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Great are the Offices He Bears (8): The Bridegroom

T Wilson, Glasgow

The cry, "Behold, the bridegroom" (Mt 25.6), would have been familiar to those who heard the Lord unfold the parable of the ten virgins. The listeners would have been equally familiar with the circumstances that formed the background to the five virgins being exposed in their foolish lack of preparation. At that hugely important point that ended the often lengthy betrothal period, the cry was announcing the bridegroom’s appearance to take his bride to the home he had prepared. Thereafter the marriage supper would follow. When the Lord applies the teaching of the parable of the ten virgins, He does not speak of Himself as the Bridegroom, but as the Son of man: "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Mt 25.13). Although the parable belongs to a collection of seven parables (Mt 24.32-25.46) that follow the doctrine of the Son of Man in Matthew 24.1-31, many a gospel preacher has applied the passage to the blessing of souls tempted to delay accepting Christ as their Saviour, as he stressed the lesson the Lord taught: "Watch therefore" (Mt 25.13) or, in words from the previous chapter: "Be ye also ready" (Mt 24.44).

The Lord also used the metaphor of the bridegroom at Matthew 9.15; Mark 2.19-20; Luke 5.34-35. When the scribes and Pharisees saw the Lord eating with publicans and sinners, they found fault with Him for dining in such company. It appears from the accounts by Mark and Luke that the critics widened the scope of their questioning to contrast His eating with the fasting of both the Pharisees’ disciples and John’s. (Matthew also mentions the presence of some of John’s disciples and their involvement in the discussion.) The Lord again uses the metaphor of the marriage supper. While the bridegroom is present there is much celebration, but when he withdraws the joy diminishes. His words did not condemn fasting, nor did they condemn eating and drinking. Again, it is noteworthy that the Lord does not identify Himself as the Bridegroom.

Earlier in the Lord’s ministry John the Baptist used the metaphor of the Bridegroom in distinguishing between his ministry and that of the Lord Jesus: "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom…rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice" (Jn 3.29). When John applies the metaphor, he speaks of his joy: "This my joy therefore is fulfilled". John neither identifies himself as the friend of the Bridegroom, nor the Lord as the Bridegroom.

Nevertheless, John’s choice of this metaphor is startling in the light of "the great mystery…concerning Christ and the church" (Eph 5.32) that was not revealed until after the Lord’s exaltation. That mystery had remained hidden in God "throughout the ages" (Eph 3.9, JND). There is no Scriptural warrant for the suggestion that John had received a revelation of what would later be revealed in Paul’s writings.

In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus is never directly called the Bridegroom. Nonetheless, the language of Jewish wedding traditions is evident in passages such as Ephesians 5.22-30; Revelation 19.5-9; 21.2-9; 22.17. These references have moved poets like Charles Spurgeon to use the metaphor of Bride and Bridegroom:

Thou glorious Bridegroom of our hearts,
Thy present smile a heaven imparts;
O lift the veil, if veil there be,
Let every saint Thy beauties see.

The relationship between Christ and His Church that is set out in the New Testament emphasises a number of matters of great importance to our understanding.

The Purchase Price the Bridegroom Paid

The relevance of a purchase price would be evident to saints in lands where the dowry system still pertained, when Ephesians 5.25 was read: "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it". Despite his apparent refusal of a dowry of David, Saul asked David to expose himself to considerable danger to deliver the evidence that he had killed a hundred of the king’s enemies (1 Sam 18.25-27). David doubled the required payment and slew two hundred Philistines. To secure His Bride, the Lord Jesus did not only come face to face with death, He went into death to secure her. The purchase price was the giving of Himself:

• He gave His flesh - John 6.51
• He gave His body - Luke 22.19
• He gave His blood - Luke 22.20
• He gave His life - John 10.11
• He gave "all that he had" - Matthew 13.46

The willingness of David to face death to secure his bride does not provide an adequate parallel with the Lord Jesus giving Himself. In the context, no mention is made of David’s love for Michal; indeed, initially Saul was to give her elder sister Merab to David (1 Sam 18.17-21). But the love of Christ for the Church is expressly stated to be the reason He gave Himself for the Church. All who comprise the Church, i.e. those purchased by His blood from Pentecost until the Rapture, will never forget the price paid. The very name by which she is to be known - "the bride, the Lamb’s wife" (Rev 21.9) – will remind her of the purchase price and the love that paid it.

The Purification the Bride Required

In Israel, ceremonial ablutions were an important part in the bride’s preparation for her presentation to her bridegroom. Wisely, Naomi instructed Ruth as she prepared for presentation to Boaz in marriage; the instruction was: "Wash thyself…and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee" (Ruth 3.3). A fuller picture is provided by Ezekiel as he reproached Israel for her rejection of the God who had lavished blessing on her from the moment of her birth as a nation in Egypt until He covenanted with the nation at Sinai. Ezekiel emphasises the washing and the anointing that Naomi had mentioned to Ruth: "I…looked upon thee…I sware unto thee…Then washed I thee with water…I clothed thee also…I decked thee" (Ezek 16.8-11). In the case of the Church, sanctification and cleansing also come before the Bride is presented to her Bridegroom. In our case, it is not literal water, not even the water of baptism, that is in view, for the washing is "by the word", the spoken word, the spoken word of Christ! "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (Jn 15.3).

The Presentation of the Bride to her Bridegroom

Ephesians 5.27 has in view the great day of presentation that has not yet dawned. It lies after the Rapture (1 Thess 4.16-17). Meanwhile Christ’s present interest in the Church is not in question, for He continues to nourish her and cherish her (Eph 5.29). The two verbs describe what the human body needs: it craves food and drink; it also craves warmth against the cold. Christ has given gifts to the Church that the saints might be sustained by spiritual food and, in pastoral care, know the warmth of the love of Christ for them. We hear the voice of the Bride responding to the presentation of the Lord’s glories: "I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star" (Rev 22.16). We hear the response of the Spirit and the Bride: "Come".

We read that, before the day of presentation the Bride will make herself ready (Rev 19.7). In the context it may be that she is ready for presentation, firstly to Christ Himself (Eph 5.27), and secondly in public manifestation. In a sense the Church has had that day of espousals before her for nearly 2,000 years, but soon she will make herself ready at the Judgment Seat. Every saint will arrive at Christ’s mind as to their conduct and motives, as the Lord reviews with them the deeds done in the body. Let it be noted that we should not leave until then the adjusting of matters that He would have to address at the Judgment Seat. Only what is of honour to Christ will carry over into that day of display. There will be no dispute about any issue; we will arrive at the Master’s assessment of what He owns and prizes.

At the day of presentation, the Bride will stand alongside her Bridegroom. The whole universe will hear Him say, "Mine!". In His eyes that Church will be blameless ("without blemish") and spotless, and will remain ageless. When the Church comes into public display, no spectator at that initial moment of display will think to disagree. That she will come forth as the Bride of Christ and will remain that eternally we learn in Revelation 21.2. In that coming day of presentation, the Bride will not need any to say, "Behold, the bridegroom".

Concluded.

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