The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
By A. Prentice
Scripture references are to the New International Version-UK edition of 1984, unless noted otherwise.
MARRIAGE IS A brilliant arrangement, which in its ideal form provides mutual support and encouragement of wife and husband, a cohesive structure in which children may be conceived and nurtured, and through which nations prosper. In short, marriage is the basis for civilisation.
When addressing the contentious matter of divorce, in response to a combative question from the Pharisees, Jesus confirmed the widely-accepted truth that the Creator had made humanity distinctly male and female. ‘For this reason’, He declares, ‘a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’. In the act of sexual intercourse, within the confines of marriage, the man and the woman become as one – Adam and Eve stitched back together. ‘Therefore,’ Jesus continues, ‘what God has joined together, let not man separate’ (Matthew 19: 3-6; emphasis ours).
Our Lord’s caution here needs only a little adaptation to make it a warning to those who – in the interests of social liberalism and a shoddy understanding of ‘equality’ or ‘fairness’ – attempt to dilute this essential male-female arrangement, recasting the marriage contract as if it were sexually neutral or merely a matter of companionship. As the union of male and female, marriage is an established fact of nature. One does not need to be Christian, Moslem, Hindu, of any religion or none, to recognise the common sense of the arrangement. Anatomy proclaims it, as the reproduction of the species confirms it.
Ephesians 5: 25-32
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Natural theology broadly asserts that by its operation nature displays the principles of a Divine constitution. To put it another way, the laws and operations in Heaven find a rough correspondence in the laws and operations visible to us in the natural world. Thus, goes the argument, by studying nature one is enabled to understand God.
Though this is approximately correct, the present picture on earth is distorted and incomplete, because of the original fall of humankind from grace and into sin. From the study of nature we may learn about the mechanics of the planet, but it is not a wholly reliable guide to the character and intention of a loving and just God.
But those arrangements which are delineated by Scripture as pre-figures, or types, of the ‘heavenlies’, do open an understanding of God’s long-term plans and intentions. See Hebrews 8: 5; 9: 23, 24; 10: 1. The heavenly pattern precedes in time the earthly pattern. The figure of marriage, though first recorded in Genesis, is itself predicated on the plan of God laid down an indefinite time before earth was created. Certainly the death of Christ, as the sacrificed Lamb, was a foregone conclusion before man’s history began:
John 17: 24
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
Revelation 13: 8
All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
The Apostle Paul refers to marriage as concealing a ‘profound mystery’ – a truth whose significance is not understood until revealed. And this particular mystery is far more than an allegory drawn after the fact from the union of a man and a woman in marriage. For there is nothing original on earth that has not already been anticipated in Heaven’s plan (Ecclesiastes 1: 9, 10). This is an important point, for it means that God’s stamp of approval was already on the marriage arrangement – His chosen method to fill the earth and establish the human family. Seen in its proper light the institution of marriage holds a profound and eternal truth hidden until the Christian dispensation.
Those saved are broadly of two classes: the elect and the non-elect. The elect are called out in the Gospel or Church Age; the non-elect must wait for a resurrection and reformatory judgement until the Millennial Age, God’s Kingdom on earth.
The Scriptures refer to the Elect as the ‘church’ (1 Timothy 3: 15), ‘the little flock’ (Luke 12: 32), and the ‘body’ of Christ (Colossians 1: 18). But they are also designated as the ‘bride’ of Christ (John 3: 27-29). In this illustration, Christ Jesus is the groom, for whom the Heavenly Father selects a bride. It is foreshadowed in the choosing of a wife for Isaac, detailed throughout Genesis 24, where Abraham represents God.
In his epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes (2 Corinthians 11: 2):
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.
The promises of the Scriptures are primarily to this espoused class. Their call and development under suffering during the Gospel Age has prepared them to be the perfect Wife of Christ. Through this model union of Christ and His Church – Groom and Bride – the blessings of the future Kingdom on earth will be fulfilled. And without pressing the analogy too far, we may assert that this divine Husband and Wife will be the parents of the regenerated world of mankind in the Millennial Kingdom on earth (Revelation 21: 2-4).
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
Copyright 2013 A. Prentice. You may reproduce any or all of this article without express permission.