One of the most beautiful NT metaphors which God uses for His Church is that we are Christ’s Bride. Just as the Church is hidden in the OT and barely mentioned in the gospels, Messiah’s Bride is only hinted at in the OT: God discretely discloses He will have a royal bride in Psalm 45:9-14, and, perhaps even more discretely, in the exquisite fourth chapter of Song of Songs as well.
Notably, both the OT and NT reveal that Israel is not His Bride. Israel forsook God via her rampant idolatry (e.g. Jer. 2:32, 31:32); He calls her a harlot with many lovers (Jer. 3:1b), and an adulteress (Eze. 16:32; Hos. 3:1). The Gentiles, of course, are idolatrous, never having entered into covenant with God. It is only by grace through faith in Christ that both Jews and Gentiles are delivered from our idolatrous Adamic nature by being made one new man (Eph 2:14-16) in “the Christ” (see Introduction).
In the gospels, Jesus refers to the Jews as attendants of the Bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35, 12:35-40), but never as His Bride. The Bride is actually absent from the gospels; she is only alluded to by Jesus immediately before and after He entered into covenant with His disciples. Rendering it even more subtle, the covenant is described in Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s accounts, and His most widely-accepted allusion to His Bride is in the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel.
To understand Jesus’ words therein, we must know something of the Jewish wedding custom at that time. The covenant was made during the betrothal, when the bridegroom came to the prospective bride’s house and paid the purchase price for her. The bridegroom then left for a while in order to prepare a place for them in his father’s house. Once the preparations were complete, the bridegroom returned for his bride, unbeknownst to her, at a time determined by the father. His imminent arrival was announced by a shout. The bridegroom then brought his bride to his father’s house, she was cleansed prior to a private ceremony to which a few were invited, they consummated the marriage, and then celebrated the wedding feast, to which many were invited, for seven days.*
With this understanding, we can now appreciate that in John 14:2-3 Jesus is actually reinforcing to His Jewish disciples that this new covenant they have entered into means that they are now betrothed to Him. Here is how He tells them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:2-3 NIV)
(I don’t know about you, but I sure wish I’d learned all this sooner!) If you’re so moved as I am at present, let’s worship Him together before we continue…
Now, for a fuller understanding of our identity as Christ’s Bride, we’ll look briefly at Genesis 2, BEFORE the fall of man, in parallel with a passage from First Corinthians 15.
Gen. 2:21-24 NIV: So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
1 Cor. 15:47-48 NIV: The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.
The earthly man, Adam, falling into a deep sleep in order that God fashion a wife for him from his own body is a type foreshadowing the heavenly man, Jesus, falling into “a deep sleep” in order for God to fashion a wife from His holy body. Just as Eve was flesh of the earthly man, Christ’s Bride is flesh of the heavenly man. Just as Eve complemented and completed the earthly man, we will soon complement and complete the heavenly man, the Christ.
So then, let’s put this all together. Each time we gather together to partake of the Lord’s supper – to remember the covenant with our Bridegroom who has paid the price for us – we hear His words as bread is broken from the loaf, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Matt. 26:26). We are one Body with our resurrected and glorified Lord – we are bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh now. The Church is to complement and complete the heavenly man, Christ! We are His Bride!
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph. 5:25-27)
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (Rev. 19:7)
What an exalted position! Hallelujah! May God grant us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we reflect on this, causing us to come into a full understanding of His word on the matter. Amen.
*Post Script 6/3/2016: Now that end-time Scriptures have been introduced in “Part 5 – Overcomers” I will provide this link to a very helpful chart detailing Scriptures pertaining to these components of the Jewish wedding custom: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/revelation/related-topics/the-jewish-wedding-analogy.html