If one makes the Wife of Jehovah and the Bride of Messiah one and the same, he is faced with numerous contradictions because of the different descriptions given. Only when one sees two separate entities, Israel as the Wife of Jehovah and the Church as the Bride of the Messiah, do all such contradictions vanish.1As we saw above, John the Baptist declared himself as the friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29). Thus, he indicated that Jesus is a bridegroom and that he, John, was not part of the bride. In numerous other passages, Jesus referred to Himself as a bridegroom (Mat. 9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34). Paul describes the relationship of the Corinthian church as being betrothed as a virgin to Christ: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2Cor. 11:2). When teaching of the freedom of the believer from the law, Paul uses the analogy of a woman whose first husband dies who then becomes free to marry another: “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Rom. 7:4). In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul makes the analogy between a husband and wife and Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:24). In the same way that husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies, so Christ loves believers: “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:30-32). Paul is saying that in the same way believers are merged with Christ, as the body of Christ, so should husbands consider their wives. “[The Church] is both the body of Christ and the bride of Christ, as Eve was the body of Adam and also his bride.”2 Some observe that none of these passages explicitly teach that the Church is the bride of Christ. They suggest that the marriage analogy used by these passages is only an instructional aid which is intended to teach relational truths and that the passages are not meant to establish the Church as the bride. While it may be true that the primary intent in these passages is teaching relational truths, this does not necessarily mean that the Holy Spirit chose the marriage analogy by chance. The sheer number of times where the wedding analogy appears is in itself considerable indication that more is afoot than mere analogy:
In the OT, God is the bridegroom of Israel (cf. Isa. 54:6; 62:5; Jer. 31:32; Eze. 16:7-14; Hos. 2:16, 19), and in the NT, Christ is the bridegroom of the church (cf. 2Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25 ff.; Rev. 3:20+; 19:9+; 21:2+, 9+; 22:17+). In the gospels, Christ is the bridegroom a number of times (cf. Mat. 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29) and parables about marriage occur in Mat. 22:2-14; 25:1-13; Luke 14:15-24.3We believe that the bride/bridegroom analogy in the NT is more than a mere framework for the delivery of relational instruction, but also an indication of the identity of the bride. The bride of Christ consists of the Church—those who have been baptized into His body, the body of Christ. As such, they are “one flesh” with Him, which is the subject of the mystery which Paul related to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:32). There is a unique sense in which the Church is His: “on this rock I will build My church” [emphasis added] (Mat. 16:18).
That Abraham or any other Old Testament saint will form part of the Body of Christ, we cannot for a moment believe! The great mystery of the Church, His Body, committed to Paul in such a sense that he called himself minister thereof (Col. 1:24-27), a ministry so very distinct, definite and exclusive as to call for the great passage of Ephesians 5:23, cannot be merely an opening up to the Old Testament saints of a calling, character and privileged which they possess and of which they did not know! That is unthinkable. No one was “baptized” into that one Body until Pentecost. When that Body, the Church, is presented by Christ to Himself, “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing,” it will be composed only of the saints from Pentecost to the rapture.4
Of whom is the bride composed? We answer unhesitatingly, of all saints embraced within these two epochs, Pentecost (Acts 2) and the Translation (1Th. 4:17). These two events respectively mark the commencement and the termination of the Church’s sojourn on earth.5
Some may question why the church age believers should be granted the honor of being the bride, while believers from other ages are merely guests. But one may equally ask why God singled out Israel to be the covenant people. The only answer to both questions is that God sovereignly purposed that it be so (cf. Deu. 7:7-8).6A typological hint as to the bride of the Lamb can also be found in a study of the book of Ruth. The story involves Naomi (a Jew), Ruth (a Gentile), and Boaz (the kinsman-redeemer, see commentary on Revelation 5:1). Through the sequence of events recorded in the book, Boaz (who represents the Messiah) takes Ruth as his Gentile bride (representing the Church) and Naomi (representing Israel) is restored to her land.Another consideration when identifying the bride of the Lamb is the matter of resurrection. At the time of the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7+), there is only one group of saints who have already been resurrected to receive their glorified bodies: the Church at the Rapture prior to the Tribulation. It would seem premature for other saints which have not yet been resurrected to be included in the marriage with the Lamb. Nor will they return with Him as part of the army of heaven (Rev. 19:14+).
The difficulty of including Israel along with the church as part of the bride is a chronological one. OT saints and dead saints from the period of Daniel’s seventieth week will rise in time for the Millennium (Dan. 12:1-2+), but not in time to join Christ in His triumphal return (Rev. 19:14+). It is also impossible for saints who die during the Millennium to be part of this company, because their resurrection will not come in time (Rev. 20:5-6+). Yet it is incontrovertible that Israel will appear with the church in the New Jerusalem which is also Christ’s bride. The city’s twelve pillars and twelve foundations (Rev. 21:12+, 14+) prove the presence of both distinctive groups.7Although they will be resurrected to participate in the wedding feast at the Millennial Kingdom (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2+; Rev. 20:4+), at the time of the marriage itself they are only soul and spirit. Because they were never joined to the body of Christ by the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit which began on the Day of Pentecost, they are not part of the marriage mystery “concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:30-32). See commentary on Revelation 17:14.
Various identifications of the wife of the Lamb described in Rev. 19:7-8+ have included the redeemed of national Israel, the church, and Israel and the church. Portrayal of Israel as a faithless wife of the Lord in the OT is an obstacle to the first and third possibilities, as is the chronology of Israel’s resurrection. The redeemed of Israel will not rise until after the Seventieth Week of Daniel (Dan. 12:1-2+), so they will not be part of the bride at the time depicted in Revelation 19:7-8+, a time before the Second Advent (Rev. 19:11-16+).8
According to Daniel 12:1-3+ and Isaiah 26:19-21, . . . the resurrection of Israel and the Old Testament saints will not take place until the second advent of Christ. Revelation 20:4-6+ makes it equally clear that tribulation saints will not be resurrected until that time also. While it would be impossible to eliminate these groups from the place of observers, they can not be in the position of participants in the event itself.9
1 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 598.
2 Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1961), 116.
3 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 19:7.
4 William R. Newell, Revelation: Chapter by Chapter (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1994,c1935), 297.
5 Walter Scott, Exposition of The Revelation (London, England: Pickering & Inglis, n.d.), Rev. 19:6.
6 John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2000), Rev. 19:7.
7 Thomas, Revelation 8-22, Rev. 19:7.
8 R. L. Thomas, “Marriage Supper of the Lamb,” in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 248.
9 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 226.