"It's not here! I can't find it anywhere! Where is the verse I need?”
For a wedding ceremony, I needed just one verse about the church being the bride of Christ for my short devotional. I could not find one that stated this point clearly. Who is the bride of Christ?
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 assembled to govern, also translated 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? Not very Berean of me!
From the time of Abram, there have been two people groups on earth—those favoured by God, and those who are not. We had Abram and his descendants whom he favoured vs. all the other people in their time. Those within the covenant enjoyed the exclusive right to God's favour. Speaking of Israel God says:
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 both Israel and Judah turned from God to serve idols, for which 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 50:1)
"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 wanted to draw them under his wings,3 they were unwilling. This rejection initiated a time allowing the Gentiles to be grafted in4 and to enter into God's favour through a new covenant5—in the hope of provoking Israel to jealousy.6
There is now a new people group, the called out ones. If I were to put into my own words what we read in Matthew 16:18, I have the following:
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this truth I will build those people I call to assemble; and the gates of the abode of evil will not confine them. (my version)
The Ekklesia (the church7), citizens of the Kingdom called to be a 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; (Ephesians 4:11-12)
...the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, (Ephesians 3:6)
It makes no sense that we, who represent the body of Christ, i.e. 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 Christian 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, wherein the bridegroom goes the house of the betrothed to claim her.
It would seem to me to be significant that at the second coming, Jesus "lands" at Jerusalem (Acts 1:9-11), not Rome or any other location identified as the hub of the Ekklesia. Coming with Him is an unidentified host. Could they be the Christian Gentiles accompanying the bridegroom as he (and they) come for the bride—allegorically called Jerusalem—consisting of true Israelites purified by the refining fire called "the time of Jacob's trouble?"
In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east... (Zechariah 14:4)
And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. (Revelation 19:14)
when His mother Mary had been betrothed (mnesteuo) to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)
Here the word "betrothed" is mnesteuo, and it means "to espouse, betroth" somewhat like our "engaged." As such, and at this betrothal stage, Joseph has no right yet to be one flesh with Mary.
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed (harmozo) you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. (2 Corinthians 11:2)
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.
As stated, 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 Israeli 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 Israelites who are able to see it and learn from it?
It is his doing that you are united with the Messiah Yeshua. (1 Corinthians 1:30 CJB)
Paul teaches these Christian 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 look to a future union, as a bride, rather than live today 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 of Christ or the bride the bride of Christ? Are these terms synonymous or do they represent different people groups?
In Revelation, 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" (Revelation 21:9-10)
Here the Bride of the Lamb is clearly Jerusalem, kept, cared for, prepared for, and coming down from God, the Father of the bride. In keeping with Jewish culture, the Groom identifies 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." (Hosea 2:18-20)
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:
In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east. (Zechariah 14:4)
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?
“...I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3)
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).
Jesus came courting Israel—his bride. His promise of going to his Father's house and preparing a place for them is in keeping with the traditional marriage protocol. The key here resides in the verse above, he was speaking to only to those of the house of Israel—before they finally rejected him, make way for 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."
"... a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and [in this way] all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:25-26) (bracketed change is mine)
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 (read Rapture with Purpose).
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)
Will the wedding/marriage feast be the final union of two groups into one people, one new man, the daughter of Zion finally united with the Body of the Christ?
I believe the theology of the church being the bride comes out of Calvinist theology wherein the doctrine of election/selection is applied to the church rather than to Israel where it correctly resides.
The Bride of Christ is the daughter of Zion—Israel.
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.” (Revelation 22:16-17)
The Spirit and the bride are here inviting any and all on the highway and byways, to ‘Come.’
©2013, Dr Steven Bydeley, a man.
All publishing rights reserved. Permission is herewith granted to reprint this article for personal use and to link or refer to it; 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.
Without Prejudice. © 2023, Steven., house of bij de Leij., of man.