The Marriage Covenant
While in college at John Brown University, I read Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth. His book greatly heightened my interest in prophecy to the point where I expected the rapture to occur at any moment, yes even back in the 1970’s.
Late one afternoon, I dozed off after hours of reading and studying. Suddenly, the sound of a trumpet awoke me from a deep sleep. For a brief moment, I thought “this is it; I am going to meet Jesus in the air.” After a second or two, I realized the trumpet fanfare came from someone warming up for a nearby rehearsal. It was not the trumpet sound of 1 Thessalonians 4, which still remains a joyous future hope for all of Jesus’ followers.
However, I know many people today do not take kindly to the idea of the rapture. They either fear it or disdain it for a variety of reasons. It’s certainly a source of unpopularity for those who teach or write about it; I know this from experience.
Is there a way to view the rapture differently, as something positive and loving?
Yes, there is. Jesus and the apostle Paul used terminology similar to a first century AD wedding to describe His return for His bride. In this way they put the rapture into a loving, hopeful context for believers.
The Marriage Covenant
Jewish marriages in Jesus’ day began with the groom entering into a marriage covenant with his bride. The groom drank a cup of wine with his bride during the betrothal ceremony that “sealed the covenant.” The groom then paid “bridal price” to the father as part of the ceremony joining the couple together.[i] The bridal price ensured that the groom would later follow through with his part of the covenant. Although many months ahead of the actual wedding, the covenant indicated that the couple was legally married or “betrothed.”
We see this in the story of Joseph and Mary who were “betrothed” but still living apart. Joseph had entered into a marriage covenant with Mary and her father, but the couple had not yet married or consummated their relationship.
When Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy, he sought to divorce her since he knew the child could not be his. Even though they were not yet married, divorce was the only way to break the legally binding marriage covenant Joseph had earlier pledged himself to. He could not just walk away as one can today from an engagement. Before Joseph could take any action, however, an angel soon appeared to him to confirm Mary’s story that the Holy Spirit had conceived the child (Matt. 2:18-22).
Do you see the similarities between the marriage covenant and what Jesus did for us in purchasing our salvation on the cross? He paid the price with his blood so that we, his church, might become his bride. Jesus’ words regarding the cup of wine he drank with his disciples in the upper room resemble those spoken by a groom sealing the marriage covenant with his bride, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .’” (1 Cor. 11:25).
The drinking of wine from a cup and his announcement of a covenant sparked images of the Jewish marriage customs as well as Old Testament prophecies regarding the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). The cup represented Jesus’ very own blood, which He shed as a payment for our sins. He paid the price so we could inherit eternal life, so that we as His church could become His bride.
In ancient Israel, the groom paid the bridal price as a demonstration that he would follow through on his promises. Just think, Jesus gave his very life as the “bridal price” for us. Christ guaranteed his promise to come and take us back to his Father’s house with his own blood. It doesn’t get any more certain than that, or better for that matter.
But, you ask, what does this have to do with the rapture? As we shall see, this signifies the beginning of the love relationship between Jesus and His church that culminates in the rapture and the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The tie between Jesus’ words in the Upper Room and the first century Jewish marriage customs becomes even clearer as we dig deeper.
Jonathan C. Brentner