The Mystery of Babylon
WHO is the bride? John the Baptist, friend of the Bridegroom, will help us to answer this question. He introduced his disciples to the Bridegroom when He said to them, "Behold the Lamb of God, who is bearing away the sin of the world!" And the next day, when he saw Him as He walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" and the two disciples who heard, left John and followed Him. And when, some time later, the Baptist is told of the effect of his Lord's ministry he reminded them, "Ye yourselves bear me witness that I said `I am not the Christ,' but that I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride is the Bridegroom; but the friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly because of the Bridegroom's voice. This my joy, therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:28-30).
"He that hath the bride" makes it clear that the bride was in view at the very commencement of our Lord's ministry. The faithful little band that gathered around Him was the beginning and representative of that blessed company, the Bride of the Lamb. John introduced Him to them by this figure. As the Lamb of Yahweh, the antitype of the shadowy sacrifices under the law, He does not merely cover up their sins, but bears them quite away. The wife of Yahweh included the whole nation. The bride of the Lamb is more exclusive. Only those united to Him by the affectionate ties of salvation could claim a share in this happy class. Let us not miss the preciousness involved in the name He gives her: Not "wife," but "bride." It is not merely a resumption of the old relationship which ended so disastrously because she could not fulfil the covenant into which she entered. It is a new commencement, a union based, not upon mutual vows, but upon the blood of the Lamb.
The nation at large had become "an evil and adulterous generation" (Matt.12:39; 16:4), unfaithful to the One to Whom they owed all the allegiance of their hearts. Only a remnant amongst them responded to His invitation, and only these become His bride.
First among the seven signs, or "miracles," of John's gospel, is the wedding feast at Cana, of Galilee. That it is called a sign is of itself sufficient to show that it had a deeper significance than appears upon the surface of the narrative. The fact that the mother of Jesus was there may well suggest the nation from which He sprang. The failure of the wine tells us that all the joy of Yahweh's espousals had vanished, and all they had left was the formal ceremonial of the law with its round of cleansing and defilement, represented by the six water pots of stone, but even these were empty and powerless to purify. Is not this a true picture of the nation as it was in the days of His ministry? And just such a condition of affairs offers Him an opportunity to manifest His glory.
In the Kingdom, when the wedding of the bride to the Lambkin takes place, He will write the law in their hearts and change it from a stern, impossible, unsatisfying command to a hearty and enjoyable privilege. Hitherto its office has been to cleanse; then, when they no longer need cleansing, it will be transformed into brimming cheer.
Israel's water pots were empty. They went through the motions of purification, but there was no water. Then there will not only be cleansing, but such a fullness of joy will flow from the holy springs within, and from an appreciation of the blessings without, that the law written on their hearts will cheer the heart of God and man.
It was the custom at a wedding to have a director, a reliable friend, who would take charge of the feast. Unlike the rest of the guests, however, he could not allow himself to indulge freely, but was obliged to keep sober and discreet. Hence he would be a good judge of the quality of the wine which was offered. The director at Cana noted the excellent quality of the water which had blushed into wine.
So will it be with Yahweh's people. The joys of the past will be eclipsed in that day when the marriage feast of the Lambkin surfeits their hearts for a thousand years.
Men put forth their best at the start and their joys end in heartaches and headaches. Yahweh reserves the best wine till the last. When the marriage of the Lamb comes, it will bring joys till then untested and unknown.
While John the Baptist introduces the bride to the Bridegroom, John the Apostle, in his Revelation, gives us full and ample details of the bride herself. Indeed, if we except the three occurrences in which the same word is translated "daughter in law" (Matt.10:35; Luke 12:53), John is the only one who mentions the bride, just as Paul is the only one who has anything to say as to the body. Is it not most fitting that the disciple whom Jesus loved, who leaned on His breast at the supper, and whose ministry is burdened with the message that "God is love"is it not well that he should trace the future of his people under this affectionate figure? The bride is presented to our view twice. First, when great Babylon is overthrown, her marriage feast begins. The festivities usually lasted seven days or a fortnight, but hers will probably brighten the whole millennium (Rev.19:7-9).
In our study of the Mystery of Babylon, it is of prime importance that we grasp clearly the Israelitish character of the Bride of the Lambkin. The Bride is the true, Babylon the false nation. These contrasts will become clearer when we study Babylon itself and its place in the Apocalypse.
So long as we cling to the unscriptural thought that the nations in the present economy constitute the Bride we must, perforce, find Babylon in the false church. Babylon itself will never be understood in its true light until we acknowledge the place Yahweh has given His faithful followers in Israel. Time was when the church appropriated every blessing which was ever promised the nation of His choice. But the church has not enriched itself by robbing Israel: it has lost rather than gained. By filching Israel's earthly material privileges it has lost its appreciation of its own proper spiritual blessings; by claiming to be the Bride it has lost the blessed portion of the Body.
The most entrancing and satisfying view of the Bride is given us in the closing visions of the Apocalypse. For a thousand years of millennial feasting, the wedding of the Lambkin has been celebrated and now the Bride is taken to her eonian home. The former things pass away and all is made new. The holy city with its chuppah or marriage canopy (Isa.4:5) formed by the cloud of His presence, the holy oblation with its magnificent temple, the holy land of the happy holy nationall these are engulfed in the fiery purging through which the whole earth, shall pass (2 Peter 3:10). But out of it all comes a new earth from which all the shame and sorrow of the former earth are absent, and God tents in the midst of mankind. Strange to say, when John first views the new earth, the Bride is not there. But the first thing that engages his attention is her descent from heaven. A magnificent city, new Jerusalem, adorned with all the splendor and ornament of an eastern bride, is seen coming down out of heaven to its place on earth. This is the city for which the saints in Israel all had longed. Even Abraham looked beyond the land to the city of God. It was indeed a heavenly city, yet finds itself on the earth.
The seven bowls are poured out upon apostate Israel. Babylon falls under the seventh bowl (Rev.16:19). One of the very angels who poured out the bowls of wrath is now to pour out the cup of blessing. He shows John the Bride, the Lambkin's Wife.
Even prior to achieving statehood, when Jerusalem was in squalid desolation, it was called by the natives of Palestine El Kuds, the Holy. How much truer will be this title in the day of the Lord, when the bells upon the horses will have the high priest's inscription, "Holiness to Yahweh" (Zech. 14:20)!
But such holiness will be completely eclipsed by the new Jerusalem, effulgent with the crystalline radiance of the glory of God. No longer does it need the sun, for the Lambkin is its luminary. No longer does it need a sanctuary, for He is its temple.
So bright are its beams that the sacred nations will walk in its light. They will bring their glory into it. The throne of God and the Lambkin will make it the capital of the earth and the center of the administration of all earthly suzerainty.
There is no reason at all for doubting the description of this figure. The figure is in calling it a Bride. It is not a literal woman, but it is a literal city. Each detail of its glory is literal, yet at the same time representative of higher and greater moral glories.
The foundations are beautiful gems of various colors and luster. Yet when we are told that they had in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lambkin our thoughts are turned from the costly stones to the more precious virtues which underlie the character of the Bride, as inculcated by the twelve apostles.
The gates are each of a single pearl. They had the names of the twelve tribes. Now the gate, in the east, is not simply the means of ingress or egress, but the place of authority and power. The pearls, no doubt, symbolize the place of power which the various tribes possess over the other nations.
Let us turn our eyes from these glories for a time and focus our attention on the identity of the Bride. Who is she? Is she, as our previous studies have indicated, the faithful nation of His choice raised to the pinnacle of her eonian bliss? Or can it be that we have intimations here that she is composed of saints from among the nations gathered out during Israel's apostasy.
There is not a single suggestion in the whole description of the Bride which gives the nations any place. When nations are spoken of they are always without. They walk in its light. They bring their honor and glory into it. If the city itself included those who had once been of the nations it would hardly be sufficient to speak of "the nations of those who are saved" (21:24) without some further explanation which would define between them, and the saved nations within the city.
As a matter of fact, the entire structure and symbolism and all of the inscriptions point with unmistakable force to the beloved nation, to whom this city had been promised. It is called holy Jerusalem. What nation ever had a right to that holy city except Israel? We who believe today have no promise of any place on earth. Ours is a celestial destiny. The city is indeed heavenly, but its place is on the earth. The gates are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes. Where, in all the universe, shall we put these twelve tribes if not within the city whose very gates are unalterably assigned to them?
The twelve foundations are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles of the Lambkin. How shall we account for the omission of the other apostles from this honor? Paul and Timothy and Silas (1 Thess.2:6) were recognized as apostles. But above all, any foundation which is supposed to support the church must include the apostle Paul, through whom all the truth of this economy has come. Since he is absent the proof is positive that, whoever the city may contain, it has no place for those to whom Paul ministered. The church which is His Body is not the Bride.
That Paul was not one of the twelve is evident from his own record of the Lord's appearances in resurrection. He was seen of the twelve (which must include Matthias) long before He appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus (1 Cor.15:5). Cephas, indeed saw Him first, but Saul saw Him last. Between these two appearances, He was twice seen by the twelve. These twelve are the same whose names are seen on the foundations of the holy city, the Bride of the Lambkin.
John's ministry, if we are to believe his own words, was not for the nations, but for the circumcision. When he, along with James and Cephas (all of whom have left inspired records of their ministry) when they perceived the grace given to Paul, they gave him the right hand of fellowship, that he should go to the nations, but they to the circumcision (Gal.2:9). How foolish, in the light of these apostolic arrangements, to thrust them into spheres which they expressly affirmed they would not enter. John writes to and for the Circumcision, who alone are the Bride, the holy city of which he is one of the foundations.
There is no question in the minds of any that the present ecclesia is the body of Christ. It is plainly asserted in half a dozen passages (1 Cor.12:27; Eph.1:23; 4:12; 5:29,30; Col.1:18, 24) and taught in as many more (Rom.12:4,5; 1 Cor.6:15; 12:12; Eph.3:6; 4:13-16; Col.2:19). In sharp contrast with this there is not a single passage which so much as mentions a "bride of Christ." The bride is always associated with Him as the Lamb or Lambkin, and never is His official title Christ coupled with this figure.
That the present ecclesia is ever spoken of as the bride is from three passages inferred (Rom.7:4; 2 Cor.11:2; Eph.5:22-33). In none of these scriptures is a bride so much as mentioned. The whole difficulty comes from an attempt to force out of a figure what has never been put into it. In discussing the figure of a body we are warranted in developing it to the extent in which this is done in Scripture. We may speak of its Head and of its members and draw many a profitable lesson from the relationship. But the moment we go beyond what is written, and speak, for instance, of the body as the Husband (as is done by some most excellent students) we involve ourselves in difficulties from which we cannot emerge except by a retreat to the ground of Scripture.
As an illustration of the way in which the figures and types of scripture are wrested, we are reminded of the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, which, it is said, is a type of the church of today, as the bride. The entire action of this story is against such a supposition. If the nations were to be the bride, why did Abraham insist that the bride should not be taken from among the nations where he dwelt, but that the servant should go to his own kindred to find a wife for his son Isaac?
This condition is repeated seven times, and is the most prominent point in the type. Rebecca could never have been Isaac's bride if she had not been of his own kith and kin. Whatever interpretation may be offered for this type it cannot stand unless it accords with this sevenfold demand, that the bride be of the same stock as the Bridegroom. The faithful remnant in Israel fulfill this condition perfectly and every other part of the type fits equally well.
If we would follow a few simple principles in dealing with figures of speech many of our difficulties would vanish. No figure should be pressed beyond its stated limits. An example will suffice to make this clear. Our Lord is the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev.5:5). A lion roars and devours. Hence He is a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. But this is the description of the Slanderer (1 Peter 5:8)! Hence we have proved (?) that the Lord and the Slanderer are the same! And it is just such logic which proves the bride and the body to be the same.
The subject of the seventh of Romans is the relation now sustained to the law by those who were once subject to it. It can refer only to the Circumcision, for the nations never were under law. Law is limited to life: it has no jurisdiction over the dead. The law forbids a woman being subject to another while her husband is alive. But the law no longer holds when the husband dies. Those who were once under the law have died to it, through the body of Christ. Here the figure ends. The law was not the husband and the law did not die. There is an intentional change here to keep us from carrying over the figure. Its object has been attained by illustrating the fact that death is outside the jurisdiction of law. Those who were once under law find that Christ has taken its place for them. As a result, they are slaving in newness of spirit, rather than in oldness of letter. There is no marriage here: the relation is the same as it was under law--that of slavery. The slave has died to one master and now belongs to Another. Why should the illustration which limits law's jurisdiction be forced into this relation? Does the bride slave in newness of spirit? Are only those who have died to law (which excludes the nations) included in this bride?
The eleventh of second Corinthians is concerned with their singleness towards Christ. What illustration could be more apt than the relation of an engaged virgin to her lover? He did not want them to turn to "another Jesus" whom he had not preached. He did not wish a rival to distract them from the gospel which they had received. What right have we, or anyone else to add to the figure the idea of marriage? The point of the apostle's argument is singleness. This is most aptly conveyed by the unmarried state. Let it suffice us to leave it there.
We were much struck once with the remark of a brother that the fifth of Ephesians proved that the church was the bride. His argument was based upon the unique place which the doctrine occupied in the epistle. All other doctrines were expounded in the early part of the letter. And the fact that this teaching is reserved for the hortatory half shows that the church is the bride! He could not have brought a much stronger reason against it! Why should such a doctrine be omitted from the didactic portion of the epistle? Why, in the midst of a continuous line of exhortations should this exhortation (for such it assuredly is) suddenly divert to teaching which had not been taken up at all when he was developing the doctrine for this economy?
Our reply to this argument, if such it can be called, is contained in the accompanying framework of the epistle.
It will be seen that every subject occurs twice, once in the didactic section and again in the second section, dealing with a deportment in keeping with the doctrine previously developed. It will be seen from this that every item of deportment is based on a previously developed doctrine. That part of the fifth chapter which is supposed to teach that the church is the bride corresponds with an earlier section of the epistle which teaches the truth of the BODY of Christ.
The earlier, as well as the latter part of Ephesians presents the truth in three different aspects--as related to God (the allotment); as related to Christ (the body); and as related to other saints (the new humanity). There is not the slightest hint in the didactic part of the epistle which treats of our relation to Christ, that we are His bride. The figure used is that of the human body. And an unprejudiced examination of the corresponding section in the fifth chapter will be found to be based upon the previous teaching that we are His body, not His bride.
Perhaps the most direct and conclusive way to prove this is to point out the fact that by far most of the argument employed by the apostle was quite unnecessary and useless if the church were the bride. Then it would have been most simple. Christ loves His wife the church, therefore husbands should love their wives. That is all that would be needed. But the apostle brings in a man's own flesh, his own body. Why should a man be directed to his own body at all, unless such is the relation of Christ to the church?
The following is a version of the passage in which we have crossed out all that part of the apostle's argument which is needless and redundant if the present ecclesia were the bride or wife.
but is nourishing and cherishing it, as Christ the ecclesia,
seeing that we are members of His body.
Corresponding to this a man will be leaving father and mother,
and will be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.
This secret is great: yet I am speaking for Christ and for the ecclesia.
However, you, too, individually, let each be loving his wife thus--as himself
Let us glory in the affectionate bands which bind Him to His ancient people. Let us rejoice in the response which He will secure from their hearts in the glad days which He has in store for them. But above all let us exult in the transcendent favor which He lavishes upon us. Her blessing will be the sum of earthly bliss. But let us not for a single moment envy her the happiness and nearness which is her blessed portion. Let us not cringe so low as to try and steal a single blessing from her.
We have no need to take aught from her. The very figure under which our distinctive favor is figured is enough to satisfy us with our higher, grander, richer, nearer, dearer portion. "No man ever yet hated His own flesh. Men have hated their wives. The bond can be strained and even broken. But our relationship to Him is such that He cannot but cherish us, for we are members of His own body! What could be nearer? What could be dearer?
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