By Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum
There are certain key distinctions in the Scriptures. If one does not understand these biblical distinctions, the Scriptures become contradictory because one part of the Bible says “you may” and another says “you may not” concerning the very same subject. One of these key biblical distinctions is the one between Israel and the Church. In the Bible, Israel is represented as the “Wife of Jehovah,” whereas the Church is represented as the “Bride of the Christ (Messiah).” A failure to maintain that distinction will only result in a misinterpretation of what the Scriptures teach.
Israel: The Wife of Jehovah
The relationship of Israel as the Wife of Jehovah is viewed throughout the Scriptures in various ways and facets. This relationship can be broken down into six distinct stages.
Stage One - The Marriage Contract: The entire format of the Book of Deuteronomy is that of both an ancient treaty and an ancient marriage contract. In this book, Moses took all the various facets of the three earlier books and presented them in the form of an ancient marriage contract. In this book we find the marriage contract signed between Israel and God whereby Israel becomes the Wife of Jehovah.
There are key passages that demonstrate how the Book of Deuteronomy fits into the scheme of a marriage contract. The first passage is found in Deuteronomy 5:1-3, which declares that God entered into a covenant with His people Israel at Mount Sinai. As it will be seen later in the study, the Jewish prophets always viewed this covenant-relationship as a marriage contract. In Deuteronomy 6:10-15, God announces His jealousy over His Wife, Israel:
You shall fear Jehovah your God; and him shall you serve, and shall swear by his name. You shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples that are round about you; for Jehovah your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; lest the anger of Jehovah your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth (Deut. 6:13-15).In this passage, Israel is warned against committing adultery through the worship of other gods because God’s burning jealousy will be kindled against her and will eventually cause her expulsion out of the Land.
Ezekiel is one example of the Jewish prophets who viewed this covenant-relationship as a marriage contract:
Now when I passed by you, and looked upon you, behold, your time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I swore unto you, and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord Jehovah, and you became mine (Ezekiel 16:8).Stage Two - The Great Adultery: Several Old Testament prophets described Israel’s great adultery. Jeremiah 3:1-5 shows Israel being guilty of playing the harlot with many lovers and in verse 3:20 Israel is compared to a wife who has turned away from her husband. Israel was a wife guilty of adultery:
Surely, as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, So have you dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, says Jehovah.According to Jeremiah 31:32, the original marriage contract was broken because of this adultery:
... not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, said Jehovah.A long passage in chapter 16 of Ezekiel also describes this great adultery (Ezekiel 16:15-34), and Hosea 2:2-5 declares the charge God had against Israel: she was guilty of harlotry.
Stage Three - The Separation: Because of this adultery, a separation took place between God and Israel in the days of Isaiah. In Isaiah 50:1 God spoke to the prophet stating that God had not yet divorced His Wife. If God had divorced her, He would have given her a bill of divorcement; and since no such bill of divorcement was in hand, it meant that a divorce had not taken place. This separation lasted approximately one hundred years.
Stage Four - The Divorce: The one hundred years of separation failed to produce repentance in Israel and finally God had no other choice but to issue the bill of divorcement on the grounds of adultery. This bill of divorcement is contained in Jeremiah 3:6-10. To a great extent, almost all of Jeremiah can be declared to be God’s bill of divorcement of Israel, but especially this passage in chapter three.
Stage Five - The Punishment: Several Old Testament prophecies speak of the punishment of Israel for her unfaithfulness: Ezekiel 16:35-43 and Hosea 2:6-13 are two examples. The aim of this punishment is not simply so that God could be vengeful toward Israel, but rather to cause her to stop sinning and to stop her adulteries (Ezekiel 16:43). Also, the purpose of the punishment is to show Israel her need for her true husband and not for her false lovers (Hosea 2:7b). Although God has a long program of punishment for Israel’s sins, throughout the period of punishment there is a continual call to repentance. This call is presented in Jeremiah 3:11-18.
Stage Six - The Remarriage with Restored Blessings: The Jewish prophets did not leave things hopeless. They spoke of a coming day when Israel will again become the restored Wife of Jehovah. This will require a brand-new marriage contract, which is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34. What is often known as the new covenant is in many respects a new marriage contract that God will make with both the houses of Israel and Judah. This new covenant of marriage will be necessary because the old marriage covenant was broken. This remarriage contract is also described in Ezekiel 16:60-63. According to Ezekiel, God will enter into an everlasting covenant with Israel in the future.
The restoration of Israel as Jehovah’s Wife is also described in Isaiah 54:1-8, and the remarriage is further described in Isaiah 62:4-5. Hosea, who had much to say about the adulteries of Israel, also spoke of Israel’s reunion with her husband. Hosea 2:14-23 describes the courtship and the wooing in the wilderness and shows the four results of this reunion.
The Church: The Bride of the Messiah
What God has to say about the Church and her relationship as the Bride of the Messiah is radically different from what has been said regarding Israel as the Wife of Jehovah. The Bride of the Messiah is the universal body of true believers. The “local church” is that portion of the universal Church living in a specific geographical area. But the Bride of the Messiah is not limited to some local church somewhere nor is it limited to any specific denomination. It is composed of all believers regardless of their geographical location and denominational affiliation.
There are four key passages of the New Testament that speak concerning the relationship of the Church as the Bride of the Messiah. It must be kept in mind, however, that the Church is pictured today as an engaged Bride who is not yet joined by marriage to her husband.
The Espousal - II Corinthians 11:2:
For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ.Speaking to the local church found in the city of Corinth, Paul declares that by means of evangelism, they were espoused ... to one husband for the purpose of eventually being presented as a pure virgin to Christ. Unlike Israel, who was guilty of adultery, when the union comes between the Messiah and the Church, the Church will be presented as a pure virgin.
The Process of Sanctification or Maturing of the Bride - Ephesians 5:25-27:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.The purpose of the death of the Messiah in His relationship with the Church is that He might sanctify her. This is necessary in order for the Church to be presented as a pure virgin as pictured in II Corinthians 11:2.
The Church is sanctified by a continual washing in the water of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is working in the Church so that the true Church is slowly being conformed to the Word of God. The water in this passage is not water baptism but a description of the Word of God in its cleansing ministry. The aim of this process of sanctification and cleansing of the Church is that the Church might be presented a glorious virgin to the Messiah.
The Marriage - Revelation 19:6-9: The Jewish wedding system that was common in Yeshua’s day had four distinct stages, which are found in the relationship of the Church as the Bride of Messiah. In the first stage, the father of the groom makes the arrangement for the bride and pays the bride price. In this case, the bride price was the blood of the Messiah. This was described earlier in Ephesians 5:25 27. While the first stage has already been completed, the other three stages are still future. The second stage is the fetching of the Bride. Just as a long period of time could transpire between the first and second stages in the Jewish system, so it has been with the Church. Two thousand years have passed since the first stage was accomplished. However, someday the second stage will take place when the Messiah will come in order to fetch the Bride to His home. This fetching of the Bride is referred to today as the Rapture of the Church, and is described in I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
The third stage of the Jewish wedding system is the marriage ceremony to which only a few are invited. The marriage ceremony will take place in Heaven just prior to the Second Coming of the Messiah at the end of the Tribulation, and the ones who will be present are only those in Heaven at that time. This is described in Revelation 19:6-8.
The fourth stage is the marriage feast described in Revelation 19:9:
And he said unto me, Write, Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said unto me, These are true words of God.Since many are bidden or invited to come to the marriage feast, this passage indicates that it will be at a different place than the marriage ceremony. We know from the Word of God that the Old Testament saints are not resurrected with the Church before the Tribulation; they are resurrected at the end of the Tribulation (Dan. 12:2). John the Baptist, who was the last of the Old Testament prophets, called himself a friend of the bridegroom and did not consider himself to be a member of the Bride of the Messiah, the Church (Jn. 3:27-30). Hence, the “many” who are bidden [to attend] the marriage supper on earth are all the Old Testament saints and the Tribulation saints resurrected after the Second Coming of Messiah.
While the marriage ceremony will take place in Heaven just before the Second Coming of the Messiah, the marriage feast will take place on earth after the Second Coming of the Messiah. In fact, it would seem that the marriage feast is what begins the Millennium or Messianic Age; the Church’s co-reigning with the Messiah will start with a tremendous marriage feast!
The Eternal Abode of the Bride - Revelation 21:9-22:5: The final picture that the Scriptures give of the Bride of the Messiah is contained in the closing chapters of the Bible itself. In Revelation 21:9, John states:
And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spoke with me, saying, Come hither, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.In this passage, the bride is now the married wife. In the following verses (Rev. 21:10-22:5), there is a graphic description of the glorious, eternal wife of the Lamb in her eternal abode.
While the distinction between Israel and the Church is maintained in various ways throughout the Bible, this is one of the more picturesque. However, if one makes the Wife of Jehovah (Israel) and the Bride of the Messiah (the Church) one and the same thing, he is faced with numerous contradictions because of the different descriptions given. Only when the two separate entities are seen: Israel as the Wife of Jehovah and the Church as the Bride of the Messiah, do all such contradictions vanish.