"Weddings of Ancient Israel - A Picture of the Messiah"
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"Weddings of Ancient Israel - A Picture of the Messiah" (an article
from Return to God Magazine, Volume 1 Number 2, page 22).
What does Scripture mean when it refers to the church as a bride and
Jesus as a bridegroom? Is this just flowery language? Is it merely
indicating God's love for His people? Understanding ancient Jewish
wedding practices makes the meaning of Scripture clear. The wedding is a
picture of the covenant Jesus made and reveals His plans to return for
His bride, the church. The people of ancient Israel understood what
Jesus was going to do because they understood the model of the wedding.
The analogy between a wedding and Christ and the Church is described
in Ephesians 5:31-32 "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
The following overviews the practices of an ancient Jewish betrothal
and wedding. In parallel, it shows how Jesus has fulfilled the betrothal
portion of the wedding and how He may fulfill the remainder when He
comes again for His bride, the church.
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: MARRIAGE COVENANT AND BRIDE PRICE
When a young man desired to marry a young woman in ancient Israel, he
would prepare a contract or covenant to present to the young woman and
her father at the young woman's home. The contract showed his
willingness to provide for the young woman and described the terms under
which he would propose marriage. The most important part of the contract
was the bride price, the price that the young man was willing to pay to
marry the young woman. This payment was to be made to the young woman's
father in exchange for his permission to marry. The bride price was
generally quite high. Sons were considered to be more valuable than
daughters since they were physically more able to share in the work of
farming and other heavy labor. The bride price compensated the young
woman's family for the cost to raise a daughter and also indicated the
love that the young man had for the young woman -- the young woman was
very valuable to the young man! The young man would go to the young
woman's house with the contract and present his offer to the young woman
and her father.
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: MARRIAGE COVENANT AND BRIDE PRICE
Jesus came to the home of His bride (earth) to present His marriage
contract. The marriage contract provided by Jesus is the new covenant,
which provides for the forgiveness of sins of God's people. Jesus paid
the bride price with His life. At the last supper, when breaking bread,
He spoke of the price He was paying: "...This is my body given for
you..." --Luke 22:20. Hebrews 8:15 makes it clear that Jesus died as the
price for the new covenant: "...Christ is the mediator of a new
covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal
inheritance -- now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from
the sins committed under the first covenant. Other Scripture references
include 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 1 Peter 1:18-19, Acts 20:28 and John
The marriage contract, the new covenant, is described throughout
Scripture: "...This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my
people... they will all know me, from the least of them to the
greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and
will remember their sins no more." -- Jeremiah 31:31-34.
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: THE CUP
If the bride price was agreeable to the young woman's father, the
young man would pour a glass of wine for the young woman. If the young
woman drank the wine, it would indicate her acceptance of the proposal.
At this point, the young man and young woman would be betrothed.
Betrothal was legally binding, just like a marriage. The only difference
was that the marriage was not yet consummated. A typical betrothal
period was 1-2 years. During this time the bride and bridegroom each
would be preparing for the marriage and wouldn't see each other.
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: THE CUP
Just as the bridegroom would pour a cup of wine for the bride to drink
to seal the marriage contract, so Jesus poured wine for His disciples.
His words described the significance of the cup in representing the
bride price for the marriage contract: Then He took the cup, gave thanks
and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my
blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness
of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now
on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."
-- Matt. 26:28-29 The disciples drank of the cup, thus accepting the
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: GIFTS FOR THE BRIDE
Next, the bridegroom would present the bride with special gifts. The
purpose of these gifts was to show the bridegroom's appreciation of the
bride. They were also intended to help her to remember him during the
long betrothal period.
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: GIFTS FOR THE BRIDE
The gifts that Jesus gave us are the gifts of the Holy Spirit: We know
that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit
-- 1 John 4:13.
Jesus described this gift in John 14:26: But the Counselor, the Holy
Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things
and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with
you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do
not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: MIKVEH
The bride would next partake of a Mikveh, or cleansing bath. Mikveh is
the same word used for baptism. To this day in conservative Judaism a
bride cannot marry without a Mikveh.
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: MIKVEH
The Mikveh, or baptism that Jesus provided for His bride was baptism
in the Holy Spirit. On one occasion, while He was eating with them, He
gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift
my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John
baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the
Holy Spirit." -- Acts 1:4.
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: PREPARING A PLACE
During the betrothal period, the bridegroom would prepare a wedding
chamber for the honeymoon. This chamber was typically built in the
bridegroom's father's house. The wedding chamber had to be a beautiful
place to bring the bride. The bride and groom were to spend seven days
there. The wedding chamber had to be built to the groom's father's
specifications. The young man could go for his bride only when his
father approved. If the bridegroom was asked when the wedding was to be,
he might well say "it is not for me to know, only my father knows".
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: PREPARING A PLACE
Just as a bridegroom would have told his bride that he would go to
prepare a place for her, so Jesus told His disciples: "...In my Father's
house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am
going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place
for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may
be where I am. -- John 13:1-3.
In ancient Israel the bridegroom could get his bride only after his
father approved. Similarly, Jesus said: "No one knows about that day or
hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Be on guard! Be alert ! You do not know when that time will come -- Mark
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: A WAITING BRIDE CONSECRATED
While the bridegroom was preparing the wedding chamber, the bride was
considered to be consecrated, set apart or "bought with a price". If she
went out, she would wear a veil so others would know she was betrothed.
During this time she prepared herself for the marriage. She likely had
saved money all her life for this time. She would purchase expensive
cosmetics and learn to apply them to make herself more beautiful for the
bridegroom. She wouldn't know when her groom would come for her, so she
always had to be ready. Since bridegrooms typically came for their
brides in the middle of the night, to "steal them away", the bride would
have to have her lamp and her belongings ready at all times. Her sisters
or bridesmaids would also be waiting, keeping their lamps trimmed in
anticipation of the late night festivities.
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: A WAITING BRIDE CONSECRATED
We, God's people, are now consecrated, or set apart, waiting for the
return of our bridegroom. We should be spending this time preparing
ourselves for Jesus' return. Jesus used a parable of ten virgins waiting
for the bridegroom to describe the need to be alert for His return. "At
that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their
lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom...The foolish ones took their
lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in
jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming,
and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. "At midnight the cry rang
out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' "Then all the
virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the
wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' "'No,' they
replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to
those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' "But while they were
on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who
were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was
shut. "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the
door for us!' "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know
you.' "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: BRIDEGROOM COMES FOR HIS BRIDE
When the bridegroom's father deemed the wedding chamber ready, the
father would tell the bridegroom that all was ready and to get His
bride. The bridegroom would abduct his bride secretly, like a thief at
night and take her to the wedding chamber. As the bridegroom approached
the bride's home, he would shout and blow the shofar (ram's horn
trumpet) so that she had some warning to gather her belongings to take
into the wedding chamber. The bridegroom and his friends would come into
the bride's house and get the bride and her bridesmaids.
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: BRIDEGROOM COMES FOR HIS BRIDE
Just as the bridegroom would come for the bride in the middle of the
night, with a shout and the sound of a shofar, so the Lord will come for
us. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud
command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of
God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are
still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the
clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord
forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. Now, brothers,
about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very
well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. -- 1
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: SEVEN DAYS IN WEDDING CHAMBER
The bridegroom would take his bride to the wedding chamber where they
would spend seven days. The bridegroom's friend would wait outside the
door of the wedding chamber. When the marriage was consummated, the
bridegroom would tell his friend through the door, and the friend would
announce it to the assembled guests. The guests would celebrate for
seven days until the bride and bridegroom emerged from the wedding
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: SEVEN DAYS IN WEDDING CHAMBER
Ancient Jewish eschatology taught that a seven year "time of trouble"
would come upon the earth before the coming of the Messiah. During that
time of trouble, the righteous would be resurrected and would enter the
wedding chamber where they would be protected from the time of trouble.
Today that seven year period is referred to as the tribulation.
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: MARRIAGE SUPPER
After seven days in the wedding chamber, the bride and bridegroom
would emerge and participate in a feast with friends and family. There
would be joyous celebrating during this feast. The feast would conclude
the wedding celebration.
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: MARRIAGE SUPPER
As the bride and bridegroom celebrated with a joyous wedding supper,
so Jesus and His bride, the church will celebrate the marriage. Then I
heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing
waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our
Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself
ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen
stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me,
"Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the
Lamb!'" -- Revelation 19:6-9.
ANCIENT WEDDING PRACTICE: DEPART FOR HOME
After the marriage supper, the bride and bridegroom would leave the
groom's father's house where the groom had built the wedding chamber.
They would go to their own home, which the bridegroom had prepared.
JESUS' FULFILLMENT: DEPART FOR HOME
Just as the bride and bridegroom left the marriage supper to go to the
home that the bridegroom had prepared, so Jesus and His bride will
depart for their new home. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for
the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no
longer any sea. 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... One of the seven angels who had the
seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I
will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away
in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City,
Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. -- Revelation 21:1-4.
From the pattern of the ancient wedding practices, we see that, like the
bridegroom of ancient times, Jesus came to the home of His bride for the
betrothal, made a covenant with His bride and sealed it with a glass of
wine, paid the bride price with His life and sent His bride gifts of the
Holy Spirit. We, the betrothed (the Church) currently await the return
of our Bridegroom to take us to the wedding chamber (the rapture) to
spend seven years (while the tribulation occurs on Earth). We will then
celebrate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and depart with our Bridegroom
for our new home, the new Jerusalem.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (copyright 1985 by the
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