Imagery in Action
Jesus, on many occasions, made references to the Jewish wedding in relation to Himself, the Kingdom of God, and those who were listening. Throughout the centuries, the Church has been referred to as the "bride of Christ". In Ephesians 5, Paul speaks directily to that correlation between the Church as a bride, and Jesus as the groom. When we take a close look at the imagery of the wedding in the light of Christian theology and eschatology, those stories take on a depth of meaning that is nothing short of amazing.
In the first century, the Jewish marriage contained a number of steps, each having a special significance to them, and to us. Let's take a look first at those steps.
First came the betrothal. This involved the prospective groom's father selecting a bride, and then agreeing to pay a price for that bride. The son, or groom-to-be would then travel from the father's house to the home of the selected bride, and pay the purchase price. This action established legally a binding marriage covenant. Following this step, the groom returned to the father's house, and spent an indeterminate amount of time there in which he would prepare living accomodations for the bride. Some time later, when the father decided it was time, he would send the groom to collect the bride. This time was always a surprise to the bride, coming at a time, day or night, when not expected. The groom would then take his bride back to the father's house, where the marriage was then consumated. This would last for 7 days, celebrating with a wedding feast, after which the newly minted husband and wife would return to the wife's hometown.
Now let's look at the individual elements, and derive the meaning to us, as believers.
Step 1 involves the father selecting a bride. Look at Jhn 15:19; " If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world...", and 2Th 2:13; " But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:".
Add to this what Jesus said in Jhn 18:9 "That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none." And then Jhn 6:37 "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
What we see is that God the Father has selected us, and given us to Jesus, and Jesus guarantees our security by promising that He will in no way cast us away, or reject us.
Step 2 involves the groom coming to the brides home, and paying the agreed upon price. Jesus left His Father's house in heaven, came to earth as a man, and paid the price required to redeem mankind....His shed blood and death on the cross. Remember that scripture says that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22), and that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Look at Rom. 5:8; "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.", and 1 Thess. 5:10; "Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him."
So we see that Jesus paid the price, and all who would accept the conditions of that contract ratified by the Father and the Son are then a part of the Church He died for, and as such are a "bride".
The next step is that the groom (Jesus) then returns to His Father's house to prepare a dwelling place for the bride, and await the time when the Father will order him to go get His bride. Look at John 14:1-3; "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions ([monai] , dwelling places); if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." And in Acts 1:10-11, "And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
Next on the wedding agenda is the collection of the bride by the groom. In Mat. 25, Jesus tells us of the virgins waiting on the bridegroom. Five had no oil, and had to go find some. While they were gone, the groom came, and the five who had oil went with him. With oil being an analogy for the Holy Spirit, we see that those who believe (and have the Spirit) can go with the groom, but those who didn't are left behind. Lest there be any confusion here, let me state clearly and unequivocally that those who believe in Jesus HAVE the Holy Spirit, for Jesus sealed and baptised us with that Spirit at the moment of belief, and He is the guarantee of our redemption.
Now the groom takes his bride back to his father's house. Jesus comes for His Church, those who believe in Him, and takes them to Heaven. Look at 1Th 4:14-17; " For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
This is referred to as "the rapture", but should properly called the "snatching away", since that is the true meaning of the words "caught up". It involves all who ever believed in Christ, dead and alive. Those who are dead (or sleeping, as Paul puts it) have been with Christ since their death, and He brings their souls with Him. As the trump of God sounds, their bodies rise out of the ground, or wherever they may be, whether bones, or dust, and are changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52) to immortal and incorruptible bodies, and reuinited with their souls. Immediately after those of us who are alive are also changed, and rise up to meet with Jesus in the air.
Jesus takes us to heaven, His Father's house, where we stay with Him at a wedding feast for a period of 7 years (days) while the tribulation plays out on the earth. While many say that the Church is going to be on the earth during the tribulation period, this just doesn't match with the imagery of the wedding ceremony, or with scripture.
Look at Isaiah chapter 26:20-21 “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.”
Additionally, Ephraem, bishop of Syria c. 350 AD. wrote in his sermon, On the Last Times, the Antichrist and the End of the World": "For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins."
Rev 19:7-9 "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God."
Finally, we have the groom returning to his brides home along with the bride and wedding party. Look at Jude 1:14-15; "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him."