Tuesday, 6 July 2021
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. Revelation 19:8
With the words of the final Alleluia of praise complete, a praise that ended with “and His wife has made herself ready,” John next says, “And to her it was granted.”
The meaning is that something is to be bestowed upon the bride. The bestowal is logically tied to the words, “His wife has made herself ready.” With this in mind, it says that she is “to be arrayed in fine linen.” The fine linen, as has been seen quite a few times in Scripture, is a symbol of purity. That is then defined by the next words “clean and bright.”
The words not only signify purity, but absolute purity. Clean and bright can then be contrasted to the thought expressed by both Paul and Peter of that which has a spot or blemish. With that stated, this is speaking of those who come before God as a bride to His Son who have been purified by Christ. It is the imputed righteousness of Christ that is being referred to. First from Paul –
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 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.” Ephesians 5:25-27
The purity of Christ’s sacrifice, having given Himself for His bride, is what is then endowed upon her. Peter continues the thought –
“And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 2 Peter 2:17-19
Peter says that “the precious blood of Christ” is what redeems His people. The blood speaks of His sacrifice. When the blood is shed, it signifies His death because the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11).
This fine linen is given to the bride as a symbol of her purity before God. With that in mind, John next explicitly states the meaning of it, saying, “for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” The Greek emphasizes the words. It more literally reads, “For the fine linen the righteousnesses of the saints is.”
There is a one to one comparison being made with the word “is.” Further, the noun translated by the NKJV as “righteous acts” is a plural noun. Of this word, there are two general translations to be derived. The first is the “righteous acts” of the saints. The other is the “righteousness” of the saints.
There is no small difference between the two. The word in Greek is dikaiōmata. As noted, it is plural – “righteousnesses.” The plural is therefore what causes different interpreters to come to different conclusions. As noted in the citations from Paul and Peter above, it is Christ who purifies believers. The fact is that, without Christ, we are marred and unclean in the presence of God. Because of this, Jesus’ own words in John 3:18 show our true state before salvation –
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Only when one comes to Christ is a person purified and acceptable before God. Only in this purified state are our deeds considered acceptable. Once it is so, our works can be termed “good.” As Paul says –
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
Because of this, Cambridge (and others as well) says –
“Rather, the righteous acts. Every good work done by every single saint goes to make up the perfect glory of the Church as it shall be when at last complete. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints is contained in, or follows from, that of the holy Catholic Church.”
The analysis is incorrect. As noted by Jesus (cited from John 3:18), all people are already condemned. Going to heaven is not the purpose of salvation; it is a benefit of it. “Salvation” implies “from,” not “for.” Therefore, there must be a covering of the true state of the individual. This covering is the atoning work of Jesus and the imputing of His righteousness to us. Jesus said in Revelation 3:5 –
“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
To “overcome” means to pass from death to life, from unrighteousness to righteousness, from condemnation to salvation, from the devil to Jesus. This is what Paul again refers to in Philippians 3 –
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” Philippians 3:8, 9
This verse, therefore, is speaking of the “righteousnesses” of the saints, not in deeds done after salvation (as a cumulative effect, thus purifying us and adorning us in white), but the “righteousnesses” of all the saints cumulatively.
In other words, “This is Sergio’s righteousness, and this is also Rhoda’s righteousness, and this is Hideko’s righteousness, and this is Mfumbe’s righteousness.” It speaks of the righteousness of each saved soul individually which combined is many righteousnesses. In the end, each saved person’s righteousness is the same and came in the same way – it is granted to the believer by God because of faith, and faith alone, in the work of Jesus Christ.
This is why following a false gospel cannot bring righteousness. It is the warning of Paul that is often repeated in his epistles, such as to the Corinthians –
“For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” 2 Corinthians 11:2-4
Deeds are excluded in the imputation of righteousness. Even any deeds which are accepted by God, as James clearly explains in Chapter 2 of his epistle, are deeds of faith. There are no deeds accomplished, prior to or after salvation, which count towards the credit of the individual unless they are done in faith. And this, in turn, points right back to Jesus. Our faith in what Jesus has done is demonstrated in deeds that are based on that faith. Therefore, the proper and only reasonable translation of this verse in Revelation is one that refers to the righteousness of the saints, not of the righteous acts (or deeds) of the saints.
This may sound as if hairs have been split, but it is one of the Bible’s central tenets, and the difference in this ultimately leads to one of the greatest divisions in all of Christianity. This culminated in the decision rendered at the Council of Trent in 1546 whereby the Roman Catholic Church, in reaction to the Protestant Reformation, determined that Christ’s work was insufficient in and of itself to justify us before God, but rather our works are needed to further justify us.
Life application: In Revelation 17:4, it referred to the great harlot being “arrayed in purple and scarlet.” Those were garments she arrayed herself in, claiming royal status and the act of purification through sacrifice (certain deeds of righteousness that supposedly could make up for the supposed insufficiency of Christ’s work).
On the other hand, the bride is given her covering. It was not of her own effort, but it is granted by faith, and faith alone in the work of Christ.
Only one avenue to acceptability before God can be true. We are either justified by Jesus’ work alone, or by our own efforts apart from Christ, or by His work, plus. The Bible is clear – it is through the work of Jesus alone that we are saved, justified, sanctified, and glorified. The garments we receive will be all of Jesus, or they won’t sufficiently cover us in the presence of God.
Be aware of the subtleties of various translations and determine to research them and understand them. And then, once you have understood them, stand firmly on what is being conveyed. It is by faith in what God has done through Christ, and only that, by which we are given the beautiful garments of righteousness. Hallelujah to the Lamb of God. Hallelujah to JESUS!
Lord, help us to proclaim the gospel of our salvation rightly. We are saved by grace through faith and that it is not of works lest any man should boast. When we are granted the precious, white, and pure garments on that great day, we will faithfully acknowledge that all the glory belongs to Jesus alone! Let us never trust in our own goodness, but in what You have done through Him. Amen.