In the previous series we’ve looked at one of the facets, or metaphors, of our relationship with God: he is our Father. It seems appropriate now to turn to another metaphor, that of husband.
This relationship is commonly acknowledged among Christians, but there is surprisingly little biblical information about it. I suppose most people think first of Ephesians 5.22-33, where husbands are instructed to love their wives in the same way that Christ loves the church. This passage is the text for the pastor’s charge in pretty much every wedding ever performed. I’ve been convinced by a colleague, however, that this passage is commonly misinterpreted. Dr. Gary Reimers, a longtime friend and professor at BJU Seminary, has observed that the husbands are instructed “to love their wives as their own bodies” (Ep 5.28)—and since this same epistle notes that the church is Christ’s body (Ep 1.22-23), then to love “as their own bodies” is to love like Christ (Ep 5.25). So I don’t view this passage as primarily presenting Christ under the metaphor of husband.
That leaves just two other New Testament passages that speak of Christ having a bride. The more well-known of those, I suppose, is Revelation 21, which speaks of “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Re 21.9). Earlier John has heard an announcement of the pending “marriage of the Lamb” (Re 19.7), at which his wife is dressed in “fine linen [which] is the righteousness of the saints” (Re 19.8). Now he sees “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Re 21.2). But here the bride is said to be not the church, but the New Jerusalem, which I would say includes the church but is more than that.
The other passage, less well known, is 2Corinthians 11.2, where Paul tells the Corinthian church that he has “espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” But that stops short of saying that the universal church is the bride of Christ, although I think it’s safe to assume that by extension from the passage.
So I think there’s little to no clear biblical evidence for the statement that “the church is the bride of Christ.”
But in the Hebrew Scriptures God regularly describes himself as the husband of his people. And since the Old Testament saints will be in the New Jerusalem as certainly as we, I think we can legitimately apply what God says there to our relationship with him as children of Abraham by faith (Ga 3.7).
Several OT passages speak to this relationship. Isaiah 54.5 mentions it, and Ezekiel 16 speaks very directly of Israel’s idolatry as sin against God her husband. But I suppose that the most concentrated and well-developed description of this relationship is in the prophecy of Hosea.
Hosea writes during the reign of Jeroboam II (Hos 1.1), in the waning days of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. You can read about the culture of Israel at this time in 2Kings 17. It’s not a pretty picture. One commentator writes, “This is a period when Israel is prosperous, proud and pagan—and thoughts of God and judgment seems ridiculous.” Hosea writes to explain the reasons for the Assyrian judgment (e.g. Hos 12.8) and, perhaps surprisingly, to give hope for the future (e.g. Hos 13.14; 14.4-9).
Much of Hosea’s prophecy follows the standard outline of the Old Testament prophets:
- Israel’s sin (chapters 4-7)
- Coming judgment (chapters 8-10)
- Future restoration (chapters 11-14)
But the book begins with an illustration from Hosea’s marriage, a metaphor for God’s relationship with his people. Hosea’s marriage is not typical (!), but it tells us much about our relationship to God as our Husband. 1Peter 2.10 applies the names of Hosea’s children to the church, as does Paul in Romans 9.22-26 (note “not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles,” Ro 9.24).
So let’s glean what we can from this remarkable story of a failed and restored relationship.
More next time.
 Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide (Minneapolis: Augsburg), 353.