What we glimpse in shadows in John’s gospel we find “clothed with the sun” in John’s Apocalypse, the book of Revelation. Even the title of that last book of the Bible leads us back to John’s gospel. “Revelation” is the usual English rendering of the Greek apokalypsis; but the Greek word is richer than that. It is more accurately translated as “unveiling,” and was used by Greek-speaking Jews to describe the moment when the bride was unveiled before her husband, just before the couple consummated their marriage.
So, once again, as at Cana, we find ourselves with John at a wedding feast. John writes in Revelation: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). Now, throughout the Apocalypse, John uses “the Lamb” to denote Jesus. But who is the bride at this wedding? Toward the end of the book, an angel takes John and tells him, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Then, together, they see “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:9-10). Jerusalem, it seems, is the bride of Christ. Yet the Jerusalem John describes looks nothing like the earthly Jerusalem. Instead, it shines with “radiance like a most rare jewel…. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel…. The twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass” (Rev 21:11, 19, 21).
Those are beautiful images, but they hardly describe a real city—never mind a bride. What or who, then, is this holy city that is also a bride? Most interpreters, both ancient and modern, believe that the holy city is the Church, depicted by John as the New Jerusalem; for Saint Paul also speaks of the Church in a bridal relationship with Christ (Eph 5:31-32).
Yet if that were all John needed to reveal to us, his Apocalypse would have been a much shorter book. Instead, it is twenty-two chapters long, and filled with images that are sometimes dazzling, sometimes frightening, and often puzzling. We don’t have the space here for a full-scale study of the book of Revelation; but I would like to focus on one of its culminating scenes, its first “unveiling,” which takes place midway through the book.
Ark the Herald Angels Sing
To Jews of the first century, the shocker in the Apocalypse was surely John’s disclosure at the end of chapter 11. It is then that, after hearing seven trumpet blasts, John sees the heavenly temple opened (Rev 11:19) and within it—a miracle!—the ark of the covenant.
This would have been the news story of the millennium. The ark of the covenant—the holiest object in ancient Israel—had been missing for six centuries. Around 587 B.C., the prophet Jeremiah concealed the ark in order to preserve it from defilement when Babylonian invaders came to destroy the temple. We can read the story in 2 Maccabees:
Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense, and he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: “The place shall be unknown until God gathers His people together again and shows His mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear.” (2 Mac 2:5-8)
When Jeremiah speaks of “the cloud,” he means the shekinah, or glory cloud, that shrouded the ark of the covenant and signified God’s presence. Within Solomon’s temple, the ark had occupied the holy of holies. In fact, the ark was what made that inner sanctum holy. For the ark held the tablets of stone on which the finger of God had traced the ten commandments. The ark contained a relic of the manna, the food God gave to sustain His people during their desert sojourn. The ark also preserved Aaron’s rod, the symbol of his priestly office.