It’s a real honour to receive a wedding invitation. It means that the bride or groom (or both) want you to share in their special day; to enjoy the food and wine, participate in all the activities and be a part of that memorable day.
Many of the titles of Jesus we have examined in this series have been those given to Him by others. ‘Bridegroom’, however, is one of the names He uses about Himself. The disciples of John the Baptist had come to Jesus asking why He and His disciples were not fasting. Jesus’ answer was that the wedding guests could not fast as long as the bridegroom was with them. However, He then went on to say that the days would come when the bridegroom would be taken away, and then they would fast (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). It is quite clear from the context that Jesus was talking about Himself.
There are quite a few references to weddings in the parables of Jesus. In Matthew 25:1-13 we have the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The insinuation here is that Jesus is the bridegroom they are waiting for. Along with numerous other references in the New Testament to Jesus being a bridegroom, the disciple John writes about the wedding supper of the Lamb (who is Jesus) in Revelation:
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7)
“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:9)
It’s in the book of Revelation where it is made clear that the bride is in fact the church. The apostle Paul speaks of his purpose for the church at Corinth and continues this theme by saying, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband….” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Behind these pictures of Jesus as the Bridegroom and the church as the Bride, is the rich tradition of the Jewish marriage customs. These help us to understand more fully what the bible is saying because being engaged in that culture was a lot different to how it is now.
Alfred Edersheim, a famous Jewish historian who converted to Christianity, wrote: “In Judea there were at every marriage two groomsmen or friends of the bridegroom, one for the bridegroom and the other for the bride. Before marriage, they acted as a kind of intermediaries between the couple; at the wedding they offered gifts, waited upon the bride and bridegroom, and attended them to the bridal chamber, being also, as it were, guarantors of the bride’s virgin chastity.”
The apostle Paul thought of himself in this same manner, as a sort of intermediary for the marriage between the church at Corinth and Christ. He knew that his task was to present that church in virgin purity and fidelity to Jesus Christ the Bridegroom. In Ephesians 5:22-23, Paul compares the marriage relationship between man and woman to the relationship which must exist between Christ and the Church.
However, there is another important aspect to the relationship between the bridegroom and the bride. It was customary for Jewish weddings to be preceded by a rather lengthy period of what we would call an engagement. During this time the man and woman were not married, but were betrothed, or engaged to each other. But a betrothal in Jewish culture was completely different from the period of engagement in our culture. Our society views the engagement as simply a mere promise to marry, but in Jewish society the betrothal was such a solemn commitment that it took a writing of divorce, based on the unfaithfulness of one party or the other, to dissolve. During the betrothal, it was not uncommon for the two parties to be called husband and wife (Matthew 1:18-25), and certainly to be called the bridegroom and the bride. After the period of betrothal was over the marriage ceremony would take place, and the couple would then be bound together in marriage by the laws of God.
Even in the Old Testament we see references to God’s people being the Bride of God. Hosea hears God say to Israel: “I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness, in justice, in steadfast love,“ (Hosea 2:19-20). Isaiah says: “Your Maker is your husband; the Lord of host is his name,“ (Isaiah 54:5). “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.“(Isaiah 62:5).
When we see how God’s people constantly followed after other gods and abandoned the one true God we can begin to realise what an act of betrayal that was and how God the father would be so angry that His son’s bride was acting like a prostitute! It also makes it easier to see what the bible means when we read that God is a ‘Jealous’ God: “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Exodus 20:5. See also Exodus 34:14 and Deuteronomy 5:9; 6:15).
True love is always exclusive; no one can be totally in love with two people at the same time – no lover can bear to share his loved one with someone else. To say that God is a jealous God is to say that He loves the souls of men to the extent that He cannot tolerate even the thought of sharing that love with another.
To think of Jesus as the Bridegroom and God as the lover of the souls of mankind, sheds a flood of light on the entire relationship between God and man. Our relationship is not like being subjects to the king, or servants to the master, but like a betrothed wife to her future bridegroom. This type of relationship contains certain essential elements:
Faithfulness. God will never be unfaithful to us, and we must never be unfaithful to Him. We need to realise that in this context our sins are not just a breach of the law but a crime against love. The sinner does not break God’s law so much as he breaks God’s heart.
Intimacy.As in all strong relationships, there is closeness and oneness. This is no different to our relationship with Jesus. The more time we spend with Him the more intimately we will know Him.
Trust. We must trust the love of God as much as we would trust the love of someone nearest and dearest to us. And God expects that same kind of trust from us. Disloyalty to God and to Jesus Christ is something that should never cross our minds.
Unbreakable.The marriage relationship is intended to last a lifetime. Our relationship with Jesus should never be thought of as something that can be broken if for some reason it does not work out. It is to be considered a bond that will last throughout all eternity.
Therefore, when we see Jesus pictured as the Bridegroom and we are pictured as the Bride, we have before us one of the most loving and intensely beautiful portraits of all.