When Jesus sees His bride coming from heaven, who His bride may actually be.
By Dick Lentz
6 “Hallelujah!” For our Lord God Almighty reigns 7 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. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God. (Revelation 19:6-9, NIV)”
For years I’ve been told by various pastors and teachers that in the above passage, the Bride of Christ – the wife of the Lamb – is the Church. The picture they sometimes present when doing so is a wedding where Jesus, the Bridegroom, is waiting anxiously at an altar for His Bride, the Church, a bride clothed in white, walking towards her future husband. It’s been explained that this is a metaphor of how much Jesus longs for the day when the Church – all those who have made a commitment to follow Jesus – has perfect fellowship with Him, something that will occur only in the end-times when believers are unencumbered by the trials, travails, and temptations of this world.
I used to believe that this was true – that the Bride of Christ is the Church. What caused me to question this were these verses:
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:2, NIV).
9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:9-14, NIV)”
What struck me about these verses is how “un-church-like” they were. For the most part, they include symbols more commonly associated with the Jews – the Israelites – than with the Church. Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish nation and the city where a temple was built so that God could dwell in the midst of His chosen people; the names written on the gates of the city are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; and though the twelve apostles whose names are written on the foundations of the wall were among the early leaders of the Church, all twelve of them were Jews, and their initial converts were almost entirely from the people of Israel. Nothing in these verses has a “Gentile” flavor to it, and nothing in them explicitly refers to the Church.
And so, who is the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb”? Is it the Church? Or could it be someone else?
Jesus does have a Bride
The first thing to establish is that Jesus does or will have a Bride. The verses in Revelation 19:6-9 and 21:9-14 noted above support this. So does the following:
28 “You yourselves can testify that I [John the baptist] said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine and is now complete. (John 3:28-29, NIV)”
John was acknowledging in the above that though Jesus is a Bridegroom that he, John, was not His Bride but instead was a friend of the Bridegroom.
Here’s another passage that supports this:
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him [Jesus], “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. (Matthew 9:14-15, NIV)”
This passage not only identifies Jesus as a Bridegroom, it also indicates that there will be others attending His wedding as well, others described as “guests of the bridegroom.” The passage then tells us who these guests are; they are or will be His disciples – those who are followers of Jesus.
But the question for us is not if Jesus will be a Bridegroom but is instead if He is, who will His Bride be?
Is the Church the Bride of Christ?
There are verses in the New Testament that suggest that the Church could be the Bride of Christ. Here is a passage that is frequently cited to support this:
21 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now 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 up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:21-27, NIV).
2 I am jealous for 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. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough … (2 Corinthians 11:2-4, NIV)
Although these verses seem to be describing Jesus as husband and the Church as His wife, none of them explicitly state that this is so. It seems to me that Paul is simply describing in Ephesians 5:21-27 how husbands and wives should treat each other; it is not saying that the marriage of a man and woman is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. And though Paul does use the word “husband” in 2 Corinthians 11:2 to describe what a believer’s relationship with Jesus ought to be like, his purpose in doing so was to voice his fear that some were being led astray by false teachers preaching a different Jesus or a different Gospel.
There are in fact no verses in the Bible that actually say, “The Church is the Bride of Christ.” This association comes from commentators and teachers, not from the actual words of Scripture. It is not explicit; it is inferred. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t valid. It could be true even if not explicitly stated. But it does present some problems if it is so. Consider these verses for example:
- Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV).
- And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:22-23, NIV).
These verses state that the Church is the Body of Christ. But if this is so, then how can the Church also be the Bride of Christ? It seems to me that the Church cannot be both; it is either one or the other. In this case, I lean towards the association that is explicitly stated rather than the one that is inferred.
But there is another problem with concluding that the Church is the Bride of Christ. I noted these verses earlier:
7 “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints). (Revelation 19:7-8, NIV)”
To conclude that the Bride in this passage is the Church requires one to also conclude that believers aren’t yet ready to be received by Jesus and that something else has to be done to make the Church acceptable to Him before the wedding – that some “righteous acts” (vs. 8) are required for the Church to be made complete. But this would be in conflict with what is found in this passage:
8 For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).
If some acts of righteousness need to be performed in order for the Church to be ready to be presented to Jesus, then its relationship with Him is no longer based on faith alone. If however the Church’s relationship with Jesus is based entirely on faith but works are required to make the Bride ready for her Bridegroom, then the Bride of Christ cannot be the Church; it has to be someone else.
Could Israel be the Bride of Christ?
There is a much stronger case that the Bride of Christ is the people of Israel. Their relationship with God is compared frequently in Scripture to the one between a husband a wife. Consider these for example:
- For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is His name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the god of all the earth (Isaiah 54:5-6, NIV).
- “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you — one from a town and two from a clan — and bring you to Zion. (Jeremiah 3:14, NIV)”
- No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate, but you will be called Hephzibah [which means “my delight is in her”], and your land Beulah [which means “married”]; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:4-5, NIV).
- “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord. (Hosea 2:19-20, NIV)”
- “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, ”when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,“ declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord., “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34, NIV)”
If you look up these verses and note their context, you’ll find that they are referring in some cases to God’ past relationship with Israel and in others to His future relationship with them following a time when they have fallen away from Him. They suggest that God did have and perhaps always has had a relationship with Israel that is similar to the relationship between a husband and wife. And even though Israel frequently committed spiritual adultery by serving other gods, there is no indication in Scripture that God ever divorced the nation of Israel or its people or that He ever will. God promised that He would always remain faithful to Israel even if the people of Israel were unfaithful to Him.
God’s promise in this regards is confirmed in the following passage:
35 This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the Lord Almighty is his name: 36 “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,“ declares the Lord, ”will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.” 37 This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,“ declares the Lord (Jeremiah 31:35-37).
What’s interesting is that the writer of Hebrews quotes from portions of Jeremiah 31:31-34 when describing the effects of Jesus’ sacrificial death:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:16-18, NIV).
And so, who is at the wedding?
Based on what I’ve noted above, It seems to me that it is the people of Israel and not believers in the Church who are the Bride of Christ. If this is so, then the celebration described in Revelation 19:6-9 could be the result of the joy Jesus and the guests at His wedding express when the people of Israel finally acknowledge Jesus as their Savior.
Where is the Church in this? If it is the not the Bride of Christ, is it at the wedding supper of the Lamb at all? I believe that it is. But instead of the Church being the Bride of Christ, I believe based verses noted earlier that the Church is either the Friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:28-29) or one of His guests (Matthew 9:14-15).
I believe that Jesus – the Lamb at the wedding supper in Revelation 19:6-9 and the Bridegroom mentioned in other passages – is patiently waiting for the arrival the Bride promised to Him centuries ago – a Bride that has to be made ready for Him but who will someday be clothed in white, fully prepared to be received into the arms of the One who has always longed to have a relationship with her.
As I see it today, that Bride – the Bride of Christ – is the people of Israel.
For further reading on this and other topics, check out these posts:
“Who are the rightful heirs of the land of Israel?”)
Is Revelation describing events that will occur PRIOR to the return of Jesus?
Warning to Christians: You may be here for the duration
Three things that must happen before Jesus returns
The Mark of the Beast may be a concern only for Christians
Jesus’ return will be visible to everyone
The three accounts of the return of Jesus in Revelation
Why the parable of the thief coming in the night may be a warning to Christians
When Jesus returns, it won’t be Christians who are “taken away”
This is a great read, but I do have one further question: You mention that God does not divorce Israel, yet in Jeremiah 3:8, He says: “8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.”
According to the Law, once divorced, you cannot remarry, correct? Any thoughts?
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 does mention this. It addresses a divorcee who remarries noting that returning to her first husband was not permitted. Three things need to be kept in mind in consideration of this: (#1) God said that the Old Covenant, the one He made with Israel while they were wandering in the desert and the one that includes the above restriction, was ineffective. He them promised to replace it with a New Covenant based on individual vs. corporate accountability (Jeremiah 31:27-37). This New Covenant was put into effect when Jesus was crucified (Hebrews 10). In the process, the Old Covenant along with all its rules were nailed to the Cross (Colossians 2:13-15). (#2) When Daniel understood that Israel’s exile was about to end, he prayed to God asking when Israel would be forgiven for its transgressions (Daniel 9:17-19). God’s response was that it would take 490 years before Israel’s sins would be atoned for (Daniel 9:24). I believe this was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified and then prayed this: “Father, forgive them, for they do no know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). (#3) The book of Hosea represents a better picture of God’s relationship with Israel. God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute. She is unfaithful and he divorces her. God then commands him to seek her out. He does, then buys her back, brings her back into his home, and remarries her. This was intended to picture God’s continued love for Israel as well as others who have wandered away from Him, one I believe that was depicted accurately in the movie and book titled, “Redeeming Love.”
Dick … I realize it has been awhile since anyone has posted to this, but I would like to ask how you understand verses like Matthew 9:14-15 where Jesus refers to his disciples, mostly if not all Jewish, as guests of the bridegroom. Are those Jews included in the Bride of Christ even though he calls them guests?
Good question. I think the answer to this best begins by first noting in Revelation 21:9-27 who the Bride of Christ explicitly is. It is Jerusalem. But I don’t think this passage is referring to a physical location; it is not referring to the city itself. I believe it is referring to “those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (vs. 27). But note whose names are written on the gates of the city. It is the twelve tribes of Israel (vs. 12). Also note who serves as the foundation for its walls. It is the twelve apostles (vs. 14). It seems to me that the city in this vision represents the people of Israel – the Jews – and that the ones who served as the foundation for its walls were those who helped bring the Jews into a saving relationship with Him; it is the Friends of Jesus.
It’s interesting to note in this respect Romans 10:15 which says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” This verse, in the context of Romans 9-11, is referring to those who bring the good news to the Jews. It comes from Isaiah 52:7 which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
And so, although it could be that the friends of Jesus are those who have make a commitment to partner with Him in preaching the good news to those who are lost in general, as I see it today, it applies especially to those who preach to good news to the Jews so that Jesus’ bride – the people of Israel – can have a saving relationship with Him.
You need to add one more verse to Eph. 5:21-27 for the understanding of this passage. “This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church” (5:32). “However…” There is a message in that first word of Eph. 5:33.
What do you consider to be the message in that first word of Ephesians 5:33?
Paul is presenting the similarities in the two relationships that exist between a married couple and Christ and His church. (Ehp. 5:22-33. In verse 31 “For this reason, a man will leave His father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Paul, in verse 32, responding to what he just said in verse 31 states: “This is a profound mystery–but (my primary emphasis is) I am talking about Christ and the church.” The word “however” infers a secondary, not a primary lesson is being taught which is “husband love your wife as much as you love yourself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
What I do when I teach Ephesians 5:21-33 is to first of all start with verse 21, the verse that says, “Submit to one another,” (many teachers start with verse 22) and to then note that the relationship between husbands and wives is to mirror the relationship between Christ and the Church. I then ask, “How did Christ treat the Church?” I then point out that in Ephesians 2:6 that Christ raised the Church up so it is seated next to Him and that in Philippians 2:5-8 He took a position below the Church so that He could serve it. I then ask, “How can these pictures of Christ’s relationship to the Church be modeled in marriage?”
The discussion of how Christ modeled what Christian marriages ought to look like probably warrants a separate blog. I have a worksheet I put together to walk my students through some Scriptures pertaining to this. I guess I need to get these into an article that summarizes my understanding of them.
I just found this site because I too am researching this issue….who is the bride of Christ? I would appreciate your interpretation of this parable in Matthew 22if you feel so led to provide. Thanks in advance, Paul By the way, great article…I chose this article because I’m now challenging myself on the position you set forth here.
1Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him
Thanks for your response and your questions. Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been traveling a bit lately.
There is tendency by some to treat parables as analogies where every element is important. I believe that parables are best understood if they are interpreted as stories that communicate a simple message. They are often grouped together and when they are, it’s important to note the similarity of their messages and not get bogged down with the details. It’s important to note their context as they were almost always voiced in response to a specific issue. Frequently they are interpreted directly by Jesus and if so then there’s no doubt what He meant to say. And often there is a response from those Jesus was addressing that provides some clues about the intent of the story.
With this in mind, here’s what I find significant about the parable of the wedding banquet:
• Its immediate context is questioning of Jesus’ authority by religious leaders during the final week of His ministry (Matthew 21:23-27) and their desire to trap Jesus into saying something that would justify having Him arrested (Mathew 21:45).
• Jesus’ responded with three parables: the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32), the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33-46), and the parable of the wedding banquet (Mathew 22:1-14).
• In the parable of the two sons, one son promised to work in the field but didn’t; the second son said he wouldn’t but did. Jesus said that this story was meant to communicate that they, the leaders of the people, because they refused to repent (even though they claimed to be loyal to God) would subsequently lose their place in His kingdom. Tax-collectors and prostitutes (whom the leaders didn’t think very highly of) because of their belief in Him would enter the kingdom of God ahead of those leaders.
• In the parable of the tenants, when the landowner sent his servants to collect the harvest, the tenants killed them. When he sent his son, they killed him as well. Jesus said that this story was meant to convey the message that that they, the leaders, were like the tenants and that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to people who were more productive. The leaders responded by looking for ways to have Jesus arrested.
• In the parable of the wedding feast, those initially invited refused to show up for the wedding; others not invited were asked to come in their place did so. Those initially invited who refused to attend were destroyed along with their cities. Although Jesus didn’t interpret this parable, the leaders understood that it was referring to them and that they were the ones who were going to be destroyed (Matthew 22:15-17).
I believe that when Jesus told these stories that he was addressing the leaders of of people directly and not the people themselves and that He was telling these leaders what was going to happen to them because of their lack of repentance and their rejection of Him (Matthew 21:31-33). Jesus was also indicating what would happen to those who did accept Him. I consider this a secondary message however as Jesus was primarily addressing the leaders and not the people in general. But note that both groups were Jews. The ones rejecting Him were spiritual leaders of the Jews. The ones accepting Jesus were Jews considered lower down on the social ladder.
And so what is the simple message of the parable of the wedding banquet? I believe that Jesus was telling the religious leaders what was going to happen to them because of their rejection of Him. They were going to lose their place in the kingdom of God, their city, and even their lives. In contrast, those they considered among the greatest of sinners would have a place in the kingdom because of their belief in Him.
By the way, I don’t believe that the parable of the wedding banquet has anything to do with the Bride of Christ or to the fact that that Gospel would eventually go to the Gentiles or to what it means to be among those chosen (Matthew 22:14). Jesus was simply pointing out to the leaders that they were going to forfeit their roles as leaders and lose their place in the kingdom of God if they continued to be unrepentant.
That is how I see it today.
Let me know if this is helpful or if you have additional questions.
I would love to liven this up by arguing with you but you make solid and well-written points. You’ve opened us up to a lot about how Jesus’ words and Paul’s writings shows God’s desire for Israel as well as gentiles.
Jeremiah 31:31 reminds me of a couple I know who got divorced and remarried again. It sounds like Israel chose to blow their relationship (God as a husband) and Israel is given a new covenant (assuming God is the husband again). Is that the New Jerusalem that John wrote about?
I’ve been at a few weddings and the guests enjoy it as much as the wedding party. Works for me 🙂
Thanks for your comments.
Regarding the New Jerusalem, I believe that it will be an actual, physical place. I also believe that Jeremiah 31:27-37 is addressing both individual Jews and the nation as a whole. Beginning in Jeremiah 31:27, God says He will initiate a change – a new covenant (vs. 31) – that will remove judgment for sins from nations and place it on individuals (“everyone will be responsible for their own sin – vs. 30”). This covenant was set in motion when Jesus was crucified (Hebrews 10:15-18). This doesn’t mean that God no longer cares about the nation of Israel as a whole; God said He would honor His promises to it (vs. 35-36). It’s as if God was saying (in 35-36), “Only if I am not God will I abandon the people of Israel or not do for them what I promised to do.”
Hosea elaborates on this concept of God’s eternal commitment to Israel. Hosea was commanded by God to marry a prostitute. God then told Hosea that he had to stay married to her even though she abandoned him and started living in adultery. This was meant to be a picture of God’s commitment to remain faithful to the nation of Israel, His “wife” (Hos. 2), even during those times when the nation was unfaithful to Him or was serving other gods.
And yes, to be a guest at the “Wedding of the Lamb” can be just as joyous as being His Bride. I actually like the concept that I could be one of Jesus’ friends. It reminds me that Jesus is not waiting for me; I’m already in a relationship with Him that like a friendship is mutually beneficial.
Of course, this “as I see it today.” There’s much more to this that what I’ve written so far. What I’m attempting to do with some of these posts is to peel back the onion of Scripture leaf by leaf so I can find out what else I’ve been missing.
I never realized this. It makes sense to me. As Christians we become the body of Christ with Him. We are one in the Spirit. We experience struggles and hardships like everyone else but it is different for us. We have Him living with us to endure whatever comes. We already have the Lord with us. We will be with Him at the wedding. It brings joy to my heart to look forward to that day when we see Israel come as the bride.
Thanks for your comment. It reminds me that our relationship with Jesus right now is a much bigger deal than we sometimes understand it to be. Seeing ourselves as guests or friends present at His wedding, celebrating along with Him when He welcomes His Bride, is a very different picture than the one more commonly presented.
What part of the world are you from, Pam? And I’m curious – how did you come across my blog?