The Bride of Christ

The subject of the bride or wife of Jesus poses somewhat of an enigma in the Bible. Is it the people, the living church, or is it the New Jerusalem, the Holy City? Is there a contradiction here? There are inspired statements to support each view. The following are the two positions from inspiration:

  1. In the first set of scriptures, the bride of Jesus is unquestionably His church. “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of 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.” Ephesians 5:25–27. The Spirit of Prophecy agrees with the word. “They must not put on their citizen’s dress, but the wedding garment. They have been married to Christ, and the robe of His righteousness is to clothe them. The church is the bride of Christ, and her members are to yoke up with their Leader. God warns us not to defile our garments. The Gospel Herald, May 28, 1902
  2. However, in the second set of scriptures, we find something different. The wife of Jesus is the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, while the church represents the guests at the marriage supper. “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” Revelation 21:9, last part, 10. Mrs. White concurs emphatically again, “Clearly, then, the bride represents the Holy City, and the virgins that go out to meet the bridegroom are a symbol of the church. In the Revelation, the people of God are said to be the guests at the marriage supper. Revelation 19:9. If guests, they cannot be represented also as the bride.” The Great Controversy, 427. [Author’s emphasis.] The last sentence appears to contradict the idea that the bride of Christ is the church. So, is there a way to harmonize the two somewhat disparate positions?

Starting from the premise that there are no real contradictions in the Scriptures because the authorship is the Holy Spirit throughout, it behooves us to make a determined attempt to make sense of the two positions. Thankfully we have the Spirit of Prophecy to point us in the right direction.

Just before commenting on the Holy City being the bride of Jesus, our prophet says the following: “In the summer and autumn of 1844 the proclamation, ‘Behold, the Bridegroom cometh,’ was given. The two classes represented by the wise and foolish virgins were then developed. … The coming of the bridegroom, here brought to view, takes place before the marriage. The marriage represents the reception by Christ of His kingdom.” Ibid., 426

It mirrors the words of Daniel 7:14, first part, “And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him.”

The key to unlocking the puzzle of the bride of Jesus is contained in the proper understanding of the marriage. It is unlike any ordinary marriage since it occurs in the context of royalty. Both secular and sacred histories record instances when marriages were contracted as a means of sealing the political ties between rival kingdoms. Frequently, these marriages resulted in the restructuring of territorial boundaries as land was exchanged according to a mutual pact. Similarly, the marriage of Jesus has to do with His receiving a kingdom, as opposed to a wife in the normal sense. Several times in the gospels Jesus used the parable of a man going away to receive a kingdom as an analogy to His own situation. (e.g., Luke 19:12). In John 18:36, Jesus told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence.”  Therefore, the kingdom He receives is from His Father in heaven. It is a heavenly bestowal.

To understand the implications of this statement, we must look closely at the composition of a kingdom. As with other forms of government, a kingdom is a method of governing intelligent beings. In a democracy or a republic, the people rule themselves through a representative form of government, as in the U.S.A. A kingdom, on the other hand, is ruled by a king, the monarch—a single individual who holds absolute power in his hands as in many ancient and modern nations. It is in essence a dictatorship, which on earth inevitably devolves into corruption and abuse according to the dictum “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But not so in heaven. God being infinite in love, compassion, and wisdom is a benevolent dictator-king, looking out unselfishly for the supreme happiness of His subjects.

But no matter the form of government, they all have two inseparable components in common—the geographical area—the physical territory defining their jurisdiction, and the people—the subjects of the government. One without the other cannot represent a functioning state. When the Shah of Iran was deposed on February 11, 1979, he was granted asylum in the U.S.A. Here he set up a “government-in-exile,” hoping someday to be reinstated to his throne. With no territory to control, however, his government was nothing more than a shadow force with no real power. But even if they did have a geographical area to call their own, if they had no human subjects, the government would again be just a mirage.

And so will it be at the end because Satan has not ceased his illegal claim to the world. Notwithstanding the tolling of his death knell at the cross of Calvary, he will eventually make an all-out, do-or-die attempt to make good his claim in the last moments of time. But God will have His end-time Jobs to again deny him the victory and extinguish his hopes forever. Deserted by his disillusioned followers, Satan will finally sink into oblivion in total ignominy, totally alone.

Applying the two-fold aspects of a kingdom to the marriage of Jesus, we gain a crucial understanding. By receiving from the Father the title to the New Jerusalem, the capital of His kingdom, He obtains the authority, the right to rule the physical universe as King. Notice the following inspired words: “The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which is the capital and representative of the kingdom, is called ‘the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ Said the angel to John: ‘Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ He carried me away in the Spirit, … and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” Revelation 21:9, last part, 10. “Clearly, then, the bride represents the Holy City, and the virgins that go out to meet the bridegroom are a symbol of the church.” The Great Controversy, 426, 427. Thus, even though the Holy City is a physical, inanimate structure, it qualifies as the bride of Jesus by granting Him legal right to the full territorial jurisdiction of the universe. But what about His living bride? They are present as well in the persons of the virgins (the church), the angels, plus the beings of other worlds. Thus, the two components of a functioning kingdom merge together in the marriage. And so it is that with reference to the territory, the bride is the Holy City, (the physical, geographical component of the kingdom) while in the context of His subjects, the bride is the church (the living, intelligent part of the kingdom). And since the true church on earth is one with the church in heaven, (see The Acts of the Apostles, 11) every intelligent being in the universe forms part of the bride of Jesus.

It is of much interest and significance that the Holy City is described as a “bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2). It is obviously a structure of such surpassing magnificence and glory as to eclipse anything else in the material universe of heaven. Clearly, God will have outdone Himself in creating this dazzling masterpiece of workmanship from the precious elements of the universe. It is as it were a dowry for His Son. Since Jesus was the Father’s agent in creation (Colossians 1:16), and because He said in John 14:1–3 that He was going away to “prepare” a place for us, we know that He [Jesus] was involved in the planning and execution of the construction of the Holy City. Clearly, He did not just speak it into existence, but personally fashioned it with His own hands—just like He did Adam and Eve. It is a fit place for His living bride. Mrs. White describes it in sublime language: “There is the New Jerusalem, the metropolis of the glorified new earth, ‘a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.’ ‘Her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.’ ” The Great Controversy, 676. We will never in eternity cease to be awed and thrilled by the marvelous intricacies of this breathtaking edifice, our eternal home.

As alluded to above, the parable of the ten virgins bears significantly on the question of the bride of Jesus. It is a prophecy with two separate fulfillments. The first fulfillment occurred in 1844 which Inspiration explains as follows: “The coming of the bridegroom, here brought to view, takes place before the marriage. The marriage represents the reception by Christ of His kingdom.” Ibid., 426

The midnight cry (consisting of the first two angels of Revelation 14) at this time announced the coming of Jesus before the Father for His nuptials. He comes to the marriage, which has been in process ever since. But soon, the ceremony will be over. “Having received the kingdom, He will come in His glory, as King of kings and Lord of lords, for the redemption of His people, who are to ‘sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob,’ at His table in His kingdom (Matthew 8:11; Luke 22:30) to partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Ibid., 427

Now, at the second fulfillment, the Loud Cry (composed of all three angels of Revelation 14, plus the angel of Revelation 18) will go forth announcing the “consummation” of the marriage—the completion of the makeup of His subjects and the coming of Jesus from the marriage to take His living bride to Himself. It will be time for the antitype of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Holy City in heaven to celebrate the marriage.

The Spirit of Prophecy provides an insightful view of the closing events: “Every case had been decided for life or death. While Jesus had been ministering in the sanctuary, the judgment had been going on for the righteous dead, and then for the righteous living. Christ had received His kingdom, having made the atonement for His people and blotted out their sins. The subjects of the kingdom were made up. The marriage of the Lamb was consummated. And the kingdom, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, was given to Jesus and the heirs of salvation, and Jesus was to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.” Early Writings, 280. Here again we have the two elements of a kingdom blended into one—the physical “kingdom” and the living “heirs of salvation” together constituting the glorious, unified bride of Jesus.

The apostle Paul portrays the church as “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:27. This condition of the living bride of Jesus is achieved before He concludes His most holy place ministry. Today the professed people of God are a mixed multitude composed of both wheat and tares. But as Jesus explained in Matthew 13:38, “The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one.” Since only the “children of the kingdom” can occupy the Holy City, God must somehow remove Satan’s people from His church at some point. This He does at the very end. It is a very traumatic process depicted in Selected Messages, Book 2, 380: “Satan will work his miracles to deceive; he will set up his power as supreme. The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall.” Notice, Satan comes close to winning, only to fail again! “It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place. None but those who have been overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony will be found with the loyal and true, without spot or stain of sin, without guile in their mouths.” The “church” that “remains” is “the precious wheat” identified here as the (144,000) guileless saints “without spot or stain of sin.” So it is true that the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest. But a shaking and sifting process begins the separation before the final painful split in the great crisis of the Sunday laws. The result is the purified true “church,” God’s end-time Jobs, who will deliver Satan the coup de grâce, calling curtains on his illicit kingdom forever.

This is when the great majority of the tares separate from the wheat while a few, quite surprisingly, still keep company with the faithful until they fall away at last just before Jesus returns in the clouds of glory. Notice this amazing, seemingly unlikely scenario portrayed by Inspiration: “While praying at the family altar, the Holy Ghost fell on me, and I seemed to be rising higher and higher, far above the dark world. I turned to look for the Advent people in the world but could not find them—when a voice said to me, ‘Look again, and look a little higher.’ At this I raised my eyes and saw a straight and narrow path, [Matthew 7:14.] cast up high above the world. On this path the Advent people were travelling to the City, which was at the farther end of the path. … But soon some grew weary, and they said the City was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. … Others rashly denied the light [the midnight cry] behind them, and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled … and fell off the path down in the dark and wicked world below. … They fell all the way along the path one after another, until we heard the voice of God like many waters, [Ezekiel 43:2. Joel 3:16. Revelation 16:17.] which gave us the day and hour of Jesus’ coming. [Ezekiel 12:25. Mark 13:32.]” A Word to the Little Flock, 14

Friend, the door is still open for us to participate in the marriage of Jesus. We can still choose to be part of the living bride of the Lamb. Let us resolve to make certain that we will never identify with the tares who lose their faith in the last moments of time. The glorious prospects God has in mind for us in the hereafter cannot be comprehended by the human mind, much less expressed by human tongues. “But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Living in the incredibly beautiful city of God, the physical bride of Jesus, with Jesus Himself the chief attraction in it, what will it be like?! Dwelling in the light from the throne of God, feasting from the tree of life, regaled by the sublime orchestral and choral music of the angels, enthralled by the mysteries of the universe and the science of salvation taught by Jesus Himself, each succeeding day more ecstatic than the last, who can begin to imagine it?! Oh, we cannot afford to miss out on the experience for anything in this decrepit old world! May God give us the grace to “Strive with all the power God has given [us] to gain the crown of everlasting life, that [we] may cast it at the feet of the Redeemer, and touching the golden harp, fill all heaven with rich music. God help [us] to gain eternal life, that [we] may see His face.” Manuscript 31, 1901. Amen and Amen!

All Scripture from the King James Version

[Emphasis supplied.]

Dr. Sudhir Pandit is a retired cardiologist living in Arkansas with his wife Dorothy. He is proud to call himself a historic Seventh-day Adventist. He, with his wife, is involved in backing two self-supporting ministries in India.