In Revelation 19:8 why does the EHV say that “the fine linen is the ‘not guilty’ verdicts pronounced on the saints”? Most translations say that the fine linen refers to “the righteous acts” of the saints.
Revelation 19:7 refers to the wedding of the Lamb and his bride, which is the holy Christian church, the assembly of all believers. Verse 8 mentions that the bride of Christ “was given bright, clean, fine linen to wear.” The fine linen was a gift. That is an important point to keep in mind. After that statement, comes the sentence you are asking about:
In fact, the fine linen is the “not guilty” verdicts pronounced on the saints.
The Greek word dikaiomata, here translated “verdicts,” could quite literally be translated “righteousnesses.” So the believers are given “righteousnesses” as a gift. But what does that mean? What are these “righteousnesses”?
- Are these “righteousnesses” “the righteous acts” of the saints (believers who are holy in God’s sight through faith in Christ)?
- Or are these “righteousnesses” “the ‘not guilty’ verdicts” which God pronounced on each of these believers?
The Greek word “dikaioma” is used ten times in the New Testament Scriptures. Usually it refers to a decree or judicial decision of God. (In Hebrews 9:1 and 9:10, it refers to “regulations” given by God.) There is not one case in the New Testament where it is clear and convincing that dikaiomata must mean “righteous acts.” Consider the following two examples:
- Romans 5:16 And the gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin, for the judgment that followed the one trespass resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the gracious gift that followed many trespasses resulted in a verdict of justification [dikaioma].
- Romans 5:18 So then, just as one trespass led to a verdict of condemnation for all people, so also one righteous verdict [dikaioma] led to life-giving justification for all people.
In Romans 5:18 dikaioma is often rendered “righteous act” but there it can have the same meaning as it does in verse 16. The Sanday/Headlam commentary argued that it is doubtful that dikaioma here means “righteous act.” And in their comments on verse 16, they remark that dikaioma is “usually the decision, decree, or ordinance by which a thing is declared.” In Romans 5:18, it apparently refers to God’s “righteous verdict” on the redeeming work of Christ (his holy life and atoning death on the cross). All sin was charged to Jesus, so he died in our place. After Jesus had paid the full price for all sin, God’s righteous verdict declared him “not guilty” of all the sins that were charged to him. He was absolved of all sin. That “led to life-giving justification for all people.”
When Revelation 19 says that the bride of Christ is clothed in fine linen, this refers to the righteousness which God gives to sinners when he declares them righteous (based on the redeeming work of Jesus Christ), and which sinners receive by faith. The plural form refers to the many individual verdicts of “not guilty” that God declares. These verdicts of “not guilty” are declared in gospel preaching. These verdicts of “not guilty” are also declared in absolution.
So this “fine linen” would be essentially the same as the robes of righteousness (Revelation 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14; 22:14) that are given to the saints. Way back in the Old Testament, Isaiah 61:10 looked forward to this:
I will rejoice greatly in the LORD.
My soul will celebrate because of my God,
for he has clothed me in garments of salvation.
With a robe of righteousness he covered me.
A parallel example can be found in Zechariah chapter 3. The prophet Zechariah saw a vision of Joshua, the high priest, who was standing before the Angel of the LORD. The priest’s filthy clothing was removed, and he was clothed in a special robe, and a clean turban was placed on his head. This depicted the forgiveness of sins.
We are all sinners, yet we need to be “righteous” (holy) to go to heaven. The only way we can go to heaven is through God forgiving all of our sins, through God declaring us “not guilty” through Christ. The “not guilty verdicts” refer to his forgiving all of our sins.
We believe the EHV’s translation is clearer than referring to “the righteous acts of the saints,” because we believe that the fine linen is referring to the “not guilty” verdicts that God pronounced on each of the saints. We began by pointing out that in the context it is clear that the “fine linen” is a gift that is given to the bride of Christ. Essentially, that verse means that the saints are saved by grace, by a gracious gift of God, and this gift is received through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Also, see the commentary on Revelation by Siegbert Becker, especially pages 284-286.