Who Is the Bride of Christ?
The atmosphere is full of joyful anticipation. Families and friends are dressed in festive clothing. The room is decorated with meaningful beauty. People smile while tears fill their eyes. Why do weddings fill our hearts with such emotion? Perhaps experiencing the union of bride and bridegroom is reminding our hearts of something for which we were made, toward which we are headed?
The Bible is full of allusions to God’s people being his bride. In the Old Testament, the prophets often portray God’s people as a beloved bride who is also often an adulterous wife. God is seen as a faithful husband who pursues and wins back his bride time and time again, whose steadfast love is strong and lasting.
For example, the book of Hosea portrays the prophet Hosea as being directed by God to remain faithful to a wife who was repeatedly unfaithful to him. This gives us a picture of what God is like in the face of our own idolatry (see Hosea 3).
Jeremiah also contains imagery of God’s people as a formerly loving bride who has now become a prostitute, chasing after other men who use and abuse her (see Jeremiah 2). Ezekiel portrays the tender and generous love of God for his people, which is then thrown in his face as he watches her not even accept payment for her prostitution, but instead bribe other men, paying them to let her be with them (Ezekiel 16). After showing the unfaithfulness of the people in dozens of chapters, Isaiah ends with a beautiful reaffirmation of God’s faithful and enduring love for His people:
“It will no longer be said to you, ‘Forsaken,’ nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; but you will be called, “My delight is in her,” and your land, “Married”; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:4-5).
What Does It Mean That Jesus Is the Bridegroom?
Instead of giving up on his adulterous people, God himself came near as Immanuel who dwelt among us. In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls himself a friend of Jesus, who is the bridegroom, saying: “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29).
Jesus also calls himself the bridegroom when he was criticized for not enforcing the level of fasting that the Pharisees practiced among his own disciples, saying: “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15).
What Does It Mean That the Church Is the Bride of Christ?
Metaphorical language can be mysterious. It is a beautiful idea that the church is the bride of Christ, but what does this really mean? Paul explains the mystery after giving instructions to Christians husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:25-32:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their 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 Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
What Are Characteristics of the Bride of Christ?
Based on this passage, we see two main characteristics of the Church as the Bride of Christ: she is beloved and beautiful.
1. The Church Is Beloved by God
Just like a bridegroom loves his bride, God adores his Church. He hasn’t merely professed his love in words, but also showed it through sacrificial actions: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Sally Lloyd-Jones explains that the Bible is “a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves.”
All the great love stories of the world echo this greatest of love stories. And just like a good husband acts, God’s actions towards the Church are always full of love. He nourishes and cherishes her in everything. She is not left alone (Matthew 28:20). He has her back (Isaiah 58:8). He provides for (Philippians 4:19) and protects her in all things (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
2. The Church Is Radiantly Beautiful
Just like a glowing bride dressed in a white gown on her wedding day, the Church is portrayed in the Bible as washed and splendidly pure because of the work of Christ. Though the Church is made up of sinful people, redemption is a powerful restorative force that also looks forward to glory when everything wrong will be made right–when God sees his Church, he sees her made whole and holy, gloriously and graciously freed from the stains of sin and shining in the light of his love.
And just as He demonstrated in the Old Testament through the prophets who portrayed God’s people as a straying wife with an ever-faithful husband, we can rejoice that God delights to cleanse his bride in an ongoing way when she stumbles: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Still Awaiting “Happily Ever After”
As with so many aspects of the Christian life, there is an “already, but not yet” element to the Church’s identity as the Bride of Christ. This is the heavenly reality, but the wedding supper celebrating the eternal union of God with his people is still to come. As believers, we are told to await this feast with great joy and anticipation and to prepare ourselves.
Revelation 19:7 lets us see into the glorious future that is to come: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 21:2 is reminiscent of the glorious moment in a wedding ceremony when the bride appears: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
Paul P. Enns sums up what we are preparing for: “The church is the bride of Christ. The kingdom will be the eternal celebration of the wedding of Christ and the church. We will enjoy rapturous celebration as the bride of Christ in the eternal kingdom.”
We can join with all believers throughout the ages, longing for our bridegroom’s second coming, saying: “Come, Lord Jesus!” We are part of the greatest love story of all time, and just like in all great love stories, we truly will live “happily ever after.”
Photo credit: Unsplash/Chein Pham
Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.