The New Testament Church
A Local Body
The Bride of Christ a Local Assembly
Most Bible students agree that the New Testament Church is sometimes referred to as "The Bride of Christ." There is, however, much confusion relative to this subject. Many people who would never think of the church as being anything other than a local assembly use the term bride in such a way as to make the impression that the bride is universal. The author believes that the church is the bride, but he believes that this is a figure of speech not to be taken literally, but denoting the sacred relationship of every true church to her Lord.
There can be a universal bride no more than there can be a universal church, if the church is the bride. For, if the church is a local assembly, the bride is a local assembly. As pointed out in a previous chapter there is no such thing as the New Testament Church, except as it applies in the institutional sense and to a local assembly in a given place. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as "The New Testament Church." You may find a church, but not the church of the New Testament. Once our thinking is sound along this line much confusion will vanish.
One can find the church which was at Jerusalem, the church which was at Antioch, the church which was at Rome, the churches (plural) of Galatia, also, the churches of Asia. But in all these passages the Bible refers to different churches in different places. Many people are so vague and indefinite in their language when discussing the church and the bride that they leave the impression there is a sort of mystic universal bride composed of a mystic universal church. But we are forced to the conclusion that if the church is local in nature, and, if the bride is the church, then the bride must be local in nature. It is impossible for it to be otherwise.
Because of misconception on the church and the bride idea, there have been false doctrines set up with reference to what the bride really is, and with reference to Christ coming for His people, and with reference to what is called "the marriage of the Lamb." Some hold that Jesus is coming for His bride (church) alone and everybody else will be left on the earth to go through the Great Tribulation which is to follow. Others hold that only the faithful of the true church will be raptured and even unfaithful church members will be left behind. Some believe Jesus will marry this bride and she will reign with Him in the Millennium as queen. There are others who believe that all the true churches (local assemblies) combined make up the one bride.
When we seek for Scripture to confirm the above mentioned doctrines we find ourselves with an impossible task. Most of the Scriptures referred to in order to prove these doctrines fall short and the arguments are inconclusive. We know that all the dead in Christ will be in the first resurrection (I Thess. 4:14). We also know that all who are in the first resurrection will reign with Christ. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:6).
Thus we see that the saved, universally, shall reign with Christ, not just the church.
If Jesus is going to rapture out of the world only the faithful church members when He comes for His saints, there will not be an infant nor an innocent child in the rapture, but they will be left to go through the tribulation.
This confusion and these misconceptions are prevalent because men take a simple figure of speech and seek to make a literal thing out of it.
What Is Meant by the Term Bride?
There are several things to which the church is compared in the New Testament and we never think of taking those things in a literal sense, but always recognize them to be figures of speech denoting the nature of the church, or denoting its relationship to Christ. We also recognize that these figures of speech refer to every church (local assembly) exactly in the same sense. The figure that applies to one assembly applies to every other assembly. If we would recognize that the term bride is simply a figure of speech denoting the relationship of every New Testament Church to Christ we would not have this maze of confusion.
Note the following passages which refer to the church as a bride or otherwise suggest it. In John 3:29, John the Baptist speaking, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom." It is evident that Christ and the church are under consideration here. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul says, "I have espoused (engaged, betrothed) you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." Paul says to the church at Rome, Romans 7:4: "Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God." In Ephesians 5:23 we find the following, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church."
From the above references we learn the following:
The Jerusalem church is called, or likened to, a bride.
The church at Corinth is likened to a bride, engaged virgin.
The church at Rome is likened to a bride that should be married to Christ, bringing forth fruit. This evidently means the fruit of marriage, to bear children.
The church at Ephesus is likened to a wife, subject to her husband.
Here is an important question. Are we to take the above things literally, or, are they figures of speech, symbols, illustrating the churchesí relationship to Christ? It is evident that we cannot take them literally, for some of these churches seem to be engaged while others are already married. And we must conclude that if the church at Jerusalem was His bride, and, if the church at Corinth, the church at Rome, and the church at Ephesus are His brides, it follows that every New Testament Church is His bride, therefore, He has just as many brides as He has churches. And if they are literal brides, and if He is going to literally marry every one of them, He would be literally a polygamist, a thing which none will allow.
The church is not a woman, but in the Scriptures, woman is used as the symbol of religious institutions. The nation of Israel is called the wife of God and the Scriptures say that God was married to Israel (Jeremiah 3:14). But no one would say that God came down, had a literal wedding and took Israel as a literal wife. In the same sense Israel was Godís wife, the church is Christís bride.
Jesus called Herod, "that old fox," but no one would think that He meant Herod was a literal fox. He meant that he was like a fox. Even so, it is evident that the church is not a literal woman whom Jesus is going to marry literally. But like a chaste virgin, and a bride, symbolizes purity of relationship, so the churches are to be pure in their relationship to Christ and His commandments.
There are many figures of speech used in the Bible to denote the nature or relationship of the church to Christ. Most people never think of taking them literally, yet some will take the bride as a literal thing while ignoring all the other figures. Let us notice some of these figures:
The church is called a flock, (like a flock of sheep), Luke 12:32; Matthew 26:31; I Peter 5:2.
The church is called a sheepfold, a place where sheep are kept, John 10:16.
It is called Godís husbandry, also Godís building, I Corinthians 3:9.
It is called the house of God, also the pillar and ground of the truth, I Timothy 3:15.
It is called the temple of God, I Corinthians 3:16.
The church is called the light of the world and the salt of the earth, Matthew 5:13, 14.
It is called the body of Christ, Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:24; I Corinthians 12:27.
The churches are called candlesticks, Revelation 1:20.
Then, of course, the church is called the bride, John 3:29.
The question now arises, "Why take one of these expressions literally without taking all literally?" The answer is that it would be ridiculous to take all of them literally. But it is evident that if we are to take one as being literal, we must take all to be literal. Figuratively speaking, when Jesus marries, He will marry a flock of sheep, a sheepfold, a husbandry, a building, a temple, the light of the world, the salt of the earth, His body, a candlestick and a chaste virgin. But evidently we are not to take these things literally.
These figures illustrate church truth. The church is not a flock of literal sheep, but is like a flock of sheep. The church is not literally a sheepfold, or a building, or temple, or light, or salt, or a candlestick; but in some respects it is like them. So the church is not literally a chaste virgin engaged to Christ, but is likened unto a virgin. Every New Testament church (local assembly) sustains that relationship to Him. If we go beyond that, we make Christ a polygamist, for, if the church is the bride, Jesus has as many brides as He has churches.
False Churches Called Whores and Harlots
In the 17th Chapter of Revelation we find described the great whore and her harlot daughters. Here is the great false religious system. It seems to be headed up in Rome, and her daughters are the false churches that came out of her. They are called whore and harlots, but this does not mean that they are literally such. It simply means that they have been untrue to Christ as an unfaithful bride or wife who turns from her husband, and the figure is used in contrast to the chaste virgin who is faithful to Christ. It has already been pointed out that women are used as symbols of religious institutions. True churches are likened to pure virgins who are faithful and false churches are likened to those who are unfaithful and play the harlot.
The Bride in Glory
We have been discussing the church as it symbolizes the bride in this age, the relationship that now exists between Christ and every one of His churches. There is, however, the thought of the future, the end of the age, and "the marriage of the Lamb" to be considered. It is with reference to this phase of the subject that people build up mystic ideas and interpretations. It is true that Christís coming for His people is likened to a bridegroom coming for a bride, and the taking of His people to Himself is likened to a marriage: but this too must be considered as a figure of speech, and does not necessarily apply to any particular church. It is evident from the Scriptures that this "marriage of the Lamb" to His bride tells of His being united with all the redeemed whom He has received unto Himself. But even so, this will be an assembly of the redeemed in one host and will be in heaven, constituting a local congregation.
As we think of a marriage in the light of the Scriptures, we must think in terms of a marriage in Bible times, not according to our modern customs of marriage. In a Bible marriage, the bridegroom simply took unto himself his bride in public display and there was a feast or celebration. Likewise when Jesus comes for His people, takes them to Himself in glory, thus bringing about the greatest celebration of all the ages (or for eternity itself, so far as we know), that will be the "marriage of the Lamb."
The Church or Bride in the Millennium
In passing from the present church age to the eternal glory age a word should be said concerning the church or bride as it shall exist in the millennial age. And it should be borne in mind that this is Christís kingdom age. Therefore the kingdom aspect of Christís redemptive work is magnified above everything else. It shall be during this time that all the saved of the earth and of all past ages shall be merged into the kingdom. This fact is made clear by Jesus in Matthew 8:11 when He says, "Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Also, He declares that in the Judgment of Nations, the saved shall be divided from the unsaved and all the saved shall be brought into the kingdom. "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
It is here that the separation shall take place by which the saved shall enter the kingdom and the unsaved shall ultimately be cast into the lake of fire (Matthew 25:46).
The above evidently points to the fulfillment of John 10:26 when all the "other sheep" shall be called into the fold and there "shall be one fold and one shepherd." For Jesus tells us in Matthew 8:11 that every plant which is not planted by His Father shall be rooted up. He made this reference to the institution of Pharisaism, but when He said, "Every plant," it is evident that He included every false religious institution. Therefore the statement embraces Rome, her harlot daughters, and all apostate religious organization. It is made clear, however, that Jesus will root up the institution as such, but He will not lose one sheep (John 10:16, 28). This fact is also made clear again when the great whore and her harlot daughters come to doom. It is there that God will call His people out of them. "And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not her plagues" (Rev. 18:4).
Thus the true church of our Lord will be glorified into her greatest glory and shall occupy her place in her kingdom role throughout the earthís greatest age and all who have denied her and persecuted her through the past ages must repudiate their false positions and vindicate her as the Lordís elect. In the reward of servants Jesus shall reward every man according to his works and faithfulness, and evidently, it is here that those who have been faithful to Him and to His church shall receive the highest honors in kingdom rule, Matthew 25:14-30.
With reference to this subject, Dr. Albert Garner, in his book, Bible Analysis, page 140, says,
And after the church shall have given Him honor through the millennial age, she shall in ages yet to come, Eph. 3:21. It is the conception of this writer that one of the purposes of the 1000 years reign of Christ is to bring all the saved into the Eternal City, the New Jerusalem, The Bride, the Lambís Wife. Together, forever, He and His Bride and the Father shall dwell in the New Heaven and the New Earth, Rev. 21:22.
All the Saved To Be in the Glory Bride
Jesus uttered a prophecy and promise in John 10:16 which will have been fulfilled when the marriage of the Lamb comes. He said: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
There can be no escape from the fact that in this chapter Jesus speaks with reference to saved people and the church. He tells us that He is the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep. He tells us in verses 25 and 26 that believers are sheep and unbelievers are not sheep. And He tells us in verse 28 that the sheep are those to whom He gives eternal life. Therefore, in the light of verse 16, all sheep, all who have eternal life, shall be brought into one fold, and ultimately, there shall be one fold and one Shepherd. There are those who may raise the objection that this prophecy refers to Gentiles. Let that be as it may, we cannot escape the promise that the glorious time is coming when, "There shall be one fold and one Shepherd." These are His eternal words.
Some may ask how Jesus will bring about this event of gathering all into one assembly or fold. It is not ours to know all the details of His plans. Jesus said, "Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matthew 15:13). Thus every false institution shall be destroyed, but no individual sheep ever shall perish. Though they be in false churches, they shall hear His voice and they shall come to Him, and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd. This glorious truth is sufficient for us.
In Revelation 21:9-27 is Johnís vision of the bride, the Lambís wife. It is a vision of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and those who dwell in it. Verse 24 tells us that the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of it, and verse 27 tells us that it shall contain, "They NOTES which are written in the Lambís book of life." We are also told in Revelation 19:7, 8 that the bride is made ready. "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her it was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints."
Note that the bride is arrayed in linen clean and white. Also note that every bloodwashed saint in heaven is arrayed in white. "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14).
The bride in glory, then, shall consist of all the sheep, (those to whom Christ gives eternal life). It shall consist of all who are bloodwashed, all who are robed in white. It shall consist of all whose names are in the Lambís book of life. It shall consist of the nations (races) that are saved. "Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9).