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Is the “fine linen, bright and pure” in Revelation 19:8 good works or imputed righteousness?

Conclusions

  1. Modern translations and literal translations tend to translate the phrase as ‘deeds of the saints’.
  2. The references in Rev 3 imply the possession of white garments is the work of the believer.
  3. The references in Rev 4,6 & 7 suggests white robes were given to the believer.
  4. Outside Revelation, references generally imply pure garments are given to people.
  5. It seems that the right understanding of the ‘fine linen’ is:
    1. The fine linen is the righteousness is given to believers.
    2. This freely given righteousness enables the believer to do righteous deeds, thus clothing himself in fine linen.
    3. Paul describes this in clothing terms as ‘putting on Christ’.
      Rom 12:13-14 Let us walk properly … not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  14  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
    4. James describes this as ‘faith without works is dead’ and ‘a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.’ 

Revelation 19:9 in multiple translations

Rev 19:8 ESV  it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Rev 19:8 KJV  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.
Rev 19:8 YLT  and there was given to her that she may be arrayed with fine linen, pure and shining, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.’
Rev 19:8 GNB  She has been given clean shining linen to wear.” (The linen is the good deeds of God’s people.)

‘Fine linen’ in Revelation

Worn by the worthy and the conqueror

Rev 3:4-5 ESV  Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.  5  The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

Buy white garments and clothe yourself

Rev 3:18 ESV  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

24 elders clothed in white

Rev 4:4 ESV  Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.

Martyrs given a white robe

Rev 6:11 ESV  Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Worn by those coming out of the tribulation who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb

Rev 7:9-14 ESV  After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  10  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  11  And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,  12  saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  13  Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  14  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

‘Fine linen’ outside of Revelation

Psa 132:9 ESV  Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy.

Isa 61:10 ESV  I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Mat 22:11-12 ESV  “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  12  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.

Rom 13:13-14 ESV  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  14  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Eph 5:25-27 ESV  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  27  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Zec 3:3-5 ESV  Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.  4  And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”  5  And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.

Commentaries on Revelation 19:8

Adam Clarke Commentary

Arrayed in fine linen – A prediction that the Church should become more pure in her doctrines, more pious in her experience, and more righteous in her conduct, than she had ever been from her formation. The fine linen here spoken of is not the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers, for it is here called the righteousness of the saints – that which the grace and Spirit of Christ has wrought in them.

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible

And to her was granted – It is not said here by whom this was granted, but it is perhaps implied that this was conferred by the Saviour himself on his bride.

That she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white – See the notes on Revelation 3:4-5, Revelation 3:18; Revelation 7:13. White has, perhaps, in all countries been the usual color of the bridal dress – as an emblem of innocence.

For the fine linen is the righteousness of saints – Represents the righteousness of the saints; or is an emblem of it. It should be remarked, however, that it is implied here, as it is everywhere in the Scriptures, that this is not their own righteousness, for it is said that this was “given” to the bride – to the saints. It is the gracious bestowment of their Lord; and the reference here must be to that righteousness which they obtain by faith – the righteousness which results from justification through the merits of the Redeemer. Of this Paul speaks, when he says Philemon 3:9, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but what is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Compare the notes on Romans 3:25-26.

John Wesley

And it is given to her – By God. The bride is all holy men, the whole invisible church. To be arrayed in fine linen, white and clean – This is an emblem of the righteousness of the saints – Both of their justification and sanctification.

MR Vincent

Righteousness (δικαιώματα) More strictly, as Rev. righteous acts.

Robertson’s Word Pictures

The righteous acts of the saints (ta dikaiōmata tōn hagiōn). This is the explanation (gar) of the bridal dress and explains why there is work for the Bride as well as for Christ (Php_2:12.).

John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible

And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen,…. Or “Byssine”: the “Byssus”, of which fine linen is made, is said to grow on a tree, in height like to a poplar, and its leaves like a willow, and to be brought out of Judea into Egypt, which the Egyptians used in most of their holy thingsF17. A dress neat and modest, and not like the attire of the whore of Rome, Revelation 17:4 and this is said to be

clean and white, and is interpreted in the next clause:

for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints, or “righteousnesses”; not good works, or their own righteousness; for though these are evidences of faith, by which the saints are justified, and are what God has prepared for them, that they should walk in them; yet these are not comparable to fine linen, clean and white, but are like filthy rags, and cannot justify in the sight of God; but the righteousness of Christ is meant, and justification by that; for that is the only justifying righteousness of the saints: and though it is but one, yet it may be called “righteousnesses”, or “justifications”, in the plural number; partly because of the several seasons in which the act of justification passes, first in God’s mind from eternity, next on Christ as the surety, when he rose from the dead, and on all the elect in him, and then in the consciences of the saints when they believe, and the sentence of it will be notified and declared to men and angels at the last judgment; and partly because of the many persons that are justified by it, as also because of the excellency of it; so the Jews use the word in the plural number: the Targumist on Zechariah 3:4 paraphrases the text, “I will clothe thee” זכוך, “with righteousnesses”F18; upon which words Jarchi has this note,

“change of beautiful garments is all one as if it had been said זכיות “righteousnesses”: and because sin is like to filthy garments, righteousness is like to garments beautiful and white.’

Christ’s righteousness may be compared to fine linen, clean and white, because of its spotless purity; those that are arrayed with it being unblamable and irreprovable, and without spot and blemish, and without fault before the throne; with this the Jewish church will be clothed; all the Lord’s people will be righteous, they will have on the best robe, and wedding garment, which was despised by the Jews in Christ’s time, who refused to come to the marriage feast; and their being arrayed with it will be owing to the grace of Christ, who grants it; and so Christ’s righteousness is called the gift of righteousness, the free gift, and gift by grace, and abundance of grace; and faith, which receives it, and puts it on, is the gift of God, Romans 5:15. Not only the garment is a gift of grace, but the putting of it on is a grant from Christ, and what he himself does, Isaiah 61:10.

David Guzik

c. And His wife has made herself ready: What do we do to make ourselves ready for this wedding? There is much for us to do, but it is ultimately a work God does in us (Eph_5:25-27). This point is emphasized when John notes, to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright.
i. In this perfect union with Jesus, His people will be clean and bright before Him. “Clean (katharos) reflects purity, loyalty and faithfulness, the character of the New Jerusalem . . . Bright (lampros) is the color of radiant whiteness that depicts glorification.” (Johnson)
ii. For the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints: Believers are created for divinely prepared good works. These “righteousnesses” (righteous acts) are what fill the “hope chest” of the bride of Jesus.

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