“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32 NKJV
On several occasions in the past I have had the opportunity to share something with other believers during small groups or Sunday School classes when studying Paul’s letters to the churches. It might not be an earth shattering revelation but I have enjoyed seeing the look on peoples’ faces when I explain what I am thinking, and it goes something like this. If you have ever participated in a study of Paul’s writings with others in a group setting, and discussed among yourselves just what Paul was trying to say, you are doing exactly what the church members did in Paul’s day when they received his letters.
If you think about it in that light, does it not make sense that when the members first read the letter there were differing opinions about just what point Paul was trying to make? I am sure there were some very spirited discussions, along with the perplexed looks when Paul said something which at first glance did not seem to make a lot of sense. When it comes to the “mystery” of the Church, and it’s special relationship with Christ, I believe there was probably quite a lot of discussion considering that Paul spent much of his time teaching and clarifying questions on that subject.
Something that I discovered about this relationship, however, came only after I had spent several years focusing on eschatology and the future of the Church, and studied the writings and commentaries written by Jewish scholars. Why Jewish? Simply because they, like the believers in the early churches Paul wrote to, had an advantage that most of us in the west simply do not, and that is the understanding and familiarity with the steps and procedures of a Jewish wedding. As I began to study and learn more about the complexities surrounding this celebration, I began to understand exactly why Paul chose to explain the relationship between Christ and the Church in this way.
Many of you may already be familiar with what I am talking about, but for those who may not be, I will take a little time today to explain why Paul, inspired by God, uses the picture of a Jewish wedding and the traditions which accompany it to illustrate where we, as the body of Christ, finds ourselves today.
Choosing the Bride.
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. John 15:16 NKJV
Jesus chose those who believe to become His bride, the Church. All who respond to His invitation become members of the body of believers known as the Church and are referred to by Paul as the bride of Christ.
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2 NKJV
Paul here assumes the position of the father of the bride and explains that the Church has been betrothed to Christ, and as the father, he is concerned with how the Church conducts itself while waiting for the wedding.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27 NKJV
Paying the Bride Price.
After choosing the bride, in Jewish culture a price to recompense the family had to be agreed upon. Jesus paid that price by dying for His bride on the cross.
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. John 19:30 NKJV
The phrase “It is finished!” is the Greek word “teleo”, which not only means to bring to a close, but also to pay a tribute or price. As the bride of Christ, the Church was paid for by the blood of Jesus.
Building the Home.
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2 NKJV
After choosing a bride, and agreeing to a price, the future bridegroom goes away to build the house in which he and his bride will live. He cannot return until the home is completed, and his father inspects it and declares it ready for habitation. When complete and given permission, the bridegroom will return for his bride. During this time, the bride is to watch and wait because she has no idea how long it will take or when her bridegroom will return.
The Return for the Bride.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:3 NKJV
“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Matthew 25:6 NKJV
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NKJV
After receiving permission to fetch his bride from his father, the bridegroom comes with a shout and the blowing of a ram’s horn. It usually would occur at midnight, and he would call out for his bride to join him for the ceremony. When Paul tells us in his letter to the Thessalonian church that Jesus will return in the clouds and call for the Church to join Him, it mirrors this tradition perfectly. At some future date, known only by God the Father, Jesus will receive permission to return for His bride, the Church, and He will call out with a shout and a trumpet blast, for us to join Him in the air.
In the time when the bridegroom is away preparing their future home, the bride is busy preparing herself to be, as Paul states, “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing”. I have mentioned often in the past my personal experiences watching my daughters prepare to meet their bridegrooms, and describing the lengthy, arduous process. The question all believers should continually ask themselves is how hard are we preparing to meet our Lord when He returns for us? Are we striving to serve and clothe ourselves in righteousness, or are we more concerned with the world around us and the cares of this life? My prayer is that the Church focuses on being the best bride she can be, especially considering the price the bridegroom paid for her.