7. The Present Work of Christ in Heaven (Part 5)
Article contributed by www.walvoord.com
Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride
The figure of the bridegroom and the bride picturing Christ in His relationship to the church is properly included in His present work, but is more eschatological in its character than any other. While the consummation of this truth is in the future, the present activity of Christ for His church has in view this future goal and for this reason it is also related to His present work. The present work of Christ is designed to prepare the church to be His bride and to prepare a place for their eternal fellowship in glory.
The Church as the Bride
Some confusion has arisen concerning the nature of the church as the bride of Christ stemming from the larger problem of the nature of the church itself. The viewpoint of covenant theology, which regards the church as the term including the saints of all ages, tends to obscure the particular line of truth relating to the church as the bride including only the saints of the present age. At the other extreme is the viewpoint of Bullinger and Sir Robert Anderson who distinguish two bodies of believers in this present age, namely Israel and the church, and limit the concept of the bride to Israel only in the New Testament.1 This view is usually associated with the distinction between the apostolic church as being Israel, the true bride, and the later or postapostolic church as a Gentile church, the body of Christ, but not the bride. If the church is considered a term properly applied to the saints of this present age beginning at Pentecost, then the body of Christ and the bride of Christ, are identical in reference and refer to the same believers.
Even if these premises, however, be granted, there is still a measure of confusion in the figure of the bride as related to the church because of the fact that marriage is used to illustrate many spiritual truths in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament Israel is regarded as married to Jehovah. Her disobedience to the law and worship of idols is regarded as being spiritually unfaithful to her husband and a violation of her marriage vows (Isa 54:1-17; Jer 3:1, 14, 20; Hos 2:1-23).
In contrast to the use of the marriage figure as it relates to Israel in the Old Testament, the church in the New Testament is referred to as a bride, but not yet joined to her husband (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-27; Rev 19:6-8). This is especially evident in 2 Corinthians 11:2 where Paul writes the Corinthians: “For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy:for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” In Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19, however, the bride is referred to as a wife. This is not, however, a contradiction as some have imagined, as in the oriental custom a bride betrothed to a husband is also considered a wife even though she has not assumed that role completely. In the Orient, when the parents of the bride and the bridegroom agreed in a formal way on the future marriage of their children, such an agreement was the legal marriage even though years might elapse before husband and wife might begin living together and assume the full responsibility of marriage. Because of this, the church in one sense is a bride in that she is on earth and Christ is in heaven; on the other hand, she is a wife because she has been betrothed to Christ and set apart for Him.
The fact that the bride and the body of Christ are one seem to be clearly taught in Ephesians 5:23-32 in that the church is referred to as the body and yet the marridge relationship is the main theme of the passage. This is revealed in the present ministry of the bridegroom for the bride as well as in the future fulfillment of this figure.
Preparing a Place for the Bride
While the Old Testament does not discuss theologically the church as the bride of Christ, it does furnish a background in its typology in some of its prominent marriages. Some expositors have found, for instance, in the marriages of Isaac and Rebekah, Joseph and Asenath, Moses and Zipporah, and Boaz and Ruth a typical representation of the plan of God to present Christ with a bride, the church, composed largely of Gentiles.2 In each of these illustrations the bride is non-Jewish, that is, not a descendant of Jacob. Many beautiful spiritual truths can be derived from God’s gracious provision of brides for their respective bridegrooms.
It is only in the New Testament, however, that the program of God for His church as the bride of Christ is revealed in a formal way. Two major aspects are presented, the first of which is that Christ in the present age is preparing a place for His bride to be occupied in the future. This is predicted in John 14:2 where Christ said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” No explanation is given in the Scripture concerning precisely what is meant by preparing a place for His bride. Some have referred this to the creation of the New Jerusalem which is later revealed in the eternal state. The important fact, however, is that Christ has a particular place for this group of saints. Whatever the purpose and character of their dwelling place, their eschatological hope is somewhat different than that of Israel which is looking forward to the kingdom of Christ on earth as a primary objective, even though they will share with the church the New Jerusalem in eternity. Some have thought that the work of preparing a place for the church is simply that of His sacrifice on the cross. The wording, however, indicates a place rather than a way to the place. This has a relationship to heaven itself, even though it is also true that Christ opened the way to heaven by His sacrifice.
While we do not know the nature of the place which Christ is preparing except for scattered references to heaven and the description of the New Jerusalem itself, it may be concluded that the infinite power and love of Christ will prepare adequately for His bride. The church may anticipate heavenly surroundings which will be infinitely beautiful and perfectly adapted to their fellowship with Christ and their worship of Him. the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” When the work of Christ for His church has been consummated, the church will be in heaven without any evidence of sin which spoiled its testimony in this world. There will be no spot, that is, visible defilement; no wrinkle that is, no evidence of age or corruption, or anything of a similar nature such as a blemish. Instead, the whole church will be completely holy and adapted to the environment of heaven.
A further thought is introduced in the description of the bride as the wife of Christ in Revelation 19:8 where after the announcement of the coming marriage feast and the declaration in verse 7 , “his wife hath made herself ready,” the passage declares: “and it shall be given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Here the result of the present work of Christ is defined as clothing the bride in fine linen, namely, the righteous acts which stemmed from the present work of the sanctifying application of the Word of God.
The work of Christ for the church in this present age therefore partakes of the character of the loving ministry anticipating that future joyous occasion when the bride will stand complete in heaven with every beauty and grace. The bride is already joined to Christ in legal marriage and in recognition of the price that was paid at Calvary and the acceptance of the offer of salvation. This is the first phase of the marriage relationship. The bride is now awaiting the coming of her bridegroom, which will be fulfilled at the rapture of the church and which is the second phase. Subsequent to the rapture, the marriage feast will be observed which is anticipated in Revelation 19:7-9, which is the third phase. The present work of Christ will therefore have its consummation in these future events and ultimately the church, which is now incomplete and with many deficiencies, will stand perfect in heaven in every beauty and grace. The figure of the bridegroom and the bride is a proper conclusion to all the other figures which depict the relationship of Christ to His church and especially emphasizes that which is yet ahead.
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.
1 E. W. Bullinger, How to Enjoy the Bible, pp. 94-96; The Companion Bible, Part VI, 1769, 1912.
2 L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, 136-41.