THE SYMBOLISM OF THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB
Often, we are reluctant to look at tradition, particularly religious tradition. The following article I believe to be an exception. To look at historical tradition regarding marriage, we need to be able to understand the teachings of Christ and why he uses certain terminology. How can we understand what He was talking about, if we are unfamiliar with the traditions in existence in the days of His ministry? I invite you to read the following article to be able to more accurately focus on Christ’s true meaning and intentions.
Who are we? Why are we here? How does the Bible relate to me? These eternal questions have bothered humans for thousands of years. It often appears that there is no answer, that we are simply lost and have no purpose. But what if there was more to it than that? What if the Bible gave very specific hints to our history and our future? In this article I am going to discuss a little known piece of Jewish pageantry that just might be able to answer some of these enduring questions.
A bride and a groom, two people standing down a wide aisle, family and well wishers looking on, rings are given, words are read and the ceremony is complete. To most Americans, we immediately know what is happening. A wedding. We also know that the bible mentions marriage, brides, and a groom many times, we may even wonder why. The Bible mentions the term bride of Christ multiple times to refer to the chosen people of God; Jesus himself is referred to a bridegroom; A wedding is visited in Canaan; we see a story of a wedding and ten foolish and wise virgins; and several mandates for proper marriage rules are laid down throughout the bible. We might misunderstand, as they seem nothing like our modern weddings. However, it is not the American wedding that we will be looking at today, but the Jewish betrothal and wedding, a custom with much meaning and formality that has been preserved for thousands of years.
To get a proper understanding of the subject, we need to look at the process of a Jewish betrothal and the subsequent wedding, as it followed Mosaic law. Remember, Christ was a Jew and followed Mosaic law and God himself created it. Marriage in the bible was a legal and contractual agreement between two families, not two individuals. One family lost a daughter and one family gained a daughter. A dowry was paid to the father of the bride by the father of the groom to account for that considerable loss. The bride and groom were often matched as early as childhood, with a future wedding planned for many years later. Then a marriage covenant or betrothal was set. There were strict rules for what constituted a marriage covenant. It was composed of a four step process. First the father of the groom selected a bride’s family and paid the dowry and the betrothal was set by the parents. The betrothal acceptance involved the groom traveling from his father’s house to the prospective bride, established the marriage covenant if the bride agreed to the arrangement, and presented her with the bride price (something of great wealth he had earned himself); Second, the groom returned to his father's house while remaining separate from the bride, all the while preparing his father's home for her arrival. Third, the groom would return for the bride at her father’s home at an unknown time to retrieve the bride, take her to his father’s house, and begin the marriage ceremony; and Fourth, two witnesses were needed beforehand to witness the signing of the marriage contract. These events were immediately followed by the marriage ceremony itself and a proceeding wedding feast that could last up to 7 days long, with the bride and groom being cloistered together for a short time while the party went on around them. Does this sound somewhat familiar? That's because the entirety of the bible plays out this exact scenario. Let's look at it piece by piece.
In the Old Testament, we see the story of Abraham, a man who was given physical possessions and multiple blessings, an “old covenant” that was meant for his descendants the children of Israel, because he was selected by God above all other men for his upright behavior and righteous faith. This covenant was the dowry paid to Abraham as he was the father of the “bride” to the generations that would enter into God’s family. God was asking Abraham to take his family from him, and join them with his own spiritual one. In Jewish tradition, the father of the groom (God the Father) made all the arrangements for the marriage, selected the best potential bride for his son, and paid the dowry. God made the old covenant with Abraham because God selected Abraham’s descendants as the future bride of Christ. The promises and riches of the old covenant were paid as a dowry to Abraham, and his descendants are still experiencing the gifts to this day (Genesis 17). Interestingly, the actual dowry was considered a as only a “token” of value that the bride would receive from the groom’s father if the marriage took place, and the father of the groom would often heap additional treasures upon the bride in the form of “gifts”, which were not always immediately given.
Abraham was offered the dowry, but could not accept the betrothal to the God family himself, as according to Jewish law, the bride had to accept the proposal to the groom herself. To do this, the groom would drink from a glass of wine and give it to the bride. If she took the wine and drank from it, it was a sign that she was agreeing to the marriage, after which for all legal purposes, the couple was considered married. The groom would then leave to begin preparations for their new life together at his father’s house. We see this played out in the Passover. The prospective groom offers the prospective bride a glass of wine. If she accepts it, they are betrothed. Jesus comes to get acceptance of his betrothal from Israel as seen in Matthew 15:24, (Jesus) answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (not the rest of the world). During the last supper, he pours a cup of wine (notice, Judas leaves before the wine is poured) and he passes it around the table to his disciples and they drink (Luke 22-23). “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.” Christ compared the wine to his blood and the disciples drink. With their acceptance, he is making a blood oath, a binding betrothal of himself to Israel, and them to him. When the apostles drink the wine (or anyone drinks the passover wine), they agreed to the betrothal. After the agreement, Christ immediately pays the ultimate bride price, which is the gift of his own blood, his crucifixion, the most valuable gift he could give. It is also interesting that he agrees that he would not make another binding “blood” contract until the marriage vows had been finalized and his new “bride” is established with him in his father’s kingdom or house.
After the Jewish betrothal has been agreed to and the bride price paid, the groom leaves the prospective bride to prepare the bridal chamber at his Father's house (John 14:3). The timing is based on the wishes of the Father of the Groom, and not even the groom himself is told the timing of the wedding (Matthew 24:36). With permission from the father (John 7:28), eventually the groom comes back to fetch the bride to prepare for the marriage ceremony. During this entire time, the bride wears a veil to represent her purity. She is to strive to remain pure during his absence so that he doesn’t put her away (divorce) when he returns. This ties in with the feast of Unleavened bread, immediately after Passover. We attempt to remove the sin from our lives so the we may be found sinless on the return of the groom, culminating in either an acceptance (first fruit) or rejection of the betrothal (a spiritual divorce) based the behavior of the bride during the groom’s absence, and the final decision is made by the time of the observance of Pentecost.
It was the bride’s job to remain prepared while she waited for the groom. Herself and her handmaidens would place lamps and oil beside the bed so she would be ready when the groom came for her. Just before his arrival, a “shout” or shofar blast would sound ahead so that the bride knew he was on his way, and she would have time to make final preparations for the upcoming nuptials. Today we celebrate this during the feast of Trumpets, a call to arms to be prepared for Christ’s impending arrival. During Christ’s time, people would wait along the sides of the road with their lamps lit watching for the groom’s return to the wedding. This was especially true of virgins who hoped to follow and be invited to the Jewish wedding party. If they were not prepared when the groom and party passed by, they would miss his return and be left outside and not included in the festivities, a very bad thing. (Matthew 25:1-13).
After the groom’s return and right before the ceremony, the final covenant (the new covenant), a legally binding document is signed called a ketubah. The bride and groom agree to be bound by the terms of the ketubah, or marriage contract, in the presence of two witnesses, whereupon the witnesses sign the ketubah. The ketubah details the obligations of the groom to the bride. Two witnesses must sign the marriage proposal BEFORE the ceremony. Interestingly enough, we see this played out again in the bible with the story of the two witnesses that are brought on the scene in the end time. Their role has always seemed important, but in the light of the marriage ceremony, they are essential to the finalization of God's ultimate plan. Two witnesses must be present or the marriage agreement is not valid. They are so important, that even when they are killed and left in the street, God resurrects them, an ultimate sign that the will of God and his plans for his permanent covenant with humans will not be foiled (Revelation 11: 1-14).
After the signing of the documents, in the Jewish tradition, the groom and the bride do a ritual fast the day until the ceremony is complete, a personal Yom Kippur or Atonement. The entire day of the ceremony is a day for spiritual atonement and forgiveness. All the couple's previous individual sins are forgiven, as the vows they take at their wedding join their souls before God, so they're able to start a new life together unburdened by past transgressions. Both the bride and groom are considered ritually clean and sinless at the time of the marriage ceremony. We also see this played out in the atonement requirements of mankind during the last days. It is the last chance to repent before the consummation of the marriage contract.
During the betrothal process the bride is veiled, and she wears the veil until the groom comes for her, and during the ceremony, the veil is removed by the groom to symbolize that he will offer protection to her personally from then on. In the Bible, the church is also described as being veiled or hidden away during the end time to protect her, but that protection will no longer be needed at the return of Christ (Revelation 12:6). The marriage ceremony itself begins with a family processional (God's family) after which the groom (Jesus Christ) makes his way to the chuppah, an open canopy supported by 4 poles. In many ceremonies, the bride circles her future husband seven times before joining him, which symbolizes her building the walls of their new life together [source: Shulman]. If this sounds familiar, it is because the marriage ceremony takes place under a temporary dwelling with the promise of permanent walls in the future. This and the entire ceremony alludes the the Feast of Tabernacles as we have not yet entered into the permanent covenant with God. During the ceremony, the groom places a ring or other item of value, symbolizing his promise to keep his vow, his covenant, and then he stomps on a glass wrapped in a napkin or cloth. Breaking the glass is extremely symbolic. It echoes the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and that old is being done away with, replaced by their new life together.
After the ceremony, the couple is taken to a private yichud room for a few moments of quiet time. Yichud means "alone together" in Hebrew, and no other members of the wedding party may disturb the pair while they're in this room. The newlyweds are allowed to break their fast during this time and rest after their wedding day [source: Jewish Wedding Network]. This also sounds familiar and if we follow the Biblical holy days timeline where the Feast of Tabernacles is the wedding, then the Yichud would represent the Great Last Day. A thousand years, God and his people are cloistered away together, a time of peace for the first fruits and Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:5). In biblical times, unmarried men and women were forbidden from being alone together, so this cloistering marks the first opportunity for the couple to enjoy being together alone. This is mentioned in Revelation 21:3 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” God has never permanently dwelled among his people because the marriage vows were not complete. Once the ceremony, the permanent covenant is complete, and he is no longer only betrothed to the Children of God, he will dwell among them. This is because technically, the Jewish wedding process has two distinct stages. Kiddushin means sanctification, dedication, or betrothal in Hebrew and Nissuin is the marriage after the official ceremony, when the couple dwell together. The first stage only prohibits the woman to all other men but the future groom. Notice this lines up with the ten commandment marriage vow requirement of “Thou shalt have no other God's BEFORE me.” and is seen in the old testament as God has a covenant with his people but doesn't dwell with them. Only the final stage, Nissuin, permits the couple to live with each other and is not allowed without an official marriage ceremony. The second requirement has not yet come to pass, but is mentioned in many scriptures in future tense including Jerimiah 31 “At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.” Just as in the rules of Nissuin, two cannot be one and completely joined until the marriage has taken place.
As you can see, each of the yearly Holy Days we celebrate is tied to the final, unbreakable covenant with God, where we will no longer be his mortal children, but indeed part of the family of God itself. The Bible is not only a story about the past, but also a signpost to our future. With grand scale, God is laying out his plan thousands of years into the future and showing how it will come about and be executed. He is abiding by the marriage laws he himself created and has forged a marriage covenant with the children of Israel that no man can break. The Bible lays out God's ultimate plan along with instructions on how to be invited to and participate in the wedding of the lamb to God's church. It ties the past, the selection of Abraham and his descendants, to our future dwelling with Jesus Christ himself. Now we understand more fully what he meant when he said he would go and prepare a place for us.