Is the Bride Ready for the Bridegroom’s Return? :: By Gene Lawley

The traditional Jewish wedding arrangement is also the pattern, broadly, of the plan of God’s redemption of those who accept Jesus as their Savior and receive His gift of eternal life. The parallel is unique, as the Scriptures use that pattern of events to reveal in prophecy what will take place as the end of the age comes about.

In the Jewish wedding the bride-to-be is betrothed to the husband-to-be, and they are separated for a period of time before the marriage ceremony is performed, normally about a year. The bridegroom then returns to his father’s house and there prepares a place of residence for his bride. Other preparations that are needed he will take care to do, then when ready, sometime within the year, at a time not fixed, he will return for his bride. A final wedding ceremony will take place, and a wedding feast will ensue. The couple will continue their lives together.

A knowledgeable Jewish person would fill in the spaces I have missed, but that is something of an overall picture of the major events that compare to the Scriptural presentation of God’s plan for His redemption of His saints.

In the prophetic picture of that redemption plan, the Bride is the body of Christ, the redeemed church; the Bridegroom is Jesus, the Christ, Messiah, Redeemer. The betrothal happens when a person responds to the Lord’s offer of His gift of salvation and that person is born again. He or she is no longer singularly alone and separate from the basic purpose God gave to Adam and Eve—reproduce and populate the earth. This time, though, the reproduction is to be that of born-again believers as a result of the witness of that body of believers, the Bride, being appropriately related to the Bridegroom by living a holy life.

When Jesus departed for His return to heaven, He left the disciples with this command in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Peter picks up the process to be followed by the disciples and those who are reached with the gospel: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). Paul, then to the Philippians, sets out the life-plan of believers: “…Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to do, according to His pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13). This does not mean we are to be working to secure a salvation that we do not have yet, of course. We have the sure word of Christ that His gift of salvation, once received, will never pass away, so recorded many times in the New Testament, including 1 John 5:11-12.

Meanwhile, Jesus has returned to heaven, the place of His Father, and John 14:2-4 tells us this:

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

What else is happening from heaven’s viewpoint during this time of His absence, physically speaking? The parable of the wedding feast being prepared by the King for his son fills in that information of how the Lord justly builds His church. It is told in Matthew 22:1-14:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 

Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’

“But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore, go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

 “For many are called, but few are chosen.’”

(It is very clear in the parable and in its closing statement that those willing to come to the wedding were choosing to come in response to the invitation. It establishes clearly that no one will be in heaven who does not want to be there.)

This parable illustrates the following thoughts of that Acts 1:8 commandment to be witnesses going into all the world with the gospel. As in Romans 1:16’s declaration, the gospel is to the Jew first, then to the Greek, or Gentile. Then John tells us in John 1:11-12 that Jesus went to His own kinsmen first and they did not receive Him, but “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

Before Peter and his generation had passed away, scoffers were expected to come, railing about the return of Christ taking so long, and Peter writes of that in his second epistle, at 2 Peter 3:3-9, that the reason being that God is patient and long-suffering, “not willing that any should perish, but that all might come to repentance.”

Repentance is a choice to be made by a person, and that calls to remembrance what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “The road to righteousness is narrow, and few there be who find it, but the road to destruction is broad, and many are found on it.” It also brings to mind that last statement in the parable of the wedding feast above, that is, “many are called but few are chosen.” The rejection of Christ is a willful response of many. All of these things have been happening over the centuries of the Christian era. Have they prepared the church for its accounting before the judgment at Christ’s coming? Today’s church at large seems to be one that Jesus would spew out of His moth as lukewarm and basically ineffective.

Thus, finally, one other activity has been going on for all these centuries since Jesus returned to heaven that explains what has happened. It is told in that parable of the ten virgins, in Matthew 25:1-10. This is a return to a scene based on the traditional Jewish wedding feast, where ten virgins are the bridesmaids to the Bride during her time of waiting for the return of her Bridegroom for completion of the marriage ceremony.

What were the duties of the bridesmaids? Their task was to keep the Bride in safety, pure and faithful to the Bridegroom while separated from him. The Bridegroom would not be returning for the bridesmaids, but for the Bride. (I have capitalized the Bride and the Bridegroom to link this to the relationship of Christ to the church, His body of believers.)

Five of the virgins had plenty of oil, but the other five did not—they let their supply run low, not paying attention to their lack. Oil is an illustration of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the more oil, the evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit. Well, then, who do the bridesmaids represent in this world of mortals for all these centuries? It must be those who are leaders—preachers and teachers of the Word, evangelists, as described in Ephesians 4:11-14 to do the duties of “bridesmaids” over the Bride until He returns:

“…For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;  that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”

The final indictment of the modern church, which is a composite of those seven churches in Revelation 2-3, is Jesus saying they are a lukewarm church, and He will “spew them out of His mouth” (Revelation 3:16).

Is it likely that half of the Body of Christ are not prepared for the Lord’s return? Jesus said that in the last days there would appear many false prophets and false teachers, leading people away from the simple gospel that merely calls for repentance and receiving Jesus Christ into their lives by faith. It calls for caution and a close reference to the principle in Acts 17:11, to check what is being preached and taught against the Word of God. No doubt there are multitudes of local churches with a mingling of false doctrines in their congregations, and their “bridesmaids” have run out of oil. Will there be time for their repentance?

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