One of the most stirring moments of any physical wedding is seeing what the bride is wearing. God feels the same way about the Bride who will marry His Son—those called out of this world today, before the rest of mankind. “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:7-8). She was “granted”—given permission—to be arrayed, or clothed, in this manner. What a magnificent honor!
It is no mystery what this fine linen represents. God tells us it “is the righteousness of saints.”
The Bible has a lot to say about linen. Fine linen has been the garb of royalty in many civilizations. The high priest in ancient Israel wore a robe and a miter made of this material. It’s the material King David donned when dancing before the ark. It’s what the priests wore at the dedication of the first temple. All this stands to reason, as the Bride of Christ elsewhere in the Bible is called a group of kings and priests.
Let us examine the parallels between physical fine linen and spiritual righteousness. As the Bride of Christ, we must be making ourselves ready— putting on this spiritual fabric.
The term “fine linen” comes from one Greek word: byssinos. The root word is byssos, which is what we call a species of Egyptian flax plant. It’s a vegetable fiber that’s spun into fine linen. Such a material is pure, ecologically safe, and an anti-allergen fabric. Strong’s Concordance adds that it is “very costly, delicate, soft, white.” The Old Testament uses the Hebrew word that comes from a root meaning to bleach, or to be white.
In Revelation 19:8, byssus, or fine linen, is described as “clean and white.” In the Greek, white has a double meaning. It means not only a color but also shining, brilliant, clear and transparent.
Next to other natural fibers like cotton or wool, linen is much glossier. Likewise, if we put on God’s righteousness as the Bride of Christ, we will have a glossy sheen. There will be a certain shine and glow about the Bride of Christ that will distinguish it from the other members of God’s Family—the children—for all eternity.
Linen does not glow of itself. It is dependent upon light shining on it. Like the fabric, we have to let the light of God shine on and from us. God’s light must reflect in our faces, in our daily actions.
Linen is also strong and durable. In fact, it is three times stronger than cotton fabrics. This strength means it doesn’t have much elasticity, which explains why it wrinkles easily.
When the tomb of the Pharaoh from the time of the Exodus was discovered, the 3,000-year-old linen wrappings were still intact. Linen is not damaged by worms or germs, and it withstands humidity and time.
As the Bride of Jesus Christ, we need spiritual strength and fortitude. When it comes to God’s immutable law, we should not stretch, bend or deviate from it.
To smooth wrinkles, it is best to iron linen with a hot iron from the underside. Sometimes we need the same treatment—fiery trials to straighten us out and to build that linen-like strength in us. If we take that on, our character will stand the test of time.
What Repeated Washing Does
Now, even though byssus is a strong fabric, it’s also incredibly soft. Another remarkable quality about fine linen is that it gains softness and whiteness over time, the more it is washed. Plus, it also becomes less prone to wrinkles. That’s another characteristic of this gown here in Revelation 19:8—it’s clean.
Those living in biblical times would have been quite aware of what these fabrics represented. Only two fibers were generally available for clothing: wool or linen. People would have been familiar with their characteristics. So it would be easy for a man of God to draw on those analogies.
The Apostle Paul seems to be alluding to it in Ephesians 5: “… Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (verses 25-26). This chapter is speaking about how Jesus Christ is the Husband and the Church is the wife. Christ our Husband is cleansing us and washing us—through His Word.
Linen needs a lot of washing because its absorbency makes it susceptible to stain. It absorbs water and sweat easily (making it a cooler fabric to wear). It’s also easier to iron out the wrinkles when it’s damp.
Likewise we, as recipients of God’s Holy Spirit, typed by water, must absorb God’s Spirit and let it permeate the fabric of our being. We must let God’s loving heat press out our spiritual wrinkles while we are saturated with the spiritual water of His Spirit. Then, like linen, the more we are washed, the softer, whiter, shinier and less wrinkly will we become! “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (verse 27). Christ is preparing the Bride for His wedding. And how is the Church itself described? Like linen fabric without its two most prone flaws—not having any spots or wrinkles!
“Linen is a very durable and absorbent fabric that becomes more comfortable with repeated washing. Its absorbency, while making it more comfortable in warm weather, also makes it susceptible to grease spots and other types of stains, and its fibers wrinkle badly when washed and crease easily when worn. Thus the beauty of a garment ‘without spot or wrinkle’ … was easily understood as a symbol of perfection” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
What a glorious time when God’s Church is showcased in its clean, white, brilliantly glowing, unwrinkled wedding gown. That is the type of righteousness we, as Christ’s Bride, must be putting on.