Why are Christians called the ‘Bride of Christ’? What significance is there in ancient wedding ceremonies that corresponds with how our lives interact with the Trinity? The answers lie in the Jewish custom of betrothal and marriage, and are quite profound when looked at from a Christian and Biblical point of view. I want to dive into this topic to help myself and others understand the beauty of why Jesus is called the Bridegroom and why we are called the Bride in so many passages of scripture.
One thing we must remember when using analogies to describe what is happening on a heavenly level: it is not all exactly the same. Just as Jesus used parables to explain the kingdom of heaven, not all parts of the parable are exactly like Heaven, and Heaven cannot be totally explained by the parable. This is why He uses so many parables, because there is no way to put into human terms what will ultimately take place. So when we study the similarities between the marriage ceremonies of the past and what Jesus says about the wedding between himself and a believer, we can understand that it will not all be exactly alike. There are things that happened in the ancient wedding ceremonies of the Jews that will not be true of the future wedding ceremony between Jesus and believers.
The first question we need to ask ourselves to be able to fully understand being the Bride is: ‘What is the point of the marriage?‘.
Part 1: Biblical Marriage
The Genesis account gives us our first clues about God’s intention for marriage:
“19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” – Gen. 2:21-25
Woman was created specifically for man because there was no other suitable helper for him amongst all of creation. She was created through the man. She was brought to the man. Once they were brought together they were considered one flesh. Though they were naked, both physically and spiritually, they felt no shame – all of their emotions, worries, fears, etc. were laid bare before each other. There was nothing hidden and therefore nothing to be ashamed of. God’s definition of marriage is a man and woman coming together to act as one person, each laying bare before the other so there is nothing hidden between themselves or God.
How does this relate to Christ? In John 1:1-3 we read, “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Jesus is the ‘man’ or ‘bridegroom’ in the coming marriage. The ‘bride’ is creation, specifically humans. We were made through Christ, by Christ, and for Christ as there was no other suitable helper for Him. His father, God, brings us to Him. “No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” – John 6:65 (words of Jesus). God brings us to Christ by giving us a new heart: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 36:26, which comes through Christ’s death (deep sleep) and resurrection. Through our relationship with Christ we become sanctified (or laid bare before Him), our old self passess away, and our new self is perfected. “4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” – Romans 6:4-7.
The point of marriage, then, is to be made in right standing before God as He allows. As Christians we are called to stand beside our husbands and wives even through difficult times because we are to represent Christ and His sacrifice for us to the world. We are to sacrifice our wants, and desires for Christ, knowing that He is why we are here in the first place.
“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” – 1 Peter 3:1-2
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 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. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” – Ephesians 5:21-28
In traditional Jewish literature marriage is actually called kiddushin, which translates as “sanctification” or “dedication.” “Sanctification,” indicates that what is happening is not just a social arrangement or contractual agreement, but a spiritual bonding and the fulfillment of a mitzvah, a Divine precept. “Dedication,” indicates that the couple now have an exclusive relationship, that involves total dedication of the bride and groom to each other, to the extent of them becoming, as the Kabbalists state, “one soul in two bodies.”
Part 2: Choosing a Bride / The Price Paid
In Jewish custom (prior to the middle ages) a man and/or his family would select a bride for him. The bride would be chosen and have the opportunity to consent (though it was not required). When looking at the Trinity we see that there are 3 persons: God (the Father), Jesus (the Son), and the Holy Spirit. It is the role of the Father and the Spirit (the other members of the family) to bring the future ‘bride’ to Christ. However, this will be no ordinary wedding. When God brings you to Christ the decision you make is life or death. Once the bride has been introduced and made aware of her possible betrothal it is her decision whether or not to enter into that agreement. She gets one opportunity. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” – John 3:36. This decision will be binding, and it will mean a future consummation of the marriage, all things being given equally to the bride as they have been to Christ. “4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” – Hebrews 6.
God is not obligated to bring us to His Son. He does this as He wills, because He is gracious and desires to have mercy on some: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” – Romans 9:15. This is no work of our own, it is only because God desires it: “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” – Romans 9:16. Once we are made aware of our sinfulness and our need for Christ to save us from eternal separation from the Father we have only one decision that makes sense: we choose Christ. “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:3-5
As John the Baptist was baptizing, some people came to him and asked why Jesus was also doing it. He replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” – John 3
“31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one.” – Romans 8
As was custom, brides in ancient times were purchased and the price was paid to the father of the bride. Similarly we, as the bride of Christ, have also been purchased with a price. Jesus paid His own life for us. His very own blood was shed as payment to the Father for the redemption of our souls, and for the adoption to sonship with Christ.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:1-4
Part 3: The Betrothal & Covenant
The betrothal of the ancient Jewish culture is a ceremony made over wine as legally binding. A prayer is offered for thanksgiving to God for the bringing together of the two parties and then a ring or gift is given to the bride as a seal or identification that she belongs to him. After this point the groom leaves, but the covenant between them is understood and to be upheld by both parties.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” – Matthew 26
Before Jesus left the disciples to die on their behalf he broke bread and explained that he was giving his body as a sacrifice for them. The same is true of the groom who is betrothed as he will keep himself pure for the bride. Then Jesus explains the covenant of His death and resurrection over the cup of wine. Just as the groom would do, Jesus agrees that the next time they meet and celebrate will be at the wedding feast. Jesus – just like the groom – now leaves.
It is important for us a Christians to understand the meaning behind the Lord’s Supper when we come to partake. Each time we eat the bread we are reminded of what Jesus has done on our behalf. Each time we drink the wine we are reminded that He has made a covenant that is binding in His blood, and that He will return. This ceremony should give us pause as to what an awesome Savior we have to give us this sacrament of remembrance that He is truly our groom and that He longs to be with us.
The groom of ancient and even modern betrothals gives a gift to the bride for her constant recollection of what will soon take place – the ring. It symbolizes their future unity and the promises he has made to her. It also reminds her daily to think of him and to be ready for him when he returns. The same is true of the gift that Christ gives us when we say yes to Him. He gives us the Holy Spirit, which is our seal that we belong to Him. Once you are sealed the deal is done, and now the waiting begins to be one with Christ, and heirs with Him as God’s children.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1
Part 4: Sanctification
The groom now leaves for a period (some writings say this could be as much as 12 months), though his exact return is not set. He leaves to return to his father’s house and build on an additional room to the house where he and his new bride will live after the union ceremony. How amazing that Jesus explains his intent in this same way! “2 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? 3 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. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” – John 14
While she waits, the bride purifies and dedicates herself to the groom. The actual translation of the word for betrothal from the Hebrew (Kiddushin) is sanctification. The process of sanctification entails our allegiance to God through the work of the Holy Spirit. As we read God’s word and apply it to our lives we are being made new = sanctified. Though we were once outside the knowledge of Christ, now we are being made part of His kingdom. We were sinners, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6
“3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” – 1 Thessalonians 4
Luckily for us (unlike the Jewish bride) we have an advocate that makes this sanctification possible. Even though we will be with Christ bodily after we pass from this life, we can be with Him now spiritually. This is the reason God gave us the Holy Spirit. Without the work of the Spirit in our lives we would be unable to change or become sanctified.
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 2:10-14
Part 5: The Wedding Feast / Consummation of Marriage
Finally the time comes when the groom, along with his friends, come to the home of the bride and surprise her. “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” – Matthew 24:30-31. She has an idea of when he will come but she does not know the exact time. Amazingly in Scripture we read that no one knows the day or hour that Christ will return, only the Father. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” – Matthew 24:42. After they have been brought together there is a great feast and the final ceremony that joins them forever together. It is only once we are with Christ bodily that our sanctification is complete, for we cannot be made wholly righteous until we are with our Savior, just as the bride and groom come together to make one flesh (they are now whole).
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. – Matthew 25:31-34
6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7 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.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)
9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” – Revelation 19:6-9
“Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. – Revelation 22:20
The Bible (NIV)