Is the church today “the bride of Christ”?
This question is frequently asked and I usually respond by first of all pointing out that there is no question as to who and what the “bride of Christ” is, because the Bible states it in no uncertain terms. Revelation 21:9-13 plainly declares it.
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God…”
There it is plain and simple. That’s the “bride of Christ.” Unfortunately, most of the time when this is pointed out to Christians they say, “How can a city be the bride of Christ?”
But that’s what the Bible says. The real problem is that most Christians have a very weak understanding of God’s program with Israel and they are not at all familiar with God’s marriage relationship to Israel. They don’t understand and appreciate the extent of the living-union-relationship of marriage that God said He would have with Israel and because of this having a city called the Lamb’s “bride” and “wife” is something they can’t fathom. But that’s not the Bible’s fault. Christians need to understand God’s program with Israel. They need to understand that a marriage relationship is what God established with Israel and that this relationship included their land. Hence, for example in Isaiah 62, God speaks of marrying Israel’s land again. Until Christians understand these things they will continue to misunderstand the “bride of Christ” and they will continue to try to identify it as something different than what God plainly says it is. For you and I, however, it is plain to see that the “bride of Christ” pertains to God’s program with Israel and not to us in this dispensation of God’s grace.
What then is Paul doing in 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5? He is doing just what the little word “as” in both passages indicates. He is explaining something by the use of an illustrative analogy. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul is explaining and amplifying upon the declaration he has made to them that he is “jealous over them with godly jealousy.” He knows that the ones he is particularly addressing there in chapters 10–12 don’t understand his love for them; nor his reasons for being upset with their disapproval of him; nor his motives for dealing with them as he has done; etc., etc. He knows that they think he “walks after the flesh”; that he is insincere; has ulterior motives; operates on a hidden agenda; and is just plain fleshly jealous over these “very chiefest apostles” who the Corinthians find much more impressive and entertaining than Paul.
Paul knows all of this, and he knows exactly what they are thinking as he writes to them and how their own flesh is responding to what he has been saying to them, especially from 2 Corinthians 10:1 up until this point. He is jealous, but not of the “very chiefest apostles.” That would be fleshly jealousy. Instead, Paul, as he says, is “jealous over you with godly jealousy.” This is completely different and is righteous, being the very jealousy God Himself possesses. But Paul knows that these carnal Corinthians aren’t going to pick up on this right away. They don’t have any frame of reference for this kind of righteous jealousy (any more than Israel did when God first declared it of Himself to them). So Paul provides for them to have a measure of understanding and appreciation of his “godly jealousy” over them by giving them an illustrative analogy of what it is like. And he does this by referring to a righteous jealousy that they could relate to — the kind an espoused husband would have to his virgin. Even in their carnality these Corinthians could understand this. And this is the kind of jealousy that Paul had for them. He wasn’t walking after the flesh at all. They were being seduced by a seducer and didn’t even know it. They were in danger of being spiritually raped, so to speak, and they needed to realize this and preserve their chastity. But they would only realize this if they would listen to Paul as he manifested the truth of it to them. And they would only listen if they could be made to see that his motive wasn’t fleshly jealousy, but “godly jealousy.” Hence, his illustrative analogy of acting towards them as one who has espoused them as a chaste virgin to one husband.
In Ephesians 5 as he deals with the Divine institution of marriage and especially of the love that a husband ought to have for his wife, Paul once again sets forth an illustrative analogy in order to describe the depth of that selfless love that a husband ought to have. Christ’s love for the church is the illustrative analogy, and it is the perfect illustrative analogy. For there is a common “bond of perfectness” to both the living-union relationship that exists in the body of Christ and the living-union-relationship that exists in marriage, and that is agape love; selfless love. The two living-union relationships, though different, are designed by God to effectually operate on the exact same principle. Hence, to teach and exhort Christian husbands to operate on the “bond of perfectness” of love that God designed a marriage to operate on, Paul uses the illustrative analogy of the “bond of perfectness” of Christ’s love for the church so that the full depth of that love can be understood and appreciated.
Keith R. Blades