Who planned the first wedding? As we read the Bible, we note that the narrative follows the history of God’s work in the creation from the beginning (Genesis 1:1) until Christ’s second coming (Revelation 22:21). For this reason, the reader should seek to comprehend the flow of God’s revelation in history from the Old Testament through the New Testament.
As the sovereign movement of God’s historical revelation is grasped, the reader should realize that the events surrounding the person and work of Christ and His church were planned before the creation of the world. To go a step further, as one grasps the flow of Biblical revelation, one should apprehend that the entire history of revelation is meticulously designed and executed by a sovereign God who essentially works from the end back to the beginning. In other words, God knows and plans the end of redemptive-history as He knows, plans, and executes each detail that will lead to that end! As one reads from Genesis to Revelation, the unfolding plan is a mystery; it moves from seed to full growth. In God’s mind, however, there is no mystery; the plan is already eternally complete before the foundation of the world as He assures the masterful unfolding of that plan from seed to full growth.
This understanding of God’s omniscience is crucial as the Holy Spirit, through Moses, records the first wedding day in Genesis 2:21–25. As you read the narrative in sequence, we are told that the first wedding comes about because Adam is alone, and that he is in need of a helper (Genesis 2:18). When we read the New Testament, however, we receive further insight and commentary about God’s design for the first wedding. Paul discloses the incredible plan of God; the first marriage is patterned after the final and eternal marriage between Christ and His church (see esp. Ephesians 5:22–33; cf. also Matthew 19:1–10; John 2:1-12; 3:27-31; Revelation 21:1–21; 22:17).
In other words, the final wedding is the pattern for the first wedding— the first shall be last, and the last shall be first! Moreover, since the canon of Scripture stands complete, the reader is now obligated to follow the directive of Scripture on the institution of marriage; one must read the first wedding day (Adam and his bride) in light of the last wedding day (Christ and His bride). Specifically, the temporal marriages in this life are modeled after the eternal marriage of Christ (Groom) and the church (bride). Indeed, God, as the all-knowing Sovereign, planned the first wedding day on the basis of the final wedding!
How does the final wedding provide the pattern for the first wedding? Here are some brief observations: first, Adam existed on the earth before his bride came into existence. Is this done in order to place man in a position of tyranny over against his wife? By no means! It points to Adam as the federal head of the human race (Romans 5). Adam can only be thought of as the federal head of the human race if there is a human race, which, in turn, presupposes a bride and procreation. In other words, Adam’s federal headship is tied organically to his future bride (Eve) and the human race that will come from their union as husband and wife.
Likewise, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, exists before His bride comes into existence. As the eternal Son of God, Christ co-exists in the realm of eternity with the Father and the Spirit; He exists long before His bride comes into existence in the creation. Even so, the federal headship of the second Adam only has meaning as He is united to His bride—His church—procreated through His Spirit (beginning at Pentecost). Indeed, the pattern is set: the two Adams exist prior to their brides, and their federal headship presupposes a bride and procreation.
Second, Adam’s bride was created out of his flesh while he was asleep (Genesis 2:21–22). Likewise, as the last Adam (Christ) became flesh (John 1:14), His bride was created out of His work done in the flesh— what the Psalmist prophesied as Christ’s “sleep of death,” i.e. His death and resurrection (Psalm 13:3). Hence, in the first and second Adam, the bride is created in the situation of what the Bible calls, “sleep.” In this context, you can hear that the praise delivered by the first Adam for his bride are the same words embraced by the incarnate Groom for His bride: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23b; cf. Ephesians 5:30).
The pattern is now set for a third observation; the husband is to leave father and mother and join his wife (Genesis 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:3-6). Why is such a pattern set for the first Adam? Because it is modeled upon God’s foreordained future plan concerning His Son. The time will come in history when the final and eternal Groom, Jesus Christ will leave the confines of heaven and His Father so He can be joined to His bride, the church (Matthew. 1:23; John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:5–11).
Through Christ’s death and resurrection, and through faith in Him, Christ and the church become one flesh (Ephesians 5:22-33). In John’s gospel, such language of intimacy is dominated by such phrases like Christ abiding in His people as they are abiding in Him (e.g. John 15:4–10). In Paul’s epistles, the intimacy of the marriage relationship between Christ and His bride (believers) can be seen in the dominant phrase, “in Christ” (e.g. II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:7, 11).
Hence, such an intimate relationship between Christ and His bride cancels the shamelessness of sin as it provides the eternal model for the original state of Adam and his wife’s shamelessness before each other (Genesis 2:25). In other words, Adam and his wife’s shameless state in the garden is modeled after the eternal state of Christ’s thorough cleansing of His Bride (cf. Romans 10:11).
The Invasion of Sin in Marriage
As we make these parallel observations between the first wedding and the final wedding, we cannot overlook the fact that shame (sin) entered the creation in the context of the first marriage. In fact, Satan attacked, and sin ruined, the original pristine fellowship between the Creator-creature and the companionship between the first groom and his bride. Herein, sin invaded powerfully the marriage bond. Sin brings such transgressions as the quest for power, independence, mistrust, deceit, suspicion, and the feelings of hate and anger. In light of our first parent’s sin, marriage can experience the absence of love, peace, harmony, and respect. Indeed, sin can create a hostile environment in a marriage; it can invade and turn our hearts into ugly parasites towards those whom we love the most.
How does marriage, ripped by the passing of our first parent’s sin to the entire human race, find a solution? As Adam’s relationship to his bride was patterned after Christ and His bride, likewise our marriages are to be patterned after Christ and His bride. The pattern of Christ and His bride transcends, and alone transforms, the present sinful state of marriage. For this reason, husbands and wives need to hear the words of the apostle Paul to the Colossians: “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith…” (1:21–23a).
As sin invades the marriage bond, every Christian couple must fix their eyes upon the reconciling work of Christ for His bride. Only through the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit can such repugnant sin be conquered in order to attain a faithful marriage in our temporal lives. Although not comprehensive, permit me to make a few observations for husbands and wives.
In light of their profession of faith and union with Christ, husbands are to follow the final and eternal pattern set by Christ the Groom. Husbands are to love their bride just as Christ loved His bride and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5:25, 28). How? Paul captures Christ’s pattern in at least three ways: 1) he is to give himself for her, 2) he is to sacrifice and suffer in joy for her, and 3) he is to live the sanctified life before her so that she will live the sanctified life (Ephesians 5:25–27). A husband in the Lord lives this way before his wife in order to present her as his glorious bride. Like Christ for His bride, the husband holds his bride up before the world without spot and wrinkle—holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:26–27).
Moreover, he is to nourish her in the Christian faith and cherish her as the bride of faith (Ephesians 5:29). As the husband takes this directive from Scripture concerning his wife, one can see how Christ’s life for His bride is the model for transforming our marriages and restoring the state of shamelessness between the husband and his wife. As the husband emulates the headship of Christ to His bride, he is responsible, through reliance upon the Holy Spirit, to present her holy and without blemish before the world.
In light of their profession of faith and union with Christ, wives are to the follow the final and eternal pattern found also in Christ. What is that pattern? The pattern is found in Christ submitting to His heavenly Father as well as the church submitting to Christ (Luke 22:42; John 15–17, 37–38; John 4:9–11; I Corinthians 11:1–3; Ephesians 5:23–24).
When we address submission based upon the glorious relationship of the Son to the Father, what would it look like? For sure it is not submission that means tyranny or oppression; rather, it is submission as an equal (the woman is taken from Adam’s side; the Father and the Son are one). Furthermore, the submissive relationship between God the Father and God the Son as an equal is captured by God providing Adam with a help-mate, who is his wife (Genesis 2:18).
In order to understand this Biblical pattern, let us recall how the husband is to live before his bride: 1) he is to give himself for her, 2) he is to sacrifice and suffer in joy for her, and 3) he is to live the sanctified life before her. Simply, the wife is to submit and receive faithfully her husband’s glorious pattern of love, sacrifice, and sanctification since it is rooted in Christ’s own life for His bride. Only in this realm is submission defined by mutual love and respect. Herein, like the Father’s authority over His Son, the husband’s authority over his wife will never include authoritative domination or abuse. Rather, the husband’s authority (headship) is expressed and experienced in the context of mutual communion and fellowship—a concept so foreign to modern egalitarianism and feminism!
Think about this Biblical pattern from another direction: how is the church (bride) to submit to Christ (her Groom)? As the church (bride), we are to enter into Christ’s life-pattern; we are to receive faithfully His love (He gave Himself for us), His sacrifice (He is the sacrificial Lamb of God that suffered joyously for us), and His sanctification (He lived the sanctified life before us and for us). Hence, here lies the pattern for the bride in a temporal marriage to her husband; she is to submit to your husband’s love, sacrifice, and sanctification just like the church (bride) submits to Christ’s (Groom) love, sacrifice, and sanctification. The pattern is the same for both.
Let’s provide a single example: let’s say that a husband begins to work fifty hours each week at his job. As the husband does this, both husband and wife realize that they miss each other very much, and that the hours in the workplace are making each one weary. In this case, however, the husband is justified for working longer hours since his employer has a deadline on a project that needs to be finished. Moreover, the husband complies because he realizes that his diligence on the project will provide employment security for himself. Such security definitely supports the long range prospects of a stable income for his wife and family. As he works these longer weeks, he honestly does so because he loves his wife and is sacrificing himself for her and his family. If this is truly the case, then his wife is obligated to submit to such an action of love since he is living the pattern of Christ before her.
However, if she detects that he is working the extra hours in order to declare his independence from her, or as an act of self-promotion and greed, then she has every right to question and challenge his motives as not conforming to the pattern of Christ. In other words, in the context of blatant sin on the part of her husband, she has a right before the Lord and the officers of the church to question and challenge the sinful motives of her husband. For this reason, the husband must be conscious of his Christ-like responsibilities before his bride; he is to define his position of authority in terms of love, sacrifice, and sanctification towards his bride.
As couples marry in the Lord, they must focus their eyes upon the eternal marriage ceremony and festival of our Lord and His Bride so that such marriages will always resemble that eternal marriage—the end shapes the beginning, the end shapes the present state. If we truly comprehend and live in the glorious conscious state of the final wedding of Christ and His bride, then tenderness, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forgiveness, peace, the silence of complaint, and the bond of love will reign in our marriages (see Colossians 3:12-14, 18-19)! In this way, those who marry in the Lord will easily flow into eternity as their marriage dissolves into the glorious transcendent marriage between Christ and His bride (Matthew 22:23-32; Revelation 21:1-21).
William D. Dennison, Ph.D. is the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA.