3. Here Comes the Bridegroom
When Craig Nelson and I were traveling together and teaching in India, we were invited to attend the wedding ceremony for a young Indian couple. It was Craig’s turn to speak in the church service the following morning. After the wedding, he decided to speak on Ephesians 5. I will never forget that sermon because he used the familiar marriage text in Ephesians 5:22-33 as the basis for challenging two Indian marriage customs: (1) the payment of a dowry price by the bride’s parents, and (2) the practice of Indian wives walking behind their husbands, rather than alongside them. I must confess I had never considered how Ephesians 5 applied to these two customs, not until after Craig’s excellent sermon.
The Bible’s teaching on the relationship of Jesus Christ to His church is intensely practical. It has much to teach us about how Christians can be godly husbands and wives. But this is just one area of application. In this lesson, we are attempting to consider the church in the light of the biblical imagery of a bride and a bridegroom. I believe that this way of looking at the church distinguishes Christianity from every other religion. To think of ourselves as the bride of Christ is a most profitable and encouraging exercise. As we begin our study, let us agree with the Apostle Paul as he prays for the Ephesians (and thus for us):
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named. 16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, by being rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19, NET Bible, emphasis mine).21
Initially, I had titled this lesson, “Here Comes the Bride,” but after further study and reflection, I have chosen to change the title to, “Here Comes the Bridegroom.” I will explain this more fully later in the message. When we speak of “the bride,” it is important to understand just who “the bride” is. In this lesson, I have chosen to deal with this term in reverse chronological order, starting in the Book of Revelation and working back from there. This is something like reading the last chapter of the book to get an idea of where the book is going.
In the Book of Proverbs, both wisdom and folly are described as women.22 In the Book of Revelation, we again find two women contrasted. The first is the “great harlot,” and the second is “the bride.” First, we find the “great harlot”:
1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke to me. “Come,” he said, “I will show you the condemnation and punishment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality and the earth’s inhabitants got drunk with the wine of her immorality.” 3 So he carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness, and there I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 Now the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup filled with detestable things and unclean things from her sexual immorality. 5 On her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth.” 6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of those who testified to Jesus. I was greatly astounded when I saw her (Revelation 17:1-6).
1 After these things I saw another angel, who possessed great authority, coming down out of heaven, and the earth was lit up by his radiance. 2 He shouted with a powerful voice: “Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a lair for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detested beast. 3 For all the nations have fallen from the wine of her immoral passion, and the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have gotten rich from the power of her sensual behavior.” 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so you will not take part in her sins and so you will not receive her plagues, 5 because her sins have piled up all the way to heaven and God has remembered her crimes. 6 Repay her the same way she repaid others; pay her back double corresponding to her deeds. In the cup she mixed, mix double the amount for her. 7 As much as she exalted herself and lived in sensual luxury, to this extent give her torment and grief because she said to herself, ‘I rule as queen and am no widow; I will never experience grief!’ 8 For this reason, she will experience her plagues in a single day: disease, mourning, and famine, and she will be burned down with fire, because the Lord God who judges her is powerful!” 9 Then the kings of the earth who committed immoral acts with her and lived in sensual luxury with her will weep and wail for her when they see the smoke from the fire that burns her up. 10 They will stand a long way off because they are afraid of her torment, and will say, “Woe, woe, O great city, Babylon the powerful city! For in a single hour your doom has come!” (Revelation 18:1-10)
As one reads through the final chapters of Revelation, it becomes clear that the “great harlot” is a city (17:5, 18; 18:2, 10, 16, 18, 19, 21). She is called “Babylon,” but this is said to be a mystery name (17:5), so it may very well be a symbolic name, rather than a literal one.23 While we may speculate as to the exact identification of this harlot city, this will all be clear in the outworking of God’s eternal plan.
Against the backdrop of the “great harlot,” a wicked city that corrupts many, is the “bride” of our Lord. We see a number of references to the “bride” in the Book of Revelation:
7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen” (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints). 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These are the true words of God” (Revelation 19:7-9).
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 2 And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among men and women. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain; the former things have ceased to exist.” … 9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb!” 10 So he took me away in the Spirit to a huge, majestic mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:1-4, 9-10).
Like the “great harlot,” the “bride” of our Lord is also said to be a city, but this is a heavenly city – the new Jerusalem. I believe that this picture of the Lord’s “bride” in Revelation is consistent with the teaching of Hebrews:
13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly 23 and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does (Hebrews 12:22-24).
In Hebrews, the bride is the “city” that God has prepared for the Old Testament saints (Hebrews 11:16), as well as New Testament saints, and it is called “the assembly and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22-23). The “bride,” then, is that body of true believers, Jew and Gentile, Old Testament and New, who have placed their trust in Jesus as the promised Messiah. The bride is to be distinguished, I believe, from the “wife” of Jehovah, which is faithless Israel.
This conclusion regarding the bride of our Lord appears to be consistent with other New Testament texts. In John 3:27-30, John the Baptist described himself as the “friend of the bridegroom” (3:29). He was the forerunner of Jesus, who was privileged to point Him out as the Messiah, the promised “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). His mission in life was to invite all who would hear to trust in Jesus, and thus to become a part of the bride.
The Apostle Paul likened himself to the “father of the bride,” who not only introduced the Corinthian saints to Christ, but who also felt it his duty to preserve the purity of the Corinthian’s church as the bride of Christ:
1 I wish that you would be patient with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you are being patient with me! 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1-3).
I must confess that this passage fascinates me. Why does Paul choose to focus on Eve, rather than on Adam? Is Eve turned from her devotion to God, or from her devotion to her husband? Just how does Eve illustrate the point Paul is trying to make? Let me share the explanation that makes the most sense to me.
Eve was created as a helper, companion, and counterpart for her husband Adam. She and Adam were placed in the garden, and it was there that they had sweet fellowship in daily communion with God (Genesis 3:8). Maintaining a relationship with God could not have been more simple. She knew that God had created her and was (in this sense) her Father. All she had to do was to trust Him and to obey but one commandment, which was that she not eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree. Eve was nave, and Satan took advantage of this. Satan came to Eve as a serpent and did some really smooth talking, and Eve was foolish enough to believe him. Satan convinced her to act independently of God in the pursuit of her own interests, rather than to trust God and to obey His one command. As a result, she sinned.24
Paul feared that something similar was taking place in Corinth. He had come to Corinth with the good news of the gospel, and many of the Corinthians had believed in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. In this sense, Paul was the spiritual father of the saints in Corinth. The church was like a daughter to Paul, since he had betrothed these saints to the Lord Jesus. Paul wanted to present his daughter-bride to Christ in purity, but he feared that just as Eve had been deceived by a smooth talker, so these Corinthians were falling for the smooth talk25 of the deceivers who had come into their midst. As 2 Corinthians 11 unfolds, the true identity of these smooth talkers becomes clear:
12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).
Paul introduced the “bride” to her husband-to-be, Jesus Christ. It was of the greatest importance for her to be pure when she was joined with Him in marriage. Paul, as the “father of the bride,” had great concerns for his daughter-bride. Smooth talkers were seeking to seduce this pure virgin and to lead her away from a simple faith in Jesus Christ alone. This is why Paul wrote his two epistles to the church at Corinth – to call her to the purity of her initial faith in Christ.
The theme of the “purity of the bride” is also taken up by Paul in Ephesians 5:
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church—he himself being the savior of the body. 24 But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one has ever hated his own body but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great—but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each one of you must also love his own wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33, underscoring mine).
Christian marriage is to be a reflection of the relationship of Christ to His church, His bride. The wife is to submit to her husband as the church is to submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. This love is to be sacrificial, because Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice for His bride. Christ is presently preparing His bride for the wedding we find described in the Book of Revelation. It is at this wedding that our Lord will come back, to be joined to His church as His bride. In the meantime, Christ is purifying His bride in preparation for her wedding day. So, too, husbands are to seek to promote the sanctification of their wives.
In the closing words of Ephesians 5, Paul makes a very important statement regarding marriage. He informs us that the full meaning and significance of marriage is a wonderful mystery, one which Paul has been privileged to reveal. Christian marriage is to be a picture of the union of believers to Jesus Christ. When a man and a woman come together in marriage, they become one flesh. Previous relationships change and become subordinate to the union of a husband and his wife. When a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, they are united with Christ and become a part of His bride-to-be, the church. Marriage is one of the ways that God physically and tangibly depicts the relationship of the believer to the Lord Jesus Christ. All this was a mystery until the coming of our Lord and the proclamation of the union of believers with Christ by faith.
Old Testament saints were ignorant of this mystery. Nevertheless, marriage was used as a picture of God’s relationship with the nation Israel. Instead of being a “bride-to-be,” Israel was depicted as the unfaithful “wife” of God. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of Israel’s infidelity to God in terms of a wife’s infidelity to her husband:
1 “If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and becomes another man’s wife, he may not take her back again. Doing that would utterly defile the land. You, Israel, have given yourself as a prostitute to many gods. What, then, makes you think you can return to me?” says the Lord (Jeremiah 3:1).
31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It will not be like the old agreement that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. For they violated that agreement, even though I was a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 33 “But I will make a new agreement with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. And I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
God’s faithfulness in spite of Israel’s infidelity is dramatically portrayed in the Book of Hosea. God instructs Hosea to marry a woman who is a harlot. When he marries Gomer, some of her children are not fathered by Hosea, but by her lovers. For a time, Gomer is put away, but eventually she is restored. The story dramatically portrays Israel’s spiritual infidelity to God, and God’s loyal love for His people.
Another text which very graphically depicts Jerusalem’s infidelity and God’s faithfulness is found in Ezekiel 16. God describes the way in which He first found Israel, like a “dumpster baby,”26 left in the trash to die. God had pity on this pathetic infant and spared her life. It was not because she was so beautiful, but because she was so pathetic in her need. It was God’s mercy that chose her, and nothing else. This is consistent with the origins of the nation Israel:
2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her abominable practices, 3 and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 As for your birth, on the day you were born, your umbilical cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt, nor wrapped with clothes. 5 No eye had pity on you to do any of these things for you out of compassion for you; you were thrown out into the open field because you were detested on the day you were born’” (Ezekiel 16:2-5).
This description is true to the facts, as we can see from God’s words of instruction to the Israelite nation as they were on the brink of entering the Promised Land. God warns the Israelites about becoming proud when He prospers them by reminding them of their humble origins:
6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be a people prized above all others on the face of the earth. 7 It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the Lord considered and chose you—for in fact you were the smallest of all peoples— 8 but because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the oath he swore to your ancestors the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).
1 When the time comes for you to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you occupy it and live in it, 2 you must take the first of all the ground’s produce you harvest from the land the Lord your God is giving you, place it in a basket, and go to the place where he has chosen to locate his name. 3 You must go to the priest in office at that time and say to him, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest will then take the basket from you and set it before the altar of the Lord your God. 5 And you must affirm before the Lord, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor, and he went down to Egypt and lived there as a foreigner with a household few in number; but there he became a great, powerful, and numerous people” (Deuteronomy 26:1-5).
Ezekiel goes on to show how God tenderly cared for the Israelites, providing bountifully for all their needs. God gave her the finest food and clothing. When she grew up, the surrounding nations took note of her beauty. But Israel forgot her humble beginnings, and Who it was who made her beautiful. As God’s wife, she prostituted her beauty and all of the gifts God had bestowed upon her, using them to lure men as she offered herself for hire. Israel sunk so low in her sin that she went beyond harlotry – she actually paid men to be her lovers (Ezekiel 16:30-34). She even sacrificed her children to heathen idols. God warned Jerusalem that He would judge her by turning her over to her “lovers,” who would abuse her (Ezekiel 16:35-43).
Judah and Jerusalem’s guilt is even greater than that of their older sister, Samaria, or her younger sister, Sodom (see Ezekiel 16:44-59), for she looked on as the northern kingdom turned from God and observed God’s judgment upon them. Nevertheless, the people of Judah and Jerusalem persisted in their adulterous ways in spite of the lessons they should have learned from their “sisters.” In spite of all their harlotries, God promised to graciously discipline and restore Judah, and to re-unite her with Israel (Ezekiel 16:53-59).
The bride-groom imagery of the Bible is a wonderful picture of the security of the children of God in their relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. In our day, the permanence of marriage is far from certain. How much less certain is an engagement? But in biblical times, engagement was viewed as having the binding force of marriage. We see from Matthew 1:18-25 that Joseph could only break his engagement to Mary by divorcing her, and this he could do only on the grounds of sexual infidelity.
The wonder of the gospel message is that God chose to save us while we were impure, and to engage us, so to speak, to the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not choose us because we were pure, but rather in order to make us pure:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
If our salvation is our acceptance of God’s “proposal” in the gospel, sanctification is the process by which we are purified in preparation for our wedding day. Salvation is not the end of the process, but the beginning. We are being sanctified and purified here and now, to make us ready for the great marriage to the Bridegroom as described in the Book of Revelation. Those who look upon salvation as a license to sin have completely missed the point. Salvation is the commencement of the divine process of purification and preparation for marriage – to the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our security is not based upon our perfection (toward which the sanctification process takes us), but rather is based upon His perfection. It is He Who chose us. It is He Who died on the cross of Calvary, bearing the penalty for our sins, and providing the means for our sanctification. It is because of His covenant with us and the perfections of His character that we are assured of heaven. Those who would take sin lightly need to recall the discipline of God upon wicked Israel.
The image of the church as the bride of Christ is one that portrays the eager sense of expectation that every Christian should have regarding the return of our Lord. We, the bride of Christ, should look for the day of our Lord’s return. It should be foremost in our minds. It should be our great desire. We are the bride, and our Bridegroom is soon to return for us. What could bring greater joy to us than His return?
Perhaps more than anything else, the imagery of the bride and the Bridegroom describes the believer’s relationship with God in the most intimate and passionate terms possible. There is no human relationship more intimate than that of a husband and wife. There is no love more passionate than the love of husband and wife. The Song of Solomon speaks of this love and intimacy, so much so that we are reluctant to read some portions of this book publicly.
This intimacy and passion is one of the many ways in which Christianity stands head and shoulders above any other religion (not to mention the fact that faith in Christ alone is the only true religion). One kind of religion assures us that we will ourselves become gods, like Jesus “became” god. Some religions view heaven as a mere continuation of the pleasures of this life, with virgins waiting for us if we are faithful enough. Most religions view their relationship with God in terms of fear. They view God as harsh and capricious. They can never be certain that they have done enough to earn their salvation. God is not a God with whom you can enter into an intimate fellowship, but one from whom you must keep your distance. While God is wholly “other,” and cannot look upon sin, He is also the God Who cleanses us from sin so that we may become one with Him. The Christian faith is one that calls for believers to draw near, not to draw back:
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:19-25).
Heaven is the place where God draws near to us, where we will live forever in intimate fellowship with Him:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 2 And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among men and women. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:1-3, emphasis mine).
This is not to say that we cannot enjoy great intimacy with our Lord here and now:
16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will not see me any longer, but you will see me; because I live, you will live too. 20 You will know at that time that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you. 21 The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.” 22 “Lord,” Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “what has happened that you are going to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him” (John 14:16-23).
When you think about it, the bride-groom imagery of the Bible underscores the submission of the church to her Lord and also her dependence on the Lord. When a young woman marries a man, she leaves her old life behind, even more than the man does. She now finds her identity in relation to her husband. Her last name changes (at least usually). She takes on his identity; he does not take on hers. She becomes dependent upon him for her daily needs, and he is obliged to provide for her. So also we, as the bride of Christ, now find a new identity in Him, and we look to Him for all of our needs.
If there is anything that sticks out in the Bible regarding the imagery of the bride and the Bridegroom, it is that the glory belongs to the Groom. It is the Groom (Jesus Christ) Who chose us to be a part of the bride (John 15:16). It is the Groom Who laid down His life to purchase the bride (Ephesians 5:25). It is the Groom Who is working to perfect and purify the bride, so that He may present her to Himself (Ephesians 5:26). The glory goes to the Groom.
It is interesting how, in our culture at least, too much attention is drawn to the bride, rather than to the groom. The groom rents a tuxedo; the bride buys an expensive wedding dress. How many wedding pictures feature the groom, as opposed to the bride?
I was privileged to participate in the wedding ceremony of Robert and Adria Warner some time ago. One of the unique things they decided to do (apart from my prompting) was to strive to put the emphasis where it should go. Instead of the bride coming down the aisle to meet the groom at the front of the room, Robert went to the back to bring his bride down to the front. It was he who sought out his bride, just as our Lord sought us out. Every effort was made to make the groom prominent, rather than incidental, in the ceremony, because it is our Lord Who is prominent in relation to the bride.
20 Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, 21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21, emphasis mine).
Let me conclude by pointing out a few areas of application. First, have you given sufficient thought to the privilege of being a part of the bride of Christ? Is it not a marvelous thing to know that Jesus Christ loves you and wants you to live with Him forever? That assumes, of course, that you have accepted His “proposal” – the offer of salvation through faith in Him. He died on the cross of Calvary to bear the penalty for your sins. He rose from the dead, so that you might have new life in Him. The gospel is the good news that God has offered you the proposal of an eternal relationship with His Son. Have you received that offer? If so, are you eagerly awaiting His return? Are you cooperating in the purification process in preparation for the great marriage that is yet to come?
Second, do you understand why the way you conduct yourself in your marriage is so important to God? Can you see why God hates divorce? God wants every Christian marriage to be a picture of the relationship of Jesus Christ to His bride, the church. Every time we fail to obey God in the way we conduct ourselves in our marriage, we convey a warped and distorted picture of the gospel, and this is a most serious offense. Let us grasp the fact that our view of the church should transform our view of marriage.
Third, thinking of the bride-groom relationship helps me to better understand our Lord’s words to us from the Book of Revelation:
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand—the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 ‘I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. 3 I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! 5 Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—that is, if you do not repent. 6 But you do have this going for you: You hate what the Nicolaitans practice—practices I also hate. 7 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God’” (Revelation 2:1-7, emphasis mine).
Have we lost that “first love,” the kind of love that a bride has for the man she is soon to marry – the kind of love that yearns to spend time with Him, and to proclaim that love to others. Let us ask God to give us the kind of love that yearns to spend time with Him and to proclaim that love to others.
Finally, I cannot conclude this lesson without calling attention to one of the great tragedies of our time. Several years ago, the State of Vermont legalized the civil union of same sex couples. In June of this year, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a Texas law prohibiting sodomy. And just recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that their state constitution requires the state to allow gay marriages. Knowing what marriage is to signify, it is not really surprising that Satan would attack the institution of marriage. And attack he has! Marriage is not only under attack in the courts and legislatures of our land; it is under attack in our own homes. Let us look to the Bridegroom to give us the grace to preserve and to protect marriage, to the glory of God.
Let me press this one step further. It is not only marriage that is under attack by Satan and our culture; so is the period of engagement. Some feel that engagement legitimizes premarital sex. This is not consistent with the picture of the bride-to-be of the Bible. Let us protect and preserve the sanctity of engagement, as well as marriage, to the glory of God.
20 Copyright 2003 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the A Study of the Church series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 30, 2003.
21 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
23 We find Peter speaking of “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13, which may not refer to a literal Babylon, but rather to a city that has some of the ungodly characteristics of Babylon. In Revelation 11:8, the great city is “symbolically called Sodom and Egypt.”
24 The case with Adam is somewhat different, because he was not deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). Knowing Eve had sinned, Adam willfully chose to disobey God, and thus to stand (or rather to fall) with his wife.
25 Compare 1 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2.
26 Just recently in Dallas, Texas, another abandoned baby was found in a trash dumpster. Fortunately, the baby was alive and in good health.