Last week we described the church as the Body of Christ. We emphasized that the church is one body, united by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, made up of many different members, who are Christians from all ages. The members need each other and should care for one another as they work together for the edification of the body as a whole. The head of the body is Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord of the church.
This morning we will describe the church as the Bride of Christ. The Bible depicts the church as a bride and Jesus as her bridegroom, thereby invoking the imagery of marriage as a picture of their deep relationship. In our continuing study of “Church Basics” today, we will examine this metaphor more closely and seek to discover its implications.
In order to fully appreciate what is meant by “the Bride of Christ”, we must first have a general understanding of how Jewish couples got married to one another in ancient times. Although the exact details varied over the centuries and particulars were added to the sequence of events on occasion, generally speaking the marriage process consisted of 4 steps. The families would arrange the marriage and payment would be made by the groom, a lengthy betrothal period would take place, finally the groom would go and take his bride for himself, and lastly a feast would be held to finalize the wedding proceedings.
These 4 components of the marriage process are clearly presented in Scripture as related to Christ and the church. They will form the structure of our message this morning.
I. THE MARRIAGE ARRANGEMENT - Ephesians 5:25-32
In this passage the Apostle Paul clearly identifies Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as His bride. The emphasis is placed on that fact that Jesus “loved the church” so much that He “gave Himself up for her”. To further solidify this point, Paul also states that Jesus “cherishes” the church and desires her to be holy and blameless.
Jewish marriages were arranged in advance, most often by the parents of the couple to be wed. The groom or his family would consult with the father of the bride-to-be. After negotiating the specifics, a contractual arrangement would be made between them formalizing the union. Sometimes this agreement might take place years before either person was of age to marry. As a sign of good faith, the groom or his parents would give a gift or make a payment to the expectant bride and her family in order to bind the contract. From this point forward the duo were pledged to one another.
In like fashion, Jesus loved the church and chose her to become His bride. The divine arrangements were made and a payment was required. In order to acquire her as His own, Jesus gave His life on Calvary's cross. The high cost that Jesus willingly paid reveals the depth of His love for the church and His intense desire to have her for Himself. It begs the question, “If Jesus loves the church so strongly shouldn’t we love it too?”
II. THE BETROTHAL PERIOD - Titus 2:11-14
In accordance with the terms of the marriage arrangement, a betrothal period would begin. During the betrothal neither bride nor groom could see each other. They remained completely separated for the entire span of time, which was usually at least a full year - though sometimes more or less. During the betrothal the pair was considered to be already married and any act of unfaithfulness was punishable as adultery under the law. The groomsmen and/or bridesmaids would facilitate any communication that needed to be made between the two parties.
During the betrothal, the bride and groom were to prepare themselves for married life. They were to spend this time developing and fine-tuning the skills and behaviors that would be needed when the couple was finally joined together. The newlyweds would be expected to live independently from their parents and bear the full responsibilities of adulthood, so some time for preparation was important. As you can imagine, the long months of waiting also created a heightened anticipation of the day when the two would finally see each other face to face.
In the same way, after purchasing the church through His sacrificial death Jesus returned to His father’s house in Heaven. There He remains, while the church waits patiently for Him here on the earth. During this extended betrothal period, which some call the Church Age or the Age of the Gentiles, the church is to carry on the work that Christ began. We still have access to Christ and He to us, through the Holy Spirit, but we're not in His physical presence just yet. With each passing day, the bride’s desire from her groom to come and the groom's desire to go get His bride increases more and more.
III. THE GRAND PROCESSION - Matthew 25:1-13
In the gospels, Jesus told a parable about 10 virgins who waited for the bridegroom to come. This story sheds light on the next step of the marriage process. When the betrothal finally came to an end, the groom would send notice to the bride that he was coming to get her at a specified time. Late into the night he would go to the house, escorted by his groomsmen, in a parade-like procession. Having been told in advance, the bride and her bridesmaids would wait up and carefully ready themselves for his much anticipated arrival.
The groom and his companions would usually plan to show up at the bride's house around midnight. She and her maidens would then join him and all would return together in a grand parade back to the his father's house. This spectacle was done at night so that more people would be free from work and could participate in the festivities. Lanterns or torches were used, such as in Jesus’ parable, to light the way and make the event more spectacular.
Again, we can see obvious parallels between this marriage procession and Jesus’ return for His church. At some point, though the exact time is not known by us, the Bridegroom will come for His bride. We call this event “the rapture”. Jesus will appear in the sky and call His church to Himself. Those Christians who have already died will rise from the graves to meet Him in the air and those living at the time will then join them. Together, Christ along with His gathered church will return joyfully to the Father’s house in Heaven.
IV. THE MARRIAGE SUPPER - Revelation 19:7-9
After the bride and groom are finally united and have returned to his father's house, they spend what is left of the night consummating the marriage. The next day a grand supper is held in recognition of the new marriage. This is a joyful event that often takes on a party-like atmosphere as fiends and family celebrate the newly wed couple. In some instances this feast might continue for several days rather than concluding after a single meal.
Near the end of his apocalyptic vision, John witnessed and briefly described what he referred to as the marriage supper of the Lamb. Based upon his statements and their chronological position in the Revelation account, it would seem that this event takes place in Heaven near the end of the tribulation period, just before Jesus returns with His church to the earth to setup His millennial kingdom. As is the case with most end-times prophecies, there are numerous interpretations regarding the exact timing and nature of this event. Whichever you choose to believe, it seems almost certain that the marriage supper be the final step in the marriage process as laid out in this morning's message.
Our comparison of the marriage relationship and the relationship between Jesus and His church has lead us to 3 fundamental truths. First, the church is the beloved Bride of Christ, whom He chose for Himself and died to redeem. For me there is no more compelling reason to attend and be actively involved in church than this. I simply don’t believe that we can truly love and be accepted by the Groom if we have no regard for His beloved bride. Second, the church longingly waits for the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, to come and receive her to Himself. This eager anticipation should be at the very heart of the church. Third, someday the church will be made ready and then presented to Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Though there are many other metaphors used in Scripture to describe the church, next week we will move on to a new topic. Our next message will focus on the primary purposes of the church what the church was established to do. I hope that you will join us for it.