Most churches in Christendom teach that the Church is the “bride of Christ.” The phrase “bride of Christ,” however, does not occur within the Bible. Furthermore, the imagery of the Church as a bride is thin at best.
Within the Old Testament, the idea of Israel as the “wife” of God is developed. Though Israel was “married” to God she proved an unfaithful spouse. The nation’s unfaithfulness was expressed as spiritual adultery: it deserted Him for false gods (e.g., Baal, Asherah, Molech, Dagon, etc.). Despite these failures, God declared the nation would return to Him, that they would become what He had purposed for them, and that He would fulfill His covenant promises to them. According to God’s promise, the entire nation would become priests (Exodus 19:6) and a faithful wife. With this in mind, Isaiah wrote Isaiah 54:4-8 and Isaiah 62:1-5.
Jeremiah wrote Jeremiah 3:14 and Jeremiah 31:31-33
God also used the prophet Hosea’s personal life as an object lesson to instruct idolatrous Israel. To present His case, God told Hosea to marry an idolatrous woman, in order to represent Israel’s faithlessness in serving other gods. Hosea had three children by his wife, Gomer. Their names depicted God’s judgment of the nation. The first child, a son, was named Jezreel (God scatters). God judged (scattered) the northern kingdom with the Assyrian invasion (722 B.C.). The second child was a daughter named Lo-ruhama (not pitied) and the third child, a son, was named Lo-ammi (not my people). But God’s disfavor would be temporary. He promised that the nation would repent of its unfaithfulness and return to Him.
Hosea wrote Hosea 2:14-20
In this tender passage, God is seen as a courting lover. He “allures” the object of His love and speaks kindly to her. The passage speaks of a refreshed relationship in which His wife (Israel) will call Him אִישִׁי “my husband,” “my man” (Ishi) instead of בַּעְלִי “my Lord.” Baal (בַּעַל) was one of the false gods Israel discovered when they came into the land of Canaan (Numbers 22:41; Judges 2:13). In the prophecy of this restored relationship, in which God will put His Spirit into the nation (Jeremiah 31:31-40), the animal kingdom will also be at peace (Isaiah 11:6-9) and war will be no more (Isaiah 2:1-4). This renewed betrothal will be eternal and Israel will know the Lord–the One True God.
The book of Revelation reads like an Old Testament book. And for good reason. Most of its symbols and imagery are found in the prophets. To a discerning reader, it should be clear that Jesus’ messages to the assemblies (ἐκκλησία) in Revelation 2-3 were not Christian (i.e., Pauline churches). The language the Lord used towards them has no correspondence to the language or the concepts Paul had received and communicated to Christian churches. John wrote to these seven Jewish assemblies to encourage them in the tribulation they were experiencing (cf. Revelation 1:9). Of the seven cities Jesus mentioned, only three are found elsewhere in the Bible: Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 21, 24; 19:1, 17, 26, 35; 20:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 16:8; Ephesians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:18; 4:12), Thyatira (Acts 16:14), and Laodicea (Colossians 2:1; 4:13, 15-16; 1 Timothy 6:21). We have no information about Smyrna, Pergamon, Sardis, or Philadelphia. The events of Revelation remain future. Those who have attempted to make church history correspond with the messages to these churches (historicists) or worse, have tried to fit the events into a pre-70 A.D. timeframe (preterists), have replaced sound exegesis with fantasy.
The character of these assemblies is Jewish. No Church (i.e., body of Christ) doctrine is present within them. The Lord’s message to them is wholly different from the language He gave to Paul for the body of Christ. No hint of the gospel or the doctrines of grace may be found in Jesus’ words to these assemblies. Jesus’ refrain is “he who has an ear, let him hear” and His command is to persevere and endure. None of this is present in Paul. The warnings Jesus gave the assemblies echo His warnings to the Twelve on the Mount of Olives. In that address, He warned them not to be deceived and to endure to the end (Matthew 24:4, 11, 24; 25:13). The great temptation that will confront Israel, as well as the world, during the period of time foretold by Revelation, will be to accept a false Messiah. This will involve the worship of Satan, the beast (Satan’s man, the Antichrist), the Antichrist’s image, and the taking of his mark (Revelation 13:4, 8, 15, 16-17). Jesus’ refrain to the seven assemblies is repeated in Revelation 13:9. In Revelation 14:9-11, God’s angel warned of the consequences of submitting to the temptation. Revelation 14:12 describes the “patience,” “perseverance,” or “endurance” (ὑπομονή) Jesus described in the Jewish assemblies in Revelation 2:3, 19; 3:10. During this period of time salvation is possible only through endurance (Matthew 24:13). Jesus’ words about salvation during this period are as straightforward as words can be: only by enduring to the end (i.e., the end of one’s life (martyrdom)) or until He returns is salvation possible.
Since the book is primarily about Israel and reads like the Old Testament, one conclusion remains: that is what it is. The bride of Revelation 19 is Israel, not the Church, the body of Christ, since the Church is nowhere in the book of Revelation. John wrote Revelation 19:7-9
In the marriage of the Lamb, we read that the bride has made herself ready. Does this sound like the Church, the body of Christ? Paul declared members of the body of Christ have been made complete in Christ (ἐστὲ ἐναὐτῷ πεπληρωμένοι, Colossians 2:10). The Church needs no “preparation.” We are complete in Him! No, the bride here is Israel and the “marriage of the Lamb” is the reconciliation of Israel with God which the prophets foretold.
In Revelation 21, John described a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1) to replace the old heaven and earth which had departed (ἀπέρχομαι). Along with the new heaven and earth is the new Jerusalem. It comes down from heaven onto the new earth (Revelation 21:2). John described the city as a bride adorned for her husband. In Revelation 21:9, one of the seven angels of the seven bowls showed John the bride, called the wife of the Lamb. This was the new Jerusalem. Again, everything is Jewish. The city has twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them (Revelation 21:12). The twelve foundation stones have the names of the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:14; cf. Matthew 19:28). Nothing of the Church, the body of Christ, is here.
Israel had both an earthly and a heavenly calling. They were called out from among the nations of the earth and given earthly promises (e.g., a kingdom and preeminence among the nations (Deuteronomy 28:1, 13)). But they had a heavenly calling also, described in Hebrews 3:1 that began with Abraham (cf. Hebrews 11:8-10). Abraham anticipated (ἐκδέχομαι) a heavenly city. How much he knew of it is unknown. But he looked for a heavenly city. The new Jerusalem of Revelation 21 was that city.
The first two callings pertain to Israel. The third calling is for the Church, the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:18; 2 Timothy 1:9). God’s promises to the Church are wholly heavenly, not earthly (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6; Philippians 3:20).
Paul taught that the Church was the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18, 24) and that believers become members of His body through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). This revelation was one of the “secrets” (μυστήριον) the glorified Lord revealed to Paul alone. Paul was the only writer of Scripture who taught that the Church was the body of Christ. He declared that before him, this truth was not known (Ephesians 3:3-7).
The Scriptures teach that the Church is the body of Christ. How is it most of Christendom teaches the Church is the bride of Christ? Two passages have been used to make this argument. The first is 2 Corinthians 11:2. Read out of context, this passage may appear to support the idea that the Church is the bride of Christ, but the verses that follow correct such wandering. Paul continued in 2 Corinthians 11:3-6
Paul’s point was to encourage the Corinthians to remain faithful to Christ and his gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Paul constantly had to defend his ministry – from both unbelievers and believers. From his words in this passage, he recognized he was not the most polished speaker. But in terms of knowledge, he was far ahead of anyone else – he was God’s apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). The risen Lord had commissioned him and revealed to him secrets no one else knew. Paul’s choice of words to the Corinthians, “present you as a pure virgin” was to illustrate his desire for holy living for these believers, not to teach that the Church is the bride of Christ – any more than Paul taught that he was their mother (Galatians 4:19) or their father (1 Corinthians 4:15).
The second passage is Ephesians 5:22-33 (emphasis on v.31). Within this passage, Paul argued that as a husband is the head of a wife, Christ is the head of the Church. This fit with Paul’s teaching that the Church is the body of Christ, with Christ Himself as the Head (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18). Paul noted that husbands should love their wives as their own bodies (v.28) because no one ever hated his own flesh (v.29). One nourishes his body and cherishes it (v.29). It is this nourishing and care of a husband for his own body that Paul used to make the analogy regarding Christ’s care for His Church (i.e., His body (v.29-30)). Paul quoted Genesis 2:24, not to make a point about the husband/wife relationship or that the Church is the bride of Christ, but to emphasize the unity and care for the body. Paul declared this was a great “secret” (μυστήριον), but that he spoke with reference to Christ and His Church (v.32).
Since the Church is the body of Christ it means that if Christ is the bridegroom we are part of His groomsmanship. Thus, we are of the bridegroom, not the bride!
Wife and bride are titles that belong to Israel, not the Church. Our title is “the body of Christ.” As the body, we are of the bridegroom, not the bride. If you cannot tell the bridegroom from the bride at a marriage it is going to be a confusing wedding. But God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). He wishes believers to understand who they are, where they fit in His plan, and what promises belong to them. When we do, we can rejoice in the grace God has given to us and serve and honor Him effectively.
John 3:29 is 100% about Israel, not the Church, the body of Christ.