By Shari Abbott, Reasons for Hope* Jesus
Question: Why are we called the Bride of Christ now when the Bible says the marriage takes place in Heaven?
This question really indicates the need to read Bible verses in context. It’s important to read the full passage, to understand a verse in relation to other verses that provide further insight and to have a historical and/or 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 that 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 occurred 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 most often used, all metaphors offer valuable insights into what it means to belong to God.
Understanding the “Bride of Christ”
The term “bride of Christ” does not appear in the Bible, but the teaching is certainly there. Paul most clearly spoke of the Church being the Bride of Christ in Ephesians 5. He spoke about the love between a husband and wife and the union that a man and woman share in marriage. He then concluded his discourse on marriage by declaring the union to be a great mystery and revealing that he was speaking of the union between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Paul also taught about the Bride of Christ 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 and cultural marriage practices of the Jews.
The Jewish Wedding
Jewish weddings consisted of three steps: the contract (the proposal and decision), the betrothal (the preparation) and the wedding (the consummation). Each of these steps offers a lesson that teaches 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 trusted in His shed blood for the payment of the penalty of our sins. Jesus offered us the “wine” of His blood. When we repented and trusted in Him, we received and partook of the cup of His blood and our preparation to be His Bride began (we have been washed clean by His blood: Revelation 1:5, 5:9). Jesus confirmed the contract, and sealed our betrothal, with the Holy Spirit. He is understood to be the security (guarantor) of our inheritance and we are sealed by Him until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30) when Jesus will return for His Bride. With the contract in place, the next step in Jewish marriage is the betrothal.
The Betrothal – Preparation
Betrothal is like our period of engagement. It begins with the proposal and sealing (signified by a ring in our culture, the Holy Spirit it our union with Christ). It ends with the actual wedding. The time period was similar in the Jewish custom, but the significance of the betrothal was very different. Unlike our engagements, the betrothal contract in ancient Israel was binding and could not be easily broken.
Because the proposal and decision was considered contractual, the man and woman were 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 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, we know that Jesus will never seek to “divorce” us for He has promised He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b). Jesus has given us eternal life and that is a guarantee of forever. Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit is a pledge that the “wedding” is guaranteed and, during this betrothal time, it’s as if we are already married.
It’s interesting to note the Jewish customs of the betrothal period and how they relate to our betrothal. During the betrothal time, the prospective groom would leave his betrothed bride and return to his father’s house. There he would build a house (prepare a place) for his bride. Building of the house was supervised by the groom’s father and could take quite some time to complete. When the father determined the work was completed, and that 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 he 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 [My disciples], 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, but 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. With that in mind let’s continue and examine the lessons this metaphor provides.
Yes, we are a betrothed bride, united with Christ in a contractual promise that is sealed by the Holy Spirit. And, 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. At this time we will receive glorified bodies and in Heaven we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) and be adorned 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 the bride for the wedding. With our glorified bodies and crowned with jewels, we will be 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 honour 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 begins.
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 to 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 and our 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– and that includes understanding 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, with a bouquet of flowers and a veil over our eyes? I think not. That is a human conception of earthly marriage uniting man and woman. Our ultimate marriage will unite us to Christ and it will be so much more–something so amazing and wonderful that it is beyond our comprehension.
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)
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