I always treasure the moment from my wedding day, when the bride of my life walked towards me holding her father’s arm beautifully adorned in her white wedding gown. At once my heart felt, “She’s going to be mine for the rest of my life. Wow!” What a feeling! I hope all married men could relate to that feeling. There are many metaphors for the church (Gk. Ekklesia = ‘called out’) in the New Testament: body (Rom. 12:4-5), building (Eph. 2:19), family (2 Cor. 6:18) etc. But the most majestic and splendid of them all is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:31-32, Rev. 19:7-8; 21:9, 2 Cor. 11:12).
God’s Covenantal Faithfulness betrayed by the people of God
God’s relationship with his people pictured in the metaphor of marriage is not introduced in the New Testament. The Old Testament echoes this intent of Yahweh to be the bridegroom for the bride Israel in spite of her disloyalty. God’s covenantal relation with Israel is often depicted as that of a husband for his wife. “The Israelites’ monotheistic stance distinguished Judaism from the polytheism of other ancient religions. God’s covenant with Israel is comparable to a monogamous marriage. He provides for her, raises her to a special place of honour and asks her to support his plan.” Prophet Isaiah reminds Israel that her maker is her husband (Isa. 54:5), Jeremiah pictures God’s fond remembrance of Israel as his loving bride (Jer. 2:2-3). Ezekiel resounds God’s grieving as a groom for his bride who played harlotry with the gods of the surrounding nations (Ezek. 16). Hosea demonstrates graphically the love of God for Israel by marrying Gomer, a prostitute. In a nutshell, the Old Testament echoes Yahweh’s pursuit of his bride Israel, because He had chosen her unconditionally, loved her with an everlasting love, and promised restoration even when she failed.
God’s faithfulness in restoring the relationship through Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ, who is the exact representation of God (Heb. 1:4), was born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:5), to restore this disfigured covenantal relationship between God and his people. He perfectly obeyed the Law of God, lived a sinless life, and did what Israel and for that matter, the entire humanity failed to do. He paid the penalty to satisfy the righteous wrath of God as a perfect God-man. He was buried and God vindicated him as the Son of God by raising him from the dead (Rom. 1:4; Phil. 2:8). By shedding his holy blood on the cross (Acts 20:28), Christ has obtained the Church (Eph. 3:6 – the new community of God which comprises of both Jews and gentiles). In the New Testament this prized possession of God, the New Covenant Community of God is called to be the Bride of Christ. Just take a moment to ponder, how wonderful are God’s plans through Jesus Christ our Lord! We who were once aliens – sinful, boastful, ungrateful, idolatrous people are now the treasured possession of God. All we could do is join Apostle Paul in saying, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! … For from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:33-38)
Christ’s Sacrificial Offering of Himself for the Church
Now, because the church is the bride of Christ, Paul writes to the Ephesians, it ought to submit to the headship of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33). When wives willfully submit to the authority of their husbands, they are displaying a grander picture of the church submitting to Christ. The church now lives for the glory of Christ. Christ is her glory. They rightly represent Christ to the world. From Christ’s part, he loved the church and gave himself up for her sacrificially. He had paid the highest possible bride price – his own blood. Peter in his First Epistle writes, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ…” (1 Pet. 1:19-20). and Paul reminds husbands to love their wives sacrificially just the way Christ loved us when we were filthy and unlovable.
The purpose of Christ paying such a high price is that he might sanctify her. Having been betrothed as a bride to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2), awaiting his glorious coming, it is our calling to live a holy life. This purity is attained by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God (Eph. 5:26). Our Lord longs to present the church before the Father, holy and blameless. The question before us is whether we are pursuing sanctification.
The Church’s Anticipation and Submission
Finally, we await the great wedding banquet when the bridegroom, our Lord, comes down to receive his bride, the church and feasts with her (Rev. 19:7, 21:9). What a moment that is going to be! “The joy, the intimacy, the pleasure, the knitting together of soul and mind and heart and body, which we best know in our small corner in a well-ordered marriage, is only an indication of the kind of intimacy and joy we will experience when the church is united with Christ forever.” We eagerly wait for that great consummation when the bride becomes perfect like the Lord Jesus and shares in his glory. She will be presented holy and blameless to the Father.
We are saved from the world into the church (the bride of Christ) by the sacrificial love of our Lord on the cross. The Church is precious because the price paid was inestimable. We, as the “bride of Christ,” ought to submit to the headship of Christ by practising holiness in our marriages and every aspect of our lives. We share this gospel about the bridegroom to others to be saved and be part of the bride and to be a part of the wedding banquet. We serve faithfully in the church just like Christ sacrificially served for her wellbeing. We look forward to his coming and join with the church in saying Maranatha – Come, Lord, Come! And when the bridegroom comes, like Anne Ross says,
“The bride eyes not her garment
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my king of grace,
Not at the crown he giveth
But on his pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel’s land.”
Isaac Neelam serves as the pastor of Trinity Bible Church, Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh. He is married to Chrisma and they have a son.