The beautiful mystery explained by Paul in Ephesians 5:25-32 has instilled in me the wonderful and moving view of the Church as the Bride of Christ:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of the water by the Word; that He might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church; for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of his bones.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”
In repeating the words of Adam in the Garden and of Jesus in Matthew 19, both in the setting of marriage and in the physical union between a man and his wife, Paul, by placing this marital union in the context of Jesus and His Church, plainly stated that the Church will be the spiritual Bride of Christ in an intimate relationship with a meaning that extends far beyond that of a mere figure of speech, as is the prevailing custom within the Church.
Unfortunately, the Church for a very long time has attempted to minimize the nature of this spiritual relationship, to the extent of denying that gender and the romance associated with it exists in heaven. There are two particular passages in Scripture that are used to foster that thought. One is in Matthew 22, and the other is in Galatians 3.
In Matthew 22: 28-30, Jesus responds to the Sadducees’ attempts to trick Him by telling them that in heaven people don’t marry:
“Jesus answered and said unto the, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.”
Notice that in this context Jesus mentioned the power of God. This doesn’t square with the common interpretation of the passage as describing a feature that is absent. Those who would deny the existence of gender in heaven overlook that point. Why the deniers miss this is that they’re thinking too small. Jesus didn’t deny the existence of marriage; He denied the existence of marriage among individuals. But the Church, as a composite of a multitude of individuals, is perfectly capable of marriage, and that’s where the power of God comes into play.
Paul addresses the same issue in Galatians 3:28 regarding individuals in the spiritual realm:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Again, the subject is the individual. But in 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 and elsewhere in Scripture, Paul very plainly develops the idea that the individual is not the Church, but rather just a component of her, and a rather small element at that:
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit.
“For to one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another, faith by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, various kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues. But all these work that one and the very same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”
In verses 12-17, Paul develops the role of the individual within the Church as similar to the roles of parts within our bodies:
“For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, where we are Jews or Greeks, whether we are bond or free; and we have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.
“If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore, not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?”
Paul continues to develop the point that individuals are only components of an integrated whole, and concludes by listing some specific individual roles of individuals within the Church: apostles; prophets; teachers; workers of miracles; healers; administrators; and speakers in tongues. His point is clear: there is a vast difference in the spiritual Church between the individual components and the whole, just as in our own bodies between our individual organs, which of themselves are genderless, even those that implement gender, and our composite selves, which are indeed gendered.
There are Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ marriage to His Church. The elaborate and moving description of it found in Genesis 24 certainly doesn’t portray that relationship as trivial. Nor does the description in Ruth, nor in the Song of Solomon.
Genesis 24, for example, describes the betrothal and marriage of Rebekah to Isaac. In Genesis 22 God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, which identifies Isaac as a type of Jesus Christ. In line with that identification, Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah identifies her as a type of Christ’s bride. According to Galatians 3:28, in which spiritual individuals do not possess gender, this bridehood cannot be fulfilled in individuals: the fulfillment must come for a collection or aggregate of individuals, which would suggest the Church. This identification of the Church as the Bride of Christ is strengthened by Paul’s characterization of the Church in 1 Corinthians 12 as a collection of individuals, each possessing specific gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In the Book of Ruth, Ruth’s husband Boaz is routinely identified by the Church as the Kinsman-redeemer, a type of Christ. It follows that Ruth, a female, represents His spiritual Wife, the Church.
Relating again to the Old Testament, it would be extremely difficult, if the Church was not a feminine entity, to justify the inclusion of the Song of Solomon in the canon of Scripture. Why, if the spiritual domain is genderless, would this overtly sexual document be a part of the Bible?
Jesus certainly didn’t dismiss His future spiritual marriage to His Church as amounting to “a figure of speech”. Jesus made numerous allusions to His own future marriage, including the parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, and, of course, his first miracle at Cana recorded in John 2, wherein He changed water into wine in anticipation of the joy of His own future wedding.
Nor, according to Paul in Romans 7:4, is this marriage to be empty of birth.
“Wherefore, my brethren, you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that you should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God.”
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Published by Art Perkins