What Is Church? – Part 4 ***Revised***

***Revised Edition***

31st May 2015

Firstly, let me apologise to anyone who read this particular post and to anyone who was at the Bible Study in which I first taught this subject.

Why am I apologising? Because I have reason to believe that it is incorrect for us (the church) to assume we are the Bride of Christ. In fact, I can find no biblical evidence to support that notion. All of the evidence we allude to in scripture points to the nation of Israel as being the bride, and NOT the church. Here’s why:

I always go to scripture. That is the standard. It doesn’t matter to me what any of these ‘Californian-types’ write in a book. Scripture is all. On this occasion however, I didn’t do my homework properly. I allowed myself to be caught up in a teaching that has no real scriptural foundation. I fear God and believe His word. And, as a (albeit reluctant) teacher I have a real responsibility for both what I teach and to whom I teach it. See James 3:1.

This week I was drawn to something on Facebook which made me start researching the topic of the Bride of the Messiah. In my research I found myself first startled by what I read and then absolutely convicted by the Holy Spirit as to the veracity of it. So, I did what I always do…refer to the manual.

To my surprise I found that the word ‘bride’ only appears in the New Testament five times (according to the Strong’s Concordance). On each of these five occasions (for the record) the word we translate as ‘bride’ is ‘nymphe‘ [Strong’s #3565]. Now I understand that under 1st century Jewish culture at the moment of betrothal, the girl becomes the bride and her suitor, the bridegroom. Not at the moment of actual marriage but at engagement. Here’s what James Strong had to say about the word ‘nymphe‘:

“…from a primary but obsolete verb. nypto (to veil as a bride)”

Now, please keep this thought in mind. To veil as a bride.

The five references that Strong’s lists for the Bride in the New Testament are:

John 3:29 – In which John speaks of Jesus as the Bridegroom who already has the Bride. At this point the gospel had not been preached to the Gentiles (us, the church).

Revelation 18:23 – The fall of Babylon and how the voice of the Bridegroom and Bride will no longer be heard there.

Revelation 21:2 – The New Jerusalem coming down from heaven ‘from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’

Revelation 21:9 – Again talking of the New Jerusalem as the Bride; the Lamb’s wife.

Revelation 22:17 – The Bride inviting those still outside the city to come and drink the water of life.

So, that’s what scripture has to say. Nothing directly about the church as being the bride. Nothing.

What do we know for certain about the church? Well, on that subject in the previous Bible Study I believe I have scripture to back up what I taught. (What Is Church – Part 3)

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describes the church as the BODY of Christ (1:20-23) and that this body is a dwelling place for God with Christ as the chief cornerstone or foundation (2:20-22). And that Christ Himself is our head and that we are knitted together with flesh as His body (4:11-16). You will find similar references throughout the New Testament epistles, all pointing to the same fact – that we are ‘in’ Christ; that He is our ‘head’ and that we are His ‘body’.

Now, if we are ‘in’ Christ surely that makes us a part of the Bridegroom, not the Bride? We are ‘in’ Christ (always the past tense, and never in the future tense). We are in Christ because we are Christ. We are one with Him. And that makes us the Bridegroom and never the bride. How could we marry ourselves?

The Bride is Israel. Always has been. Always will be. God has been betrothed to Israel from day one. But Israel rejected the Bridegroom by failing to recognise Him. But one day she will have her eyes open and her veil removed.

Please forgive me for incorrect teaching. I am deeply sorry for propagating what I now believe to be false teaching.

Please seek the Holy Spirit and ask Him to confirm this to you. Go back and read Hosea and do you own research on Israel’s rocky on-off engagement to God. Israel was His first love. And always will be. It is only because of His great mercy that He invited us in. His great mercy. Nothing we did. Sometimes we speak of us being the bride as if we deserve the role…I think that is wrong. And if anyone is going to quote Ephesians 5:22-25 as ‘proof’ that we are the Bride then please research the Greek first. That is about authority, not betrothal.

Be Blessed today. Be joyful, for we are the Bridegroom, part of His body at least. The Bride remains veiled…that is to say she knows not her Bridegroom…one day she will.

I have left the original text below so you can make your own mind up.

The Bride

Over the last few weeks we have looked what ‘church’ really means. We have discovered that whilst it isn’t a physical building, it is being built by Christ Himself and that it belongs to Him. Last week we started to look at one particular aspect of church, which was The Body. Here we discovered that in the invisible realm around us, we are part of a much bigger entity, even if we don’t see it ourselves. We found that we have the authority and power to use words to build each other up and that the prophecy of Ezekiel 37 may well have some relevance for today’s church.

This week we are going to look at another aspect of church, that is The Bride of Christ. It would be foolish of me to think we could ever do this particular subject any justice in a single Bible study, so I am not going to try to. Instead I felt I should whet your appetite by given you some background to the concept itself before looking more closely at a couple of Jesus’ parables in the light of what we have learnt. My prayer is that this study will promote people to seek the Holy Spirit for revelation on the Bride and what role they play themselves. Always seek the Holy Spirit for guidance. Never take my word for it.

Ordinarily I would offer up definitions of any relevant words but when it comes to the subject of the Bride of Christ the entire Bible offers insights into God’s ultimate plan for His people right from Genesis to Revelation. Even when God had seen that it wasn’t good for man to be alone we see a synonym for what is to come – God put Adam to sleep and removed a rib from him in order to make Eve, who were then reunited ‘as one flesh’ in marriage. Or, in other words, Christ died and we partake in His broken body when we take communion and we will be reunited with Him as His Bride when He returns. From the get-go God has been showing us what is to come. And as you work through the Bible and look at early Jewish history we seem the theme repeated over and over with Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and so on. Take another look. See the true heart of God towards His church of today in the affection He shows for the brides of His patriarchs.

So, when we talk of the Bride of Christ what do we actually mean?

To get the right perspective I think it is always useful to get the context of the time. What follows is a description of what a 1st century Jewish engagement and marriage would have looked like. I found this on a website devoted to such fascinating subjects. Below is my paraphrase but the original text can be found here.

The first event in any 1st century Jewish marriage would have been the prospective bridegroom visiting the father of the prospective bride. He would declare his desire for the father’s daughter, and ask for her hand in marriage. If the father agreed to the match then negotiations would commence to reach a price for the bride. If the father and the bridegroom reached agreement on a price then the bridegroom would pay. At this point the marriage was certain to take place and the bride was now the bridegroom’s. This ‘bride-price’ is engrained into Mosaic Law:

“If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.” [Exodus 22:16-17 NKJV]

Presumably bride-prices fluctuated according to family status etc but God was laying a foundation for a deeper spiritual meaning that was to come when Jesus paid the bride-price with His death on the cross. The apostle Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth states:

“For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” [1 Corinthians 6:20 NKJV]

The greater the desire the bridegroom had for his potential bride the greater the price he would be willing to pay. Christ paid the ultimate price for His bride.

Once the bridegroom had paid the bride-price, the marriage covenant would have been established and from that point the couple would have been regarded as future husband and wife. From that moment onwards the bride to be was set apart exclusively for her future husband. During this period of time she would be observed for her purity. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul explains the purpose on this period of time and how it applies to the church:

“…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]

It is also worth reading the book of Esther which can be seen as a synonym for the bride. Especially the preparations made to Esther before she could even meet with the King. Read it carefully. It is fascinating.

Back to the 1st century wedding culture…This time is when the bride to be is then trained and prepared for her role as the wife. When the actual wedding day arrives she will be presented to her groom as a pure virgin. Paul clearly adopts this role as trainer and teacher in his dealings with the church at Corinth. Read 2 Corinthians 11:2. You will see that his role is similar to the role of the bride’s father. Today that should be the role os pastors and teachers – preparing the church in the same way.

One thing that is very striking is that when the marriage covenant is agreed upon it is sealed with both bride and groom drinking from the same cup of wine. Think about the way Jesus spoke of the blood of the covenant at the last supper. In this context it becomes highly significant.

Once the marriage covenant was sealed and agreed upon the groom would leave his bride at her father’s home and return to his own father’s house. He and his bride would now remain separated until he calls for her on the night of the wedding itself. This was to allow the groom to prepare a dwelling place for the two of them in his father’s house. In the gospel of John, Jesus alludes to this when He talks of His Father’s house having many mansions and that He had to go know to prepare them for the church. See John chapter 14.

When the period of separation was over the bridegroom would come for his bride, usually at night, to take his bride to live with him. The groom’s entourage would leave his father’s house with torches and come in procession to the home of the bride. And although the bride would be expecting the groom to come at some point she would have no clear idea to the actual time or day. Because of this the groom’s arrival was often proceeded with shouts from her neighbours. They would see the torch lit procession and shout out: ‘Behold the bridegroom comes.’ Sound familiar? It’s all there in scripture. See Matthew 25.

Once the bridegroom received his bride along with her own entourage, they would be escorted by the enlarged wedding party to the home of the bridegroom’s father and to the bridal chamber. The bride would remained veiled prior to entering the chamber so that no one could see her face. The bride and her groom would enter the chamber along and consummate their marriage. This will the first time they have been alone and the first time they would have seen each other since the marriage covenant approximately a year previously. What followed would be announcements of the consummation to all of the guests. The couple would then leave the banquet hall and the wedding feast to begin their new life together in the place that the bridegroom had prepared for them.

This insight affords us the chance to understand exactly what the church should be doing while awaiting the return of the King. We should be getting ready and remaining ready for His return. We should be purifying ourselves. We should be leading ‘set apart’ lives. We should be in the world but not a part of it. Too often we see modern churches desperate to reach more people becoming more and more worldly, when we see be becoming less and less worldly and more and more holy and pure.

The fact is that Christ will only return when His bride is ready. Not before. This can only mean the church as a collective and not just a few individuals. Since Christ ascended the task of the church has been to ready herself for His return. What is needed is a new breed of pastors and teachers ready to lead the way. We need crystal clear integrity in every part of church life. We need to leave behind the dark deeds of sin. We need to stop trying to be relevant to the world. We need to be ready to be taught, ready to change and ready for Christ. We cannot achieve this without first uniting the church. We need to be of one accord.

How do we do that?

Simple really. Much more simple than you would ever believe (we like to make things complicated). We need to seek the kingdom of God first – in every single aspect of our lives. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to show us what we need to shake off. We need to start thinking like a bride readying herself for her future husband. When we start to seek the kingdom of God first then everything else just falls into place.

I was intending to finish this off with a breakdown of two well known parables (The Great Banquet & The Ten Virgins) to illustrate the point of what the church must be prepared for. But I think it will be best to do a separate study on this two parables. Instead I will leave you with a single and beautiful verse:

“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. 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.” [Revelation 19:7-8 NKJV]

The great thing is that this will happen. It can’t be stopped. But we can allow it to be delayed by our own procrastination.

Be blessed.

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