It's not here! I can't find it anywhere! For this wedding ceremony, I needed just one verse about the church being the bride of Christ for my short devotional. Where is the verse I need?
That predicament led me to study this topic a few years later. What I learned was shockingly different from what I had blindly accepted as truth. All my life, I have been taught that Christ's return would be for his bride, and that this bride was the ekklesia (those He called to assemble, also called the "church").
I have been taught that since Jesus' ascension, God has been preparing or washing the church in order to present her to Jesus, as a bride without spot or wrinkle.1 Yet, at that time when I needed a text, I could not find one. Why is that? Have I just regurgitated someone's viewpoint all these years without studying the topic myself?
The People God Divorced
From almost the beginning of creation, there have been two people groups on earth—those favoured by God, and those who are not. We had Abel; then Seth vs. Cain; Noah vs. the rest of the people; Abram; and then the sons of Israel vs. all of the other people in their time. The separate people groups represent Israel, those within God's covenant, and those without. Those within the covenant enjoyed the exclusive right to God's favour.
I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. (Leviticus 26:12) (NASB unless otherwise noted)
All of that changed when Israel turned from God, and he divorced her and sent her into exile. We read:
Thus says the LORD, "Where is the certificate of divorce By which I have sent your mother away? Isaiah 50:1a
"And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Jeremiah 3:8
God divorced both Israel and Judah. They had rejected the terms of the covenant which gave them exclusive rights to God's favour.
Jesus was "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"2 and to draw them back under his wings,3 they reject him. This rejection initiated a time allowing the Gentiles to be grafted in4 and to enter into God's favour through this new covenant5 and God's favour—in the hope of provoking Israel to jealousy.6
A New People Group - The Body of Christ
There is a newer people group, the called out ones. If I were to put into my words what we read in Matt 16:18, I have the following:
The Ekklesia (the church7), the citizens called to governing assembly, are often and clearly referred to as the body of Christ as shown in the following verses.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; Eph 4:11-12 (emphasis mine)
...the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, Eph 3:6 (emphasis mine)
It makes no sense that we, who represent the body of Christ, already joined with or in Him, can also be the bride awaiting a future union with Christ.
FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32
This reference is an analogy speaking of the union, that already exists, between a man and a wife, not a bride, and the verse that follows explains that it is the union we now have with Christ, rather than a future union. Is Paul presenting an analogy to a Jewish wedding or a Gentile wedding to the Messianic Gentiles in Corinth? Those who support the idea that the Ekklesia is the Bride typically use the symbolism of the Jewish wedding ceremony as their support. The Gentiles would have little to no cultural connection to that type of symbolism.
Here the word "betrothed" is mnesteuo, and means "to espouse, betroth." As such, and at this stage of the 'marriage' Joseph has no right yet to be one flesh with Mary.
This is the only place in the New Testament that this Greek word harmozo is used. It literally means "to fit, hence to join oneself to" but in the past tense, such that and here too, Paul speaks of an event already accomplished, hence the literal translation would be, "I joined you to one husband," not one bridegroom. This concurs with the other teachings in the New Testament that teach we "are united," "we are in Him," "are in Christ Jesus," etc. all past tense. All who are "born-again" are already in Jesus.
Many point to the Israel marriage ceremony/tradition to depict Jesus' return for the bride and then apply this to what is predominantly a Gentile culture. The seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 are in Gentile cities. Why would an Israelli model be used as a type to explain this concept to Gentiles who have no connection historically to that tradition? If that traditions fits so well as a type of Jesus' return would it not be so for those Israelli eyes who are able to see it and learn from it?
Paul teaches these Messianic Gentiles that they (we) are already united with Jesus and many times referred to as "the body of Christ." Do we weaken our standing and Jesus effectiveness through us when we, as a bride, look to a furture union when we can live in and with all the benefits that that union offers now?
It is interesting that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, never uses the word "bride" in his letters.
Who then is the church, the body or the bride? Are these terms synonymous or do they represent different people groups?
The Bride of the Lamb
In Revelation, regarding the bride of Lamb, we read the only clear reference to the bride of the Lamb (Christ):
Then one of the seven angels...spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he...showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" Rev 21:9-10
Here the Bride of of the Lamb is the new city of Jerusalem, coming down from God. In keeping with Jewish culture, the Groom idenfies the New Jerusalem as the place to which he will return for his bride.
Of Israel God says:
"In that day... I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness." (Hos 2:18-20 NAU)
Remember Jesus' words as he looked back over the city:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,...How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! "Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'" Luke 13:34-35
Jesus is speaking of the people, Israel, and the term "until the time comes" seems to speak of a time of preparation before they finally receive Jesus and the Messiah, at some date in the future. We find that future date and its completion in Revelation 19:7:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.
When Jesus returns for His bride we are told where He will go:
The groom goes first to Jerusalem for His bride.
If the bride is being prepared for Jesus' return at this time does that not fit better as a reference to Israel who is not ready for His return than for the Ekklesia who are already justified, washed, and in Him?
Regarding these verses, Chuck Missler8 writes:
“...This appears to parallel the promise of the bridegroom in the pattern of the ancient Jewish wedding, where, after the ketubah, the engagement, but before the huppah, the formal ceremony, the groom departed to prepare a new home for his bride, usually an addition to his father’s house. The bride was kept in a state of expectancy pending his return—often in the middle of the night, as a surprise…”
Missler applies this promise to the ‘church’ believing the church to be the bride, but Jesus is here talking to the disciples, sons of Israel, before they, as a nation, finally rejected Him. Until they reject him he was obligated, by covenant, to give his attention and His promises to Israel alone "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 15:24 (read Covenants and Favour).
The Time of the Gentiles
As Paul tells us in Romans 11, a partial or temporary hardening has occurred against Israel so that the Gentiles could be grafted into the "rich root of the olive tree."
At some time in the near future, after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, Israel will turn and accept Jesus as their messiah and thereby re-establish the covenant, including God's exclusive favour. When that happens, Gentile Christians could find themselves outside of God's favour as was the case before Israel rejected Christ. In order to avoid this conflict with God's covenant with Israel, Gentile Christians may be taken up just as or just before Israel acknowledges Jesus as its Messiah. This may be the reason for the rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
In Ephesians, Paul spoke of the eventual reunion of the uncircumcised and the circumcised, the Gentile Christians to the Jewish Christians.
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:11-16)
Will the body of Christ, the uncircumcised, be wedded to the circumcised? The union of Messianic Jews to Gentile Christians may be a foreshadow of that future wedding/union.
We, the Ekklesia, are already now one with Christ. We are his body. We are in him, and he in us.9 That being so, how can we who are already one with Jesus become a bride to be united with him in the future?
Israel, divorced from God long ago, can now give herself into marriage, prepared as she has been through years of affliction. Israel is also repeatedly referred to as the "daughter of Zion" especially in this verse about Jesus' ride into Jerusalem, the city that symbolizes Israel.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
The wedding/marriage feast will be the final union of two groups into one people, the daughter of Zion with Jesus and his Body of called ones.
The Bride of Christ is the daughter of Zion―—Israel.
Revelation 22:16-17 I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.”
The Spirit and the bride are here inviting the churches to ‘Come.’
1 Ephesians 5:25-27
2 Matthew 15:24 (emphasis mine)
3 Matthew 23:37
4 Romans 11:25
5 Hebrews 8:8-13
6 Romans 11:14
7 See article The Mysterious Word "Church" by this author.
8 The Rapture: Supplemental Notes, Chuck Missler, © 2002 Koinonia House Inc.
9 1 John 4:13
©2013, steven, a man.
All publishing rights reserved. Permission is granted to reprint this article for personal use; however, no commercial re-publishing of the material in this article is permitted without prior written consent.
Steven is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and have taught internationally on various topics.