Who is The Bride?
And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great." And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. 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." 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. And he said to me, "Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’" And he said to me, "These are the true words of God" (Revelation 19:5-9).
By this time in the course of events, the great tribulation is over, the harvest of the living and the dead in Christ has taken place, the harlot of Babylon has been destroyed, and the wrath of God has been fully poured out on the beast and his kingdom. Only after all of these things have taken place has the bride made herself ready. Who is she and why did it take so long for her to get dressed? Apparently her wedding garments, which stand for the righteous acts of the saints, are not finished until all of these events are completed.
The bride cannot be reserved to just those alive at the end of the age, for Jesus came as the bridegroom two thousand years ago, and it was the church members at Corinth that Paul was eager to present as spiritual virgins to Christ the husband (2 Corinthians 11:2). However, Scripture indicates that the bride company will not be ready until the very end of the age, not only in total numbers but also in maturity. He’s coming back for a bride without spot or wrinkle.
There are a number of clues to the identity of the bride. She is not ready until the great tribulation is over. She is dressed in white garments which are the righteous acts of the saints. She will be the people of a heavenly city whose gates stand for the twelve tribes of Israel and whose foundation stones stand for the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:12-14). I believe this indicates that the saints of Old Testament Israel are included in the bride company. The bride would then include every Blood-redeemed Jew and Gentile from all of history, in addition to those last-generation saints of Revelation who have just emerged victorious from great tribulation. These saints are the last portion of the bride company for which completion of the bride awaits. Following the roll-call of the Old Testament hall of faith saints of Hebrews 11, the writer of Hebrews reveals:
And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 11:39-12:1).
The staggering indication of Scripture is that the perfection of the Old Testament saints depends on the race run by the Church, and the outcome of that race will be decided by the last leg of the race run at the very end of this age. If the Church at the end of the age drops the baton, all of creation will lose. No wonder Satan is working overtime to trip up this final generation of the Church and lead them into deception. But we already know that the Church will be victorious. That’s settled. Jesus is King. God will successfully demonstrate His wisdom through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The Church will rule and reign on earth with Jesus for one-thousand years. The question for each of us is, will we as individuals be among those who endure and are victorious, or will we be among those who fall away?
The bride is not completed until after the pouring out of the sixth bowl, for it is at the sixth bowl that the parenthetical statement of Jesus is heard:
("Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame.") (Revelation 16:15).
This speaks of the need to keep our spiritual garments of righteousness tightly wrapped around us right up until the very end. If our love should grow cold, as Jesus said the love of most would, then the righteous acts that make up our wedding garments will not be forthcoming and we will stand naked and ashamed before the King.
We have considered that this is the remnant to make up the final component of the Bride of Christ, the gleanings of the harvest saved at the last minute by fearing God and giving Him glory. The great multitude of the bride company rejoicing before the throne is made up of not just bondservants and saints, but also those who fear God, the small and the great. This is in keeping with the observation that God’s judgments in the form of the trumpets, and even the bowls, are redemptive and allow the provision for salvation up until the very last bowl.
The parable that describes this multitude would be that of the workers who were paid the same regardless of the hour when they were hired. There will be a distribution of rewards in heaven, but the bride company does not seem reserved for a select few. The bride seems to consist of the elect from all of history redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb. However, for purposes of restoring the vision of the Church, we can be less concerned about who she is in her historical fullness than who she is in character. For it is her character that we, who aspire to be the Bride of Christ, must develop and exhibit. The purifying crucible of the great tribulation will have burned away the last vestige of impurity from those saints of the last generation who make their robes white by washing with the Blood of the Lamb.
. . . that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27).
The great tribulation must therefore be embraced as the necessary fires of purification which transform the last-generation Church into this required degree of perfection. Those who have sought and found the grace to develop as first fruits will not need this time of testing. But for the rest of the Church, these times must be embraced as times designed specifically to conform her into the likeness of Jesus and to qualify her as His bride. Should this cost our physical lives, praise God Who gives only what is needed to transform us into a bride without spot or wrinkle.
The last three and one-half years of this age will be the capstone of the Church age, and the time for which the finest wine and greater glory of the latter house have been reserved. This is the Church at the very end of the age through which God will complete the demonstration of His wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. It is upon this last generation of saints that God will pour out the fullness of His power and anointing. The stature which these saints at the very end of the age will attain serves as prerequisite for the perfection of the entire body of the elect. We need to carefully consider the characteristics of the bride, particularly the purity of her wedding garments. We need to understand the degree of purity to which we are called. We must incorporate these requirements into our vision. We must cast off the sin which so easily besets us and run this race with endurance.
A Bride without Spot, Wrinkle, or Blemish
Jude 23 indicates that flesh can pollute an otherwise clean garment. The impurities which must be washed away in order to achieve bride status are then not just the overt sins we commonly associate with sin, but also the pollution of flesh (self), i.e., our own fleshly, soulish life in the form of antichrist motive, will, desires, preferences, agendas, efforts, etc. Holy and blameless will apply only to those who have given all to follow Jesus. The final bride company will consist of those who have been purified to this degree. Perhaps the great tribulation will be more concerned with burning away these impurities rather than the more obvious sins we normally associate as sin. We are called to follow the Lamb wherever He goes. To the extent that we do not, it is sin which must be purged. To the extent that we have allowed our garments to remain spotted, we have done away with the cross and not embraced it to the extent required.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Galatians 5:17).
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin (2 Corinthians 11:2).
The Work of the Lord, or Our Work?
It is not sufficient to do the work of the Lord in our time and season, for then it is not the work of the Lord, but our work. It is but wood, hay and stubble which will not survive the testing fires. We will be known by our fruits. But deeds done in our own time and season and energy, even in the name of Jesus, will not qualify as good fruit.
So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS" (Matthew 7:20-23).
These are Kingdom-like works that Jesus is calling lawlessness! Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing. The above prophecies and miracles turned out to be not what the Father was doing, and those who performed them were judged as practicing lawlessness. We must come to the point where we despise doing anything, even works in His name, in our own timing.
The church in Ephesus seemed to have everything going for it. They were commended on their deeds, their toil, their perseverance, their intolerance of evil, their discernment of false apostles, and their zeal in enduring and not growing weary amidst all of this. How many of us qualify for even this commendation? And yet Jesus singled out their great loss of having left their first love and called them to repent, or their lampstand would be removed.
This must be a wake-up call to establish the proper priorities. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments. The work in the kitchen must never supersede being at Jesus’ feet. For it is only at Jesus’ feet that we will come to know Him and be known by Him. Only then will we be in position to see what He is doing, and only then will we be able to carry out those perfect works chosen for us to do, in His strength, before time began. These are the only works that will pass the test of fire. Mindless performance of good things is disobedience. The fruit from the tree of good and evil is poisonous, be it good or evil. Only fruit from the tree of life sustains.
Several years ago, the Lord clearly led me to visit a hospital one Sunday with a church home group to pray for a badly burned young boy who was brain dead and existing only on life support. The Lord miraculously healed him. I got in the habit after that of routinely visiting hospitals and praying for the sick. I thought it was a good thing to do and that the Lord was behind it all. But visits to other patients seemed strangely dry and unanointed. One day, as I was riding to a hospital, an old vintage Cadillac pulled slowly alongside and the license plate read: "CCIM-VK". I am VK, so that part of the message I understood. About thirty minutes later, the meaning of "CCIM" came to me: "Seek Him." I sensed that the Lord was teaching me the difference between my works in my time and His works in His time. The priority was to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and from that all things would properly flow both in content and timing.
Seeking Him must always be our priority. Only out of seeking Him will we know His perfect work for us at any given time. Perhaps His perfect work for us today is to sit and be silent before Him. I was being disobedient as I arbitrarily visited hospitals thinking that I was doing the will of God. It was not His choice in His timing. We must be led by the Spirit of God. Only those who are led by the Spirit are children of God. The rest are practicing lawlessness. Hence those who visit hospitals thinking they are doing the will of God, but are not acting based on the hearing of His voice, are in danger of having their deeds called deeds of lawlessness. Can we receive this? Remember, Scripture does say that some of those who do miracles in His name will have their deeds judged as evil. We will always receive the praises of men when we visit nursing homes and hospitals and prisons, but we may not always receive the praise of our Lord. What were our motives for the visit? Was it obedience to His call or was it something that we thought we should be doing or wanted to do based on a self-serving motive or a spirit of man-pleasing? It may have been a good thing, but was it His thing? The good fruit of the tree of death is not only as deadly as the evil fruit, but it is much more deceptive. We must not minister primarily based on the needs around us, but on direct leading of the Lord.
The bride company has been stripped of all such impurity. They have learned to follow the Lamb wherever He goes, as they have learned to recognize His voice amidst deafening chaos and confusion. They have consented to let God do that work in them which results in them living for Him rather than for themselves.
I started out in my Christian walk motivated and zealous --- in the flesh. After about two years of this, the Lord stopped me dead in my tracks and sat me down and had me open Charles Finney’s Letter to New Christians. The Holy Spirit fell on me like a hot, heavy blanket, and I found myself weeping while wrapped in His arms of love as He proceeded to tell me that I had betrayed Jesus even as Judas had betrayed Him with a kiss. "What difference would it make to the Kingdom if there were millions like you?" He asked. It was a scathing rebuke. But it was given with His perfect love that casts out all fear. I felt privileged to be a son so disciplined. The Holy Spirit prompted me to consider that Finney’s letter was written on February 13, 1839. I was reading it on December 13, 1992. That works out to 153 years and ten months later, 153 being the number of fish captured in the net of John 21.
I believe this has something to do with becoming fishers of men. Unless Jesus is living in us and through us, we cannot become effective fishers of men, and we betray Him by speaking of Him and doing for Him. We’ve got to get this through our heads. The priority in our Christian walk is to seek Him! We must wait in our Jerusalems! We must not go until we are filled with power from on high. Many teach that we are already told to go. But when we get to the mission field, be it overseas or next door, and we find ourselves powerless and unanointed, then something has been missed. Perhaps we have missed considering that the great commission is a two-part directive: wait in Jerusalem until you receive power from on high, and then go and make disciples of all nations. I have read too many testimonies of saints who were on the mission field for twenty years before they realized that Jesus is all, and that they needed to be filled with Him and not themselves. And it matches what the Lord seems to be telling me in my own experience. We have nothing to offer the nations or our next door neighbors until we are overflowing with living water.
Furthermore, after the disciples were told to go into the world and make fellow disciples of all nations, Paul was prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the gospel in Asia. Does that violate our theology? Do we think we have the commission to do things in our time and season? Quite obviously we do not. We must learn to hear His voice and to be led by it. And whether we have to wait in prayer and fasting in Jerusalems at home or on the mission field, we must wait until we are filled with the Holy Spirit and overflowing with living water or we are betraying Him of Whom we speak.
There is truth in the analogy that a ship without movement cannot be steered. Stagnation is not an option. But we must be LED by the Holy Spirit. There is a balance here that must be worked out with fear and trembling, and it can only be worked out by listening at the feet of Jesus.
"Father, create a work in us which strips us of that self which always places our priorities first and sees even the things of Christianity as things to be grasped to be used for selfish motives and agendas. Quiet the roar of self within us, Father, that keeps us from hearing and wanting to hear Your still small voice. Father, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices so that You may do this work in us. Father, forgive our many attempts to casually retake what we may have once intently devoted to You. Do a work in us, Father, which will stand the test of the fires that are coming upon the earth."
A Deeper Death
The death of self is that living sacrifice that we are all called to make. The death of self is the cross that must be picked up daily in order to follow Jesus. This is a deeper and a more difficult death to live out than the martyr’s death.
Self can so easily masquerade as the good, when in fact it is something that needs to be put to death. The Scriptures have pointed out how futile all things good are and how really only one thing is necessary. We should not be seeking to do good deeds, but only those deeds that Jesus prescribes, for those will be the deeds that follow after us. How much of our walk is still tarnished by the misconception that our deeds somehow add something to our worthiness, when Scripture clearly says that our deeds will follow us, not precede us, into the Kingdom? The priority then becomes to "CCIM" until we hear His voice, and then obey it. The self will consciously or unconsciously seek to block that voice, for the Spirit and the flesh are at war. The clamor of self preference will block out the still small voice until God allows us to become so desperate that we gladly agree to lay all of self at the foot of the cross. And until we do, God will take us through painful processes that ever increasingly make us realize He and He alone is to be the end of all our seeking and the antidote for our distress.
The Absence of the Cross
The absence of the cross permeates more of our Christian walk than we realize. Why is it that our shadows do not heal and our words are not God’s words? We read in the Bible that Jesus never did anything that He did not see the Father doing, and yet we are cursed with theologies that teach that God doesn’t speak today. How are we going to move in those perfect works that God has chosen for us unless we hear His voice? Jesus did good works but He only did those good works He saw the Father doing. We can’t read about what Jesus did and then go out and do those things unless we have waited in our Jerusalems until the Father has told us which ones to do and when to do them. We are so full of ourselves and our own teachings and motives and agendas that we find no need to hear the voice of God telling us how and when to move. Consequently, we are powerless. We do not heal the sick and raise the dead and feed the multitudes from a few fish and loaves. We have many words but we have little power. It is perhaps the weakness of the conversions in the face of such luke-warm teachings that will result in the love of most growing cold and many falling away when the times of testing come.
They have Done Away with the Cross
Several years ago, I attended a large Christian gathering in Honolulu. I thought it would be a good thing to do. I attended all of the preliminary meetings designed to equip us to be ushers and counselors. Armed with pledge cards and evangelistic zeal, we stormed the arena floor following the altar call eager to sweep many into the Kingdom.
In my case, no one I approached wanted prayer or consultation. I approached several groups who were okay as they were, thanks anyway. Finally I forced myself into a group and prayed a lifeless prayer that fell to the ground like sawdust. Wearied and discouraged, I made my way back up to my seat in the stands and collapsed into it and sat there like a lump wondering what had just happened.
I could see that down on the floor others were involved in getting cards signed and doing the things that we were trained to do. But a heaviness was on me that barely allowed me to stand through the closing music, even though there was plenty of cheering and enthusiasm and hand waving.
On the way home I expressed to my friends that I knew that God had spoken, but I wasn’t clear on what He had said. No one in my group had sensed what I had sensed. My only thought was that I had miserably failed in some required area.
I could not attend the following day. I was drained of all energy and enthusiasm. As I rolled over in bed following my car pool wake-up call, my eyes focused on David Wilkerson’s latest newsletter. I had glanced at it the night before after coming home from the meeting, but at that time it was just words. But this morning was different. The title read, They Have Done Away With the Cross. Instantly the flush of the Holy Spirit told me that God had spoken. How could it be that they had done away with the cross? They had the best music, the best speakers, seemingly the right words about relationship --- what was missing? Maybe it was I who had done away with the cross?
Was there something critical I had missed? I tried feeling out the subject with a few of my friends, but their response was not enthusiastic. What did it mean to "do away with the cross?" I have spent almost two years trying to figure out what He meant. Slowly and steadily over the course of those two years God showed me that we had all done away with the cross that night.
I believe we have been blinded with regard to the deeper depths of repentance and cleansing that the cross requires. That deeper depth is the death and burial of self. Until that death is apprehended by faith, the resurrection to follow in His power and authority can never be realized. Hence, we remain powerless and wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, unaware and deceived as to our true state. The world will never be changed by such as these. We betray rather than portray Christ when we speak of Him.
May God give us mercy to comprehend our true stature --- that there is nothing good in us, that there is not one of us that does good, and that our place of worship needs to be prostrate at the foot of the cross in acknowledgment of our true state. The flesh can never be improved; it can only be crucified. When we try to better ourselves, we miss the point. Only from the dust of a repentance to death will there be a possibility of resurrection. And only from a resurrected life will we ever know Him and be able to accomplish the works He has chosen for us and avoid those terrible words, "Go away from Me, I never knew you." The cross must be our source of life, even as it must be our source of death. And it must become our death before it becomes our life.
"Doing away with the cross" is anything less than the utter abandonment to Him of all that we are. It is anything less that a process of total death to self followed by resurrection life in His power.
If good messages and good music and good effort could do it, we wouldn’t need the cross. But Jesus said that without Him, we can do nothing; and we continue to prove His words true when we try in our best intentions to do the work of the Kingdom and see our best efforts fall flat. When we allow the Holy Spirit to take over, He will take us to the cross before He takes us to the mission field, be it overseas or next door. At the end of the age, when we are brought face to face with the executioner’s blade, it will not be a history of good messages and good music and good efforts that will set our faces like flint. It will only be because we have already died to this world and our very lives in it.
We have all been guilty, individually and otherwise, of doing away with the cross. May God have mercy on all of us that we may stand.
"Holy Spirit, we need Your revelation and leading and grace to rise to this call."
A Great Chasm
Due to sin, there is a great chasm between us and God. There is a narrow trail winding down one side of that chasm and up the other side. At the bottom is the cross. The only way to get there from here is to go down to the cross and pass through it. It is only there that we will find the atoning Blood of Jesus. Nothing that we can do or bring with us can be carried over unless it goes down and through the cross. No good idea of ours is of any value there. No good work of ours is of any value there. No motive or thought or breath of life counts for anything on the other side unless it has passed through the cross. Only what is done by Christ through us will last. Everything else will burn. No good deed or good intention will ever find its way to that other side unless it was Christ in us doing it. Our natural hearts are desperately wicked. We can conceive of and do no good thing of our own initiative. All of our motives are selfish and unclean, and we have nothing of value to offer --- only ourselves as living sacrifices as we descend to the bottom and embrace the cross. Only then, in resurrection life and bearing the Lord’s yoke, will we be able to produce lasting fruit. Anything less is a stench of self. To try to get from here to there, without going down and through the cross, is doing away with the cross.