Jesus the Bridegroom:
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
The story of salvation history, as told in the Bible and the other sources, often uses the images, symbols and language of the Jewish wedding, hence the title of this book. As he does in Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Pitre bases his exploration on the Bible as well as non-Biblical Jewish sources, taking us beyond just knowing that there is the wedding supper of the Lamb.
What struck me most about the book were all the connections among different parts of the Bible and the marriage-related interpretations.
From the Old Testament – God as Bridegroom
The Covenant on Mount Sinai
|What happened||Wedding references|
|God made His covenant with the twelve tribes of Israel, who received the Ten Commandments and offered their bloody sacrifice in worship. Moses threw the blood on the altar (representing God) and the elders (representing the people), and this new relationship was marked with a “heavenly banquet”.
|In later times, prophets sometimes referred to this momentous covenant in marriage-like terms. For example:
“Thus says the LORD, ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.’”
|Then came the golden calf episode, when Israel’s idolatry broke the covenant.||Prophets would later speak of this in adultery-like terms, such as in:
“You also took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the harlot… Were your harlotries so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?” (Ezekiel 16:15-21)
|God, as we know, will not rest till He brings His people back and promises a new covenant.||This future covenant is also referred to in marriage-like terms, such as in: “… you will call me, ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Baal.’… And I will make for you a covenant on that day…. And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.
Song of Songs: the future wedding
Pitre lists examples of references to God in other books that distinctly match the bridegroom of the Song of Songs and references to Israel, as represented by Jerusalem and the Temple, that match the bride.
Here are a couple of examples:
|Other books||Song of Songs|
|I will take you for my people, and I will be your God. (Exodus 6:7, cf. Leviticus 26:12)||I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.(Song of Songs 6:3)|
|In front of the house [Solomon] made… chains like a necklace and put them on the tops of the pillars; and he made a hundred pomegranates and put them on the chains.(2 Chronicles 3:15-16)||Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits.
(Song of Songs 4:13)
New Testament – Jesus as the promised Bridegroom
John the Baptist
John the Baptist’s announcement of the Messiah’s coming has wedding overtones.
|Prophecy||John the Baptist||Significance|
|“… there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of joy, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD.”
|“… I am not the Messiah, but I am the one who has been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices with joy because of the voice of the bridegroom.” (John 3:28-29)
|John, the “friend of the bridegroom”, plays a role like that of the best man, which was an actual role in the Jewish wedding celebrations. His job was to “lead the bride to the bridegroom when the time for the wedding has come”.|
So, here comes Jesus the Bridegroom.
The Wedding at Cana
There are prophecies referring to wine – missing and present – at a wedding banquet, as in:
|Other books||Wedding at Cana|
|“No more do they drink wine with singing…. There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished.”
(Isaiah 24:9, 11)
|“They have no wine.” (John 2:3)|
|“… the Messiah will begin to be revealed. And on one vine will be a thousand branches, and one branch will produce a thousand clusters, and one cluster will produce a thousand grapes, and one grape will produce a liter of wine.”
(2 Baruch 29:1-2)
|Jesus turns “six stone jars… each holding twenty or thirty gallons” of water in to wine. (John 2:6)|
When the wedding in Cana is juxtaposed with the Last Supper, we can understand that Jesus is not saying (rudely) to Mary, “Don’t bother me about this kind of thing now!” but: “It is not time yet for me to provide the wine of the banquet of YHWH. I will provide that supernatural wine, but only at the hour of my passion and death.” Instead, He performs the miracle, a “sign that points forward to the hour of his passion.”
The Samaritan Woman at the Well
This was for me a most enlightening chapter.
Some Old Testament well scenes echo the the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
|Abraham’s servant met Issac’s future wife Rebekah at a well (Genesis 24:15, 15-16)||Marriage formula that the Jewish audience would have recognised:
Male Foreigner + Woman + Well = Betrothal
|Jacob met Rachel at the well
|Moses met his future wife at a well
(Exodus 2:15-17, 21)
Now for the significance of the Samaritan woman story.
|Jesus requests for a drink. (John 4:7)||“I thirst.” (John 19:28)|
|She is non-Jew and it is “not customary (or acceptable)” for a Jew to talk to her.||But Jesus talks to her, a sign that God is now not only going to “wed himself” to the Jews but also non-Jews.|
|They talk about her six men and she admits “I have no husband.” (John 4:17)
The Samaritan people called their male gods “Baal”, the Canaanite word for “husband” or “lord”. Evidence shows they had five male gods and the Jewish historian Josephus also notes five Samaritan cults. Apart from these gods, they also worshipped YHWH the God of Israel (their sixth “Baal”).
|“… he whom you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18) indicates that the Samaritan people do not have YHWH as a “true husband” because their worship of Him “has been tainted by the influence of the worship of false Gods and because they are in schism with the Jewish people.”
|Jesus reveals Himself as the Messiah, and the woman goes off to tell her people about Him, and they “believed in him”.
(John 4:25-26, 28-30)This series of actions parallels the stories of Zipporah and sisters going home to their pagan father before Moses stays with them and marries her (Exodus 2:19-21), and Rachel going home to her father and family before Jacob goes there (Genesis 29:12).
|As a result of the woman’s encounter with Jesus and her going off to tell herpeople about Him, the Samaritan people are “betrothed” to the true God.
|Jesus offers the Samaritan woman the gift of “living water”.
This recalls the Jewish belief about the “miraculous living water” of Jacob’s well, the “living water” that is mixed with ashes for the sacrificial sin offering (then sprinkled as “cleansing sacrificial water” using “hyssop”, no less), and the Jewish bride’s pre-wedding ritual bath.
|Jesus gives this living water with His death on the cross and cleanses God’s people (the bride) of impurity.
Coming after various texts referring to baptism, the scene at Jacob’s well is also linked with this idea of cleansing by water.
The Crucifixion – the wedding day arrives
|What happens||Wedding references|
|Early in His public ministry, Jesus identifies Himself as the bridegroom:
“Can the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?
|During the Jewish wedding preparation, the “best man” (= John the Baptist) and the “sons of the bridechamber” (= disciples) are on hand to help the bridegroom (= Jesus).
Jewish sources indicate that the bridechamber was decorated in a way similar to how the Tabernacle was decorated, “Blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen” (Exodus 25:4).
|On the day of his crucifixion, Jesus wears a “seamless garment” and a crown of thorns.
|The Jewish bridegroom wears a crown-like ornament, as in: “the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding” (Song of Solomon 3:11).
He is also dressed in attire like a priest’s garment, which “shall have in it an opening for the head, with a woven binding around the opening… that it may not be torn.” (Exodus 28:31-32)
|Blood and water flow from Jesus’ side, so at His death, His bride, the Church, comes to be.||This recalls how Eve was created from Adam’s side, after he was in a “deep sleep” (Genesis 2:21-22).|
The Bridegroom shall come again
|Jesus as the Bridegroom||Wedding references|
|Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to “prepare a place” for them in His “Father’s house” (John 14:2-3)||The Jewish bridegroom prepares the home for his bride before taking her there.|
|He will come for us at an unknown time.||In the parable of the wise and foolish maidens, the bridegroom arrives unexpectedly at midnight and the five wise ones are taken in for the marriage feast.|
Significance for our lives
In our different states of life, each of us is called to be a “living icon” of Jesus. Celibate and consecrated persons strive for “configuration to Christ”. Married couples model their relationship on the love of Christ and His Church. Husbands are to be self-sacrificial in a Christ-like way, while wives are “under the mission” (as in sub-missio, in Latin) of this love, just like the Church in relation to Christ. In this way, marriage will lead to the “sanctification and salvation” of both husband and wife.
There are many other cross references and explanations so you will have to read the book for a fuller understanding of the concept of Jesus as the Bridegroom!
There are Easter verses (not included in this version, though) for Glory in the Cross and the last one goes:
God has wed creation on the tree of hope where the darkness becomes our light.
Let us join in the dance of heaven and earth, give thanks for the goodness of God.
Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ and the triumph of God’s great love.