160–162.

[19] Ibid., 160.

[20] Walvoord, Church in Prophecy, 143.

[21] Walvoord, Church in Prophecy, 143.

[22] Ibid., 143.

[23] Johnson, 571. It is interesting to note that the wearing of a white wedding dress only became popular in Western culture after the wedding of Queen Victoria of England in 1840. So much so that Godey’s Lady’s Book wrote in 1849 that “Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one” (156).