Monday, August 26, 2013

The Church is Not the Bride of Christ

The phrase "bride of Christ" doesn't appear in the Bible. What does appear in the Bible is the phrase "the Lamb's bride," and it appears in only one book: Revelation. Everyone agrees that this bride is what is commonly called the bride of Christ. Here is everything the book of Revelation has to say about the bride:

21:2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. (Re 21:2 WEB)
21:9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were loaded with the seven last plagues came, and he spoke with me, saying, "Come here. I will show you the wife, the Lamb’s bride." 10 He carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, as if it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal; 12 having a great and high wall; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. 13 On the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. 15 He who spoke with me had for a measure, a golden reed, to measure the city, its gates, and its walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, and its length is as great as its breadth. He measured the city with the reed, Twelve thousand twelve stadia. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. 17 Its wall is one hundred forty-four cubits, by the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. 18 The construction of its wall was jasper. The city was pure gold, like pure glass. 19 The foundations of the city’s wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprasus; the eleventh, jacinth; and the twelfth, amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each one of the gates was made of one pearl. The street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. 22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. 23 The city has no need for the sun, neither of the moon, to shine, for the very glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk in its light. The kings of the earth bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. 25 Its gates will in no way be shut by day (for there will be no night there), 26 and they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it so that they may enter. 27 There will in no way enter into it anything profane, or one who causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
22:1 He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will be no curse any more. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no night, and they need no lamp light; for the Lord God will illuminate them. They will reign forever and ever.
6 He said to me, "These words are faithful and true. The Lord God of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to show to his bondservants the things which must happen soon." 7 "Behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." 8 Now I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. When I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who had shown me these things. 9 He said to me, "See you don’t do it! I am a fellow bondservant with you and with your brothers, the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God." 10 He said to me, "Don’t seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. 11 He who acts unjustly, let him act unjustly still. He who is filthy, let him be filthy still. He who is righteous, let him do righteousness still. He who is holy, let him be holy still." 12 "Behold, I come quickly. My reward is with me, to repay to each man according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16 I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify these things to you for the assemblies. I am the root and the offspring of David; the Bright and Morning Star. 17 The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" He who hears, let him say, "Come!" He who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Re 21:9-22:17 WEB)

Revelation 21:9-11 gives us the identity of the bride.

21:9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were loaded with the seven last plagues came, and he spoke with me, saying, "Come here. I will show you the wife, the Lamb’s bride." 10 He carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. (Re 21: 9-11 WEB)

Jerusalem is the bride. This is not the same as the earthly city of Jerusalem. It is a heavenly or new Jerusalem. Still, it is a city and God chose to name it Jerusalem. There must be a reason.

The city of Jerusalem has always been associated with the nation of Israel. It is used, like most capital cities, as a shorthand for the country itself. A modern news story titled "Tensions increasing between London and Moscow" would be understood by everyone to mean that tensions are increasing between the nations of Great Britain and Russia. Consider these words of Jesus:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, like a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you refused! Behold, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’" (Lu 13:34-35 WEB)
When they led him away, they grabbed one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it after Jesus. A great multitude of the people followed him, including women who also mourned and lamented him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to tell the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and tell the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?" (Lu 23:26-31 WEB)

It's obvious that Jesus isn't simply referring to the city of Jerusalem, but using it as a symbol of the nation of Israel.

Galatians and New Jerusalem

In Galatians, Paul associates heavenly Jerusalem with Abraham's wife Sarah and her son.

Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, don’t you listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid {Hagar}, and one by the free woman {Sarah}. However, the son by the handmaid was born according to the flesh, but the son by the free woman was born through promise. These things contain an allegory, for these are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to the Jerusalem that exists now, for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above {New Jerusalem} is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, "Rejoice, you barren who don’t bear. Break forth and shout, you that don’t travail. For more are the children of the desolate than of her who has a husband." Now we, brothers, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But as then, he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. However what does the Scripture say? "Throw out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid will not inherit with the son of the free woman." So then, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free woman. (Ga 4:21-31 WEB)

Sarah is the mother of the Jewish people. All Jews are physically descended from her and Abraham. Issac, Issac's son Jacob, Jacob's twelve sons, and the Jewish nation of Israel all trace their lineage back to Sarah. What does Paul mean when he associates the Jerusalem above with Sarah—the mother of the nation of Israel? Paul answered that question by repeating one word: promise. “Now we, brothers, as Isaac was, are children of promise.” “...born through promise.” This promise is the one God made to Abraham.

Now Yahweh said to Abram, "Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you." (Ge 12:1-3 WEB)

God reemphasizes this promise several times, but everything God promises Abraham can be found in the above scripture.

God promises Abraham the physical land (a requirement of a nation):

Yahweh said to Abram, after Lot was separated from him, "Now, lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land which you see, I will give to you, and to your offspring forever. (Gen 13:14-15 WEB)
I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land where you are traveling, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession. (Gen 17:8 WEB)

God promises Abraham many descendents (people are required to make a nation):

I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then your seed may also be numbered. (Gen 13:16 WEB)
Yahweh brought him outside, and said, "Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." He said to Abram, "So shall your seed be." (Gen 15:5 WEB)

God restates his promise that “All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you.”

"In your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." (Ge 22:18 WEB)

Let's look again at God's original statement of his promise to Abraham:

Now Yahweh said to Abram, "Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you." (Gen 12:1-3 WEB)

The promise can be broken down as:

  • A great nation
  • A great name
  • A great blessing

Abraham's name is great, we're still talking about him thousands of years after he died. A great blessing is Jesus, who is the seed (singular) spoken of in Genesis 22:18. The great nation is Israel. When Paul is talking about the promise in regards to New Jerusalem, he must be talking about one of the three aspects of the promise, but which one? It's tempting to say Jesus, but if New Jerusalem represents Jesus, that would imply that Jesus is married to himself, which would be illogical. I can't find any Biblical support for the idea that New Jerusalem is representative of Abraham's great name, which leaves one option: New Jerusalem represents the great nation of the promise; the nation of Israel.

Hebrews and New Jerusalem

Hebrews also discusses New Jerusalem, but it doesn't give any clue as to its identity. It does provide a list of those that will go to New Jerusalem, which includes two assemblies: the general assembly and the assembly of the firstborn.

But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable multitudes of angels, to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better than that of Abel.” (Heb 12:22-24 WEB)

God defines his firstborn in scripture:

Yahweh {the LORD} said to Moses, "When you go back into Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your hand, but I will harden his heart and he will not let the people go. You shall tell Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Yahweh {the LORD}, Israel is my son, my firstborn, and I have said to you, "Let my son go, that he may serve me"; and you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.’" (Ex 4:21-23 WEB)
He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Col 1:18 WEB)

You probably thought I was going to quote John 3:16, but that verse doesn't speak of Jesus being God's firstborn son. It says Jesus is his only begotten son, which emphasizes Jesus' uniqueness. Others may symbolically be a son of God (the Bible says all who place their faith in Jesus become sons of God), but Jesus is the only one who actually is the son of God.

So, who is this assembly of the firstborn? Since the Bible defines God's firstborn in two different ways, it may be the assembly of Israel (the firstborn from Exodus) or the assembly of Christ (the firstborn from Colossians). The Bible doesn't give us enough information to narrow it down one way or the other. But, as far as identifying New Jerusalem (the bride of the Lamb), it's irrelevant. Hebrews doesn't state the assembly of the firstborn is heavenly Jerusalem, but merely that the assembly is enrolled in heaven.

If it doesn't help us identify New Jerusalem, why bring this up at all? Because, many people have jumped on the phrase “church of the firstborn” to identify New Jerusalem as the Christian church, simply because the phrases “heavenly Jerusalem” and “assembly of the firstborn” appear near to each in the same paragraph. Many things are mentioned in that paragraph including: angels, a general assembly, God, spirits of men, Jesus, the blood of Jesus, and Abel. Are we to assume any of these things identify heavenly Jerusalem simply because they appear near it in a paragraph? No, and neither should we assume the assembly of the firstborn identifies heavenly Jerusalem simply because it appears nearby in a paragraph. In context, Hebrews does not say that the assembly of the firstborn is the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Old Testament identifies Israel as God's wife

The imagery of Israel being the bride of God is so pervasive in the Old Testament, that it is one of the few things universally agreed upon. Israel is the wife of God, at least as far as the Old Testament is concerned. Does this help us identify the bride of the Lamb?

When the Old Testament speaks of God, don't make the mistake of reading this as God the Father. When Genesis 1 says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” we know it is actually talking about God the Son, because the book of John we're told that Jesus created all things (John 1:1-4). Jesus is as much God as the Father and the Holy Spirit. In most cases in the Old Testament we don't know for sure if a specific member of the Trinity or the triune God as a whole is being referred to when the Bible refers to God. When in doubt, I assume it is the triune God as a whole.

Why make this distinction? Because, a few people argue that Israel was married only to God the Father, and thus not to God the Son (Jesus). There's no Biblical evidence for this position, so I thought it was best to get it out of the way.

There are so many verses in the Old Testament that describe Israel as the wife of God, that it would be hard to list them all here. The entire book of Hosea is about God's and Israel's marriage. The question isn't whether God was married to Israel, the question is did God divorce Israel?

Moreover, Yahweh said to me in the days of Josiah the king, "Have you seen that which backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there has played the prostitute. I said after she had done all these things, ‘She will return to me’; but she didn’t return; and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorce, yet treacherous Judah, her sister, didn’t fear; but she also went and played the prostitute. It happened through the lightness of her prostitution, that the land was polluted, and she committed adultery with stones and with stocks. Yet for all this her treacherous sister, Judah, has not returned to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense," says Yahweh. (Jer 3:6-10 WEB)
Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, ‘Return, you backsliding Israel,’ says Yahweh; ‘I will not look in anger on you; for I am merciful,’ says Yahweh. ‘I will not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against Yahweh your God, and have scattered your ways to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed my voice,’ says Yahweh." "Return, backsliding children," says Yahweh; "for I am a husband to you. I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.” (Jer 3:12-14 WEB)

In the book of Jeremiah God talks of divorcing Israel, and then a few verses later God says he is still a husband to Israel and that he longs to have her back. This is consistent with the book of Hosea, which compares Israel to a wife that has become an adulteress and prostitute. The bulk of Hosea consists of God condemning Israel. Yet, at the end of Hosea (as in Jeremiah) God says he will take Israel back and bless it.

Israel, return to Yahweh your God; for you have fallen because of your sin. Take words with you, and return to Yahweh. Tell him, "Forgive all our sins, and accept that which is good: so we offer our lips like bulls. Assyria can’t save us. We won’t ride on horses; neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, ‘Our gods!’ for in you the fatherless finds mercy." "I will heal their waywardness. I will love them freely; for my anger is turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel. He will blossom like the lily, and send down his roots like Lebanon. His branches will spread, and his beauty will be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. Men will dwell in his shade. They will revive like the grain, and blossom like the vine. Their fragrance will be like the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim, what have I to do any more with idols? I answer, and will take care of him. I am like a green fir tree; from me your fruit is found." Who is wise, that he may understand these things? Who is prudent, that he may know them? For the ways of Yahweh are right, and the righteous walk in them; But the rebellious stumble in them. (Ho 14:1-9 WEB)

A summary so far

  • The term “bride of Christ” is not found in the Bible
  • The term “the Lamb's bride” is found in Revelation
  • The Lamb's bride is defined in Revelation as the city of Jerusalem
  • Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and is used in other parts of the Bible to refer to the entire nation of Israel
  • In Galatians, Paul associates this heavenly Jerusalem with the promise God made to Abraham
  • The only part of God's promise to Abraham that is applicable is God's promise to make Abraham a great nation (which was fulfilled in the nation of Israel)
  • The Old Testament refers to the nation of Israel as God's wife (which is a synonym for bride)

At this point, a good case has been made that the nation of Israel is the Lamb's bride (the bride of Christ). Now let's look at some of the arguments used in defense of the Christian church being the Lamb's bride.

Replacement Theology

Replacement theology is the theory that the Christian church has replaced the nation of Israel in God's plan. The promises made to Abraham and the covenants God made with the Jewish people now apply to the Church. So, the literal statements about Israel are taken as spiritual statements that refer to the church (and not Israel).

When you take this stance, you can easily portray the church as the bride of Christ simply by saying the evidence that points to the nation of Israel being the bride really applies to the church.

This is too large of a discussion to get into here, and I'm not going to attempt to persuade you one way or another. I'll simply state that I do not subscribe to replacement theology. This is an area where you need to do your research, and come to your own conclusion, as it has a great affect on how you interpret the Bible.

Denominations that support replacement theology:

  • The Roman Catholic Church
  • The United Methodist Church
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod
  • African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • The Episcopal Church
  • Churches of Christ, Corsicana, Texas
  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
  • United Church of Christ
  • Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, Joplin, Mo.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses

Denominations that do not subscribe to replacement theology:

  • Southern Baptist Convention
  • The Church of God in Christ
  • National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.
  • National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.
  • Assemblies of God
  • National Missionary Baptist Convention of America
  • Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc.
  • Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc.
  • American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
  • Baptist Bible Fellowship International
  • Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it's meant to point out that replacement theology is a major theological schism within Christianity.

New Testament passages

There are a number of New Testament passages used to defend the idea that the church is the bride of Christ. Let's examine them, but let's do so remembering what Revelation explicitly says:

  • Jesus is the bridegroom
  • Jerusalem is the bride

Jesus is called the bridegroom

We already know Jesus is a groom, and that his bride is the city of Jerusalem; we need something that tells us what the city of Jerusalem in Revelation represents. These passages don't. Yet, they are often pointed to as “proof” that the church is the bride (Jerusalem). I'm going to deal with them as a group, because they all have a common shortcoming: none identify the bride.

Then John’s disciples came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?" Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Mt 9:14-15 WEB)
They came to John, and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, the same baptizes, and everyone is coming to him." John answered, "A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This, my joy, therefore is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Joh 3:26-30 WEB)

Where do either of these identify the church as the Jerusalem (the bride) spoken of in Revelation? Nowhere; they don't mention a bride at all, much less give the bride's identity.

The parable of the wedding banquet

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. Again he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner. My cattle and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast!"’ But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, and the rest grabbed his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them. When the king heard that, he was angry, and sent his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. "Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited weren’t worthy. Go therefore to the intersections of the highways, and as many as you may find, invite to the marriage feast.’ Those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good. The wedding was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who didn’t have on wedding clothing, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here not wearing wedding clothing?’ He was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and throw him into the outer darkness; there is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.’ For many are called, but few chosen." (Mt 22:1-14 WEB)

This parable is often referenced in discussions about the bride of Christ, but it's hard to see how this defines the church as the bride. It doesn't even mention a bride. It talks about the guests, but the guests are not the bride. There is nothing in this parable that helps to identify what the city of Jerusalem represents. It certainly doesn't identify the church as Jerusalem.

The parable of the ten virgins

“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘What if there isn’t enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Mt 25:1-13 WEB)

The assumption is that the ten virgins are the bride, but it never identifies them as brides. They could be brides, bridesmaids, or guests. Although, it's not likely Jesus told a parable about a man marrying ten women, as polygamy was not practiced by the Jews at that time. So, it's probably a safe assumption the 10 virgins do not represent brides. And, if they are not brides, then they cannot be used to show that the church is the bride of Christ. Non-brides cannot be brides.

This parable also needs to be placed in context. It belongs to a section that begins with the disciples asking Jesus “What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” and covers two entire chapters in Matthew of Jesus explaining that he may come at any time, including two parables about being prepared for the return of Jesus. In context, the parable of the 10 virgins seems less a parable about marriage, and more a parable about being prepared. The lesson of both parables can be found in the verse that immediately precedes them: “Watch therefore, for you don’t know in what hour your Lord comes”.

42 Watch therefore, for you don’t know in what hour your Lord comes.
Parable of the wise servant
43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don’t expect, the Son of Man will come. 45 "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes. 47 Most certainly I tell you that he will set him over all that he has. 48 But if that evil servant should say in his heart, ‘My lord is delaying his coming,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with the drunkards, 50 the lord of that servant will come in a day when he doesn’t expect it, and in an hour when he doesn’t know it, 51 and will cut him in pieces, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.”
Parable of the 10 virgins
25:1 “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘What if there isn’t enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Mt 24:42-25:13 WEB)

Ephesians

The following section of Ephesians is often used to teach that the church is the bride of Christ. There are two problems with that approach: (1) they use an analogy that doesn't exists, and (2) they ignore the context of the passage.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the assembly to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the assembly; because we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. "For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh." This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the assembly.” (Eph 5:25-32 WEB)

People try to use the relationship between a husband and wife to teach a lesson about the relationship between Jesus and the Church, but they have it backwards. Paul is using the relationship between Jesus and the Church to teach a lesson about the relationship between a husband and wife.

To understand the instructions to husbands and wives, you have to understand the instructions in the previous chapter upon which they are based.

He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love.” (Eph 4:11-16 WEB)

Each Christian is given a spiritual gift, but the gifts are different. Like the parts of a body, Christians fit together to form a unified whole—the body of Christ. Jesus is portrayed as the head of the body (literally the head; the thing that sits on every person's shoulders). This is the simile that is referred to later in Ephesians: the arrangement of a marriage is like the arrangement of the body of Christ.

For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the assembly, being himself the saviour of the body. But as the assembly is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the assembly to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the assembly; because we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the assembly. (Eph 5:23-32 WEB)

Let's try that again with a few highlights and comments (which are inside curly braces {}) to make the parallel with Ephesians 4 more more clear.

For the husband is the head of the wife {the body}, and Christ also is the head of the assembly {the body}, being himself the saviour of the body. But as the assembly {the body} is subject to Christ {the head}, so let the wives {the body} also be to their own husbands {the head} in everything. Husbands {the head}, love your wives {the body}, even as Christ {the head} also loved the assembly {the body}, and gave himself up for it {the body}; that he might sanctify it {the body}, having cleansed it {the body} by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the assembly {the body} to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it {the body} should be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands {the head} also ought to love their own wives {the body} as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife {the body} loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh {his body}; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord {the head} also does the assembly {the body}; because we are members of his {Christ's} body {the assembly}, of his flesh and bones. For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two {husband and wife} will become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ {the head} and of the assembly {the body}. (Eph 5:23-32 WEB)

Let's take it one line at a time.

For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the assembly, being himself the saviour of the body. (Eph 5:23 WEB)

In the first line, Paul establishes the parallel that drives the rest of the section. The husband is the head of the wife. Jesus is the head of the assembly—the body. In this simile, the assembly is to Christ as the wife is to the husband. The assembly is the body of Christ; a wife is the body of her husband. The simile of the wife being her husband's body is reinforced throughout the following verses.

But as the assembly is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their own husbands in everything. (Eph 5:24 WEB)

This verse is simple to understand viewed through the template of the previous verse's head/body simile. On a human being, the head is in charge. The body (arms, legs, etc.) submits to the head's control. The assembly is subject to Christ, because Christ is the head and the assembly is the body. In the same way, wives are subject to their husbands, because the husband is the head and the wife is the body.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the assembly to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27 WEB)

These are the verses people focus on to say the church is the bride of Christ, but it doesn't make sense to do that considering the previous and following verses, which make heavy use of the head/body simile. Why switch back and forth like that? Moreover, the description of the assembly makes no mention of a bride. It makes more sense to continue the head/body simile. Consider the same verses this way (with my comments in curly brackets):

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly {the body of Christ}, and gave himself up for it {the body of Christ}; that he might sanctify it {the body of Christ}, having cleansed it {the body of Christ} by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the assembly {the body of Christ} to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it {the body of Christ} should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27 WEB)

The following verses continue the head/body simile.

Even so husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the assembly; because we {the assembly} are members of his {Christ's} body, of his flesh and bones. For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the assembly. (Eph 5:28-32 WEB)

The mystery Paul refers to isn't about spiritual brides or marriages, it's about the church being the body of Christ. That's the mystery—that the church is the body of Christ. A mystery is something that is difficult to understand—so difficult that even when it's in plain sight that people don't recognize it. That's why Paul has spent significant time in this letter discussing the body of Christ. That's the mystery (the difficult part to understand); that the church is the body of Christ, so Paul keeps coming back to it to drive the point home.

This passage does not show that the church is the bride. Only be reading your personal preconceptions into the passage can a person come away thinking this passage is talking about the bride of Christ. Unfortunately, when people do that, they miss the real message contained in these passages.

2 Corinthians

In this passage, Paul is talking to the church at Corinth:

For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. For I married you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ. (2Co 11:2 WEB)

This would certainly seem to be the smoking gun that indicates the church is the bride of Christ, but placed in the context of Paul's letter things aren't quite as clear. In context Paul talks about:

  • Eve being deceived by the serpent
  • Deceitful workers masquerading as apostles of Christ
  • Church members being let astray

The passage quoted above is part of a larger argument that the church members should remain spiritually pure in their devotion to Christ, just as a virgin bride is pure in her devotion to her husband. It is an analogy; Paul is not literally stating that the church is the bride of Christ.

What's more, Paul (the most prolific writer in the New Testament) never again uses this analogy. This is the one—and only—place Paul compares the church to a bride. This is not the way Paul handles other theological points. If he makes the point in one letter, it invariably turns up in another. This one doesn't; this one is found nowhere else but here. Maybe that's because it isn't a theological point at all, but is simply an analogy used to bolster another point: that we should remain spiritually pure and not be led astray by false teachers.

Here is the entire section in context. Read it with the above points in mind, and decide for yourself if what I am saying is true or not.

1 I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you do bear with me. 2 For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. For I married you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if you receive a different spirit, which you did not receive, or a different "good news," which you did not accept, you put up with that well enough.
5 For I reckon that I am not at all behind the very best apostles. 6 But though I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not unskilled in knowledge. No, in every way we have been revealed to you in all things. 7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached to you God’s Good News free of charge? 8 I robbed other assemblies, taking wages from them that I might serve you. 9 When I was present with you and was in need, I wasn’t a burden on anyone, for the brothers, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my need. In everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and I will continue to do so. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, no one will stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia. 11 Why? Because I don’t love you? God knows.
12 But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them that desire an occasion, that in which they boast, they may be found even as we. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as Christ’s apostles. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. (2Co 11:1-14 WEB)

Conclusion

The points in favor or the nation of Israel being the Lamb's bride mentioned in Revelation:

  • The Lamb's bride is defined in Revelation as the city of Jerusalem
  • Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and is used in other parts of the Bible to refer to the entire nation of Israel
  • Jesus used Jerusalem to refer to the entire nation of Israel
  • In Galatians, Paul associates the heavenly Jerusalem of Revelation with the promise God made to Abraham
  • The only part of God's promise that is applicable is God's promise to make Abraham a great nation (which was fulfilled in the nation of Israel)
  • The Old Testament refers to the nation of Israel as God's wife (which is a synonym for bride)
  • There are no New Testament passages that prove the church is the bride of Christ

The points in favor of the church being the Lamb's bride mentioned in Revelation:

  • Replacement theology allows the substitution of the church for Israel
  • 2 Corinthians 11:2 says Paul he married the church at Corinth to one husband

If you believe in replacement theology, then the issue is simple. The church has replaced Israel in all things, which includes Israel's role as wife of God. You don't even need any scripture declaring the church to be the bride. You simply substitute the church for Israel.

If you don't believe in replacement theology, then your case comes down to a single verse (2 Corinthians 11:2), and this verse must be used standalone. Because, when you place this verse in context it becomes less obvious that Paul was declaring the church to be the bride of Christ, and more obvious that Paul was using an analogy as part of a larger teaching on not straying from the purity of our faith by listening to false teachers. You also have to ignore all the evidence pointing toward Israel being the bride. People that advocate replacement theology can do that, but you can't.

And, I can't ignore it either, because (as I said earlier) I do not adhere to replacement theology. The weight of the evidence pointing towards Israel being the Lamb's bride is heavy; the weight of the evidence pointing towards the church being the bride of Christ is light.

I believe I've shown from scripture that the church is not the bride of Christ, and that in fact the nation of Israel is the bride of Christ—the Lamb's bride found in revelation.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting. But you may be wrong.
    www.jesusplusnothing.com/questions/isthechurchthebrideofchrist.htm

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    Replies
    1. I covered everything the site you referenced mentions. I don't see anything that would refute my argument.

      1) They agree that the nation of Israel was the bride in the Old Testament.

      The bride/wife has always been PEOPLE, whether it was the nation of Israel as the wife of Jehovah in the Old Testament or the Church as the bride of Christ in the New.

      The only proof they give for the church being the bride is one verse --2 Corinthians 11:2--quoted completely out of context. In fact, they never do try and deal with the verse in context.

      I have quoted the entire section above so you can read the entire teaching in context. Read it. What you'll find is that the subject Paul is addressing is: remain true to Jesus and do not be led away from Christ by false teachers.

      In context, the mental imagery of a bride that is faithful to her husband instead of going off with strange men, is an excellent analogy for what Paul is teaching in the section (that the church members should be faithful to Christ instead of going off with false teachers). But it IS an analogy--a bit of mental imagery to help them understand the actual lesson he is teaching--and not a literal statement. That's why Paul only makes the statement once (ever!) and then quickly moves on.

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