This weekend Connie and I are in Grand Lake, in northeastern Oklahoma. I have the honor of officiating for the wedding of friends of ours. Connie and I have been meeting with them for several weeks in premarital counseling. They are excited and so are we! We are especially pleased that they affirm their desire to have a Christ-centered marriage.
There are aspects of any marriage ceremony that are universal: the involvement of the community, the atmosphere of celebration and happiness, the solemnity of vows, promises of love and faithfulness, and the invocation of divine blessing. In the case of Christian marriage, there is the added symbolism of human marriage as a picture of the relationship of Jesus Christ to his church.
The New Testament repeats this bride and bridegroom theme in many places. One of the most prominent is Ephesians chapter five where Paul writes of the love the Bridegroom (Jesus) has for his bride (the church). Paul calls this relationship “a profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32). This illustrates the present and future of the church, those who are “in Christ” through faith.
To understand this better let’s think about the elements in a wedding as it was practiced in Bible times. A wedding in the ancient near east involved three main elements: a betrothal, a presentation, and a marriage feast. The Bible says the church is made up of all who have put their faith in Christ. It is said to be betrothed to Christ. Paul wrote, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Betrothal was part of a carefully observed tradition that developed over hundreds of years in the ancient near east. The groom would bring to the father of the woman he wanted to marry a sum of money or a letter of intent indicating how he would support her as his wife. If the father agreed they would formalize the engagement in a binding agreement called betrothal. It might last for as little as a month or as long as a year before the wedding.
When the time came for the wedding ceremony, the next tradition was the presentation. The bridegroom would come at the appointed hour with an elaborate procession of friends and family dressed in their finest apparel. The bride would be waiting for him in her father’s house dressed in wedding attire accented by jewelry, flowers, a veil, and a crown. Her attendants were nearby, expecting the arrival of the bridegroom. There was excitement in the air.
The groom would make his way through the town with singing and dancing. It was a big celebration involving the entire village. The groom and his party would arrive at the home of the bride’s parents and escort her and her family and friends to his own home, weaving their way back through the village.
In Revelation 21:9 we read, “One of the angels said to me, ‘Come and I will show you the bride of the Lamb.'” The bride is the church. The Lamb is Jesus. He will come for his bride. Revelation 19:7 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory for the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.” Behind this picture are the wedding customs as practiced in Bible times. It is our Lord’s intention to “present her (his bride) to himself as a radiant church” (Ephesians 5:27).
Next was the wedding feast. When the wedding procession reached the house of the groom there would be a great feast prepared for all the attendants, friends, and neighbors. The festivities would go on and on, perhaps for a week. When the Lord Jesus famously changed water to wine at a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee, it was at just such a feast.
Then came the official conclusion of the ceremony. A town or synagogue official would stand and ask the bride and groom if they were ready to assume the responsibilities of marriage There would be ceremonial vows spoken before the entire community. Sometimes this was solemnized by a written contract which would be presented to the bride’s family.
The bride and groom would be standing under a tent-like canopy or shelter. It symbolized the tents in which Abraham and the other fathers of Israel lived. It also pictured the protection of God over his people and the blessing of God on this marriage.
With beautiful simplicity and clarity, the word of God is telling us that Jesus loves his church. He gave his life to redeem the church. The church is so precious to him that he calls us his bride. The church is betrothed to him.
We want to represent him well as we live in this world. Revelation 19:7-8 says that “His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean was given to her to wear. Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.” The apostle Peter put it this way: “Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). He had the second coming in mind. Jesus’ bride should be getting ready to meet him when he comes. We do that by the way we live now.
Like the wedding party waiting for the groom, the church is told to wait expectantly for the coming of the Lord. Jesus promised that he would come again and take his people to be with him in his Father’s house, just like the groom in the biblical wedding. He prayed in John 17:24, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have given me.”
That is Jesus’ prayer for his bride, the church. No prayer of Jesus will fail to be answered. He is coming. Are you ready to meet him?
Pastor Randy Faulkner