THE CHURCH, THE BRIDE, THE BODY AND THE NEW JERUSALEM

 

The beautiful mystery explained by Paul in Ephesians 5:25-32 has instilled in me the wonderful and moving view of the Church as the Bride of Christ:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of the 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.

 

In repeating the words of Adam in the Garden and of Jesus in Matthew 19, both in the context of marriage and the physical union between a man and his wife, Paul, by placing this marital union in the context of Jesus and His Church, plainly stated that the Church will be the spiritual Bride of Christ.

This statement of Paul’s echoes the numerous allusions that Jesus made to His own future marriage, including the parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, and, of course, his first miracle at Cana recorded in John 2, wherein He changed water into wine in anticipation of the joy of His own future wedding. Further identification of Jesus as a Bridegroom of a feminine entity is furnished by John in John 3:29.

In addition to New Testament pointers to Church in a bridal/marital context, there are at least two strong indicators of the same in the Old Testament in Genesis 24 and the Book of Ruth.

Genesis 24 describes the betrothal and marriage of Rebekah to Isaac. In Genesis 22 God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, which identifies Isaac as a type of Jesus Christ. In line with that identification, Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah identifies her as a type of Christ’s bride. According to Galatians 3:28, in which spiritual individuals do not possess gender, this bridehood cannot be fulfilled in individuals: the fulfillment must come for a collection or aggregate of individuals, which would suggest the Church. This identification of the Church as the Bride of Christ is strengthened by Paul’s characterization of the Church in 1 Corinthians 12 as a collection of individuals, each possessing specific gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In the Book of Ruth, Ruth’s husband Boaz is routinely identified by the Church as the Kinsman-redeemer, a type of Christ. It follows that Ruth, a female, represents His spiritual Wife, the Church.

Relating again to the Old Testament, it would be extremely difficult, if the Church was not a feminine entity, to justify the inclusion of the Song of Solomon in the canon of Scripture. Why, if the spiritual domain is genderless, would this overtly sexual document be a part of the Bible?

Not only is the future bride of Jesus feminine, but she is a living being, as clearly stated in Matthew 22: 31, 32:

But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Note also in Paul’s commentary in Ephesians 5: 28, that So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies, Paul emphasizes the image developed in the restatement of Adam’s commentary regarding Eve of two becoming one flesh such that in the marital union the wife is considered to be the man’s body.   Here Paul extends the image of the wife being the body of the man to Christ and His Church, in line with an alternate description of the Church as the Body of Christ.

Paul alludes to this equivalence earlier in Romans 7: 4 and 1 Corinthians 2:15-20, where he describes the spiritual nature of the Church at Rome and Ephesus as both a feminine spouse and the spiritual body of Christ through the union of gendered complements capable of bearing fruit:

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.

Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I, then, take the members of Christ, and make them into the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he who is joined to a harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is outside the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

 

The plurality of the members of the Church, hinted at in the passages above, raises another issue, one that was touched on before. In Matthew 22: 28-30 and Galatians 3:28, both Jesus and Paul characterize the individual Christian as without gender in the spiritual realm:

Therefore, in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto the, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Note, however, that in both these cases the subject is the individual. But in 1 Corinthians 12: 4-28 and elsewhere in Scripture, Paul very plainly develops the idea that the individual is not the Church, but rather just a component of her, and a rather small element at that:

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit. For to one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another, faith by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, various kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues. But all these worketh that one and the very same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

 

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath god set the members every one of them, in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. And those members of the body, which we thin to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need; but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.

 

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the Church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.

The Church, then, as a single spiritual entity comprising a multiplicity of components, is fully capable of being endowed with gender, in exactly the same manner that while the eyeball of a person is genderless, the entire person is indeed either a male or a female. Furthermore, just as Jesus is always identified as male, Scripture always identifies the Church as either a functional female or its equivalent as the spouse of Christ.

The gendered nature of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church is suggested in the strongest terms in the Song of Solomon, for why would this romantic, even erotic, relationship be included in the canon of Scripture if such was not the case? This remarkable passage has been equated by several respected Bible commentators as representing the eventual marital relationship between Jesus and the Church. A typical example follows, taken from Song of Solomon 1: 14, 15:

 

My beloved is unto me as a cluster of henna flowers in the vineyards of Engedi. Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes.

Scripture also describes the individuals comprising the Church as living human beings. Examples include Matthew 9:15 (also Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34) and Ephesians 2: 4-7:

Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom will be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

 

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath made us alive together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

 

To this point, Scripture has shown that the Church is a feminine living body comprised of a multitude of genderless spiritual human souls which, in the aggregate is espoused to Jesus Christ as her future husband. Uniting spiritually through the marital union in the spiritual realm, the Church becomes the Body of Christ precisely as the wife is considered integrated into the body of the man in the material realm. But Revelation 21: 2, 9 and 10 paint an alternate picture of the wife of Christ that easily can be construed to represent an altogether different picture of this Bride:

And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband. . .And there came unto me one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come here, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.

 

The passage above can readily be interpreted to suggest that the Bride of Christ is a building, albeit a beautiful and magnificent one, rather than the Church, which, as has been noted, is comprised of living souls. Several Scriptural passages that suggest the same thing come to mind, of which the following three are prominent:

1 Corinthians 3:9, 10 and 16:

For we are laborers together with God; ye are God’s cultivated field, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth on it. But let every man take heed how he buildeth upon it. . . Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

 

Ephesians 2:19-22:

Now, therefore ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Revelation 3:12, in Jesus’ message to the Church at Philadelphia:

          Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God; and I will write upon him My new name.

But note from these three examples that while the imagery is one of a building or components thereof, the components themselves are living human souls, all redeemed by Jesus Christ and therefore identical to the components of the Church. Given that identity, the imagery in Revelation 21 of the new Jerusalem is not mutually exclusive with the imagery of the Church. Indeed, the two images are entirely compatible with each other and mutually supportive, each adding color to the understanding of the Church as the spiritual Bride of Christ. This understanding brings this commentary full circle through Revelation 19: 7-9 back to the character of the Church as not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing:

         

          Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor 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 who are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

 

 

 

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