Marriage: A Prophetic Picture of a Heavenly Reality

INTRODUCTION

Every Christian is in preparation for marriage. Revelation 19:7* says, "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready."

To think of Christ's relationship to the Church in terms of earthly marriage is backwards--rather we should pattern the earthly marriage after the heavenly. This requires that we choose to enter into an understanding of that heavenly marriage. The heavenly marriage dictates that earthly marriages are profoundly theological at the core, to either the glory or shame of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Most couples, even Christians, enter marriage naively. They follow the trends of tradition, the suggestions of society, or the reactions of rebellion. They do not observe that the Bible is the book of marriage. The idea of marriage originated with God--it was not the result of human imagination. And if you removed from the Bible all of its books which use the one term 'woman' in the sense of 'wife,' less than twelve percent of the Bible would remain.

Many couples enter marriage as an acceptable and convenient social arrangement--almost everyone is doing it. Some enter it to legitimize the sexual relationship. Some enter it for companionship. Some enter it because they wish to rear children. Some enter it to maximize resources. Some enter it for no reason at all. And these people entering marriage do not observe that the Holy Spirit has revealed this relationship to be reflective of the fellowship within the Godhead and the fellowship of Christ with His people. Christians in an intimate walk with God, giving simple and direct attention to His Word, in its specific instructions, its principles, and its analogies, are the only ones who can fully realize and experience what marriage was designed to be.

By examining two parallels, every Christian can properly prepare for marriage.

Parallel 1--Order in Marriage

Society has realized the failure of the traditional marriage in the husband being selfish and the wife being down trodden. So the last generation has invested in egalitarian marriage in which all responsibilities are split fifty-fifty. Studies show that it's not working, either. God has a better way, which is outlined in the Bible, and those who have observed His directions have in every age enjoyed fulfilment. The Bible teaches complementarian marriage, a marriage in which the husband and wife are intrinsically equal and functionally different. And this is indicated in 1 Corinthians 11:3: "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ."

The verse announces the absolute headship of Christ over every man. It also states a qualified headship of man over woman similar to that of God over Christ. This does not insult the woman, just as it does not insult Christ. Christian marriage, at least in some degree, testifies to the very triune being of God.

The Bible actually states a number of differences and samenesses for husbands and wives.

The differences include the following:

  • Method and time of original creation. . . (Gen. 2:7, 15),
  • Original assignment. . . (Gen. 2:18-24),
  • Sins committed at the fall and their corresponding curses. . . (Gen. 3:16-19 ∓ 1 Tim. 2:14),
  • Imperatives regarding marriage. . . (Eph. 5:22,25,33 ∓ Col. 3:18-19),
  • Activities in life. . . (Prov. 31:15, 21, 27 ∓ 23, 28-29), and
  • Manner and activity in worship (1 Cor. 11:4-5 ∓ 1 Tim. 2:8-9, 11, 15).

The samenesses include:

  • Responsibility in promoting the health of the marriage (1 Cor. 7:1-16),
  • Some activities in worship (1 Cor. 11:4-5), and
  • Some character traits such as sensible, dignified, and temperate, which are required of men in church leadership as well as women in general and those women who serve as deaconesses (Tit. 2:5 ∓ 1 Tim. 3:11, etc.).

A nut and a bolt have opposite uses, but they are most effective when they cooperate and do not attempt to usurp the function of the other. It is always most satisfying to fulfill the design for which you were created whether you are a machine, or whether you are a man or woman.

Parallel 2--Role in marriage

Ephesians 5 provides the text often read at weddings detailing the analogy of earthly and heavenly marriage. We might rightly ask whether the Bible ever explains further the relationship of Christ to His Church. In fact, it does, and in the Old Testament this is portrayed also in the LORD being the husband of Israel.

Five derivatives which inform earthly marriage are quickly apparent.

First, the heavenly Husband provides for His Wife. Is. 54:4-6 "'Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; Neither feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; But you will forget the shame of your youth, And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you, Like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, Even like a wife of one's youth when she is rejected,' Says your God." Obviously, an earthly husband cannot provide in ways identical to God's provision, but the analogy of provision remains.

Second, when the wife is unfaithful, her unfaithfulness results in her own loss. Jer. 3:1 "God says, 'If a husband divorces his wife, And she goes from him, And belongs to another man, Will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; Yet you turn to Me,' declares the LORD." Again, in earthly marriage either wife or husband may be unfaithful, but in the heavenly God remains faithful.

Third, God delights in His wife. Is. 62:1-5 "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, And for Jerusalem's sake I will not keep quiet, Until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, And her salvation like a torch that is burning. And the nations will see your righteousness, And all kings your glory; And you will be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the LORD will designate. You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, And a royal diadem in the hand of your God. It will no longer be said to you, 'Forsaken,' Nor to your land will it any longer be said, 'Desolate'; But you will be called, 'My delight is in her,' And your land, 'Married'; For the LORD delights in you, And to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, So your sons will marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you."

Fourth, the Wife rejoices in the Husband's presence. John 3:29 "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full." John was the friend of the Bridegroom, but he is one of those who constitutes the Bride, also, in the sense that he is saved by the redemption that is in Christ.

Fifth, the Wife honors her Husband. Rev. 21:2 "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband." This honor exists not only at the wedding itself, but it will continue throughout eternity as the Bride casts her crowns at His feet in honor to her eternal Husband and Savior.

The wife in the earthly marriage holds the key to her husband's headship. His headship is mentioned only in those marital texts directed to the wife. She can crown him king, or she can grind him into the grave, at least figuratively, if not literally.

The husband in the earthly marriage holds the key to his wife's beauty. His efforts to tend her with honor will cause her to blossom beyond his wildest expectations. This, too, is after the pattern of the heavenly bridegroom.

The Church is said to be subject to Christ. It is so in its purest form, but we have not yet seen that form on earth. So the wife's subjection will not be perfect--the husband must be willing to forgive and be faithful in answer to the heavenly reality. Yet the wife is instructed to be submissive to her own husband in all things. This is a simple truth with far-reaching implications.

The husband is to love as Christ loved the Church, but the husband cannot be his wife's Savior. The wife also must forgive and be faithful, even when her husband's love is deficient. Yet the husband is instructed to love his own wife even as his own body. This too is a simple truth which tempers headship with tenderness and understanding.

That many marriages fail is no surprise. It is rather unexpected that some succeed, considering that two sinners enter the most intimate relationship in which sinful tendencies may be intensified. But there is provision for every Christian marriage to succeed! God instituted marriage in Eden. We in Adam and Eve corrupted marriage in a simple, selfish act, an act of rebellion against God. There would be no hope at all that marriage could ever again be as God first created it, except that God's unique Son, Jesus Christ, came and by His sacrificial death undid the condemning power of that sin. Through rich application of God's written Word, the Holy Spirit now enables the Christian husband and wife to enter into the fullness of God's design. An earthly marriage will not be perfect, but it can experience vows kept in exhilarating faithfulness.

CONCLUSION

How can the Church be a testimony to the world of her willing response to the love of Christ if so-called Christian marriages are not assembled and maintained by the Book? The marriage in your home is observed by others. Does it adorn the gospel of our heavenly Bridegroom?

Geoffrey W. Bromiley, writes near the end of his fine book, God and Marriage:

In this christological grounding of marriage, in which our marriage reflects Christ's marriage, the latter, of course, is the one that has eternal and eschatological significance. Did not the Lord himself teach us that in his kingdom there will be no marriage or giving in marriage at our human level? With the ending of the age, earthly marriage will end too, just as death already can part those who are united in it. Christ's marriage, however, will go on into the new and eternal age. Only then, indeed, will it come to its full and final fulfilment: "For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready" (Rev. 19:7). Here is the ultimate and definitive relationship in which husbands and wives who are members of Christ's church, and therefore one with Christ in his body, find the perfect completion of their own relationship. Between the ascension of Christ and his coming again, earthly marriages can be reconstituted and reconstructed. They can reflect and bear witness to the divine marriage in which they have their source and from which they draw their strength. They can achieve a measure of temporal durability and depth. They can offer a foretaste of the renewed and perfected relationship in Christ which is known in part on earth but will come to its full fruition in the life to come. But eventually they must end. They must give place to the eternally enduring marriage of God and his people in which God has brought his gracious purpose to completion and his people has been fully reclaimed and regenerated and renewed. It is of this marriage that Christian marriage is in its halting way a prophetic sign. It is to this marriage as a divine prototype that it aspires as a human copy. It is in this marriage that it finds the totality of what it can now achieve only partially and progressively. This is the marriage which is its basis, meaning, and goal.

We know how eagerly the bride awaits the wedding date. She has many preparations and is diligent in them. Are you diligently preparing for the wedding of Revelation 19? Or have you done what no earthly bride does--have you forgotten? Genuine salvation implies that we will not forget, but that we will prepare and that we will be ready.


*Scriptural quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible.

This article was a wedding message edited for publication on the World Wide Web.

If you have further questions about Biblical marriage, you may contact the author at arlieandruth@cox.net

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