The Church as the Bride of Christ
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The Church of God is the family of God—made up of Christians who are the children of God the Father and "brothers" of Jesus Christ (1 John 3:1-2; Hebrews 2:11-12, NIV). The Father desires that all people ultimately become His children, and parent-child and sibling relationships on the human level were intended to portray this greater spiritual reality.
But there is another family relationship that also pictures a greater spiritual reality—that of marriage. Human marriage between a husband and wife was intended to portray the marriage of Jesus Christ to the Church. Individually, Christians are Christ's brethren. But collectively they constitute His Bride, now betrothed or engaged to Him and later to join Him in a divine marriage relationship for all eternity.
Human marriage was instituted with the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, then He opened the flesh in the man's side and took from him a rib, from which He made Eve to be a wife—a partner suitable for and complementing the man. When God presented her to him, Adam said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23). In essence, Eve was part of Adam—of his very body.
God said, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). In one sense this refers to an actual physical joining in sexual union. It is immediately noted that they were both naked without shame (Genesis 2:25). But it also figuratively refers to a joining of lives in profound oneness. Jesus said, "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh" (Matthew 19:6).
Numerous verses refer to the Church of God as the Body of Christ, the individuals making it up being likened to the various parts of a body (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:12; Colossians 1:24). And Jesus is the "head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18). This is why the husband is the head of the wife in earthly marriage.
The apostle Paul explains this physical relationship and divine spiritual relationship in Ephesians 5:22-33: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
"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. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
"For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. '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. 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."
Clearly, human marriage is intended to represent the ultimate marriage relationship. The joining as one flesh on the physical level has a spiritual parallel in the special and intimate relationship Christ shares with His people. As Paul further explained, "He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Corinthians 6:17).
Yet, as mentioned, those in the Church have not yet entered into the fullness of the marriage relationship with Christ. They are currently betrothed to Him, with the responsibility of remaining spiritually pure. Paul told some of those he had helped to convert, "For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2).
And when Jesus Christ at last returns, it will be declared: "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" (Revelation 19:7).
The New Covenant, the covenant to which followers of Jesus Christ pledge themselves, is in fact a marriage covenant. This New Covenant had been promised to ancient Israel long before Christ came in the flesh (Jeremiah 31). It was necessitated by the fact that the nation had violated the terms of the Old Covenant, which God had entered into with Israel at Mount Sinai—"My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 31:32). So the Old Covenant was likewise a marriage covenant.
Israel was thus God's Bride, and it is important to understand that the One the Israelites knew as God in the Old Testament period was the One who was later born as Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:4 and our free booklets Who Is God? and Jesus Christ: The Real Story). The Bride of Christ was therefore Israel, but the nation broke her marriage vows—even worshipping other gods, which God looked on as spiritual adultery and harlotry (Leviticus 17:7; Jeremiah 3:1-6).
The Old Covenant terminated with Jesus Christ's death. Resurrected, though, Christ still intends to marry Israel but under a New Covenant—a new marriage agreement. This covenant is for all people, but all must become Israelites spiritually through Christ. The Church is spiritual Israel—the forerunner in the New Covenant relationship. (For more on this, see our free book The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?)
God also spoke in the Old Testament of being married to the city of Jerusalem, which was representative of all Israel (Ezekiel 16). Likewise, the future New Jerusalem is referred to as "the bride, the Lamb's wife" (Revelation 21:9-10). This is because it will be made up of all who are faithful to God—being the eternal dwelling of God and His people. Consider that the Church itself is called "a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22)—as the Father and Christ live within its members through the Holy Spirit.
May we all remain faithful today, looking forward with anticipation to a joyful eternity of perfect union with Jesus Christ in the family of God!