Why are we called the Bride of Christ now when the Bible says the marriage will take place in Heaven?
This question reveals the need to read Bible verses in context. It’s important to read the full passage to understand what a verse means. And, it’s important to read other verses and passages that can provide further insight and historical and prophetic perspective. So, let’s look at what the Bible tells us about the Bride of Christ.
The “Bride of Christ” is a metaphor. God has given us many metaphors in the Bible to explain the relationship we receive when we are saved.
Christians are called the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the children of God, the Shepherd’s sheep, the Teacher’s disciples, the Master’s bondservants, the stones of God’s house, the workers in God’s field, the subjects of the King, the citizens of Heaven, and still more.
We must begin by understanding that all these metaphors are given so we can better understand the spiritual relationship we have with God. The unity we have with God is far beyond our comprehension and these metaphors are intended to help us understand the transformation that took place in us when Jesus saved us. With so many beautiful metaphors presented in the Bible, we should be cautious not to elevate one to an ultimate position. While the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ are the metaphors most often used, all metaphors offer valuable insights into what it means to belong to God.
Understanding the “Bride of Christ”
The actual term “bride of Christ” does not appear in the Bible. However, the teaching is certainly there. And Paul most clearly explained this relationship in Ephesians 5. He spoke about the love between a husband and wife and the union that a man and woman share, being one in marriage. Paul concluded his discourse on marriage by declaring the union to be a great mystery. And then he wrote that he was speaking of the union between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). So marriage is a “picture” of union with Christ being the “bridegroom” and the Church being the “bride.” Paul also taught about this union in Romans:
Romans 7:4 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.
In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul spoke as the spiritual father of the Church and used the language of Hebrew marriage customs to pledge the Corinthians to Christ:
2 Corinthians 11:2 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.
In this verse Paul wrote of the Church as “a chaste virgin,” a pure and undefiled bride, betrothed (pledged) to one Husband. That explains the relationship we currently enjoy with Christ. We are not a wedded bride, but rather a betrothed bride. There is a difference and it’s understood in the historical marriage practices of the Jews.
The Jewish Wedding
Jewish weddings consisted of three steps. First, the contract (the proposal and decision). Then the betrothal (the preparation). And finally the wedding (the consummation). These progressive steps reveal much to us about our spiritual union with Jesus as His Bride
The Contract – Proposal and Decision
When a Jewish man “proposed” to a woman he would offer her a cup of wine. If the woman accepted the cup and drank the wine, she was giving consent to become his wife.
The spiritual contract we have with Jesus took place when we turned to Him in faith and trusted in His shed blood for the payment of the penalty of our sins. Jesus offered us the “wine” of His blood. We accepted and partook of the cup of His blood, the payment for our sins, and we were saved by Him and given promises to come. Jesus confirmed the contract, and sealed our betrothal, with the Holy Spirit. He is understood to be the security (guarantor) of our inheritance. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30) when Jesus will return for His Bride. With the contract in place, the next step in an ancient Jewish marriage was the betrothal period.
The Betrothal – Preparation
Betrothal is like our period of engagement. It begins with the proposal from the groom and the acceptance by the bride. The betrothal period ends with the actual wedding. In Jewish culture, it was the time during which the bride would prepare herself for the marriage and the groom would prepare a home for his bride.
We are told that we are made clean by Jesus — [He] washed us from our sins in His own blood (Rev 1:5)– and we are preparing for the marriage by serving God until the Bridegroom returns. Our Bridegroom is preparing a home for us:
John 14:2 “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
In our time, betrothal/engagement is signified by a ring. Spiritually, our betrothal to Christ is signified by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Unlike modern-day engagements, the betrothal contract in ancient Israel was binding and could not be easily broken. Because the proposal and decision were considered contractual, the man and woman were declared to be joined together as if they were already married. The marriage was guaranteed to take place and to be consummated. The only way to end a betrothal was through the legal process of divorce.
That is not the same in our cultural marriage practices, but it is true for us as the Betrothed of Christ. The betrothal contract cannot be broken. It is guaranteed! If the only way to end a betrothal in ancient Israel was with a divorce, the same would need to be true for us. However, Jesus has promised He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b). He is faithful and His words are true, so He will NEVER “divorce” us. Jesus has given us eternal life and that is a guarantee of forever. His gift of the Holy Spirit is an irrevokable pledge that the “wedding” is guaranteed to take place. Therefore, it’s as if we are already married because it’s guaranteed to take place.
Jewish Customs of Betrothal
It’s interesting to note the Jewish customs of the betrothal period and how they “picture” our betrothal to Jesus. During the betrothal time, when the prospective groom left his betrothed bride to prepare a home for her, he would return to his father’s house. There he would build a house, with his father supervising. It could take quite some time to complete. When the father determined the work was completed, and the time was right, he would send his son back to where his bride waited for him. The prospective groom would get his betrothed bride and bring her to the house prepared for her.
It’s easy to see the metaphor and typology in this. We are Jesus’ betrothed bride and Jesus has returned to Heaven to prepare a home for us. We await His return. When the time is right, the Father will send His Son for His Bride. Jesus will return and take us to be with Him in the heavenly home He has prepared for us.
John 14:3 And if I [Jesus] go and prepare a place for you [His Bride], I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
The Wedding – Consummation
We know from the Gospel accounts that Mary was legally betrothed to Joseph and that they had not consummated their marriage physically (Matthew 1:25). As the Church, we have already entered into a spiritual union with Christ we are betrothed to Jesus, but the consummation of our union is yet to be.
This is where the metaphor breaks down some. Remember that all metaphors are given to explain spiritual concepts in human terms. None are perfect models of what they represent. While earthly marriage is physically consummated, uniting man and women as one, our consummation will be spiritual. We will experience a union with Christ, a oneness, beyond what we can explain or even begin to fathom. With that in mind let’s continue and examine the lessons this metaphor provides.
The Wedding in Heaven
- We are a betrothed bride, united with Christ in a contractual promise that is sealed by the Holy Spirit.
- While Christ has gone to prepare a home for us, we are being prepared for our Bridegroom (being conformed to His image – Romans 8:29).
- When our Bridegroom’s Father determines the time is right, He will send His Son for us.
- We will be raptured, or “caught up” (Thessalonians 4:17), and taken to His home in Heaven.
- We will receive glorified bodies and in Heaven and we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10).
- Christ will adorn us with promised rewards of jewels for that which we have done to serve the Lord during our earthly lives. This fulfills the Jewish custom of adorning and preparing the bride for the wedding.
In our glorified bodies and crowned with jewels, we will have been conformed in a physical way to be like Christ (Phil 3:21). Then the marriage of the Lamb will take place:
Rev 19:6-8 … Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb [Jesus] is come, and his wife [the Church] has 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.
With the marriage completed, a wedding supper of celebration will begin.
Rev 19:9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb [Jesus]…
So what does all this mean? How far should we take such metaphors, types, and patterns in our understanding of what God is trying to teach us?
We must remember that God is trying to explain a spiritual relationship of union with Him. It is impossible for us to fully understand this while constrained by earthly dimensions of time and space. The metaphors God has given are extremely helpful, but they will always fall short, or fall apart, in trying to represent something that is outside our time dimension and beyond the comprehension of a finite mind.
Only in the consummation of our union with Jesus will our minds be completely transformed and our understanding fully opened. Until that time we are to seek God and to learn of His will and ways through that which He has revealed in His Word, including the many metaphors the Bible presents.
The Bible’s teachings about the Bride of Christ are helpful, but always be cautious not to take it too far. Will we really stand before God in a wedding gown? Will we carry a bouquet of flowers and have a veil over our face? I think not. That is a human concept of earthly marriage uniting man and woman. Our ultimate marriage will unite us to Christ and it will be so much more. What is fully comprehensible, at this time, is that our God will finish that which He has begun. Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Right now, we can only imagine…
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