Wednesday, January 15, 2014

P1 Further considerations on the bride of Christ

Romans 11:25-26 "For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”

Ephesians 3:9-10  "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places."

Ephesians 5:25-27 25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."

So much of the excitement that surrounds a wedding in modern culture centers around a whole host of details: food, music and venue.  Beyond even those things, the one area that is still a perennial area of curiosity for both guests, the groom and even the bride herself concerns the dress.  What exactly will the bride's dress look like? In most contexts the bridal gown is still preferred to be kept a "mystery" from the groom and all others until the day of the wedding when what is mystery will be revealed to all.  Even when the bride has walked the isle, the other piece of her ensemble - the veil - is viewed as a further detail of excitement, being that once the couple have exchanged their vows and the pastor says to the groom: "you may kiss your bride", the veil is put back.  Now everyone can see the bride's beauty and complexion as she and her groom kiss for the first time as husband and wife. 

This little introduction serves to aid the reader in understanding what exactly is going on in the New Testament regarding God's continual unfolding of His saving purposes through Jesus Christ.  Last week we looked at a three part series that we termed: "The Wedding you must not miss".1 So much was covered in that series that I felt like we needed to take a closer look at the bride herself.  Much like the little scenario pictured above, the New Testament's chief task is to reveal to us the Groom Jesus Christ, as well as His Father's plan in sending the Holy Spirit to gather forth sinners who, in accordance to His elective purpose of grace (to use the term of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000) will freely believe and be included in the bride. 

As we think further on this subject of the bride, we will utilize the following headings to guide our thinking:

1. The calling of Bride this current age
2. The inclusion of Israel with the bride in the Kingdom age
3. The completed bride in the Eternal age

Today's post will feature the first two points.

1. The calling of Bride this current age
We can summarize the entirety of Biblical revelation as being composed of five distinct, overlapping "eras" or "ages": creation or beginning age, Old Testament age, present or church age, millennium or kingdom age, eternity or the age to come. As we saw in last week's study, Yahweh had chosen to enter into covenant with his people - Israel - likened as a husband and wife relationship. (Jeremiah 31:31-34). God chose to experience Israel's formal breaking of covenant with Him. (Isaiah 50:1-2) Despite Israel's failure, God already had in mind the prophecies of a New Covenant, a plan in which He would bring about the Messiah or Groom for the people and promises of restoration for His people. (Ezekiel 11, 36-37)

When Christ came in the Gospels, He presented Himself as the Groom for the people. (John 3:29-30) Israel of course rejected Christ and in the course of His ministry He began to give glimpses of the fact that the Gentiles outside the Jewish fold were going to get a chance to be part of the People of God. Once Christ died, raised and ascended into heaven, the book of Acts records that on the day of Pentecost, a totally new work was begun - the church.

In the Old Testament God had called Israel to be a light to the nations, calling the Gentiles, in the words of John Piper, to "come and see". However once Israel rejected the Messiah, salvation was going to be fully opened up to called Gentiles who would believe and be saved. The church's emphasis would be more in lines of "going and telling". Thus the great surprise of the New Testament entails a two-fold mystery that many people even to this day discuss quite frequently: namely the place of Israel in God's purposes and the place of the church. Romans 11 helps the reader untangle this dual mystery of what the relationship is between Israel and the bride or church in this current age.

2. The relationship between the calling of the bride now to the inclusion of Israel with the bride in the Kingdom age
Thus God is right now calling forth the chosen bride for the Son, composed of choice sinners who in turn freely choose Jesus Christ as their saving bridegroom.  Israel, we discover, has not been replaced by the church nor rejected absolutely by God.  To erase the distinctions between Israel and the church would be to go against such distinctions that are still retained by the New Testament. (1 Corinthians 10:32) Rather, in relationship with the church and what will be her saving relationship with Christ at His second coming, God will fulfill His promises to Israel in the millennium or Kingdom age.  

Right now the church is being gathered by the Spirit to make Israel jealous, with her setting aside orchestrated by God to make way for the gathering in of believing Gentiles (and Jews). 
Such a magnificent and admittedly mind-blowing master plan of salvation by God prompts Paul to write these words in Romans 11:33,36 (33) "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (36) "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." 

As powerful as God's master mission plan is in gathering a bride for the Son, we discover through Romans 11 that it is but a means to the greater end - God's glory.  John Piper notes: "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man."3
To add an additional thought to Dr. Piper's insight, the church is here on this earth to do missions. In doing the great commission of her Heavenly Bridegroom, she is preparing for and bringing glory to Him. The more the church engages in missions and evangelism, the greater urgency there will be for the worship and exaltation of Jesus Christ. 

Why is it relevant to understand God's calling of a bride in this current age and the inclusion of Israel with that bride in the future Kingdom age?
Such an understanding is practical for three reasons.  First, to demonstrate that God keeps His promises. God never lies (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18-20) and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Second, by noting the Bible's unfolding of all these details demonstrates God's plan of salvation to be far richer and more glorious than we ever imagined.  Salvation is not ultimately about the saved, but the Savior. God's glory in both His grace to sinners who believe and justice to those who freely reject Him is emphasized again and again in scripture.  Then thirdly, knowing such truths enables us to consider what God has ultimately in store for all who believe in this church age, those martyrs who believe in the tribulation and those Jews who believe in Christ's return. Christ is worth it all and it is faith's hope in Him that drives the believer to see that in Him all of God's promises are truly yeah and amen. (2 Cor 1:20)

More tomorrow.....


2. In short, God's master program of missions in gathering forth sinners, one at a time, into the bride of Christ's in this present age, includes the following:
a. Israel is still God's chosen people, who have been temporarily set aside. 10:18-11:10

b. God has ordained unbelieving Israel's setting aside in order to save believing Gentiles and Jews. 11:11-24

c. God has ordained that once the full number of Gentiles (and believing Jews) are gathered in this age (this age includes the church age, rapture of church age saints, tribulation and inclusion of tribulation martyrs at Christ's return at the end of the Tribulation), Israel will then be saved at Christ's return. Zech 12:10-11; Revelation 1:7; 7; 14; Romans 11:25-32.

3. In short then, once Christ returns with His raptured saints at the end of the tribulation, Israel will be given the grace to believe on Him, and thus she will shine forth the glory of her Messiah in His Kingdom, enjoying His glory with the glorified church who is seated with Him on thrones in the Millennial Kingdom. (Revelation 20:1-6) 


  1. How do you interpret this passage, Pastor Mahlon:

    "just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."

  2. Interesting post, Pastor Mahlon, although I'm sure you know that I will disagree with your Dispensationalism. After reading your article I posted an interesting a-millennial article on my blog:

  3. Dear Bro. Gary: Your question concerning Ephesians 5:26-27 can be answered in a three-fold manner. First, in John 17:17 Jesus speaks of God the Father sanctifying, cleansing the church, composed of all truly regenerate people, by the holy scriptures.

    Secondly, the idea of washing is associated with the New Covenant predictions of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:27-35. Jesus used these truths to explain to Nicodemas in John 3 of his need to be born again. The church today is getting a foretaste of the New Covenant reality spoken of by the prophets and inaugurated by Jesus. It is the blood of Christ that sprinkles the conscience clean and it is the word of God that washes us anew.

    Which leads to the third part and thus the answer to your question. Only when we read Ephesians against the backdrop of the aforementioned texts will the proper interpretation be achieved. What is that interpretation? Ephesians 5:26-27 is speaking of the cleansing properties of the scriptures as applied through the preaching and teaching of it in His church. The Word converts and cleanses. Though Baptism and the Lord's supper may signify these incredible and invisible New Covenant realities, it is the Bible that is in view here in the Ephesians text.