Is Christ wedding to the church past or future?
On the surface this might seem like an easy question to answer, but it is not. Fortunately, this topic is not a salvation issue, but it is an interesting one. In this article, I will show that Jesus is betrothed to the church right now, but the final stage of marriage will not take place until He comes back at His second coming. It is important to understand the marriage process used in the Bible is based on Jewish marriage. So, letís examine this process.
Marriage is a beautiful bond between one man and one woman. This has been Godís universal law from the beginning of time (Mat. 19:4-6). There are two different types of marriages. There are arranged marriages made by the parents and there are marriages by choice. Arranged marriages were common in the Old Testament and marriage was usually limited to their own people. A great example of this is when Abraham finds a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24). He sends his servant to find a woman from his own family. He follows Abraham instructions and finds a woman named Rebekah.† He then discusses this prearranged marriage with Rebekahís brother and mother, and they agree with the plan. Next, the custom was to give gifts to family (Gen. 24:53), which was also known as the brideís price (Exodus 22:16-17). This could include money, clothing, or providing service as Jacob did for his two wives (Gen. 29:18-30). Saul asked for 100 foreskins from the Philistines for his bride price (1 Sam. 18:25). In Rebekahís case, her family made sure this arrangement was acceptable her as well (Gen 24:57-58).
Marriages made by choice were less common in the Old Testament, but more common in the New Testament time. Esau chose his own wife, which was not of their clan, and this grieved his parents (Gen. 26:34-35; 27:46). Jacob also chose his own wife, but he did so within their clan. He wanted to marry Rachel and had to work seven years for her, but he was fooled and ended up with the older sister Leah. It was the custom for the older sister to marry first. So, he had to work another seven years for Rachel, however he was allowed to take her as a wife one week after his marriage to Leah (Gen. 29:27).Sometimes the fatherís bride would also give his daughter a gift. For instance, Caleb gave his daughter some land (Jos. 15:15-19).
Once the bride price was paid, the man and the woman were considered to be betrothed, which was just a binding as being married. Betrothal typical lasted ten months to a year and three months for a widow. The only way out of betrothal was by death or adultery. In most cases, if a bridegroom decided to break the contract, he had to sign papers of divorce before the woman could be betrothed again (ISBE). When Joseph was betrothed to Mary, he was going to put her away until he found out that her pregnancy was from God (Mat. 1:18ff). In verse 19 we learn that Joseph was considered to be her husband even though they were just betrothed.
During the betrothal period the groom would prepare his home and make things ready for the marriage feast (Mat. 22:2; Jn. 2:9) while the woman and her family would prepare the wedding garments and other various tasks. A girl could marry at the age of twelve years and one day, but the boy had to be thirteen. Unlike today, the groom was the main focus.
When it came time for the wedding, the couple usually dressed up as if they were a king and queen (Psalm 45:13-15; Jer. 2:32; Isa. 49:18; Isa. 61:10). Both of them would be accompanied with their friends. The paperwork would be signed by the parents and the bride would be presented to the groom. That evening, the brideís virgin friends would escort her to the groomís house. As the groom made his way to the house, the virgin friends would run out and escort him to his home where the marriage would be consummated. This is illustrated by the parable of the ten virgins (Mat. 25:1ff). The brides parents would take their bed sheet as proof of her virginity (Deut. 22:13-21). After the consummation, many times the marriage feast would continue for an entire week (Judges 14:12; Gen. 29:27).
Now that we have some background information on Jewish marriage, the will help to understand how the Bible uses marriage as a symbol to describe Jesus and the church. First, let take a look at two parables that use marriage to teach us about Jesus kingdom.
Matthew 22:1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said:† 2 "The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son,† 3 "and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.† 4 "Again, he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding." '† 5 "But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.† 6 "And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.† 7 "But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
In this parable the King represents God and the son
represents Jesus. The servants that he sent out represent the prophets like
John the Baptist and the apostles. They went out to invite the Jews, but time
and time again, they rejected Jesus as the Messiah.† They would make excuses and sometimes kill
these servants. This is why Jesus rebukes the Jews with vigor in Mat 23.
Because of the Jews rebellious nature, God sent the Roman armies to destroy
Matthew 22:8 "Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.† 9 'Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.'† 10 "So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Now that the Jews have rejected the invitation to wedding,
the Gentiles would be invited. At the birth of the church (Acts 2), only the
Jews were given the good news. But, in Acts 10, God reveals to Peter that the
invitation is to go out to the Gentiles as well. Most of the Jews rejected this
invitation, but most of the Gentiles accepted it. I am reminded of what Jesus
said to the Jews, ďAssuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots
Matthew 22:11 "But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.† 12 "So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless.† 13 "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'† 14 "For many are called, but few are chosen."
Here Jesus is referring to the judgment day. This one person
who is not clothed with wedding garments represents every person who has not
been clothed with Jesus by being baptized (Gal. 3:27;
This parable also shows the wedding will not take place until the Day of Judgment. This means the church is not married to Jesus right now, but only betrothed. Just as we saw in the Jewish custom of marriage, the church is the bride of Christ right now, but the marriage has not been consummated and the feast has not begun. Now letís look at out next parable.
Matthew 25:1 "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.† 2 "Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.† 3 "Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,† 4 "but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.† 5 "But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
This parable is based on the
Matthew 25:6 "And at midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!'† 7 "Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.† 8 "And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'† 9 "But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.'† 10 "And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.† 11 "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!'† 12 "But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.'† 13 "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
This cry at midnight shows that Jesus will return at an unexpected hour and that is why we must always be ready. Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. Now, the five wise virgins were not being stingy. Instead, this shows us that we are responsible for our own faithfulness to the Lord and we cannot make it into heaven by the faithfulness of others (Gal. 6:5; Rom. 14:12; 2Cor. 5:10; Ph. 2:12). Verse 10 shows us the wedding will take place when Jesus comes back to receive His church and this will take place in heaven. Notice the unwise virgins would not be allowed into where the marriage was taken place because the door was sealed shut. The main point of this parable is found in verse 13.
Both of these parables show us that Jesus is not married to the church right now because He is only betrothed to it. But, when He comes again, the wedding will take place in heaven and the wedding feast will be enjoyed by all who are faithful servants of God.
Let take a look at when Christ was betrothed to the church. First, we know that He paid the brides price with His own blood at the cross (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20). In Jewish marriage, the parents would make the arrangement with bridegroom and the deal would be made. Even though Jesus had paid the brides price at the cross, it wasnít until the day of Pentecost that the discussion of betrothal to Christ began. In other words, the people had to hear the terms for becoming part of the church or we could say becoming part of the bride of Christ. Every Christian who has obeyed the Gospel has become betrothed to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:2 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.
Please remember that betrothal means the church is the bride and the Jesus is the husband. The only difference between betrothal and marriage is that we are not living with Christ and the marriage has not been consummated in the sense that we are not in a face-to-face relationship. During this betrothal process, Jesus is preparing our new home in heaven.
John 14:1 "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.† 2 "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.† 3 "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.
When our new home and everything that goes with it is prepared, then Jesus will come back and take us where He where we will be forever (1 Thes. 4:17). This makes it easy to see that right now the church is betrothed to Jesus because we are not with Him. Even though the church is His bride, the marriage will not be finally until we are living with Christ in heaven.
Now that you have a better understanding of betrothal and marriage, letís take a look at some verses some use to say that Jesus is already married to the church.
Romans 7:2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.† 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.† 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another -- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. †
This is great
section of scripture that shows how we are no longer under the Law of Moses. Paul
uses marriage to make his point. He saying that Old Law is like a husband who
has died and we are no longer bound to that husband or Law. This happened
because Jesus nailed the requirements of that Law to the cross, putting it to
ESV Romans 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
ASV Romans 7:4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God.
NAU Romans 7:4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
These versions capture the meaning of this Greek word better because when we become Christians we belong to Christ, just as betrothed wife belongs to her husband. So, this verse doesnít teach that we are married to Christ. Now letís look at our next text.
Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.† 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.† 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,† 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,† 27 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.† 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.† 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.† 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.† 31 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."† 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.† 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Those who say that Jesus is married to the church right now will point out that this text is talking about how a husband and wife, who are married, should treat each other just like Jesus treats His church. Since this husband and wife are married, then this means that Jesus and the church are married. I think this is making a big assumption because nowhere in the text does it say that Jesus is married to the church. Again, when you understand betrothal as we have already examined, it should be easy for us to see that these verses are still talking about how Jesus is betrothed to the church. Notice, verse 26 points out that Jesus has made it possible for us to be cleaned by the washing of word, which is referring to person who has obeyed the Gospel and has had their sins washed away in the watery grave of baptism. He did this for us, so we can become pure. We must remain pure by being faithful to God while we wait for His return. When Jesus returns, He will present the church to Himself. This means the church is not with Him right now, but it will be when He returns. This fits perfectly with everything we have looked at so far.
Now the last verse
some try to use comes from the book of Revelation. Now, we can learn a great
deal from this book, but there are many things that can be confusing because it
contains a lot of symbolic language. Therefore, I never build a doctrine based
solely on this book. It also important that we donít make this book contradict
what the rest of Bible says about any given topic. Some believe that everything
in this book has already taken place and that it primary focus is the
Revelation 21:4 "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
If this has already
happened, then I must have the wrong definition of what sorrow, pain death, and
crying are. There are also others that believe that most of this book has taken place and that the main focus is
the fall of
Revelation 19:7 "Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready."† 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.† 9 Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!' " And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God."
Those who claim that all of Revelation has been fulfilled would say, this shows that Jesus is now married to the church. If we say their view is correct, then we have to make this verse contradict all the other verses that we looked at earlier that shows the marriage taking place at Jesus second coming. So, based on the rest Bible, I have to conclude that this is referring to Jesus second coming because that is when He will marry the church. Notice, the church has made herself ready for the wedding by being arrayed in clean and bright fine linen. This is accomplished by the righteous acts of the saints. This is the way that we must prepare ourselves as we wait for Jesus return.
Notice, those that are called to marriage supper are blessed. This is talking about the marriage feast that happens after the consummation of a marriage. We have already seen that this take place in heaven. This is this same meal that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be sitting at (Mat. 8:11). These verses also sound a lot like the parable that we looked at in Mat. 22.
In conclusion, I have done my best to show that the church is betrothed to Jesus right now and He will not be married to the church until He comes again and takes the church with Him into heaven. However, itís important that we understand the Bible uses this idea of marriage symbolically as it relates to Jesus and the church. This is the same method that Jesus used in His parables. He would use something the 1st century people could understand to teach them and us about spiritual matters. So, we can only push the symbolism of marriage so far because there will not be a literal wedding or wedding feast in heaven. The marriage between Jesus and the church is not going to be literally consummated as it is between a man and a woman here on the earth. So, this betrothal and marriage idea is just letting us know from a human perspective that Jesus loves us as husband loves his wife and that when He comes again, if we have remained faithful, we will be taken to heaven where will be with Him for eternity.