(7) Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
Praise, joy, and glory is given to God for the marriage of the Lamb, which “has come,” and the Lamb’s bride has “made herself ready.” The Bride of the Lamb of God is a pleasant theme in the New Testament; on the surface, there is a joyous relationship between the Lord and his church, but there is greater depth to the symbolism and it is my goal to address the more challenging issues of this subject.
The most recognizable text on this subject is Ephesians 5:22-33, and the most quoted portion is “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” I hear this often quoted along with a passing point about the church being the bride of Christ. But there is a problem with this; nothing in the context suggests that the church is married to the Lord, rather, quite the opposite. The text certainly points out the love which the Lord has for the church, as demonstrated in giving his life for her. The text continues to show the love of Christ for the church in how he sanctifies her, cleanses her (v.26), nourishes and cherishes her (v.29). The Lord’s actions are used as the standard of love between a husband and a wife; but again, the text does not suggest that the church is married to the Lord, not yet. Paul specifies that the church is not yet married to the Lord but is betrothed to be married. Paul explained that Christ sanctified her “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (v.27). Both the Greek and English language show that the church had not been presented to her husband. In those days, the presentation of the bride to her husband happened on the night of the wedding. So, while the marriage had not occurred when Paul wrote the Ephesians, the betrothal was in effect, as is evident from the sanctification and washing process (v.26). In common marriage tradition, the betrothal usually lasted an entire year. This twelve-month period was called the sanctification period, where the woman would spend much time in cleansing and beautifying herself and preparing every aspect of her life for the coming union. The sanctification period was even more intense for a woman who would marry royalty (such as the King of kings). We get a glimpse of this in the book of Esther, as she was also sanctified for a year before being presented to the Persian king, “being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women” (Esther 2:12). Esther spent the first six months washing, exfoliating, and moisturizing her skin, and the last six months learning to beautify with cosmetics and fragrances. While her case was slightly different, as not being betrothed beforehand, it is still a good example of the standard “regulations” for women.
A betrothal was as serious as the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) and could only be broken off through an official divorce (Matthew 1:18-19). A ring (or similar token) was given to the woman, and the groom would say something like this, “with this ring I sanctify you to me.” After a full term of preparations, washing and sanctification, the father of the groom decided when the wedding should commence. Only the father of the groom knew the day and the hour of the coming of the bridegroom (consider the parallel thought in Matthew 24:36). When the father decided, his son would depart the house at night and find his bride in her room; she would not be aware that she’d be married that night. The friends of the bride and groom who have been awaiting the call of the bridegroom would hurry out to the streets with lamps in hand (there were no street lights back then). There would be a celebratory procession of people in the streets, which would lead the bride and groom back to the groom’s house where they consummated the marriage.
Heading back to the scriptures, it’s been established, from Ephesians 5:27, that the church was in the preparatory period of the cleansing and beautifying process, awaiting her presentation to the groom; therefore, the marriage had not yet taken place when Paul wrote to the Ephesians. And this is not a foreign concept to the rest of the New Testament, but a consistent theme. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he said, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Like the Ephesians, the Corinthians were betrothed to one husband, to Christ. Paul considers himself a part of the betrothal process, working to sanctify the bride, to make her clean and beautiful for her husband. Spiritually speaking, this means he was instructing the church in the ways of holiness and righteousness in Christ Jesus. Paul had a part in preparing her to be presented to Christ as a “pure virgin.” But Paul also noted that he had a “godly jealousy” for them, that is, not sinful envy but righteous indignation; for he knew that they were “betrothed” to one husband, but he was concerned that they were playing the harlot with Satan, “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Paul was afraid that during their betrothal they were letting the serpent slide in and deceive them by his cunning; and therefore, lead them astray from being the pure bride of Christ. Paul’s words of concern are the subject of much larger texts and nearly whole books of the New Testament (such as Hebrews, Peter’s letters, First John, Jude, and Revelation). These scriptures provide a constant call to the betrothed, to keep herself washed, clean and pure, putting on the garments of righteousness, and beautifying herself with holiness.
The book of Revelation keeps this consistent picture of the church as the betrothed to Christ but takes it one step further. The book is filled with visions of the great serpent (called the Dragon), who tirelessly works to deceive the church into impurity and unfaithfulness to the covenant by which she has been betrothed to one husband. These scenes in the book certainly solidify Paul’s concerns with the church being led astray by the deceiving serpent. In chapter seventeen, we see another woman, readily recognized as physical Jerusalem, and she is greatly deceived by the serpent. For so long she has played the harlot against God, her covenant husband. Revelation dealt with the judgment of God against the great harlot city in chapters seventeen and eighteen. Now, in chapter nineteen, there is a great cry of “Hallelujah” to God, “for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (19:1-2). The unfaithful bride, the adulterous wife (Ezekiel 16:32) is put away for good. Divorced. The covenant that God made with Israel vanished away, and God burned up his earthly house (the temple); for the Lamb has betrothed himself to a new Jerusalem, a spiritual house (Revelation 11:19; 15:5; 21:1-2, 9-10). Therefore, we hear another “Hallelujah” in chapter nineteen, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (19:7-8). Notice, like the letters to the Ephesians and Corinthians, Revelation shows the church to still be betrothed to the Lord, but not for much longer. The words “the marriage of the Lamb has come” and the bride “has made herself ready,” indicated that the marriage had not come until now (contextually), that is, immediately following the divorce of Israel and the vanishing of old covenant law and system. Up to this time, the bride has been in the preparatory process of cleansing and making holy until the time that she would be presented to her husband in marriage.
The transition from the old covenant to the new is not as black and white as some might think, as the writer of Hebrews makes evident, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13). Revelation was speaking of the things that “must soon take place” (1:1; 22:6), and the visions predicted the fall of the adulterous woman which would soon occur in 70 AD. After which, we see the beauty of a restored people unto Christ, who were not deceived by the serpent; they had not fallen asleep but prepared themselves in holiness and righteousness, as befitting of her husband. The fall of the old covenant house marks the consummation of the new covenant in Christ.