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BEHOLD THE BRIDEGROOM COMES

Written by: Monk, Charles L.    Posted on: 05/06/2003

Category: Bible Studies

Source: CCN

This material was compiled by Charles L. Monk for a Theology Class at Rockmont College in Denver, CO in December 1982.  Any questions on this material or the interpretations of the Scripture can be addressed to me at (713) 726-1513.

      BEHOLD, THE BRIDEGROOM COMES

"Let not your heart be troubled:  ye believe in God, believe also in me." (John 14:1)  The very nucleus of the gospel and the basis of all Christian faith is presented to the disciples by the author of all salvation, Jesus Christ.

The command contained in this passage is then followed by one of the greatest promises ever given to mankind.

"In my Father's house are many mansions:  if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."  (John 14:2D3)

As Christians we understand verse 1 and believe in Christ, yet we fail to understand verses 2 and 3 because we do not consider them in the same context in which they were given by Christ to His disciples. Instead we superimpose our modern cultural concepts and thereby do not comprehend the full impact of this passage and others which refer to Christ as the bridegroom coming for the church, depicted as the bride of Christ.

My thesis is that there are crucial comparisons between the Jewish marriage customs, as they were practiced in the time of Jesus Christ, and the time elements involved in the return of our Lord and Savior which, if analyzed and properly understood, will assist in a more accurate exegetical and hermeneutical interpretation of scripture pertaining to His return.  In this document I will first examine customs related to the Jewish marriage ceremony and then compare these customs to scriptural references concerning Christ's return.  In this manner I will present what I consider to be a scriptural analogy which simplifies understanding of the biblical timetable leading up to the return of Jesus Christ.

    Customs Pertaining to the Jewish Marriage

The Betrothal

Jewish marriage, similiar to most other cultures, began with the betrothal. Marriage, to the Jew, conveyed a very formal ritual as well as a very sacred one.  Alfred Edersheim, in his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, sets forth the significance of this relationship saying:

"It (Jewish marriage) was regarded almost as a Sacra-ment. Entrance into the married state was thought to carry the forgiveness of sins. ...thus the bridal pair on the marriage day symbolized the union of God with Israel."

Betrothal in earlier times had been initiated by parental overtures but by the time of Christ this was no longer considered the norm.  The bridegroom would travel from his home to the home of the bride in order to negotiate with his prospective father-in-law, the purchase price of his bride.  This price, refered to as the "mohar", had to be paid prior to any other events relating to the marriage.  Once paid, the marriage covenant was established and the man and woman were, for all intents and purposes, considered to be husband and wife.  From that moment on the bride was declared "consecrated", or "sanctified" set apart exclusively for her bridegroom4.

As a symbol of the covenant relationship which had been established, the groom and bride would drink from a cup of wine over which a betrothal benediction had been pronounced.

The Preparation

Once the marriage covenant had been established, the groom would leave the home of his bride and return to his father's house.  He would remain separated from his bride for an indefinite period of time usually not to exceed twelve months.  During this time both the groom and the bride had specific preparations which had to be accomplished prior to the wedding ceremony.

The groom was required to prepare living accomodations for him and his new bride.This customarily involved building an addition to his father's house large enough for the two of them to live in.  The strong family ties inherent in the Jewish culture of Christ's day normally precluded the building of a separate house away from the family.  The groom's preparations would include not only the structure, but also everything needed to set up a household.  He would provide all that he could afford in order to offer his bride the most comfort and pleasant living accommodations possible.

The bride, in anticipation of her married life, would busy herself with her trousseau and personal arrangements.  Traditionally, during this separation, her mother would teach her all things necessary to fulfill her marital responsibilities. It was a time spent in close fellowship as both recognized their new roles.

The Return for the Bride

As stated earlier, the groom would be separated from his bride-to be for an indefinite period of time usually not exceeding twelve months. Once he had prepared the household and everything was ready for his bride, the groom would prepare himself for the wedding ceremony.  He would call his closest friends, including his "best man", and inform them of his immediate intentions so that they, too, could prepare for the wedding procession through the town.

The taking of the bride usually occurred at night.  The groom and his friends would form a procession and, with lighted torches, they would proceed through the town so that all the townspeople would be aware of the wedding.  Then they would proceed to the home of the unsuspecting bride.  The bride, even though anticipating the return of her groom, would never know exactly when he was coming for her and therefore, had to be constantly prepared for his return.

The procession would hush themselves before arriving at the home of the bride in order to surprise her, and the groom would announce his return with a shout. The bride would then send a servant or a member of her household to get her bridesmaids and they would prepare for the journey to the home of the groom where the rest of the festivities took place.

The bride would then gather her necessary belongings and join the procession through the town to her new home prepared by her husband. She would be wearing her wedding gown and her face would be veiled. The wedding guests would already be in attendance when the bridal pair arrived.  Presumably these guests had heard the procession and went straight to the house to help prepare for the wedding feast.

Consummation of the Marriage

Shortly after their arrival the bridal pair were escorted by their closest friends to the bridal chamber, referred to as the "huppah". These friends making up the wedding party would then wait at the door while the couple consummated the marriage, entering into physical union for the first time. This would finalize the marital agreement which had been covenanted earlier.

After the consummation the groom would step out and announce to the wedding party that the marriage had been finalized and completed. (In later years it became tradition for the groom to bring out the sheet from off of the wedding bed to prove the chastity and virginity of his bride. This was a sign of honor to both him and his new wife.)

The Wedding Feast and the Seven Days of the Huppah

Directly after the groom made his announcement the wedding feast would begin. This feast would last seven days and was called the seven days of the "huppah". During this time the bride and groom were waited on by their friends and all meals were taken in the bridal chamber.  Upon completion of the week they would emerge from the bridal chamber and the bride would now be unveiled for all to see.

The Comparison

The promise of John 14:13 was given by Christ to His disciples in the Upper Room Discourse.  That they did not immediately understand the passage is clear from Thomas' question, "Lord we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John 14:5)  However, in this same discourse Christ tells His disciples He will send them the Holy Spirit who will teach them all things and bring to their remembrance what He had said.  Later, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the disciples understood the promise in its proper context.

As Christians today, we do not understand the concept of Christ the bridegroom as the disciples understood it because we superimpose our own cultural customs of marriage on this promise and thereby miss much of its significance.

The concept is not a difficult one to understand.The idea of God's relationship to man as similiar to the relationship of husband and wife has been taught extensively in the Old Testament.  Christ, in the parable of the ten virgins, likened His relationship to the Church as the bridegroom coming for the bride.  In answer to the Pharisees' question, "Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?" Christ refers to Himself as the bridegroom saying, "Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?"

To support my thesis, let us now compare these marriage customs with what the Bible has recorded about the return of Jesus Christ to see if an analogy does exist.

The Betrothal

In Jewish marriage customs the betrothal occurred when the man took the initiative, left his father's home and went to the home of the prospective bride to negotiate the purchase price.  This price, the "mohar," had to be paid prior to anything else relating to the marriage.

In comparison, Christ left heaven, His Father's house, and came to earth, the home of His bride, to pay the price for a lost humanity.  The "mohar" was His life's blood.  We are redeemed by His blood.  Ephesians 1:7 states, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace."  Peter, in his epistle also mentions this, "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things...but with the precious blood of Christ..." (1 Peter 1:18,19)

The analogy is not exact here because Christ did not negotiate with the father of this world, Satan, for the purchase price of the believers That price was determined beforehand by God.

The groom obtained his bride through the establishment of a marriage covenant. In the same manner, Christ came to the earth to establish a covenant.  This covenant, foretold in the Old Testament by the prophet Jeremiah, was established the same night He gave the promise to His disciples.  It is the New Covenant established by the shedding of His blood on the cross.

In the Jewish ceremony a shared cup of wine served as a symbol of the marriage covenant.In the Church today the communion cup is the symbol of the covenant established by Christ to obtain His bride.

When the price had been paid the Jewish bride was considered sanctified, set apart exclusively for her husband.  The Church, too, has been declared sanctified, set apart exclusively for Christ.  In Ephesians Paul teaches, "Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word."  Even Corinth, the most carnal of churches addressed in the New Testament, was considered sanctified.  The author of Hebrews says we are all sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all.

The Preparation

With the establishment of the marriage covenant and the payment of the "mohar" accomplished, the groom would return to his father's house to accomplish the necessary preparations.  Christ, after paying the price, also departed to His Father's house to make preparation.  The promise of His return in John 14 includes His preparation on our behalf when He said, "I go to prepare a place for you".

The Jewish groom remained separated from his bride for an indefinite period of time.  Christ's separation is also for an indefinite period of time.

Here again the analogy does not exactly coincide as the Jewish groom was separated for a time usually not exceeding twelve months; whereas Christ's return has been delayed significantly longer.  The Church is now living in this period of separation.

Just as the Jewish groom prepared living accomodations for his new bride in his father's house, Christ is preparing accommodations for us in His Father's house in heaven.

The Jewish bride busied herself with her trousseau and learned about her marital responsibilities.  Christ has even taken care of this for the Church, for when He comes we will exchange our corruptible for the incorruptible.

The Return for the Bride

After all necessary preparations had been made, the Jewish groom returned for his bride to take her to be with him in their new home. The taking of the bride occurred at night and the groom would make his presence known by a shout.  Christ will return for His bride in like manner. It will undoubtedly be at night for some and day for others as we are told by Paul it will occur in the twinkling of an eye.  Christ's presence will be made known by a shout also.  Paul tells us through his letter to the Thessalonians, "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel..." (1Thessalonians 4:16)

In the taking of the bride in the Jewish ceremony, the groom was accompanied by a procession of his friends.  Christ will also be accompanied by a procession of an angelic escort.

Just as the Jewish bride had no idea when her groom would return for her, the Church today has no idea when Christ will return.Paul tells us as he told the Thessalonian believers, "This day will come as a thief in the night."

Similar to the Jewish bride returning with her husband to his father's house, the Church will return with Christ to heaven.  In this way we will inhabit the heavenly dwelling place prepared specifically for us by Christ in heaven.

When the Jewish bride and groom returned to the father's house, the wedding guests had already congregated there in preparation for the feast.Similarly, when we get to heaven with Christ, I believe the wedding guests will already be there.  We will find the souls of the Old Testament saints there as guests to celebrate with us.

The Consummation

When the bride and groom entered into physical union for the first time, they consummated the marriage and thereby completed the marriage covenant. Similarly, when the Church is taken to the Father's house in heaven we will enter into spiritual union with Christ thereby consummating the relationship which Christ covenanted with the Church over 1900 years ago.

This spiritual union will be the fulfillment of the promise given to the Corinthian church (and ultimately to all believers through the ages) when Paul told them, "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face:  now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

When the groom came to take his bride to his father's house she went veiled, for it would have been considered improper for her face to have been seen in public.38  The Jewish bride remained veiled until she was in the "huppah", the bridal chamber.  In like manner, the Church during this age does not know exactly who the other members of the Church are; as Paul says, "we see through a glass darkly."  When Christ takes us to heaven though, we shall see each other as face to face.

The Wedding Feast, The Huppah, The Tribulation

In the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony the marriage was consummated and the announcement was made to the wedding guests.  This announcement would signal the beginning the wedding feast.

Just as the Jewish bride remained hidden in the "huppah" for a period of seven days, so will the Church remain hidden for a period of seven.Both Daniel, in the Old Testament, and Revelation, in the New Testament, give the exact amount of time for this period.  This is the time period of Daniel's seventieth seven.  It is the period referred to in Revelation as the Tribulation. Revelation gives the exact number of days for the last half of this time period.

At the close of the wedding feast the groom would proudly escort his bride out of the bridal chamber.  She would now be unveiled for all to see, in full view.  So Christ will bring the Church out of heaven at the end of the Tribulation period in full view of all who are left alive.Paul told the Colossians of this event in these words, "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:3,4)

The Significance

The analogy between the Jewish marriage customs and the relationship Christ has with the Church is a beautiful one and full of significance to Believer and non Believer alike. First, to the Believer this relationship is most significant to the Believer for several reasons.  It shows the Believer the sequence of events which have led up to the present time of separation between the Church and Jesus Christ.  It gives the Believer hope for the return of Jesus Christ and the re-establishment of the close personal relationship we will share with Him throughout eternity.

It is also significant in what it teaches about our present relationship to the risen Christ. In the Jewish analogy it was possible for the Jewish bride to commit adultery.  In the absence of her husband to be she could do this by giving herself to another man.  Even though the actual wedding ceremony had not yet taken place, this was still considered adultery. Today it is possible for the Believer to commit spiritual adultery in the absence of Christ.  Paul expressed his concern over this issue when He wrote to the Corinthians and said:

For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid, lest as the Serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:23)

James also was concerned about the same thing when he wrote that friendship with the world is hostility toward God.  The context here seems to indicate one commits spiritual adultery when he becomes more devoted to the godless world system than to Jesus Christ and the things that please Him.

So the significance to be applied personally, is to evaluate your relationship to the risen Lord and determine what it is He would have you to do in His absence.  Determine if He remains the center of your life and if you are anxiously awaiting His return.  Ask yourself if He is controlling your every desire and thought, or if your relationship to the world is of more importance.

If you have been unfaithful in your relationship to Him you can be confident He will forgive you of those actions if you confess them and ask for His forgiveness.  II Timothy 2:16 affirms his faithfulness toward us despite our actions.If we earnestly seek a closer walk with Him and desire Him to rule in our lives we will readily admit our failure to remain pure. But upon confession we can be assured the Holy Spirit will renew our devotion and we can wait for His return confidently.

Secondly, to the Unbeliever, if you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you have absolutely no part in the foregoing analogy.  If you do not establish a relationship with Jesus you can not become a part of His bride, the Church. You will not take part in the reunification.Christ died on the cross for your sins, by His shed blood on that cross he paid the price for your sins also.  You can enter into this relationship by admitting your need for a Savior and by accepting Him as that Savior.

Just as the proposal of the Jewish bridegroom could be either accepted or rejected, you too, can either reject or accept the offer Christ makes to you each time you hear the gospel.  The warning is:  if you continue to reject Him, He will reject you and you will spend eternity separated from God and Christ.

If you accept Christ's proposal your sins will be forgiven and you will enter into the relationship and be a part of His bride.  You will be gathered together with Him when He returns.Accepting His proposal is really quite simple. You simply believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that He came to earth and died to pay the price for your sins, that He arose from the dead as proof that His sacrifice on your behalf was acceptable to God.



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