Whenever I get several questions on the same subject within a few days, I assume someone is trying to give me a topic for the feature article. This is especially true if it’s unrelated to anything I’ve recently written about, as was the case this week.
The questions this time concerned a view taught by some that Israel is the bride of God and the Church is the bride of Christ. In the Bible, God often describes our relationship with Him in terms of a marriage. He does this for our edification, to help us understand Him better. For example, when Paul said he wanted to present us to the Lord as a pure virgin (2 Cor. 11:2), he meant that just as a virgin bride has never been defiled by any sexual relationships before being joined to her husband in marriage, he didn’t want us to be defiled by any false doctrine or idolatry before being presented to the Lord at the rapture.
As for Israel, one of the most intimate portrayals of the way God felt toward His people can be found in Ezekiel 16.
The Bride Of God
‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. ( Ezekiel 16:3-5)
When God called Abraham, He was creating the Israelites out of the idol worshiping Gentile world. Right from the beginning the world seemed to be at odds with them.
” ‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.
” ‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:6-8)
This is reminiscent of the night Ruth came to the threshing floor and asked Boaz to spread the corner of his garment over her (Ruth 3:9). It’s a sign of promise and protection. You could say this was the point at which Israel became the bride of God.
” ‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 16:9-14)
God treated Israel like a king treats his queen, lavishing her with blessings the likes of which the world had never seen. But as the rest of the chapter shows, Israel became unfaithful and used these blessings to court the surrounding nations with their pagan gods, showering the gifts God had given her upon them to win their favor. Finally He had enough.
” ‘You adulterous wife!” He shouted, “You prefer strangers to your own husband! Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.” (Ezekiel 16:32-34)
In His anger God gave Israel over to the nations to be stripped and cut to pieces, but promised that after they were done with her, “Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD.”(Ezekiel 16:42, 60, 62)
And so Israel went from being an innocent bride to becoming an adulterous wife. About 150 years before Ezekiel wrote this, the prophet Hosea had been raised up to act this story out in his own life, a live action parable of God’s relationship with Israel. At God’s direction he married a prostitute, and when she left him and returned to her former profession, Hosea provided her lovers with gifts. When she was no longer desirable and was sent to the slave auction, Hosea bought her back and took her home. It’s the story of Israel’s rebellion and redemption.
At the End of the Age, one like Hosea will purchase Israel out of slavery with His own blood, the price of redemption. (Hosea and Yeshua, the Lord’s name in Hebrew, are both derived from yasha, which means to save.) And so, the adulterous wife will yet be reconciled to her husband, and he’ll renew His vows with her. The Old Covenant will be replaced by the Everlasting Covenant (Jer. 31:31-32). Isaiah described it for us.
In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain. (Isaiah 4:2-6)
The word for branch is tsemach, and refers to the Messiah, who made the reconciliation possible. With the curse gone the land will flourish like never before. After the end times judgments that follow the 2nd Coming, only believers will remain on Earth, and everyone left in Jerusalem will be holy. The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night remind us of when the Lord sheltered the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). The Hebrew word for the canopy is chuppah, the wedding canopy, and the one for shelter is sukkah, the booth each Israelite builds on the feast of Tabernacles to commemorate the time the Lord spent with them in the wilderness. The entire creation will rejoice at this long overdue reconciliation.
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:1-2) You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.(Isaiah 55:12)
The Bride Of Christ
During the time of Israel’s rebellion, the Lord turned to the Gentiles once again to take a people from among them for Himself (Acts 15:13) called the Church. He loves the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word to present her to Himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephes. 5:25-28)
Right from the beginning the Lord determined to do everything necessary so that the Church’s exalted position could never be lost. Before the Church was ever born, the Lord compiled a list of every one of our sins and carried it to the cross with Him where He forgave all of them in advance (Colossians 2:13-14). This allowed Him to always look upon us as if we’ve never sinned at all (2 Cor. 5:17), as if we’re just as righteous as He is (2 Cor. 5:21) having been made perfect forever by His once-for-all-time sacrifice (Hebrews 10:12-14). God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even while we were still dead in our transgressions and has already seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephes. 2:4-6).
Having prepared the way, the Lord went to His Father’s house to make a home for us, promising to return and take us there to be where He is (John14:2-3). On a day no one could have predicted in advance He’ll meet us in the clouds and in a flash we’ll be gone, our old sin infested bodies replaced with new immortal ones, specially designed for eternal life with Him. The place He’s preparing for us will be enormous and made entirely of gold and precious gems, its radiance such that it will light the world (Rev. 21:24). The Kings of the Earth will bring their splendor into it and we will take our place in the Royal household of God, the place He’s seen us in since before the foundations of Earth were laid.
What’s It All About?
Of course all this marriage terminology is metaphorical. God doesn’t marry humans in the sense that we think of marriage. And how could God marry Israel and Jesus marry the Church when God and Jesus are one and the same? Jesus is what God looks like when he wants to take on a physical appearance. (Hebrews 1:3)
I believe the sense in which we’ll be married comes from the closeness we’ll feel, the intimacy that can only by achieved through a long term committed relationship. It’s really how two become one. Our hearts are knit together. In our present fallen state this is difficult to achieve even in marriage. Untold numbers of husbands and wives can speak of the loneliness they feel because instead of growing closer they’ve drifted apart.
New believers often experience a closeness with the Lord they’ve never felt with another human, and those who no longer conform to the pattern of this world but allow themselves to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2) can retain much of that closeness. Yet even then we come to understand how our sin nature prevents us from becoming as close to the Lord as we’d like to be.
We can only imagine how it will feel when that barrier to intimacy is finally removed. During the entire beating and crucifixion ordeal the only suffering that was too great for the Lord to bear in silence was when He took our sins upon Himself and the Father had to turn away, unable to look upon Him (Habakkuk 1:13). We’ve never had His kind of intimacy with the Father, but He had never been deprived of it and when He was it caused Him more pain than anything else they (we) did to Him. Paul said when the barrier comes down we’ll know as we’re known (1 Cor. 13:12), and John promised that when the Lord appears we’ll be like Him because we’ll see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). We’ll finally have the kind of intimacy with Him we’ve always craved.
The comparison of the adulterous wife to the virgin bride is meant to symbolize the difference between Law and Grace. The former shows what we can make of our selves, an adulterous wife, and the latter shows what God can make of us, a virgin bride. Speaking of this in Ephesians 5:32 Paul said it’s a profound mystery, and believe me that was not an understatement.
The truth is that the Church has been no better behaved than Israel. Before the first Century had ended the Lord was complaining of neglect.
“Yet I hold this against you, you have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first.”(Rev. 2:4-5)
And from the 4th Century until the 16th the Church was worse than dead, it was a force for evil in the world. There have been several major revivals since then, yet only a small percentage of born again believers holds to a Biblical world view today. Even so, because of God’s grace, Jesus continues to see us as His radiant bride, holy and blameless.
At the End of the Age the Lord will pour out His Spirit of Grace on the people of Israel like He has on the Church (Zechariah 12:10). As they realize that Jesus also died for their sins, they too will experience the immense benefits of His Grace. The blood guilt they’ve borne since the crucifixion (Matt. 27:25) will be finally pardoned (Joel 3:21) and they’ll truly be one with the Lord.
Both Israel and the Church will have amazing, not-to-be-believed relationships with the Lord in the age to come. They will be of a different nature and in a different location, at least for the first 1000 years, but neither group will envy the other. The adulterous wife will be reconciled with her husband, her sins forgiven and forgotten, just like ours. The bride will be among those rejoicing, and they’ll both be looking with heartfelt gratitude to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).