The true church of Christ is also described as the bride or wife of the Lamb (Matt. 25:1-13; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7-8). It is important to realise that after having been saved we should not lapse into spiritual idleness as though we have already reached our destination. Every Christian has a high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14), and salvation is only the beginning of a long process of sanctification and spiritual growth. We need to increase in holiness to appear before Christ without blemish. Appreciate the fact that Christ gave Himself to save and sanctify us: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
After the first purging of our sins the Lord Jesus also wants to sanctify us completely so we can be blameless on the day when we appear before Him. Do not be discouraged by your present dark circumstances and the contempt with which a wicked world treats us. Cling to the promises of our wonderful future in heaven and actively continue to prepare for that life.
During the first coming of Jesus there was great hostility against Him and His small group of true disciples. He said that He would go to His Father and they were afraid to remain behind alone. But the night before His crucifixion the Lord Jesus made the following comforting promise about meeting them again and taking them to heaven: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
This promise was made after the analogy of traditional Jewish marriage customs in biblical times. The first important step in the Jewish marriage was betrothal, which comprised the conclusion of a marriage covenant. In the time of Jesus it was customary that such a covenant was concluded because of the initiative taken by the prospective bridegroom. For this purpose he travelled from his father’s house to the home of his prospective bride. There he negotiated with her father on the bride-price (mohar) which he had to pay. After the bride-price was paid the marriage covenant was concluded. From that moment onwards the future bride was declared to be separated and dedicated only to her future bridegroom. As confirmation of the covenant they drank from a cup of new wine over which a blessing for the betrothal was declared.
In biblical times the Jewish bridegroom departed for a lengthy period after his betrothal to prepare an apartment in the house of his father for his bride and himself. Having done so, he would then return to her home secretly at night to be reunited with her and take her with him to his father’s house, where the marriage feast would be celebrated. This is analogous to Jesus preparing a place for us in the Father’s house and returning to take us there as promised.
The first statement that we can make when studying this analogy is that the sanctified church of Christ is His bride (Eph. 5:22-23). Just as the Jewish bridegroom took the initiative by leaving his father’s house to travel to the house of his prospective bride, Jesus left His Father’s house during His first coming to come the world, which is the habitation of His future bride. Through His death on the cross He paid the full price to redeem His bride so she can belong to Him. Paul said to church: “You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20), while Peter also confirms that we were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19). During the same night when Jesus made the promise to the early disciples that He was going to prepare a place for us, He instituted Holy Communion. He passed the cup with wine to His disciples with the words: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). That was a confirmation of the eternal bond that we have with Him through His death on the cross.
As the Jewish bride was declared to be holy and only dedicated to her bridegroom, we also have an obligation to appear before Christ holy and without blemish. Paul says that our hearts must be “blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 3:13). That includes our entire life: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24; cf. 1 Pet. 1:15-16).
After concluding the marriage contract the bridegroom returned to his father’s house where he stayed for about a year to prepare a place for him and his bride. During this time he didn’t see his bride and she kept herself busy making a wedding garment and collecting necessities for the married life. As Christians, we are in the same situation. During the present time of seclusion when we wait on the Bridegroom to return we must work on our wedding garment (Rev. 19:8) and prepare ourselves on our future position in heaven. We also have the responsibility to extend the invitation to become members of the bridal congregation of Christ to all people. There is also a real danger that we may be tempted by Satan during this time and seduced to become untrue to Christ, thereby backsliding from our holy relationship with Him.
Paul said to the carnal Corinthians, who were poorly motivated to heed the command to holiness (1 Cor. 3:1-3), that they would actually break their relationship with Christ and become victims of a satanic spirit of deception: “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I might present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds be may corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2-3). From the parable in Matthew 25 it is also evident that five of the virgins had too little oil in their lamps. That is an indication that they didn’t walk in the fullness of the Spirit and were therefore not worthy to appear before the Bridegroom and accompany Him to His Father’s house. There was a serious shortcoming in their lives.
At the end of the year of seclusion the Jewish bridegroom fetched his bride to come and stay with him. She knew more or less when the time was ripe, but not the exact day when he would come. He usually came at night because it was a secret meeting between him and her. She went out on the road to meet him, and on this occasion he didn’t show himself to the rest of her family members. His arrival was preceded by a shout, which was the good tiding that the bridegroom had come for his bride (Matt. 25:6). By then it was too late to make further preparations for the coming of the bridegroom.
In a similar way the heavenly Bridegroom will secretly come for His bride at the end of the church dispensation. He will meet her outside planet earth in the air, and on this occasion He will definitely not reveal Himself to the rest of the world. His coming will also be announced by a shout: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:16-18).
After this meeting the bride will first appear before the judgement seat of Christ, where every member will be rewarded for his or her service to the Lord. After that, the marriage will be contracted in heaven when the bride will, spiritually speaking, become the wife of the Lamb. The first task of the glorified church will be to judge the world in righteousness with Christ. Paul says, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2).
In a governing capacity the church is depicted as 24 elders who are gathered around the throne of Christ in heaven. When Christ opens the scroll of God’s judgements upon a wicked and sinful world at the beginning of the tribulation period of seven years, the elders will sing to Him: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on earth” (Rev. 5:9-10). They are looking forward to the time after the tribulation period when they will return to earth with Christ to rule as kings with Him in His millennial kingdom.
Christ and His saints will return to Jerusalem: “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east… Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You” (Zech. 14:4-5). That will be the public appearing of Jesus Christ, which is clearly distinguished from the secret meeting which He will have seven years earlier with His bridal congregation. On the second occasion Christ will be revealed in all His glory together with His body, or congregation: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). The Lord Jesus will return to judge His enemies at the battle of Armageddon (Zech. 14:2-3; Rev. 19:19-21), to save the remnant in Israel (Zech. 12:10), and to institute a government of righteousness for the whole world (Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 3:17).
When the Lord Jesus returns to earth in might and majesty, all people who survived the great tribulation and the battle of Armageddon will recognise Him and be reconciled to Him (Zech. 13:8-9; Matt. 24:29-30). The marriage supper of the Lamb – that is the feast after the marriage ceremony – will form part of the events by which He will be revealed on earth. The believers in Israel and the nations who were saved after His second coming will be guests on this illustrious occasion: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8).
The glorified church is here called the wife of the Lamb as the marriage was already contracted in heaven. Her marriage garment reflects the degree of holiness that individual members attained when they were still on earth, waiting for the Bridegroom. Works are clearly relevant here as the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints. The saints are those Christians who’s lives produced works that befit repentance. That is symbolised by the gold, silver and precious stones with which the believers, according to 1 Corinthians 3:10-12, have built upon the foundation, Jesus Christ.
The marriage garment is like a marriage relationship – we have to work on it. This garment must not be tainted by sin, neither must it have wrinkles because it was folded up and stored somewhere. But remember that the work in preparing this garment can only be done through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. It is not what you do for the Lord in the strength of the flesh that counts but what He does through you. That is why “it was granted” to the bride to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright. Like the servants who received the minas, the bride is not a passive recipient of the spiritual power and grace that she receives. She has to use it by actively making herself available in the service of the Lord.
Every believer can be more holy or less holy, just as he can bear more fruit, less fruit or no fruit in the kingdom. Some of them bear thirty-fold fruit, others sixty-fold and some even hundred-fold. The one earns ten minas with the one that was given him, the other one five and the third one nothing. The question is: where do you stand with regard to sanctification? Is the old man crucified and does the Holy Spirit have full control of your life? If so, then you will bear much fruit and your wedding garment will also be richly embroidered with gold-thread. Make very sure that you are a member of the glorified bridal congregation that will soon stand beside the Lord Jesus at the marriage of the Lamb:
“At your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir… The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colours… With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace” (Ps. 45:9,13-15). With a view to this glorious future that awaits us we must exert ourselves to live holy and please the Lord in everything we do. This should not be viewed as an unattainable ideal as the Lord will help you to achieve it. You will not attain a standard of perfection now, but you must keep moving in the right direction. Paul says, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil. 3:12).
There must be visible progress in your spiritual life. To be able to experience that, the message of enduement with power from on high during Pentecost should be seriously considered. This power enables us to grow up spiritually, work for the Lord, resist the devil and prevail over temptations, and also to appear before Christ at His coming with a worthy wedding garment – that fine linen which represents the righteous acts of the saints. The last command of the Lord Jesus in the Bible deals with continued holiness and spiritual growth. He joins it to a promise of rewards of grace during His second coming: “…he that is righteous (just, upright, in right standing with God) let him do right still, and he who is holy let him be holy still. Behold, I am coming soon, and I shall bring My wages and rewards with Me, to repay and render to each one just what his own actions and his own work merit” (Rev. 22:11-12; AB).
Do not abide by the standard of your spiritual life in its present condition. The unsaved, as well as those who only have a form of godliness, are called upon to come to the Lord Jesus for salvation; carnal believers should fully surrender themselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, while Spirit-filled Christians should strive towards higher levels of holiness and service to the Lord. Come and drink from the fountain of life and draw from the riches of the Lord’s grace. He does not only have grace for salvation but also for victory and the rendering of service in His kingdom. His grace wants to lead you towards this goal in life:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13).
Shortly we will appear before Him in glory!