Marriage in Israel was generally considered sacred, the only acceptable state of life for men and women. Most marriages were arranged by parents. The minimum age for girls was twelve and for boys was thirteen. The period of engagement or betrothal usually lasted a year and was considered so binding that a man who had intimate relations with a virgin betrothed to another man would be stoned. Though the marriage ceremony itself was brief, the celebration surrounding it could be elaborate, consisting of seven and sometimes fourteen days of feasting and celebrating.
The Hebrew Scriptures did not hesitate to describe the relationship between God and his people in the most intimate of terms: Yahweh was the husband of Israel, his not-so-faithful wife. By referring to himself as the bridegroom, Jesus was clearly linking himself with Yahweh. New Testament writers presented the church as the bride of Christ. Nymphios is the Greek word for “bridegroom” or “young husband” while aner can be translated “man” or “husband.”
To all of us, male and female, Christ offers himself as our provider and protector, the one who has forever pledged himself in faithfulness and love.
Praying to Our Bridegroom
When my daughter, Katie, was in third grade, she read a biography of Theodore Roosevelt. Impressed by his character, she asked me one day whether Teddy would make a good husband for me. Trying my best not to laugh I told her, yes, he would undoubtedly be a really interesting man to be married to. Too bad he had left the planet in 1919.
Not one to give up easily, she zeroed in on a local pastor she knew. “Don’t you think he would be a good match for you, Mom?” she asked one day. Once again, I had to dash her hopes by explaining that his wife probably wouldn’t be all that happy if he were to up and marry me. After that she seized every opportunity to point out a good man whenever she saw one, including any electrician, plumber, or handyman who happened to perform a repair on our home. Of course Katie’s matchmaking efforts had more to do with looking for a father for herself that it did with helping me find a romantic counterpart.
Remarkably, it seems clear that God has no ulterior motive when it comes to finding the perfect match for his Son. Scripture, in fact, uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the kind of relationship that the Father intends Jesus to have with both men and women. He is the Bridegroom and all who believe in him are his bride. In fact, the wedding feast of the Lamb, described in Revelation, will be the culmination of salvation history, the very purpose toward which God has been working since the world’s beginning.
A little knowledge of Jewish wedding customs can throw light on our relationship with Christ and on the spiritual time frame in which we are currently living. In Jesus’ day the betrothal period would last for some months, until both bride and groom were ready to be married. What was the groom doing during all these months? He was preparing a place for his bride, usually a house right next to his father’s or even a room within his father’s house.
In a similar way, Jesus is now preparing to celebrate the greatest of all wedding feasts—his union with his church. Right now we are in the “betrothal period.” We belong to Christ but we don’t yet fully experience the relationship for which we are destined. One day, however, our groom will come for us, and then our relationship with him will be fulfilled beyond our greatest dreams, our deepest longings.