The Time of Preparation
Planning a wedding is an exciting process filled with expectations and anxieties. Most couples use this season of preparation to work out the details of their wedding ceremony and the realities of life together. It is a part of the journey, as two people grow together through wise counsel and daily reflection.
My grandfather served as County Clerk of Fayette County, Kentucky for several years. In the summers I hung out in the main office where couples came to apply for marriage licenses, and I eavesdropped on their conversations with the deputy clerks. Most had been engaged for several months and were making final preparations for their weddings. A few had only known each other for a short time, but were “looking to get married” as soon as possible. And on occasion, an application would be questioned, such as the one between a young woman and an elderly man in a wheelchair, and those who stumbled into the courthouse intoxicated. My grandfather had the right and responsibility to refuse a marriage license to anyone he felt was incapable of entering into a local contract. His judgments were rarely popular.
A period of engagement or betrothal is more than a formality. It is a time to ready our hearts and minds for one of the most important decisions two people can make. If we view the church age as the betrothal of Jesus and His Bride, then the New Testament becomes our planning guide as we prepare for our heavenly celebration.
Preparations began on the banks of the Jordan River where Jesus’ cousin John was calling people to repentance and baptizing them. When John saw Jesus walking by he said, “Look the Lamb of God” (John 1:26). Later, some of John’s followers reported Jesus was baptizing disciples of His own and “everyone” was going after Him. John responded, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete” (John 3:29 NIV). John was pleased to step aside and let Jesus take the stage.
John’s followers struggled with this transition and kept a watchful eye on Jesus. One day they approached him on the subject of fasting. They asked, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14). Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15). In Jewish culture it would have been an insult for the guests of the bridegroom to fast while the bridegroom was present, though they might do so in sorrow when he left. It is unclear here whether Jesus is referring to His death on the cross, or His ascension, but either way He clearly assumes the role of the Bridegroom and points to future events that will impact His followers.
Near the end of Jesus’ ministry He shared a parable involving ten virgins and a bridegroom. The virgins waited into the night for the bridegroom to appear so they could accompany him to the wedding feast. Five of the virgins came with enough oil for their lamps should the bridegroom be delayed. Five did not. When the bridegroom was spotted and the virgins were alerted, the five who were unprepared realized they were running out of oil. They begged the other five to share but were refused. While the five who were unprepared were out buying more oil, the bridegroom arrived, the five other virgins entered the feast with him and the doors were shut. The five unprepared virgins returned but were not allowed to enter the feast.
Most people connect this parable with the second coming of Christ since it will precede His final wedding feast. While the virgins were not brides, they still reflect the circumstances of the collective Bride of Christ as she waits for the Bridegroom’s return.
Thus, we see the wedding preparations have been going on for quite some time, and we have arrived in their final, though lengthy stage. What has already occurred helps us understand Jesus’ priorities as He prepared His disciples for the church age and their mission to a lost and dying world. Then and now, those who choose a relationship with the Bridegroom must be faithful and humble, as they put His wishes first and wait for His return.
The apostle Paul continued this theme of spiritual readiness in his second letter to the church at Corinth. His first letter had involved a scathing reprimand for shameful acts and attitudes within the church. In his second letter Paul comforted the Corinthians, and tried to explain why he had been so harsh. He wrote, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Cor. 11:2).