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The Bride of Christ

 
 
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(By Mark Fontecchio)

The story is told, from a time long ago, about a prince and a peasant girl who fell in love. This prince was a man who literally had the world at his disposal. Nothing about this man was common, and it would not be exaggerating to say that he was the perfect catch. The peasant girl, on the other hand, was nothing more than common, and at best it would be said that she was average. At worst, it was said that she was just plain ugly. There were times when she was moody, and cranky. She rarely ever lived up to her full potential to achieve all that she could. In fact, to look at her from the eyes of anyone else you would have never believed that this prince fell in love with this young girl. Yet, to see her through the eyes of the prince you would believe that she was, “to die for.”

This prince determined that he could not bear to live without her, so he asked her to be his bride. No one expected this, and the angels in heaven even listened as she accepted his proposal. The prince promised his bride that he would come back for her soon, and the peasant girl vowed to wait faithfully for his return.

You would expect at this point that the bride would always be thinking about the coming wedding, but instead she rarely even mentioned it. You would think that every waking moment would be lived out in anticipation, and preparation for the coming of her prince, but by the way she lived you wouldn’t even know that she was the bride of a perfect prince. More often than not, you could not even tell the difference between the bride and any of the other peasant girls in the village. There were even times when she could be seen flirting with the other men of the village, and many speculated and questioned what she was doing when no one was watching.[1]

Can you imagine a peasant girl fortunate enough to have a prince such as this, offer her his eternal love? You would expect her to be overwhelmed by his love, and filled with a sense of gratitude that she was fortunate enough to be loved by him. You would think that she would be careful to remain pure in expectation of the return of her royal groom. Instead, to look at her you might wonder if she even remembered that she was engaged at all.

The Church

Is it possible for a peasant to forget about her prince? Is it possible for a bride to forget her groom? That is a question that the Church of our day needs to answer because the story of the prince and his peasant bride is not a fairy tale or some story from medieval times. It is a story about the Church, because the Church of Jesus Christ is what the Word of God describes as the Bride of Christ. To be quite honest, much of what is passed off today as the Church of Jesus Christ appears to have forgotten about the Groom that we are committed to. It is the purpose of this present work to demonstrate from the Word of God that the Church is the Bride of Christ and has a unique role and relationship with God that is distinct from Israel. This relationship is beautifully described throughout the pages of the New Testament. Understanding this relationship should give believers a better understanding of our future in Christ.

Ephesians chapter 5 takes center stage when discussing the relationship of Christ to His Church. This chapter of God’s Word certainly contains teaching regarding the relationship of a husband and wife within the confines of marriage. However, it is my contention that Paul’s intended meaning focuses primarily on the Church’s relationship with Jesus Christ. This is illustrated in verse 32 where Paul testified, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” In verse 33 Paul did apply the teaching of Ephesians 5 to the marriage of a man and a woman, but verse 32 is the key which demonstrates that much of the teaching of this passage is not about a husband and a wife. Instead, it is actually about Christ and the Church.

All throughout Scripture the pages of the Word of God testify to the eternal truth that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Bride of Christ. This is once again seen in Romans chapter 7. Paul wrote in verse 4, “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.” It is here that we see that Paul says the Church is to be married to, “Him who was raised from the dead.” The Church of Christ is to be married to Jesus. Believers in Christ have died to the law, and are now free to marry Him. One of the reasons, or the purpose, for this marriage is that we would bear fruit to God. Both the King James and New King James translations state that believers “should” bear fruit to God. Christians will not always bear fruit because there will be times when we live like the old man. There will be times when we live like the person we were before salvation in Christ. There will be times when we give in to the sin nature, but the Word of God proclaims, “we should bear fruit to God.”

Our attention turns next to 2 Corinthians 11. In verse 2 we see that Paul told the church of Corinth, “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.” Paul teaches here that the Church is currently in the betrothal stage and that in the future we will be presented to our husband, Jesus Christ. With a shepherd's heart Paul wanted more for the Christians in Corinth than the worldly wisdom that they had turned to. Paul’s goal was to present the Christians, “as a chaste virgin to Christ.” His goal as a shepherd and spiritual father to the Church was to present the Christians to Christ pure, holy, and separated from worldly living. Just as men want a faithful bride, so it is that Christ wants a Church that is solely committed to Him.

Weddings in Israel

In order to understand this entire concept of the Church being identified as the Bride of Christ, and to understand the Marriage and Supper of the Lamb, we first must understand the pattern for marriage which existed in first-century Jewish families. This is necessary because the New Testament describes the marriage of Christ to His Church with terminology that follows this same pattern.

The Jewish marriage began with the betrothal stage. The parents, “usually made the decisions for the young people.”[2] During this time the groom’s father would promise his son to a chosen girl. This could actually happen while the couple were still young children. The father would make a proper down payment called a dowry and sign the legal agreements. It was not uncommon for a bride and groom to have never seen each other before the actual wedding day. Even if they did know each other beforehand, the young couple knew that they were committed to their future spouse and that they were to remain pure in anticipation of the coming wedding.

We are reminded of the betrothal of Mary and Joseph recorded for us in the first chapter of Matthew. Verse 18 instructs us, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” It was a common practice for young couples to be promised to one another. Sometimes this would actually take place when the children were only two or three years old. This is certainly quite a bit different from today when people think that marriage is all about being happy, our rights, and all about living for ourselves. The Jewish people understood that marriage is an institution created by God that is designed to bring glory to God, not to ourselves.

When the parents were involved in selecting a bride, the father had to pick out the right young lady for his son. The father would look at the parents and the families of the young ladies to help him choose a bride for his son. In relation to Christ and the Church our focus turns to Ephesians 1. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:3-4). Because Paul used the first person plural in this text, the evidence suggests that Paul was referring to the Church being corporately elected in Christ. God, in eternity past, elected the corporate Church to a position in Christ. As we focus on this marriage aspect to Christ, we understand that the Church as a whole was chosen before the foundation of the world to be the Bride of Christ.

Jesus

Jesus taught about this future Marriage and Supper of the Lamb. There are two passages in the Gospels that have similar parables. The differences between the parables in Luke 14 and Matthew 22 reveal to us that these were separate events. However, before examining Luke 14 it should be noted that Christ made an interesting statement in Matthew 22:2 when He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son.” This teaches and reinforces the idea that the opening parable of Matthew 22 gives us some insight into God’s Kingdom and the marriage celebration of Christ being married to His Church. Even though Matthew 22 and Luke 14 do not record the same event, the subject matter contained in Luke 14 also becomes a discussion of the marriage celebration of Christ being married to His Church.

The specific parable that is the center of our attention in Luke 14 begins in verse 16 where Jesus said:

A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, “Come, for all things are now ready.” But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.” Still another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come” (Luke 14:16-20).

It should be noted that none of these excuses were legitimate. The land and the oxen would still be there after the banquet, and the man with the new bride should have brought her with instead of using her as an excuse.

Jesus continued in verse 21, “So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’” The poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind are the very people that the Pharisees would have looked down upon.

Jesus finished the parable by teaching, “And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper’” (Luke 14:22-24). The supper described here in this text teaches us about the future marriage supper. This will be the celebration of Christ being joined with His Church in heaven. It is important to recognize that only those who are willing to humble themselves before the Lord will taste of this marriage supper with the Lamb, Jesus Christ. God the Father is calling out people right now to be the Bride of Christ. Within the context of Luke 14, the people who made excuses to not attend this feast were the people of Israel. It was the Jewish people who rejected Christ at His First Coming. This is why in verse 23 Christ was speaking of going out into the highways, going out into the Gentile regions to invite those who are looking for a Savior. The Holy Spirit is seeking people to come into the family of God. The Holy Spirit is calling out the Bride.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist also spoke about the Bride of Christ. This can be witnessed in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. At this point in time, some of John’s disciples were concerned. Jesus was just starting out in His ministry, He was baptizing people, and in verse 26 the text mentions that the disciples of John were worried because Jesus was starting to gain a following. John’s disciples were worried about his own ministry. John answered their concerns starting in verse 27:

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:27-30).

There is an amazing and subtle teaching in this passage. It should be noted that John did not say he was a part of the Bride. Instead, he said that he was a friend of the Bridegroom. John the Baptist was saved by faith just like the rest of the Old Testament saints, but the Bride of Christ is the Church. The custom of their day was that the friend of the bridegroom was there to assist the bridegroom. The friend would not participate in the wedding, but made arrangements for the groom before the wedding would actually begin. John was stating that he knew that his job was to prepare for the Bridegroom. So when John heard the Bridegroom’s voice, he knew his work was coming to an end. John knew that Christ had come to begin to call out His Bride, and so he said, “Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled” (John 3:30).

In Luke chapter 5 the Scribes and Pharisees wanted to know why the disciples of John the Baptist were fasting, but Christ’s disciples were not. Jesus responded to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:34-35). Every person who has trusted in Jesus Christ for their salvation from the day of Pentecost to the time of when the Rapture of the Church takes place is a part of the Bride of Jesus Christ. The Church is that Bride and will be united eternally with Christ.

Further Teaching in the New Testament

Thinking back to the first-century Jewish weddings, a dowry had to be paid. The price depended, “upon the social standing and the wealth of the parties concerned.”[3] Once the dowry was paid and the legal papers were signed the young couple was then considered betrothed to one another. Christians should recognize that the dowry for the Church of Jesus Christ is the highest payment that has ever been paid, because the dowry payment for us is the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God teaches, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Apostle Peter wrote, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). The dowry that has been paid for the Church is the very blood of Jesus Christ.

Paul also spoke of this in verse 23 of Ephesians 5 when he wrote that, “Christ is head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body.” Again, in verses 25-27 the text states, “Just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 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.” The idea in verse 25 is that Jesus Christ loves His Bride so much, that he took the initiative and handed Himself over to death to pay the dowry for us. Jesus Christ went to the Cross as a willing sacrifice, and this was His supreme demonstration of His love for His Church.

In verses 26-27 we see the reason for Christ’s sacrifice. First, in verse 26 we learn that Christ wanted to sanctify and cleanse His Bride. The basic idea of the word sanctify is that of setting someone apart for His service. In other words, God has set apart Christians for Himself. Paul was testifying that Christ died to assign the Church to Himself in an exclusive and permanent relationship. Cleansing the Church with the washing of water by the word means that He made His Bride holy by cleansing her. God the Son is without sin and so must His Bride be without sin. This is not a reference to baptism. Nor is it a reference to whether or not we sin in our lives. Instead, this is positional, or how God sees us. Because Christ has paid the penalty for our sin, God now sees us as holy and without sin. God sees us as having been cleansed from sin. The washing of water by the word is a reference to the word of Christ, the Gospel. It is the purifying words of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that make us clean. It is by the words of the Gospel that we are made clean and that we are washed. This flows right into verse 27 where we learn again that this cleansing, this washing of His Bride, is “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.” Notice the image that Paul describes in this verse. He uses the image of a young bride. The idea is that there will not even be one small blemish on His Bride. The image conveyed is that Christ’s Bride will have unsurpassed beauty. This once again carries with it the idea that His Bride will be holy and blameless on that day.

The Apostle Paul stated, in verse 27, that Christ is going to present Himself to His Bride. It should be noted that Paul did not mention when this would happen. During the Jewish weddings they would have a presentation stage. The broader testimony of the Word of God reveals that this will start at the Rapture of the Church, as we are called up to meet our Lord and Savior in the air. The Church will then be presented to Him, and shortly after the Judgment Seat of Christ this marriage will take place. Revelation 19 teaches us specifically that this marriage will take place in heaven.

Starting in verse 29 of Ephesians 5 we read, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Eph. 5:29-30). Notice in these verses how united the Church is to Christ. Jesus is both the Head and Savior of the Church. Christ gave Himself up for the Church in order to sanctify it. As individuals respond to the Gospel of Jesus, they become a part of the Body of Christ.

Paul continued to build off of this teaching by proclaiming, “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32). Following the flow of thought in this text, we can see that Paul was building towards a conclusion. In verse 31 Paul quoted the passage that had shaped his entire thinking on this subject. Paul was quoting Genesis 2:24, which is the most fundamental statement in the Old Testament concerning God’s plan for marriage. Right before this, in Genesis 2:23, Adam was describing how Eve was taken from his side to be his companion. Paul used this text and applied it to the union of Christ and His Church, thereby backing up his point in verse 30 where he taught that believers are a part of the Body of Christ.

Verse 32, once more, brings us to the key phrase where Paul taught that the mystery is great.  A mystery in the Bible is a truth that was previously hidden that is now brought to light. The simple point being taught is that the Christian marriage, the relationship between a husband and a wife, is like the one that exists between Christ and His Church. Meaning, that the Church is as close to Christ as a husband is to his wife. This is why one of the purposes of marriage is to model Christ’s relationship with the Church.

The last stage of first-century Jewish weddings was the celebration stage. An example of this is seen in John 2 when Jesus was at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. After the wedding, they would have a marriage supper. At this point we are reminded, from Daniel 9, that there would be seventy weeks of years when God would deal with the Jewish people. During this period of time the primary focus is not the Gentiles or the Church, but instead God is dealing with Israel. Sixty-nine of those weeks of years have already been fulfilled, leaving one week of years (or seven years left) when God will once again deal with the nation of Israel. The Church will be gone. During the Tribulation the Church will be with Christ. Once the Church is united with Christ, then comes the Marriage Supper.

Revelation 19 teaches us about this time of celebration. The Word of God records, “‘Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ 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. Then he said to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’”” (Rev. 19:7-9a). When we partake in the Lord’s Supper, Paul told the Church in 1 Corinthians 11:26, that as we look back at the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Something that is often left out is that we are also looking forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

We notice again in Revelation 19:9 the text states, “Blessed are those who have been called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” After the wedding would take place they would have the marriage supper as a time of celebration. This will be a time of great celebration with Christ. The idea referred to in verse 9 is that of the invited guests. At this point, the text is not referring to the Bride of Christ. This is not the Church. Instead, this refers to the saints who were not a part of the Church of Christ. This would be the Jews in the Old Testament who were saved by faith, as well as Tribulation saints.

In Luke 12 we have another parable which gives us some additional insight into this wedding feast. Starting in verse 35 the text declares, “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning.” Girding your waist meant to be ready. The long clothing they wore in the first century would need to be tucked into their belts to allow them the freedom to work. The idea then is to be watching, or be ready.

Continuing in verses 36-37 we read, “And you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.” It is important to be clear about this passage. This is not referring to the Church or to the Rapture. This is a passage for Israel and the Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation. However, we notice again in verse 36 the reference to the master returning from a wedding. The Marriage of the Lamb will take place in heaven during the time of the Tribulation on earth, but the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will take place on earth after the Second Coming of Christ. Tribulation saints who survive, which is what is being referred to within this text, will be invited guests to the wedding feast and the Lord will serve them. This is what is being mentioned in verse 37. This parable is describing the wedding feast after the marriage has taken place. The supper will be set, the celebration will start, and our Lord and Savior is going to gird Himself (meaning He will prepare Himself). He is going to seat the Bride of Christ and the guests at the supper table and serve His people. We ought to be serving Him, and we will worship Him, but He is going to serve His people. It is difficult to imagine how great it will be at this wonderful feast with our Savior.

Our Greatest Day

Many years ago a mother was tucking her little girl into bed when the young daughter asked, “Mom, can you tell me the greatest day of your life?” The mother thought for just a second and then said, “Honey, I can tell you the greatest day in my life.” Then she started to tell her little girl all about that day. She said to her, “My father was a man who fought in the Civil War. I remember it like it was just yesterday. My mother and I were sitting on the porch one warm day, and several months earlier we had gotten word that he had been killed in battle. I was playing with my kitten as my mother and I were sitting in the swing. Ever since my Mother had heard that my Father had died she had been sad, and she missed him very much. But that day, we saw someone coming down the long dusty road that ran in front of our small house. My mother said, ‘Oh, there’s a man coming down the road.’ Then a moment later she said to me, ‘Sweetheart, I declare that man kind of favors your father.’ After another moment, she said, ‘Darling, I really do think that is your Father.’ As she said it she burst from the porch, across the front yard, through the gate on the picket fence and down the road toward the open arms of my father. I was right behind my mother and jumped for my father’s arm as I often did as a little girl, and he would swing me from his arm. As I jumped for his arm this time, all I found was an empty coat sleeve. I saw the scars of battle on my Daddy’s face and I saw that his body was bruised from the war. I knew that he must have been missing an arm because of the war.” And then the mother said to her little girl, “The greatest day in my life was when my Daddy came back home.”

For the believer in Christ the greatest day of our lives will be when we go home to be with Christ. He is coming back for His Bride. And once you understand the truth of Christ, once you understand the grace of Christ, once you understand that our future is with Christ, believers should have no problems whatsoever with the words of Paul in Ephesians chapter 5 verse 24 where we are taught that we should be subject to Christ. I hope you believe it. I hope you are looking forward to that day, and I pray you are living your life in such a way that redeems the time, making the most of every day for our blessed Savior Jesus Christ.

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Endnotes

[1] Illustration adapted from Max Lucado, When Christ Comes, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson) 2013.

[2] Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, M-P (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 103.

[3] Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, M-P (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 103.

 

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