ESV: English Standard Bible (Bible quotes are from ESV except when another version is noted)
NIV: New International Version
ESVSB: English Standard Version Study Bible
NIVSB: New International Version Study Bible
(Bibliographic entries for these versions can be found in other posts)
In Revelation 21:2 the New Jerusalem comes down to earth “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” In the same chapter, after a digression, the New Jerusalem is again in focus: “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)
In this post, I shall discuss the IDENTITY OF THE BRIDE/WIFE OF THE LAMB. I discuss those entities that are designated as either the Bride or the Wife of the Lord or of his Christ. These two entities are Israel and the church.
OLD TESTAMENT REFERENCES TO ISRAEL AS THE WIFE OF THE LORD (YAHWEH)
In several places throughout the Old Testament the people of God—either the unified nation of Israel, the northern kingdom of Israel, or the southern kingdom of Judah—are referred to as the wife of God. In several of these cases, this is a negative reference in the sense that the nation is depicted as an unfaithful wife. Her behavior is characterized as prostitution—she has prostituted herself to other gods. So, the sin of the nation is doubly heinous because she is adulterous and a prostitute. The following are some of those passages (I am grateful to anonymous internet sources for some of these references):
1. Isaiah 54: In this passage, the Lord speaks to Judah and to Jerusalem, the city that represents the nation. He describes her as a barren woman who will have many children, He also describes her as a widow who is now married to the Lord: (“…your maker is your husband…” 54:5). He also describes her as a young wife who was rejected by her husband, who now calls her back to himself (54:6-8).
2. Isaiah 62:4-5: In promising Jerusalem’s (as representative of the nation) ultimate salvation, the Lord promises that the land shall be called “Married.” (62:4) Moreover, God will rejoice over Jerusalem “as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride…” (62:5)
3. Jeremiah 2:1-2: The Lord speaks through Jeremiah of the former days of the nation, “the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride…”
4. Jeremiah 3: This chapter addresses both Judah and Israel. It reminds both kingdoms of their idolatry. This idolatry and associated sins are characterized as adultery and prostitution. The chapter begins by the Lord asking the question: “If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers, and would you return to me? Declares the Lord.” (3:1)
5. Jeremiah 31:31-34: This is the famous passage that describes the New Covenant. In the preface (verses 31:31-32), the Lord mentions the first covenant with the nation and includes the idea of a marriage between the Lord and the nation: “…not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. (31:32, emphasis added)
6. Ezekiel 16: This is a very extended, detailed metaphorical description of the Lord’s relationship with Jerusalem, and, by extension, Judah. The following is a brief outline of the chapter:
a. The birth of Jerusalem—after birth, she is a baby tossed out to die; she is from the Canaanites, Amorites, and Hittites; 16:1-4
b. The Lord finds her and rescues her and she grows to womanhood; 16:5-7
c. The Lord now becomes her husband-to-be; he then prepares her to be a beautiful, adorned bride; 16:8-14
d. Jerusalem becomes an unfaithful wife with numerous lovers—worshiping idols and even sacrificing children; 16:15-22
e. She continues her idolatry and also seeks out foreign alliances, with Egypt and Assyria and Babylonia; 16:23-29
f. She reversed the role of a prostitute and paid her lovers; 16:30-34
g. The Lord pronounces sentence upon Jerusalem—she will be laid bare before all her “lovers” (the nations) and will be destroyed and burned; 16:35-43
h. She is compared to her “sisters,” Sodom and Samaria, and she is declared worse than they; 16:44-52
i. The Lord promises to restore the fortunes of all three, but also declares that they must bear their shame; 16:53-58
j. Though Jerusalem has broken covenant with God, he will remember his covenant and will establish an everlasting covenant with her; the Lord will atone for her sin and she will not be lifted up in pride; 16:59-63
7. The book of Hosea, especially Hosea 1-3: The biography of Hosea and his wife Gomer is used to illustrate the unfaithfulness of Israel, the northern kingdom. There are also references to Judah.
a. In this account, Hosea marries Gomer, who is described as a “wife of whoredom.” (1:2)
b. Gomer bears several children, though possibly not all of them are Hosea’s children. Each of them receives symbolic names.
i. The first is a son, Jezreel, which stands for the overthrow of Israel. Jezreel is both the place of the vineyard that Ahab coveted and had Naboth killed to obtain and the place where Ahab’s son Joram was killed by Jehu. So, it was a place where violent overthrow has occurred, which was the fate of Israel. (1:4-5)
ii. The second child is a daughter, No Mercy, because God will not have mercy on Israel. (1:6-7)
iii. The third child is a son, Not My People, which is the Lord’s chilling renunciation of his beloved people because of their sin. (1:8-9)
iv. However, the Lord then reverses his harsh judgment with a promise of eventual grace and mercy: “And in that place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’ He further promises the reunification of Israel and Judah. (1:10-11)
c. In chapter 2, Hosea pleads, by asking his children to speak for him, with his wife to end her “whoring.”
i. He yields to hyperbole: “for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband…” (2:2b)
ii. He warns that he will resort to violence against her—even coming against her children. (2:3-5)
iii. He frustrates Gomer’s attempts to pursue lovers so that she decides to return to him. She did not realize that it was Hosea and not her lovers who lavished her with gifts. (2:6-9)
iv. Throughout the chapter, it is obvious that the Lord’s relationship with Israel is in view. This is more true in 2:10ff, in which the idolatry is directly addressed.
d. The drama of Hosea and his wife Gomer continues in chapter 3 of Hosea.
i. Hosea buys Gomer from her master (who may also have acted as her husband). I calculated her price from current grain and silver prices to be $187.77. According to Google, the average price of a slave in the 1850’s was equivalent to $40,000 today. (I am reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tom was bought by Simon Legree for $1200, which is about $42,000 in today’s money.) Today, world-wide the average price of a slave is $90. So, Gomer was bought for twice the going rate today and for less than ½ a per cent of the rate in the 1850’s. Although these considerations are important, they are not central to the story. The point is that Hosea bought her back and then demanded her fidelity (3:3).
ii. This is applied, then, to Israel, the northern kingdom. The prediction is that “the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods.” (3:4)
iii. The ESVSB, in notes on this chapter, considers these losses to be the removal of the “cult” practices of pagan idolatry during that time. The “king” or “prince” were the rulers of the northern kingdom that introduced and sustained idolatry. The other items were elements of worship and occult practices (magical practices that used an ephod, for example). “The Lord’s purging [of cultic practices], far from being incompatible with his love, is a major aspect of it.” In other words, this would be a time of repentance.
i. ESVSB references Deuteronomy 30:1-10, which describes a time of purging/repentance, including expelling the people from their land into exile. This is to be followed by restoration and blessing.
ii. So, in Hosea 3:5, the final outcome is that the people will seek the Lord and David the king, who is the ruler they had rejected when the kingdom was divided between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. ESVSB also relates this restoration to the last days as it is predicted in Romans 11:11-32.
In all of these passages, the relationship between the Lord and the Old Testament-era people of God is an intimate, love relationship. Throughout that relationship, the Lord is a faithful husband, but the people are often unfaithful. Throughout the long history, the Lord reaches out to his beloved, seeking his love to be reciprocated, just as a spouse would seek a reciprocal relationship in marriage.
ISRAEL AS THE WIFE OF GOD IN GOSPEL PASSAGES
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is depicted as a bridegroom who anticipates a marriage.
In Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, and Luke 5:34-35 Jesus uses the metaphor of a bridegroom and his friends. The friends do not mourn and fast when they are celebrating with the bridegroom. He is applying this to himself as the bridegroom. He says that when the bridegroom is taken away, then it will be proper to fast. Again, this anticipates, most likely, his death. In these parallel passages, the bride is not identified.
In John 3:29, John the Baptist uses the figure of “bridegroom” to refer to Jesus. He, John, considers himself a friend of the bridegroom who rejoices in the bridegroom’s presence. But the “one who has the bride is the bridegroom.” The bridegroom is not John, but Jesus. Here also the bride is not identified.
Who is this bride of Jesus in the gospels? The first thing to note is that the bride is not identified in any of the four passages. (Note that there is also a passage in Matthew 25:1-13 about a bridegroom. The bride is not mentioned in that passage either.) Two conclusions could be drawn from the absence of the bride in the bridegroom passages under discussion (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35, John 3:29). One is that her identity is not important. The focus is on the bridegroom. The other is that her identity should be understood.
I think that the first conclusion is warranted. The bridegroom is the focus. Jesus is the bridegroom and that is cause to rejoice. Two facts--that no one can be certain of her identity and that her identity is debatable—mean that the second conclusion is not warranted. That is to say, the identity cannot be understood from the context.
There are two major possibilities: that the Bride is Israel or that the Bride is the church.
I believe that Israel—the Hebrew nation—is to be understood as the bride in these discussions. Jesus is the Lord (Romans 10:9, John 20:28, Matthew 16:16, Luke 1:31-35, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1:5-13). That is, He is the Lord God, the second person of the Trinity. He entered into this world as the son of Mary but also as the Word of God (John 1), and he came “to his own” (John 1:11). Thus, he came to the nation that had been named his bride/wife (see the discussion above on Israel as the wife of God in the Old Testament). It is true that Jesus Christ also has an intimate relationship with the church as his bride/wife (see below). However, in the context of the present Scriptures--Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35, John 3:29—Jesus’ relationship to Israel is foremost in the minds of the participants in the conversations. Therefore, Jesus is understood as the bridegroom of Israel in these conversations.
THE CHURCH AS THE WIFE OF GOD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In Ephesians 5:22ff, Jesus Christ is compared to the husband in the marriage relationship. Note the wording throughout this passage:
· In 5:23 the husband is considered the “head of the wife” and Christ is described as the “head of the church.” HEAD
· In 5:25 husbands are admonished to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for [her.]” SACRIFICE
· In 5:26-27 Christ’s sacrifice for the church is described to be for the purpose of sanctifying the church “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” PRESENT TO HIMSELF A SANCTIFIED CHURCH (See Colossian 1:22, 28, Jude 24.)
· In 5:28-30 husbands are admonished to love their wives as they do their own bodies, to nourish and cherish their wives as they do their own bodies and just as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church, “because we are members of his body.” Note that the metaphor has shifted, from the church being the bride/wife of Christ to being the body of Christ. CHURCH IS BODY THAT IS NOURISHED
· In 5:31-32, the reference is to Genesis 2:24 and the focus is on the husband and wife being unified as “one flesh” through the marriage relationship. So, the two bodies have been unified. In 5:32 Paul explains this “profound” mystery “refers to Christ and the church.” Now we have a U-turn in the reasoning. The church is the body of Christ (verse 5:30), but this is BECAUSE we are joined with Christ in intimacy to become one flesh with Christ. So it is the marriage between Christ and the church that results in the church’s being the body of Christ. CHRIST UNIFIED TO CHURCH IN MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP
In this complex set of relationships, we see a number of ways of understanding the relationship between Christ and the church.
· SACRIFICE: Christ is the savior of the church who died for her.
· CHRIST IS UNIFIED TO CHURCH IN MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP
· CHRIST DESIRES TO PRESENT TO HIMSELF A SANCTIFIED CHURCH
· HEAD: Christ is the head and the church is the body.
· CHURCH IS BODY THAT IS NOURISHED: Christ nourishes and cherishes the church because it is his body and one would nourish and cherish one’s own body
THE BRIDE OF CHRIST AND THE MARRIAGE OF CHRIST IN REVELATION
The following passages are from Revelation:
· 19:7-8 “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; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine line is the righteous deeds of the saints.
· 19:9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
· 21:2-3 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
· 21:9 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.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…
· 21:12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel inscribed…
· 21:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
· 21:17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
I observe the following regarding the Bride and the marriage and the marriage supper:
· The actual wedding of the Bride and the Lamb is never described.
· The marriage is announced in 19:7 and the wedding supper is mentioned in 19:9. Both of these announcements seem to be anticipatory.
· The time of the appearance of the Bride is the onset of what is often called “eternity.”
· The Bride is a metaphor that is used to describe the New Jerusalem. Yet, in a sense, the New Jerusalem is itself a metaphor.
· The Old Testament people of God (the tribes of Israel) and the New Testament people of God (the apostles) are both represented by the names that are inscribed on the gates and the foundation stones of the walls of the city.
With these observations in mind, I shall attempt to identify the Bride of the Lamb as well as understand the significance of the wedding supper of the Lamb.
The city has the names of the tribes of Israel inscribed on its gates and the names of the apostles on the foundation stones of its walls. This indicates to me that both groups of people—the nation of Israel and the church—are citizens of the New Jerusalem. Therefore, I believe that the BRIDE OF CHRIST AND THE NEW JERUSALEM ARE TO BE IDENTIFIED BOTH WITH ISRAEL AND THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH.
I once heard a radio preacher angrily railing about “replacement” theology. He was talking, I assume, about the idea that the church is the new Israel. He was right that one must be cautious in applying all that pertains to Israel to the church. Nevertheless, there are some bold statements regarding the church and Israel in the New Testament. I understanding these statements to indicate a union between the Old Testament people of God and the New Testament church. Thus, the church does not replace Israel, but rather the church is in union with (true) Israel.
NEW TESTAMENT UNION OF ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH
Part 1: Galatians 3—The True Sons of Abraham
Starting in Galatians 3, Paul deals with the promises to Abraham, the Mosaic Law, Christ, Israel, and Gentiles. He makes the following points:
a. Those who have faith are the sons of Abraham, including Gentile believers and heirs to the promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9).
b. Christ redeemed those under the Law—and thereby experiencing a curse—by becoming a curse for them (Galatians 3:10-13).
c. Christ is the offspring of Abraham who receives by inheritance the covenantal promises to Abraham (Galatians 3:16-18)
d. Israel was under a “guardian”—the Law—until Christ came, and with him, justification by faith (Galatians 3:23-25).
e. Those who believe in Christ are sons of God through faith—whether Israelite or Gentile (Galatians 3:23-28).
f. And if one belongs to Christ, then he or she is Abraham’s offspring and “heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29).
Part 2: Ephesians 2—Admission of Gentiles into the Commonwealth of Israel
One passage, I believe, is key in our understanding. That is Ephesians 2:11-22.
a. First, I shall make a verse-by-verse summary, as follows.
· 2:11 The Gentiles were called the “uncircumcision” by the Jews.
· 2:12 The Gentiles were separated from both Christ and the “commonwealth” of Israel.
· 2:13 They have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
· 2:14 Christ has broken down in his flesh the division between Jew and Gentile.
· 2:15 He did this by abolishing the Law to create one man from the two.
· 2:16 He reconciled us both to God through the cross and ended the hostility.
· 2:17 He preached peace to both groups.
· 2:18 Through him both have access to the Father through the Spirit.
· 2:19 Gentiles are no longer aliens but are fellow citizens and members of the household of God.
· 2:20 This house was built on the apostles and prophets with Christ the cornerstone.
· 2:21 In him it grows into a temple in the Lord.
· 2:22 Together Jews and Gentiles are a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.
b. The result of the redemption through Christ: In this passage, Paul understands the redemption through Christ to have accomplished several things. First (though not addressed first), Christ reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God through the cross. This, in turn, abolished the Law in the sense that it no longer stands between humans and God. Moreover, the Law no longer stands between groups of humans—between Israel and the Gentiles. This reconciliation allows both groups to have access to the Father. Since both groups—Israel and Gentiles—approach the Father on the same basis, there is no longer grounds for enmity between them. They are now citizens of the same spiritual nation and members of the same household.
c. Gentile entry into the commonwealth of Israel: What is strongly implied in this passage is that, in this new means of reconciliation with God, the Gentiles are entering into the “commonwealth” of Israel. The nation—commonwealth—is already there. Now both Israelites and Gentiles are citizens on the same basis, the cross of Jesus Christ. Notice that this tends to turn upside down the usual notion of these relationships. If a Jew gets saved, then he or she is welcomed (hopefully) into the church. Our concept is that the church is there, and the Jew can join it through faith in Christ. What Paul is reminding us is that, in fact, we Gentiles (most who read this probably are Gentiles) are the outsiders who have been welcomed in through faith in Christ. He also is reminding us that the “commonwealth” of Israel has a long history of existence well before the Christian era.
Part 3: The continuation of the commonwealth of Israel in the church era
a. So, is the church the “new Israel”? I do not think so. I think the church is a continuation of the commonwealth of Israel. If we consider the early chapters of Acts, the church began among Jews through faith in Jesus and baptism in the name of the triune God. It began with the Pentecost Sunday gift of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. There followed the witness of Peter to Lordship and Messiahship of Jesus. (Acts 2:36) These events took place among the people of Israel. In fact, Peter explicitly states in Acts 2:36: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
b. The growth and spread of the church: After the day of Pentecost the Lord continued to add people (Jews) to the community of believers. (Acts 2:47) Although official Israel rejected this group and their leaders and persecuted them (see Acts 4-7), this continued to be a group within Israel. Slowly, there began to be a spread of believers beyond Israel. It came to point, finally, where decisions had to be made about the Gentile believers.
c. The Jerusalem Council: These decisions were made at what is often called the “Jerusalem Council.” The crisis was whether the Gentile believers should be circumcised and ordered “to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5) The council discussed it and came to the conclusion, which was pronounced by James: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21) Thus, the Gentiles were not placed under the yoke of the Law. They were asked to refrain from certain behaviors that would be particularly offensive to Jews.
a. The rebuilding of the Tent of David: In his pronouncement James prefaces his summation by quoting from Amos 9:11-12, as follows: “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.” This version of the passage from Amos is closer to our English translation of the Septuagint than to the translation from the Hebrew. James probably used the Septuagint as his source. The focus in the beginning of the passage is on rebuilding the “tent of David that has fallen.” Notice that the vision is of restoration within the community of Israel. This restoration is envisioned by Amos to enable Israel to reach out to the Gentiles. In the Septuagint the understanding is that the rebuilt tent of David will draw Gentiles to seek the Lord. In the Hebrew version, because the tent of David is restored, Israel is enabled to “possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name.” Thus, Israel is enabled to reach out to the Gentiles and “possess” them.
b. I think two things flow out of this Scripture.
i. First, God will restore the “tent of David.” The Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) uses “booth” (ESV) or “shelter” (NIV). I believe that this is similar to the usual language for “family.” Generally, this would say “the house of David” will be restored. We know that Jesus was the descendant of David, and his coming in fact was a restoration of the house of David. It was this restoration that would bring a new enablement to Israel.
ii. Second, the restoration of David’s house is a rejuvenation of Israel itself. The early chapters of Acts are describing a revival that was taking place in and around Jerusalem and spilling over into Samaria and even to more remote communities of Israelites, including Damascus and Antioch. Of course coupled with this was persecution and determined effort to stamp out this revival. In the course of this revival, Gentiles began to be saved also. It created a crisis among the Christians, but they, to a degree, handled it and, with the decision of the Jerusalem Council, moved on.
c. The development of a Gentile church: The latter part of Acts focuses on the ministry to the Gentiles, especially by Paul. Ultimately, the historical arc of the New Testament is toward a Gentile church. However, even late in the first century, the Christians still understood their close relationship to Judaism. So, in Revelation 2:9, Jesus speaks to the church at Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” This pronouncement is a harsh word in reference to the local synagogue. It highlights the deep division that developed between the church and most of Israel, which had rejected Christ. It also identifies “true Israel” and “apostate Israel.” The church is understood to be a component of true Israel.
d. The olive tree in Romans 11: In Romans 9-11, Paul addresses these issues. I have discussed these chapters in other posts and will not dwell on them. What I think is especially important is to recognize that Paul only sees one people of God throughout these chapters. I think one should be cautious in reading Romans 11:17-21. Paul is not saying that God will break off the Gentile branches when he restores Israel (see 11:26). He is, rather, warning Gentile believers not to be arrogant or proud. He is careful to say that God broke off the Israelite branches “because of their unbelief.” That is, it was not an arbitrary or capricious act of God. So, God will not arbitrarily break off Gentile branches to make room for the restoration of Israel. God will continue his kindness to the Gentile believers if we continue in his kindness. (Romans 11:22) So, it is implied, there will be room for the Israelites to be grafted back in and to keep the Gentiles in the tree.
CONCLUSION: THE UNION OF ISRAEL AND GENTILES IN THE NEW JERUSALEM
The following have been the various approaches that I have attempted to use to answer the question of the identity of the bride who is the New Jerusalem:
· I have described how the nation of Israel is described as the wife of God, especially in those cases when the nation has been unfaithful to God—as an adulterous wife is—through idolatry and in seeking the protection of other nations.
· I have described how the church is described as the wife of Christ in Ephesians 5. Out of the intimate relationship—which is like a marriage—between Christ and the church come several resultant relationships, including Christ as the Head of the church and the church as the Body of Christ.
· In Galatians 3 those who are sons of God by faith are the true sons of Abraham and heirs of the promises to Abraham.
· In Ephesians 2:11-22, the admission of Gentiles into the Commonwealth of Israel is described. In this understanding, the Gentiles have been brought into the people of God by the work of Christ.
· The history of the early church in Acts and some of the epistles is the story of the continuation of the church as a component of the Commonwealth of Israel.
· In Romans 9-11, Paul addresses these issues. What I think is especially important is to recognize that Paul only sees one people of God throughout these chapters.
· At the onset of what might be called “eternity,” the New Jerusalem appears. It is called the Bride. The city is identified with both the nation of Israel and the church.
From all these considerations, I believe that it is reasonable and consistent with Scripture to identify the Bride as the People of God who are identified as the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and as the church of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. I believe that there is continuity between these two groups. The church does not replace Israel. The church is a component of the Old Testament people of God.
I must be cautious at this point. I am not saying that we can make an exact equation between the Old Testament and New Testament people of God. We must recognize that the coming of Jesus the Christ into the world was a game-changer. Everything that is tentative or only that is promised or that is a foreshadowing or a type in the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Jesus’ first coming or his second coming. The book of Hebrews goes into detail about how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament worship and Paul’s writings explain how Christ has put an end to the Old Testament Law. So, the faith of the Old Testament believer was faith in a partial revelation. Often it was an acceptance of the God-ordained leadership that was then current, such as a judge, a king, or a prophet. It generally was also obedience to God’s directives, such as the Mosaic Law—obedience that came out of a heart of faith. In all of these cases, the revelation that was believed pointed ultimately to Christ. So, when Christ came, he turned the light on. One consequence of that was the whole relationship of the church to God in Christ is drastically more intimate and powerful than the relationship between the Israelites and God.
Nevertheless, I believe it is consistent with the Bible to understand that there is a strong relationship between the Old and New Testament people of God. The fact that the one city of God, the New Jerusalem, bears the names of both the tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles reflects that strong relationship.
ADDENDUM: THE USE OF “WOMAN” AND “BRIDE” IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The themes coming out of the idea of “woman” are frequently encountered in Revelation (boldface added by me).
1. Jezebel: In 2:20-23, Jesus rebukes the church at Thyatira for tolerating the false prophetess known as “Jezebel.”
2. The woman who is clothed with the sun: In chapter 12, a mysterious woman “clothed with the sun” is in conflict with a dragon. The woman has a son who escapes the dragon and goes to God and his throne. The dragon pursues, without success the woman. Then he focuses on her offspring, “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (12:17)
3. In 14:8 an angel announces: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” Babylon will be identified with a woman temptress is chapter 17.
4. In the description (16:17-21) of the consequences of the outpouring of the seventh bowl of God’s wrath, that wrath includes a judgment upon “Babylon the great.” The description of various judgments is complex and it is not clear to me exactly which judgments fall specifically on Babylon. Nevertheless, this city—which is identified elsewhere as seductress—is singled out for an outpouring of God’s wrath.
5. Chapter 17 gives a detailed description of the Prostitute or Babylon and additional information about the Beast. The woman, who is called a prostitute is summarized as “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” (17:18)
6. The destruction of the Prostitute/Babylon is described in 17:16 and is expanded upon in chapter 18. This chapter especially describes how her destruction affects various groups of people, such as kings, merchants, and sailors.
7. In 19:1-5 heaven rejoices over the judgment of Babylon.
8. In 19:6-8 there is rejoicing over the marriage of the Lamb to his Bride.
9. In 19:9 a blessing is pronounced on those who have been invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
10. In 21:1-22:5 there is a description of the new heaven and the new earth. Prominent in that description is the “New Jerusalem.” It is first mentioned immediately after the announcement of the the new heaven and new earth in 21:2. It is coming down from heaven and is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Then, in 21:9, an angel promises to show John “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Again, the bride is identified as the New Jerusalem in 21:10. A detailed description follows in the remainder of the chapter and into chapter 22. The city has 12 gates which are identified with the 12 tribes of Israel (21:12). Its wall has 12 foundations which are identified with the 12 apostles (21:14).
COMMENTS: The theme of woman is prominent throughout Revelation. The theme is used both negatively and positively. This creates contrasts. These contrasts include those that follow.
The woman Jezebel is an evil influence who corrupts the church. (2:20-23) This is in contrast to the woman who is clothed with the sun (chapter 12), whose children “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
The Prostitute/Babylon commits sexual immorality with the kings of the earth and gives the wine of her immorality to the earth-dwellers to make them drunk. (17:2) This is in contrast to the Bride of the Lamb, who wears “fine linen, bright and pure,” which is “the righteous deeds of the saints.” The woman who is clothed with the sun can also be considered a contrast to Babylon.
Note also that Babylon and the New Jerusalem are both cities which are identified as women. One is an evil prostitute corrupting the earth and the other is a pure and chaste bride who is married to the Lamb (Jesus). The bride is identified with the Biblical people of God, Israel and the church.
ADDENDUM: ADDITIONAL WAYS OF UNDERSTANDING THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT:
The following is additional information to remind us of the various ways the church is described in the New Testament. I do not consider these to add or to detract from the considerations of the main body of this article.
1. THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST AND CHRIST AS ITS HEAD
· Boldface was added by me.
· Romans 12:4-5: Though we are many (in the church), we are one body in Christ and are also members of one another.
· I Corinthians 10:17: Just as there is one loaf in the communion, so we, who are many, make up one body. As we partake of communion, we are expressing this unity in the one body.
· I Corinthians 12:12-13ff: The church is the body of Christ, and so intimately identified with Christ, that Paul uses “Christ” and church synonymously: Christ has many members, and all these members are one body. We were baptized by the Spirit into the one body.
· Ephesians 1:22: God put all under Christ’s feet and gave Christ as the head over all things to the church.
· Ephesians 1:23: The church is Christ’s body and the fulness of Christ. NIVSB: “The church is the fulness of Christ probably in the sense that it is filled by him who fills all things.” ESVSB: “The church, filled by Christ, fills all creation as representatives of Christ.” Francis Foulkes (in his commentary on Ephesians): “…it is God’s purpose that the Church should be the full expression of Jesus Christ, who Himself fills everything there is.” [Next paragraph:] “Another interpretation of these words, understood by many ancient versions in their translation of the Greek, and followed by many commentators, is that in some sense the Church fills Christ, and He is made complete by the Church. So Calvin says, ‘Until he is united to us, the Son of God reckons himself in some sense imperfect.’ …It is felt that it gives a truer meaning of the word fulness (pleroma), that which fills, rather than that which is filled. Also the form of the particle…is the Greek middle or passive voice… [Foulkes goes on, however, to argue for middle and not passive, which would be close to active.] Nowhere in the New Testament is it said that Christ finds His fullness and fulfillment in the Church…The reverse is the more natural idea…The sequence of thought here seems to be: by His resurrection and ascension Christ is exalted to be Lord of all, He is the Head of all things for the Church; the Church is His Body intended to express Him in the world; [emphasis added] more than that, the Church is intended to be a full expression of Him by being filled by Him whose purpose it is to fill everything there is.” (Foulkes, 66-67)
· Eph 2:16: The “body” metaphor is used to express the unity between Jew and Greek when they are in Christ: “And might reconcile us both [Jew and Gentile] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
· Eph 3:6: The idea of unity considers the Gentiles to have joined with the Jews in the body of Christ: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. “
· Eph 4:4-5 The church is one of the “unities” of the Christian faith: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”
· Eph 4:12-16 The “body” metaphor is used to express the notion of spiritual growth: “[4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets…] to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” See also Colossians 2:19 and 3:15.
· Colossians 1:18, 1:24: Christ is the head of the body, which is the church.
· Colossian 2:19: very similar to Ephesians 4:12-16
· Colossians 3:15: Let peace rule since you were called to peace as you are in one body (the church)
· Hebrews 13:3: Admonishes Christians to remember those in prison. It has an ambiguous reference to “the body.” ESVSB believes this refers to living our faith in the real world and does not refer to the church, but acknowledges that it could.
2. CHURCH IN I PETER
In the Scripture quotations below, boldface was added by me.
· Peter uses the metaphor of a building to describe the church: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood…” I Peter 2:5
· Peter also uses the language of nationhood to describe the church: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession… I Peter 2:9
· Peter goes on to recall the language of Hosea 1:8-11: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” I Peter 2:10
· Peter also uses the familiar metaphor of the flock and shepherd: “[To the elders he admonishes] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight…” I Peter 5:2
3. CHURCH IN I JOHN AND GOSPEL OF JOHN
· John, in his first epistle, often uses the term “brother” [which can be understood to include “sister”] (see, e.g., I John 2:9-10).
· John also uses the idea of Christians—the church—as the children of God: See I John 3:1.
· Jesus, in John 15:1ff, uses the extended metaphor of the vine and branches to describe himself as the unifying principle that brings us together as well as himself as the source of our life.
Francis Foulkes. The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. Tyndale New Testament. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1956.