There are myriad topics, allegories, and themes that can be used to learn about God’s holy days. It’s always interesting to see what filters or “lenses” I’m viewing the holy days through each year as they come and go, particularly during the Passover season. This year there have been a few larger themes playing through my mind, in particular the holy days as picturing the marriage of Jesus Christ to His anointed bride. Passover represents each and every one of us individually, as well as us collectively, entering into covenant with God and Jesus Christ. There are two types of covenants symbolized here—blood and marriage. It’s the marriage covenant and what it can teach us that I’m focusing on here.
The Bride of Christ
When looked at through one filter, the bible is a love story. It is the story of God bringing the whole world into His family, starting with His Son and His bride. In studying the marriage customs of ancient Israel, we can see how the holy days are an allegory for this process. We’re told in Revelation of the actual wedding ceremony in heaven, the marriage supper of the Lamb. “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory,” John relays, “for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7). This happy occasion does not happen out of the blue, though. Instead, there are several important steps in this relationship that bring the bride and Groom to this point. If we tried to look at the marriage allegory only through our modern wedding rituals, we’d miss much of the deep and rich meaning laid out for us. It’s not perfect and all-encompassing—all analogies and allegories break down at a certain point—but the spring holy days help teach us about God’s relationship to us and how He will bring us into His family as His son’s pure bride.
Christ frequently used the rituals of this very familiar, very exciting event to illustrate things about Himself and what would happen in the future. He based several parables and sayings around marriage, including that of the marriage supper (Matt 22:2), the ten virgins (Matt 25:6, 10), and the bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20). Paul took this theme further, telling us that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church”, and that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church—even laying down His life for her (Eph. 5:23, 25).
Weddings in ancient Israel consisted of three main stages: contract, consummation, and celebration. The contract stage, which is largely pictured by the spring holy days, involved making the marriage contract, paying the bride price and giving the bride gifts, and the departure of the groom, after which both bride and groom made themselves ready for the coming ceremony, consummation, and festivities.
A Bride is Chosen; She Accepts
In ancient Hebrew customs, the father or his representative would select a bride for his son, and arrange the marriage with the bride’s family (Matt. 22:2, or Genesis 24 with Abraham’s servant and Rebekah). Sometimes a son went to seek his own wife, as in Jacob’s case (Gen. 28). Our journey as a firstfruit begins in this manner as well. Jesus tells us, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). However, the woman selected did have a say in the matter, and could say no to the match (Gen. 24:58). This is important because we can only enter into covenants through free will, of our own volition—we are never forced into a covenant with God.
Once the bride is chosen, the couple and their families and witnesses come together for the betrothal ceremony that begins a betrothal period, also called “kiddushim” meaning “sanctification” or “set apart.” Christ’s bride, the firstfruits, are called to be sanctified (purified, made holy) and set apart for a special purpose as well (I Cor. 6:11, I Thes. 4:3, Heb. 10:10).
Purification through Baptism
The bride enters a period of purification and anticipation during the betrothal period. Most sources say the bride went through a ritual immersion and washing (called a “mikveh”) to symbolize turning away from her old life and toward her new future. Sources differ, but it seems it may have been done after accepting the proposal but before signing the contract and entering the formal betrothal period, symbolic of spiritual cleansing prior to entering the covenant.
Many sources indicate that both the bride and groom went through a ritual immersion. Jesus set the example by being baptized at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 3:21). Through His death and resurrection, He made it possible for each member of the bride of Christ to have their sins wiped away and become spiritually pure through repentance and baptism (Acts. 2:38). Christ told His followers that this was a requirement, saying “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). The conversion process leads toward repentance and baptism as a starting point—the record of our past sins is wiped clean and we turn away from our old life. This allows us to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
The bride must remain in that pure state for the duration of her betrothal. Paul cautions the church about this, saying, “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed [KJV says “espoused”] you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (II Cor. 11:2).
The Bride Price and Gifts
At the ceremony, the groom paid the agreed-upon bride price to the bride’s father, transferring ownership from her father’s household to his own. The price was paid to the father of the bride, both to compensate him for the loss of a worker (and the financial responsibility of raising her) and to show him how much the bridegroom loved and valued the bride. The significance and value of the gift was a symbol of the strength of his regard or feeling for the bride—the greater the bride, the greater the price.
Our Messiah and Passover Lamb paid the ultimate price for His bride, laying down His life and shedding His blood to wash away her (our) sins. In doing so, He removed us from the primary controlling influence in our life (Satan and his carnal world) and brought us into relationship with Him (Rom. 8:3-4). Peter reminds us that we should be living a holy life, “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold…but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
The bride price was an obligation of the law to be fulfilled by the groom, presented to the bride’s father—Jesus’s sacrifice fulfilled this obligation, since the law requires death as the penalty for sin. However, the groom also presented the bride herself with a gift or pledge. Rather than a compulsory presentation, this was a voluntary expression of the heart, and something that would be a constant reminder in the ensuing absence that he cared for her and would return for her. Jesus told His disciples that He would sending the holy spirit to help them while He was away (John 14:16).
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reiterates that the holy spirit is not only a promise of love, but a promise that He will return for us, saying, “In whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the holy spirit of promise, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 1:13-14; also I Cor. 6:19-20). Instead of a physical gift such as a ring or coin, Jesus left the spirit of God to live inside each of us and help prepare us for our future marriage. Peter calls it the “gift of the holy spirit”, and tells the crowd assembled on Pentecost that in order to accept this gift we must be repent of our sins and be baptized (Acts 2:38).
This gift was also a reminder of the promise the bride was making and her responsibility to live up to the terms. We are told, “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the holy spirit…if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4).
Entering Into the Covenant – the Betrothal Contract
The couple then signed a written contract stating the terms, promises, bride price, and responsibilities and rights of each party. At this point they have entered into a covenant with one another, making a commitment to honor and serve each other for the rest of their lives. Commitment is a major theme of Passover, as it pictures us choosing to leave the world to come into covenant with God and dedicate our lives to following Him. Jesus tells us His yoke is easy and burden light, but also cautions us to count the cost before choosing to follow Him, since there is no looking back (Matt. 11:30; Luke 14:27).
Jesus came to enter into a new covenant with a bride that would be pure and faithful to Him, unlike the faithlessness of physical Israel. In Hosea, He says “I will betroth you to Me forever…in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” (Hos. 2:19). Jeremiah prophesied of God’s promise of this better, everlasting covenant: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:31-33). Paul tells us this is a better covenant, established on better promises (Heb. 8:6-13). God promises His firstfruits that they will have everlasting life in His family, and that they shall be kings and priests in the kingdom of God (Rev. 1:6, 20:6).
After signing the contract, a cup of wine was poured, blessed with ritual prayer, and then the bride drank from it to seal the marriage covenant. Christ, likewise, sealed His marriage covenant before He died: “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant… I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27-29). Here He alluded to the second cup of wine that the couple shares many months later during the marriage celebrations, mirroring the agreement they made at the betrothal ceremony.
At this point, they are legally considered husband and wife, though the marriage is not consummated yet. The understanding of betrothal in ancient Israel is much stronger than our modern idea of an engagement. The bride is set apart and sanctified for only him from that point forward, and only divorce can end the union. A couple would need a religious divorce or “get” in order to annul the contract (Deut. 24:1-4), an option only available to the husband.
Bridegroom Leaves to Prepare a Place
The bridegroom then has to leave his bride for a time (generally around a year). He goes to build and prepare a home for them in his father’s household and make sure he can meet the financial terms of the bride contract. Jesus told His disciples not to worry while He was away. He said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-4).
No one—including the bridegroom—knows when he will return except his father, who confirms that the new home is prepared and allows his son to go claim his bride. Similarly, Jesus told His disciples that even He doesn’t know the exact time of His return. “But of that day and hour no one knows,” He said, “not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only…therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:36, 44).
The Bride Makes Herself Ready
During this time apart, the woman prepares herself to be a wife and sews her wedding garments. She can’t procrastinate in carrying out this task and just wait until the last second, since she doesn’t know when the bridegroom will return. As the bride of Christ, we must be spending our time on this earth while He’s away readying our wedding garments—“fine linen, clean and bright…the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8). Christ’s sacrifice was the first step in obtaining these garments, for He “gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her…[and] present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
However, we have to do our part as well. Every day we are to be readying ourselves for our future wedding and preparing to be a worthy wife to our Bridegroom. Our efforts in this area will show in how we live our lives and treat others, the way we obey God’s instructions and build godly character. The bible is our instruction manual in our quest to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). We are told to focus on nurturing the fruits of God’s spirit and shun the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-23), to esteem others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), to take care of the widows and orphans (James 1:27), and to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Peter practically draws a roadmap to building godly character and working toward the “exceedingly great and precious promises” God has made. “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love…he who lacks these things is short-sighted…and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Pet. 1:4-9). In other words, we are not to sit around idly awaiting Christ’s return.
A bride’s thoughts would be consumed with her upcoming wedding every day, with no chance of her forgetting to prepare. Yet, physical Israel did not have this excitement and constantly turned away from her betrothed. Jeremiah relays to us, “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number” (Jer. 2:32). In contrast, Christ’s future bride will have a different attitude toward her bridegroom: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord…for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness. As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels” (Is. 61:10).
Remembering Our Betrothal at Passover
The Passover is a time when we reflect on Christ’s sacrifice, our commitment at baptism, and often areas for improvement in our own lives. But it also pictures a joyous occasion—the betrothal of Christ to His future bride, the church—that will culminate in a marriage celebration the likes of which this world has never seen. We can also reflect on the incredible marriage covenant He has offered us. The Passover reminds us that He chose us to be His bride, entered into covenant with us, offered the cup of acceptance, and paid the bride price. Then He gave us the infinitely valuable gift of His holy spirit and left to prepare a place for us in His household for all of eternity. God and Jesus both look forward to the day He returns as much as (or even more than) we do. Isaiah tells us of Their longing for this, saying, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Is. 62:5).
During the spring holy days we commemorate the marriage covenant we have entered into, and look forward to the day when we hear the loud shout that means our Bridegroom is returning, when we are able to celebrate the marriage, take His name, and become a true member of the God family.
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7)