There is only one story from the beginning to the end in the Bible.
It is a story of love between a husband and His intended wife.
The story begins with a wedding, the wedding of two people, man and woman. "...and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).
This first man (Adam) was made after the image of God and was planned of God to be as a son to Him.
This first man, however, fell from fellowship with his Father-Creator when He disobeyed Him in the garden of life. Having fallen, he was driven from that garden to live under the curse of death. Death is the absence of life. God is life and Adam was no longer in the presence of Life. "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).
With this story begins a love affair between the Creator and His created one.
God and Israel
Throughout the Bible, God was viewed as a husband and Israel, His chosen one, was viewed as His bride.
The most striking example of this is recorded in Jeremiah 3:6-8. It was after Israel was divided between the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. The Lord spoke to Jeremiah in the days when Josiah was King saying, "Have you seen that which backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there has played the harlot.
"And I said after she had done all these things, 'Turn unto Me.' But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
"And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also."
God had chosen Israel through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be to Him a people of His own choosing. "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a peculiar people unto Himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth" (Deut. 14: 2).
But because of her idolatry--going after other gods, the foremost thing God warned against--God called Israel and Judah a harlot. This is most vividly described in Ezekiel 16. Read it!
Hosea, the prophet, depicts this husband and wife relationship between God and Israel in terms of his own life. He is called upon by God to marry a harlot. Yet, even after she leaves him to return to her harlotry, he shows forth his great love for her by purchasing her off of the auction block.
In this great story God is seen as wooing harlot Israel back by his love. She is unwilling to love Him, seemingly incapable of doing so, so He purchases her Himself. Of course, we see this now in view of the act of God's redemption in Christ Jesus our Lord who shed His precious blood to purchase us from sin and deliver us from idolatry.
God and the Church
This husband and wife relationship carries over into the New Testament with Jesus as the husband and the church as the bride.
It is impossible to see Israel and the church as separate entities. The church of Jesus Christ is merely the extension of Israel as God's chosen people. Israel and the church are one personality throughout history.
Whatever was Israel's history is our history in the church today. Abraham is every bit our Father. His history is our history. When we read of Isaac and Jacob, we are reading about our spiritual ancestors. We identify with them and they with us as being a part of that one body, one man, one person, one bride.
But the church today, just as it was true of Israel then, is just as capable of idolatry. We are just as likely to play the harlot as she.
Jesus and His Bride
John the Baptist recognized this relationship between Jesus and the church as a bride when he announced that "He who has the bride is the bridegroom" (John 3:29).
Paul wrote the Corinthians saying, "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2).
Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus and compared the relationship between Jesus and the church with that of a husband and wife. In this beautiful passage, Paul is saying in so many words that the husband is to show forth the likeness of Christ to the wife and the wife is to show forth the likeness of the church to the husband; that is, the husband is a type of Christ in the home and the wife is a type of the church (Eph. 5:21-33).
The word for church in the Greek is ekklesia which actually means "called-out-ones" and is feminine in gender.
In this passage from Ephesians 5, we read, "Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle; but that it should be holy and without blemish."
The Greek word from which the pronoun "it" is translated is autes which means, "he," "she," or "it" depending upon the gender of its antecedent. In this case the antecedent of autes is ekklesia; therefore, "it" should be translated "her." It is unfortunate that the translators mistakenly used "church" instead of "called-out ones" and "it" instead of "her" because this emphasizes that false notion that the church is a thing instead of a person.
One of the greatest idolatries that has crept upon the body of Christ throughout the Christian era is this elevation of institutional Christianity. In many, many cases one's church, as an institution, has become a greater love than one's obedience to Christ. All that pertains to institutional Christianity is assumed to be the gospel.
We love our church. We serve our church. We join our church. We try to get others to join it. We compete with other churches over who is the best, who is the biggest, and who is right. Our churches have become our "high places" wherein we worship ourselves, pretending to be worshiping God.
There is a legitimate scriptural mandate for us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. "And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:24-25). There is a big difference between assembling for the sake of perpetuating the local church or the denomination of which we may be a part and assembling to provoke one another to love and to good works.
We not only are to come together as the body of Christ, but we are to be assembled by the leadership of the Holy Spirit. It is one thing to go to "church" and quite another to be assembled as the church (called-out-ones for assembly into Christ).
The Spotless Bride
We are the body of Christ, and as His body we are His bride in waiting. And, just as it has always been, God is still wooing us to love Him and Him only. He is still courting us that He might be our first love.
It is one thing to say we love God, but the real test of our love is in our obedience. Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." (The New American Standard translation says, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.")
Jesus is coming for His bride.
He is coming for a bride without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27).
He Himself was the Lamb of God without blemish and without spot (1 Pet. 1:19). That unblemished Lamb can only be joined as one flesh to an unblemished bride. That is why we can only be redeemed with His precious blood and not with corruptible things. (1 Pet. 1:18).
The bride without spot or wrinkle is she who has kept the faith; that is, has been faithful to her first and only love, Jesus Christ, her Lord. She is a true lover.
A Loving Bride
Jesus said, "If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love.... This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:10, 12).
There will be more judgment against the church for not having loved one another than perhaps any other thing. It is first, foremost, and probably the most difficult of all things to do. But God considers the love of the brethren as being equal with our love for Him.
It is vitally important that we keep His commandment because, as Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another" (John 13:35).
We say we want to be witnesses for Him, and by that we often mean we want to win somebody to the Lord. Yet, the greatest witness is going to be on the basis of our love one to another.
How do we love one another? Jesus showed us how in His own laid-down life. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Jesus called those who do what He says, His friends (John 15:14). If, as obedient ones, we are regarded as His friends, we best consider one another friends in this same way--laying down our lives in love for each other. It helps me to say it this way: lay down self for one another.
There is no way we can come into the deeper things of God, no way we can approach the great throne room of God, no way we can enter into that Holy of Holies without loving as He loved.
To be faithful to Jesus is to be faithful to one another. To love Him is to love one another. For we are all His body. Whatever we say or do against one another we have done it unto Him.
When Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the followers of Jesus, the Lord Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus one day, appearing in a blinding light, and asked him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4). Jesus had already ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father. How could Saul persecute Jesus? Simply by persecuting His followers. Has anything changed today?
A Holy Bride
To traverse from the outer court of Passover onward to the Holy Place of Pentecost and the Holy of Holies of Tabernacles is to go from faith to faith, glory to glory; that is, to go on to greater love and faithfulness: holiness.
To go on to greater love and faithfulness is to be separated from all that is displeasing to God. It is a walk of true holiness.
Many interpret holiness, whether consciously or not, as ascribing to a system of moral codes intended to control the outward behavior of its believers and ascribing to certain doctrines as law.
But true holiness is summed up into one basic commandment: love. If you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, everything else will fall into place. You will separate yourself from sin and idolatry. You will love your neighbor as yourself. You will involve yourself in the family of God, encouraging and strengthening one another in the household of God. You will see to it that there is plenty of oil in your lamp.
An abundance of Christians today are anxiously awaiting the rapture of the church. Their eyes are more on the rapture and their hearts are more intent upon escape than upon the Lord. The true bride, on the contrary, is anxiously awaiting that glorious day when she will be joined with her love. But she does not want that day to come before she has made herself ready.
That day is rapidly coming, but it will not come until the bride has made herself ready.
"'Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready.' And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And He said to me, 'Write, Blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb'" (Rev. 19:7-9).
The love affair between God and His people carries on to this day. And in this day, God is separating the wheat from the chaff, the bride from the harlot. He is exposing the harlot and revealing the bride.
As we see more and more of what the nature of the bride is, that revelation will itself and on its own call the bride forth.
A Remnant Bride
It is important now for all true believers to take seriously that mandate of Christ to "look up, lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near" (Luke 21:28).
Our redemption has always depended and continues to depend wholly and totally upon Christ and His shed blood as the Lamb of God. He has chosen us. We are called of Him.
Nevertheless, He Himself said, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14).
Throughout Israel's history God always promised Himself that a remnant would be saved. God has always dealt with remnants. There is going to be a remnant church. There is going to be a people called out of a people in this last day who will show forth the glory of the Lord, who will emerge as the bride without spot or wrinkle, who are faithful and loving.
This remnant will not consist of all who merely claim to be Christian, though many of them will be saved. It will not include even the many well meaning Christians who are jumping for joy over the prospects of the rapture. It will include only those who are committed to faithfully following the Lamb wherever He goes. "These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they who follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (Rev. 14:4).
This is not an elite group of people as the world would measure it. They are hidden, faceless, a people who bear the image of their Father, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit, who bear fruit a hundredfold, who dare to die to self that His life might be lived out through them, who enter into the Holy of Holies where Jesus is the only thing there is, who are purged, purified by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and are well on their way to being glorified--not in the exaltation of self, but in the total denial of self.
Someone asked me once, "Who are the ten virgins spoken of in Matthew 25:1-13?"
I had always assumed they were the bride. But the question caused me to realize that they could not have been the bride, at least not all ten of them, since the five foolish virgins were not allowed in. The bride is not divided that way.
It came to me later on in the context of this study that the five who did not have sufficient oil represented those thirtyfold believers who were content to camp out in the outer court of Passover and refused to get for themselves the oil of the Holy Spirit. They had their lamps which had been lit by the oil of the Spirit, but they needed more if they were to go the distance into the midnight.
I know this offends our orthodoxy, but consider what John said in Revelation 11:1-2. "And there was given to me a reed like a rod: and the angel stood, saying, 'Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty-two months.'"
The other five virgins had enough oil and were able to attend the wedding feast. These are those sixtyfold believers whom I suggest have willingly received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, who went beyond the outer court of Passover to the Holy Place of Pentecost, but who stopped there. They began to gather around the gifts instead of the Giver and in many subtle ways tended to exalt themselves in pride rather than allowing that anointing to bring them to the end of themselves.
They are able to attend the wedding, but they are not the bride. They have played the harlot, for spiritual harlotry is anything for self. But just as Israel was not God's people because He had divorced them, there remained the promise that they would once again be His people (Hos. 1:9-10). So it is with the adulterous church. God will redeem.
I suggest that the bride without spot or wrinkle was already at the wedding feast with the Bridegroom when the call went out. "He who has the bride is the bridegroom." These are hundredfold believers.
The heart of God goes out today in advance of the great and terrible day of the Lord and is calling forth the bride. He who has ears let him hear.