A primary metaphor for our union with God in Christ is marriage. God is the groom, and we are the bride. Actually, this union does not merely use marriage a metaphor—it’s the reality that human marriage mysteriously imitates (Eph 5:32). Before all ages, our bridegroom planned to marry us so that we might become the bride of Christ.
But this is different than saying that Christianity as such is distinctively feminine! The Christian faith also has many masculine characteristics as we are all often called sons of God regardless of sex. God primarily reveals himself as Father and Son, not Mother and Daughter. Still, at other times, God reveals himself in secondary ways with distinctly feminine characteristics: as a mother eagle (Deut 32:11) or even as a mother comforting her child (Isa 66:13)
Therefore, along with masculine characteristics, there is a feminine characteristic to Christianity that often (at least in contemporary writings) lies forgotten. We are the bride of Christ. Consider how the Bible develops this spiritual mystery from Genesis to Revelation.
The mystery of marriage
While instructing the Ephesians on marriage, Paul reveals a deep mystery embedded in the very essence of marriage. He explains:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband
Earlier in Ephesians Paul developed the argument that by faith the Spirit unites us to Christ, and he actually and truly makes us the body of Christ—Christ being the head. This union of body makes us lose ourselves in the life of Christ (Gal 2:20; Col 3:3). The bodily union of Christ with us, the church, precedes marriage—the latter being an analogy of our union with Christ.
Since God predestined us to unite with Christ before all ages, he invented marriage to teach us about our union with Christ to God the Father by the Holy Spirit. As Paul says, “This mystery is profound.”
Paul grounds his interpretation here by citing Genesis 2:24 where God creates the institution of marriage (Eph 5:31). His point seems to be that marriage even during the creation of the world carried with it the mystery of redemption, of our union with Christ.
Marital language in Scripture
The prophets often spoke of this reality, namely, that we are destined to marriage with God in Christ. Isaiah, for example, writes, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God” (Isa 54:5–6).
In the book of Hosea, the prophet Hosea allegorically represents God whereas Gomer his unfaithful spouse represents Israel. The point here is that God has married Israel by covenant, and her betrayal of him was adultery.
Ezekiel 16 mediates on Israel as an “Adulterous wife” (Ezek 16:32). Jeremiah 2 and 3 does much the same as does Isaiah 50. And while perhaps controversial today, the near unanimous reading of Song of Songs in church has been allegorical—of Christ and the church in ways similar to Hosea. Likewise, Psalm 45 appears to make Israel a princess who will marry the king.
Paul clearly sees the church as the virgin bride of the church: “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 11:2).
Scripture is replete with references to our marriage to our groom, Christ.
The marriage at the end of time
As pure virgins, we will celebrate our marriage supper with the lamb of God. As John prophetically heard heaven proclaim, “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready“ (Rev 19:6).
And in the eschaton, the heavenly city of Jerusalem who are the saints of God will become the bride of the lamb. As the angel tells John, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9).
From Genesis to Revelation, the theme of marriage to Christ persists throughout Scripture, being an introduction and conclusion to our spiritual life. Far from being an obscure them, we are meant to be virgin brides to our groom.
We are meant to have a distinctly feminine characteristic to our faith. In marriage of course, men represent the role of Christ to their wives who portray our final destiny (i.e., our marriage to the lamb).
Yet it is through the husband’s observation and understanding of his wife’s godly life that he learns what it will mean by shadow and symbol to experience that reality to which we all yearn—that beatific vision in heaven when we become the Bride of the lamb.
Liam Goligher’s article here partly inspired this post, and I used his biblical references in this article.