The Bride of Christ
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
As we plow through mountains of correspondence here at the Berean Bible Society, there is often a recurring theme. Of late, many have been inquiring as to whether or not the Body of Christ is the Bride of Christ. We have always taken this to be the leading of the Holy Spirit since these letters come from different parts of the country, indeed, the world. If the ministry has taught us one thing, it is this: Birds of a feather flock together! In other words, if one has a question of this sort others are normally standing in the shadows pondering the same thing.
Although the Bride of Christ falls under the classification of a “secondary issue” the very nature of the subject has a profound effect on how certain passages are interpreted. Through the years, Pastor Stam and I have been in about 85 percent agreement when it comes to rightly dividing the Word of truth. However, one area that we have never seen eye to eye on is the issue under consideration. Brother Stam believes that the Body of Christ is numbered with the company of believers commonly known as the Bride of Christ. We have had a number of spirited discussions on the matter, all of which ended in the old “Mexican standoff.” There were times as we left the room together, he would chuckle and exclaim, “Paul, some day you will see the light!”
Mindful of whom I was discussing these eternal issues with, I have weighed the evidence very carefully under the microscope of Paul’s gospel. After bringing everything into focus, I am more convinced than ever that the Body of Christ is not the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. To me it seems terribly inconsistent to make distinction after distinction between Israel and the Church and then turn around and say that they are one in the same, that is, the Bride of Christ. Of course, some teach that the “Body” is the Bride, not Israel, but this is simply not supported by the facts. One thing is clear in this discussion: the opinions of men are inconsequential in view of the eternal question, “What saith the Scriptures?”
WORDS AND PHRASES
In our quest to rightly divide the Word of truth certain “words” and “phrases” are identified with the Prophetic program while others are associated with the Mystery. Interestingly, the “Bride of Christ” is an unscriptural phrase that is foreign to both programs of God. It is merely a theological expression that originated in the futile mind of man to describe those who will be present at the marriage of the Lambpreceding the kingdom (Rev. 19:7-9). The exact phrase used in prophecy is only found in the Apocalypse where one of the seven angels said to John: “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev. 21:9).
The terms “bride,” “Lamb,” and “wife” (in relation to the marriage of the Lamb) are woven throughout the pages of prophecy. For example: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom” (John 3:29 cf. Jer. 2:32). “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 cf. Isa. 53:7). “…for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7 cf. Isa. 54:4-7).
One will search in vain to find any of this terminology in St. Paul’s epistles. In fact, Paul frequently makes reference to Christ as Savior, Lord and Head, but he never speaks of Him as the Lamb of God and for good reason. In prophecy, God had graciously imparted the sacrificial system which foreshadowed the once-for-all sacrifice. Thus, Christ was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God who satisfied the righteous demands of the law. He was consistently portrayed as the innocent victim—a lamb being led to the slaughter (Lev. 4:32-35; Isa. 53:3-8). With the introduction of a new dispensation, Christ is portrayed in a completely different light by the Apostle Paul. Today, He is the Lord of glory, the mighty victor who has conquered sin through His death and resurrection (I Cor. 2:8; 15:20-23).
THE BRIDE IN PROPHECY
Who is the Bride of the Lamb? Thankfully, we do not have to rely upon our own human reasoning for an answer to this perplexing question. The Scriptures are explicitly clear that the “Bride” is Israel. When John the Baptist was asked why all men sought the Master and his ministry was fading in glory, he responded: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29,30).
Working in reverse order, clearly the “friend of the bridegroom” is John the Baptist. John says that it was cause for rejoicing upon hearing the voice of the bridegroom. “…this my [John the Baptist’s] joy therefore is fulfilled.” The “bridegroom” is none other than Christ Himself. In the previous verse John stated that he was “…not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him” (vs. 28). He then confirms this by applying the illustration of the bridegroom. John was merely the forerunner to prepare the way for the Messiah. Hence, “He [Christ] must increase, but I [John] must decrease” (vs. 30).
Bearing in mind that the gospel according to John is a record of the earthly ministry of Christ, the “bride” is obviously Israel. John the Baptist plainly declares in this record: “And I knew Him not: but that He should be made manifest to ISRAEL, therefore am I come baptizing with water” (John 1:31). Did not our Lord instruct His disciples to “Go not into the way of the Gentiles….But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of ISRAEL”? (Matt. 10:5,6). Did not our Lord say concerning Himself at that time: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of ISRAEL”? (Matt. 15:24).
Moving farther along in the gospel according to Matthew, we have the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). Here we learn that only believing Israel will participate in the actual marriage of the Lamb. You will recall that there were five wise virgins and five foolish. When the bridegroom delayed his coming the lamps of the unwise virgins ran out of oil as they slumbered. Therefore, the five foolish virgins, representative of the unsaved, were unprepared when the midnight cry came “Behold, the bridegroom cometh!” While they went to purchase oil, the Bridegroom came “…and they [five saved virgins] that were ready went in with him to the marriage” (vs. 10). In addition, this portion teaches us that the marriage will take place when our Lord returns in His glory at the close of the Great Tribulation (vs. 13).
The above is confirmed by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation.
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Rev. 19:7,8).
Here in the context of the Second Coming of Christ, believing Israel is said to make herself ready. This is in keeping with the Prophetic program insofar as the kingdom saints did not have the assurance of their salvation. Consequently, they were instructed to overcome, seek and ye shall find, endure to the end, etc. (Matt. 6:33; 24:13; I John 4,5). Surely, this cannot be said of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are not only eternally secure, we have the assurance of it. As members of His Body we are accepted in the Beloved and therefore complete in Him (Eph. 1:6; Col. 2:10).
It should also be noted that John refers to Israel as the “wife” of the Lamb. Of course, this excludes the Body of Christ as participants in this ceremony inasmuch as Paul always addresses us in the masculinegender. Christ is our Head, not our groom. But in what sense is Israel the “wife” of the Lamb if she is to be united to the Messiah in the holy bonds of matrimony? The answer lies in the law of the betrothal(Deut. 22:23-25).
In days of old, when a man and woman came together before a rabbi, they were betrothed to one another. Similar to our present day engagement, the betrothal was a binding agreement wherein the parties were actually classified husband and wife. Upon completion of the ceremony, the couple returned to their respective homes for one year. This period was to give the husband an opportunity to prepare a home for his bride-to-be. It was also to ensure that the woman had been faithful, and was not with child. Of course, it was during this time that Mary was found with child before she and Joseph had come together in the intimacy of the marriage relationship (Matt. 1:18-25).
In this regard, Christ has returned to heaven to prepare a place for His bride in the kingdom. Since this aspect of the kingdom of heaven is brought to the earth, it will be like heaven on earth. As the tribulation period runs its course, Israel will be observed to determine who among them have been faithful to the commands of Christ contained in the kingdom gospel (John 14:1-3 cf. Luke 19:11-27).
It is imperative that we glean from all of these principal passages that the marriage of the Lamb will occur on the earth when Christ returns to set up His kingdom. Following the wedding, the Apostle John was instructed to write:
“Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).
These guests are undoubtedly the kingdom Gentiles who will be invited to enjoy the blessings of the coming Golden Age (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 14:15-24).
THE BRIDE AND PAUL’S EPISTLES
It is essential that the reader keep in mind that the Church, the Body of Christ was hid in God from ages and generations past. Thus with the advent of the administration of Grace a number of new metaphors are applied to the Church, such as: Body, stewards, ambassadors, etc. Some seem to think that Paul does, indeed, speak of us as the Bride of Christ in Ephesians 5. But they have failed to distinguish between Paul’s usage of a metaphor and a simile. A well-respected theologian from the turn of the century writes:
“The confounding of the Church as the Bride in Ephesians 5, has resulted from not seeing the Figure of Speech used throughout the passage is that of Simile, and not Metaphor: `Metaphor’ places one thing for another. It is representation. `Simile’ is but resemblance. We must therefore not say when comparing one thing with another that that one thing is another. Observe the continued comparison between Christ and the Church of His Body, and the conduct of wives and husbands. Note the presence of simile in every instance, and the absence of metaphor.”
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, AS UNTO THE LORD” (vs. 22).
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even AS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH” (vs. 23).
“Husbands, love your wives even AS CHRIST ALSO LOVED THE CHURCH, and gave Himself for it” (vs. 25).
“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even AS THE LORD THE CHURCH” (vs. 29).
So then, the apostle by using a simile instead of a metaphor is desiring to show the resemblance between the marriage relationship and Christ and His Church. Paul points to the love relationship to demonstrate that “as Christ loved the Church,” husbands should love their wives. In like manner, wives are to emulate the Church by submitting to their own husbands. Nowhere in the portion under consideration does the apostle use the metaphor of a bride. In fact, just the opposite is true: “…and He is the Savior of the BODY” (vs. 23). “For we are members of His BODY, of His flesh, and of His bones” (vs. 30).
“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you AS A CHASTE VIRGIN TO CHRIST” (II Cor. 11:2).
Insofar as the Corinthians had a propensity to live carelessly, the apostle again uses the marriage relationship to show the importance of living a godly life in Christ Jesus. Marriages are built on trust, fidelity, purity of heart and life. Paul was challenging the Corinthians to be faithful to the one who called them into His grace. We should add that since the apostle uses the pronoun “you” in this context it would seem to indicate that he was merely addressing this local assembly of believers, and not the whole Body of Christ. Paul had founded this assembly and naturally had a godly jealously over them as their spiritual father. Of course, we would do well to heed the apostle’s admonition lest we too follow in the footsteps of the Corinthians.
It is our firm conviction that the Body of Christ is not the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. We believe to teach otherwise is to bring a kingdom truth into the Body of Christ where it is not only unnatural, but a forced interpretation. May God in His grace give us a Berean spirit to study to see if these things are so. AMEN!