SEVEN FIGURES USED OF THE CHURCH IN HER
RELATION TO CHRIST

THE BRIDEGROOM AND THE BRIDE

Lewis Sperry Chafer
This, the last of the seven figures which speak of the relationship between Christ and the Church, is distinctive in certain respects, and may be developed by noting as points: (1) the type as contrasted with Israel, (2) as a delineation of Christ’s knowledge-surpassing love, (3) as an assurance of the Consort’s authority, (4) as a revelation of the Bride’s position above all created beings, (5) as a surety of infinite glory, (6) the Bride types, and (7) the meaning of this figure.
It is evident that the majority of these distinctions are anticipations of realities to be enjoyed in ages to come. In this respect this figure serves a specific purpose and introduces contemplations into which no man may enter fully either in understanding or expression.
This discussion may well follow the general order of topics indicated above.
CONTRASTED WITH ISRAEL
The constant source of doctrinal error through confusing the truth respecting Israel with that of the Church is no less evident in this figure than previously. One of the inaccuracies of that indefatigable student and scholar, Dr. Ethelbert W. Bullinger—which inaccuracy, along with others, he recanted before his death—was the theory that Israel is the Bride of Christ while the Church is His Body. The supposedly convincing argument is that the Church could not be both the Body and the Bride at the same time; whereas, the Church, as has been seen, is related to Christ by seven symbolisms, all of which are not only true but are required if the extent of this relationship is to be disclosed. It has been indicated, also, that there is in Israel’s relationship to Jehovah a truth which parallels whatever may be revealed respecting Christ and the Church. The figure of the Bridegroom and the Bride is no exception. Even so clear a writer and teacher—usually free from misconceptions—as Sir Robert Anderson attempted to sustain the Israel-bride theory. In a footnote on page 200 of his book The Coming Prince (2nd ed.) he wrote: “In Scripture the church of this dispensation is symbolized as the Body of Christ, never as the Bride. From the close of John Baptist’s ministry the Bride is never mentioned until she appears in the Apocalypse (John 3:29; Rev. 21:2, 9). The force of the ‘nevertheless’ in Eph. 5:33 depends on the fact that the Church is the Body, not the Bride. The earthly relationship is readjusted by a heavenly standard. Man and wife are not one body, but Christ and His church are one body, therefore a man is to love his wife ‘even as himself.’” Each one of these arguments is easily refuted. (1) If Israel is the bride, then Israel must occupy heaven rather than the earth and surpass the Church in exaltation with no doctrinal understructure, such as is revealed respecting the New Creation, to sustain that superior position. (2) It is not strange that the Church is not referred to more often as the Bride, since she does not become the Bride until she is in the glory; and certainly no Scripture terms Israel as the Bride now or ever. (3) That the husband and wife are “one flesh” is the equivalent—within the latitude of a symbol—of the idea of one body.
A parallel between the Church as the Bride and Israel’s relation to Jehovah is seen in the fact that Israel is said to be the apostate wife of Jehovah who is yet to be restored. Certainly a wide distinction obtains between an espoused virgin (2 Cor. 11:2) and a repudiated wife. Scriptures bearing on Israel as Jehovah’s wife are: “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 54:5); “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord. … Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion. … Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord” (Jer. 3:1, 14, 20); “For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband” (Gal. 4:27). Added to these, are two passages much too long for quotation, namely, Ezekiel 16:1–59 and Hosea 2:1–23. The former of these Scriptures is Jehovah’s scathing repudiation of the nation with whom He entered into covenant and whom He made His own (vss. 8, 59); yet Israel will be restored (vss. 60–63). Similarly in Hosea 2:1–23 Jehovah’s repudiation of Israel is again described and the prophet is appointed to enact in his own home the situation of Jehovah in relation to His apostate wife, and as an object lesson to Israel. These passages should not be slighted. Several New Testament Scriptures deserve specific consideration:
John 3:29. “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.”
Such is the testimony of John the Baptist, the greatest of all prophets and the closest in personal relation to Christ; yet he disclaims a place in the Bride of Christ. What he did claim is well stated by Dr. Marvin Vincent thus: “Friend of the bridegroom. Or groomsman. The term is appropriate to Judaea, the groomsmen not being customary in Galilee. See Matt. 9:15, where the phrase children of the bridechamber is used. (See on Mark 2:19). In Judaea there were two groomsmen, one for the bridegroom, the other for his bride. Before marriage they acted as intermediaries between the couple; at the wedding they offered gifts, waited upon the bride and bridegroom, and attended them to the bridal chamber. It was the duty of the friend of the bridegroom to present him to his bride, after marriage to maintain proper terms between the parties, and especially to defend the bride’s good fame. … The Baptist represents himself as standing in the same relation to Jesus” (Word Studies in the New Testament, II. 105–6).
Romans 7:4. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
While the passage refers only to the individual in its first application, it does bear the essential truth of a union between Christ and the believers who comprise the Church.
2 Corinthians 11:2. “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
The force of this text is somewhat weakened by the insertion of the words “you as”—they being italicized, the translators admit by so much that the addition of these words is their own. The direct statement made by the Apostle is, that I may present a chaste virgin to Christ. He certainly is not contemplating Israel.
Galatians 4:19–31. Here the Apostle distinguishes between the children of Hagar and the children of Sarah. The latter are wrought by promise and therefore free. It is true that the actual children of Hagar represent no divine purpose beyond that made to Abraham (Gen. 17:20), and that the children of Israel are of Sarah’s line; but as an illustration of two groups—one under the law—and the other free from the law—these two women are symbolical. This reasoning is drawn from the fact that Hagar was a bondwoman and thus represents the Israelites under law. Sarah was free and represents those who through Christ are free (cf. Gal. 5:1–4). Israel is always under law when dealt with nationally by Jehovah, even in the coming kingdom age (cf. Deut. 30:8). The wife of a monarch is not under governmental laws any more than the king. To make Israel the Bride is to elevate Hagar to the place which Sarah occupies. The Church alone has been delivered from the law.
Ephesians 5:25-33. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”
Doubtless the discussion of the Israel-bride theory centers more on this Scripture than on any other. Sir Robert Anderson, cited above, asserts that “the force of the ‘nevertheless’ in Eph. 5:33 depends on the fact that the Church is the Body, not the Bride”; but every sentence in this extended context refers to the relation which exists between the husband and the wife illustrating the union between Christ and the Church. The opening of the theme, where the subject would naturally be announced, is of husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church (vs. 25). An unprejudiced reader would hardly be impressed with the claim that this Scripture refers to the relation suggested by the head and the body. Dr. C. I. Scofield supplies a clarifying note in his Reference Bible: “Verses 30, 31 are quoted from Gen. 2:23, 24, and exclude the interpretation that the reference is to the Church merely as the body of Christ. Eve, taken from Adam’s body, was truly ‘bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh,’ but she was also his wife, united to him in a relation which makes of ‘twain … one flesh’ (Mt. 19:5, 6), and so a clear type of the church as bride of Christ” (p. 1255). The only reference in this context to the body is advanced with a view to asserting the fact that as a man naturally—as all do—loves his own body, in like manner should he love his wife who by the marriage union has been constituted a part of his flesh. It is significant that worthy commentators, almost without exception, have interpreted this passage as a developing to great fullness the truth that Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride.
Revelation 19:7–8. “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.”
This scene is in heaven—after the removal of the Church from the earth—where the marriage takes place. The Bride by her own soulwinning ministry has made herself ready. She is clothed in white and constituted righteous. Israel, as a nation, is never seen in heaven, nor are they as a people, as is true of the Church, constituted righteous. Though termed “a holy nation,” that holiness is relative rather than absolute.
Revelation 21:1–22:7 and Hebrews 12:22–24. These extended Scriptures are cited at this point only that their testimony may be included relative to the new Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The fact that this marvelous city “comes down from God out of heaven”—three times stated (Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 10)—may well indicate that the city is not the heaven from which it proceeds. Its inhabitants are enrolled in Hebrews 12:22–24. Among these is an innumerable company of angels, the Church of the first-born, the spirits of just men made perfect, the Father, and the Son. The city is thus seen to be cosmopolitan to a large degree and, apparently, is more characterized by the Church than by the other created companies indicated. It is styled “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” If the earthly people as such are present they are indicated by the phrase, “the spirits of just men made perfect.”
Matthew 25:1–13. This familiar context which sets forth Christ’s own account of Israel’s judgments under the figure of the ten virgins enters directly into the question concerning Israel as the Bride of Christ. The scene is on the earth and the time is the return of their Messiah in power and great glory to take the Davidic throne, to conquer and judge the nations (Ps. 2:7–9; Isa. 63:1–6; Matt. 25:31–46; Rev. 19:11–16). It is then that the nation Israel will be judged relative to their worthiness to enter their covenanted kingdom on the earth. Since the realization of these covenant blessings in the kingdom have been held as an incentive before that people in all their generations, it is reasonable to believe that all Israel will be raised and pass through this great assize. The judgment of Israel is anticipated in many Old Testament predictions, notably Ezekiel 20:33–44 and Malachi 3:1–6. The first of these passages foresees this great judgment as determined by God and indicates that it will occur in the very wilderness in which Israel was detained in judgment when returning from Egypt (vs. 35). It is in this judgment that Israel will be purified by the purging out of rebels (vs. 38). The second passage—Malachi 3:1–6—announces the same final judgment, but declares it to be at the time and in connection with the second advent of Christ. Both advents are in view in this Scripture and, as in all Old Testament previews, they are seen as one vast divine undertaking. This prophecy foresees John the Baptist, and yet the actual judgment comes with the second advent (cf. Ps. 50:1–7; Mal. 4:1–2).
The central passage bearing on Israel’s judgment is from the lips of Christ and is found in the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:37–25:30. Having predicted the oncoming tribulation (24:9–28) which concerns Israel, the Savior describes His second advent in power and great glory (24:29–31). This portion is followed with warnings to Israel and predictions respecting their judgment that will take place when the King returns. The passage which relates the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13) opens with this declaration: “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (vs. 1). Old manuscripts—especially the Vulgate—add the words and the bride. That is, the ten virgins went forth to meet the Bridegroom and the Bride. Similarly, verse 10 which reads, “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut,” should add—as in the R.V. and all corrected translations—the word feast. That is, they that were ready went in to the marriage feast—not the wedding, which will have already taken place in heaven (cf. the marriage supper of the Lamb—Rev. 19:9). Words of the Savior on this same theme, recorded in Luke 12:35–36, clarify this whole situation: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.” That Israel is indicated by the term virgins is not confined to this context. The 144,000 of Revelation 14:1–5 are, in verse 4, said to be virgins; and in Psalm 45:8–17 a prophetic picture is drawn of the millennial palace, and announcement is made of those who will have right to be in it. These include the King, and on His right hand the Queen—the Church—and speaking of the Queen and her companions, the writer says, “She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee. With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king’s palace” (vss. 14–15). It is significant that the virgins will be presented to the King and Queen and that, to this end, they shall “enter into the king’s palace.” As Israel on the earth is indicated in the parable of the virgins and that such shall then—those that are found worthy—enter the palace, in like manner Israel is seen in Psalm 45—not as the Queen or Bride—but as companions who are the honored guests in the kingdom. The term virgins can be applied with propriety to a people now in chastisement for their unfaithfulness, only in the sense that they are a redeemed nation and under the unalterable purpose of God (cf. Rom. 11:29).
From these Scriptures the evidence is conclusive that the Church is the Bride of Christ and that Israel will have her place of honor in the kingdom as companions of the Bride.
 Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI : Kregel Publications, 1993, S. 4:127

 

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