It is a widespread and common misconception among Christians that the bride of Christ and the Church are synonymous. The bride of Christ is not the Church, contrary to popular belief and teaching. It is true that the Church is the body of Christ, and the entire Church has been espoused or engaged to Christ, but every member of the Church will not be the bride of Christ. Faith in Christ is necessary to be in the Church, but faithfulness to Christ is necessary to be the bride of Christ.
The Church and the body of Christ are one and the same (Eph. 1:22-23), but no Scripture equates either one of these groups of Christians with the bride of Christ. Tradition is responsible for this doctrinal error, and tradition is a worthy opponent for anyone attempting to replace it with Scriptural truth.
The Church consists of all spiritually regenerated people from Pentecost to the end of the Age of Grace, which will end with the Firstfruits Rapture of the bride and her court. John the Baptist was not a member of the Church, since he died before Pentecost. Since the bride comes out of the Church, he could not be a member of the bride, and he even referred to himself as a “friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29).
In 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 (KJV) Paul tells the Corinthians that he has “espoused” them to Christ:
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present [you as] a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
Espoused means betrothed or engaged, and Paul clarifies his statement by saying that he desires to present them as a chaste (i.e., pure) virgin, but he is afraid that their minds would be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ. This Scripture clearly states that sincere and pure devotion to Christ is a prerequisite for being presented as the chaste bride of Christ.
We know that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and his intent was to “put her away” when he thought she had been unfaithful. There will be numerous Christians who will be put away or disqualified as the bride of Christ at the Firstfruits Rapture.
Paul compared the Christian life to a race where all run, but only one receives the “prize”. Paul was fearful that he would become a “castaway” so he worked diligently to keep his body in subjection:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring [it] into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (1 Cor 9:24-27 KJV)
In chapter three of Philippians, Paul talks about losing all things so that he might “gain Christ.” He also says that he wants to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection Paul is talking about in this passage of Scripture is something that is earned. The usual transliterated Greek word for resurrection is anastasis. The Greek word used in Philippians 3:11 is exanastasis. The word literally means the out-resurrection from among the dead. This is the only place this Greek word is found in the Bible. It refers to a partial resurrection of Christians who have attained to a certain standard. Hebrews 11:35 calls it the “better resurrection” (Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:) and it is also related to works. In this passage of Scripture Paul emphasizes that he is working very hard to win the “prize”, which is in Christ Jesus. The prize is clearly the highest reward that a believer can receive for faithful, spirit-filled service in the Lord’s work. The Scriptures are replete with types, parables and doctrinal statements that express the honor and blessing attached to those who attend the wedding of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Scriptures also attach shame and reproof to those Christians who have not prepared for themselves a wedding garment (Mat. 22:1-14). The wedding garment represents the good works that pass through the judgment fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is clear from these Scriptures that being selected as the bride of Christ was Paul’s goal for himself and for as many Christians as Paul could persuade to make the supreme sacrifice of self.
The Church and the Bride are not the same. The Scriptures confirm that the bride of Christ comes out of the body of Christ. They also give the Biblical criteria for being a member of the bride of Christ. As stated above, pure and sincere devotion to Christ is one of the criteria. Preparing for oneself a wedding garment of good works is another criterion. It is also required that a Christian be found watching at the time of the Firstfruits Rapture of the Church. The bride of Christ will come from those Christians that are longing for the Return of Christ. They will be among the Five Wise Virgins that have trimmed their lamps and beckoned for the Lord’s return at the midnight hour. The bride of Christ will be among the watchful and waiting Christians anxious for the Lord to return for them. She has separated herself from the cares of this world, and the riches of this world do not deceive her. The Main Body of the Church does not see her as worthy, and it may even see her as being eccentric, fanatical or even too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.
The first bride in Scripture was Eve and her origin (Gen. 2:22-23) is well known among Christians, but few understand the prophetic significance of her origin. The different methods for the creation of Adam and Eve were for a reason. Adam is a type of Christ, and just as Adam’s bride was taken out of his body, Christ’s bride will be taken out of his body, the Church. Eve was made from a small portion of Adam’s body. She was made out of one rib and the flesh attached to that rib. The type is accurate for the bride of Christ, since the bride of Christ will come from a very small portion of the body of Christ. Adam was put to sleep before his side was opened. Christ was also put to sleep before his side was pierced and blood and water poured out. The blood represents the salvation of the spirit, which is by grace. The water represents the salvation of the life, which is a work and is attained by the washing of water by the Word (Eph. 5:25-27). Thus, the bride of Christ must “be born of water and the spirit.” Many in the Church are not “born of water”, since they do not avail themselves of the cleansing that Jesus is now providing as our High Priest (1 John 1:9), and they do not study the Bible and apply it to their lives. The bride of Christ will come out of those who not only see the kingdom (John 3:3), but those who enter the kingdom (John 3:5). The bride will be at the highest level in reigning and ruling with Jesus Christ. The Four Living Creatures in Revelation represent her. The bride will share the throne of Jesus Christ—unlike the 24 elders that have their own thrones and occupy the second level in the kingdom of the heavens.
The bride of Christ constantly confesses her sin, is filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit and performs righteous deeds that prevent her from being put away because of her unfaithfulness. Just as Ruth (Book of Ruth) did before she met Boaz, the bride washes herself, anoints herself with oil and dresses herself in the wedding garment of good works. The bride has made herself ready, just as the following Scripture confirms:
(Rev 19:7-8 NASB) (7) "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." (8) And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
The bride of Christ remains faithful to Christ until the end, and she has the pure and sincere devotion that qualifies her for the prize of the high calling of God, which is to be presented as the bride of Christ.