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Revelation 21:2 (ESV),

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Considering the geographical and historical context of the Apocalypse, what might the first readers of this verse have visualized in their minds when they considered what it meant for a bride to be prepared (other versions read "adorned) for her husband?

What cultural artifacts of dress, veiling, jewelry, cosmetics, or etc. might a women of the 1st century Mediterranean milieu, especially within an early Judeo-Christian ethic, do in order to prepare herself for her wedding day/night, so as to give meaning and context to the reader when considering the metaphor of the holy city appearing in and coming down from God out of heaven?

Essentially, what were some of the characteristic wedding customs pertaining to the adornment and preparation of new brides of that time and place, and how might those customs reasonably compel a certain understanding of Revelation 21:2?

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The (literal) stories of women in the Bible form a deeply embedded theme that is exploited by later literature about (metaphoric) women in the prophetic sections of the Bible. For example, we have many stories about women clashing over children:

  • Sarah and Hagar clash over their children (Gen 21). See also Gal 4:21-31.
  • Leah and Rachael clash over children (Gen 29, 30)
  • Hannah and Peninnah clash over children (1 Sam 1)
  • Two prostitutes before Solomon clash over their children (1 Kings 3:16-28)
  • Two mothers argue over eating their sons (2 Kings 7:26-29)
  • Jehosheba and Athaliah clash over baby Joash (2 Kings 11, 2 Chron 22, 23)

This common theme is used as a metaphor for God’s people who are either faithful and pure, or, rebellious. These include:

  • The parable of the two adulterous sisters and their children (Eze 23)
  • The daughter of Babylon vs the daughter of Zion (Zech 2:7, 10).
  • More generally, the Old Testament uses this image of a woman to represent either faithful (Isa 62:5, Jer 2:1, 2) or unfaithful (Isa 47:1-3, Jer 2:32, Eze 16, Nah 3:4, 5) groups of people. See also Gal 4:21-31 which used Sarah and Hagar as metaphors.
  • In the book of Revelation we have two women: Jezebel or the harlot as a symbol of Babylon (Rev 2:20, 17:1-18:24), vs, the pure woman as a symbol of God’s faithful people the bride of the Lamb (Rev 12:1-17, 19:7, 21:9).

Jezebel (Rev 2:20) the harlot (Rev 17, 18) is a most apt symbol of Babylon: both had illicit relationships, both had powerful political ambitions and stopped at nothing to achieve their ends, both murdered God’s people, both wore expensive clothes of display, both had children, both were punished by God and both were killed by those she trusted. The Jezebel of Thyatira has political ambitions, and the Thyatiran church was reproached for its tolerance of this situation (2:20). That is, Jezebel is used as a symbol of the union of church and state where the state enforces false worship.

Jesus used marriage as a metaphor of His second coming in John 14:1-3 by exploiting the eastern wedding custom summarized in the normal sequence of events:

  1. A man decides to marry a young woman
  2. He promises to marry her, and provide for her, and many other benefits
  3. He then goes away to build her a house for their marriage and expected family - most often an extension of his father's house
  4. During this "waiting time" the engaged woman is expected to make herself ready, remain faithful to her husband and wait for his return
  5. The husband is also expected to arrange a marriage feast and ceremony complete with invited guests
  6. The husband returns at an unexpected time to claim his bride and enjoy the wedding feast
  7. After the wedding, the husband takes the new bride to the home he has just completed to live with him

This can be seen clearly in John 14;1-3 -

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God;a believe in Me as well. 2 In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?b 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am.

The next stage of this process is recorded in Rev 21:2 -

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

The Bible is relatively silent about exactly how brides dressed and decorated themselves as this varied significantly depending on social status, culture and time.

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