Question of Faith: Why is Jesus Called the Bridegroom?
Question: In the Scriptures, why is Jesus referred to as the bridegroom, and what is the theological meaning pf the term?
Answer: Each of us is made for union with God, but we do not always live up to this calling. Unlike us, God is faithful and He desires to achieve union with us. Through the Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea, as well as in Song of Songs, God reveals the mystery of His desire for union with humanity – a union so intimate that He describes it as spousal love: God is the bridegroom and Israel is the bride.
Old Testament Fulfilled in Jesus
Despite the infidelity of the people of Israel, God still pursues them with a merciful love. This image of the bridegroom, however, remains incomplete in the Old Testament, and the people of Israel continue to look forward to union between God and humanity. Everything changes when God becomes man in Jesus Christ. Israel’s expectation for God the bridegroom is now fulfilled.
Among the titles for Jesus in the New Testament (Son of Man, Christ, Savior, etc.), John the Baptist tells his followers that Jesus is the bridegroom and John is equivalent to His best man! After confessing that he is not the Messiah, John says, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom… He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:29-30). In light of the Old Testament, John’s proclamation is astonishing since it acknowledges that Jesus is God come to Earth to unite humanity to Himself.
Self-Revelation at Cana
This confession is substantiated in the very words and deeds of Jesus. When asked why His disciples do not fast, Jesus replies with a question in which He references Himself: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (Matthew 9:15). Jesus is the bridegroom announcing His wedding with humanity. This is shown through His first miracle. At a wedding reception in Cana, the groom runs out of wine. At the prompting of His mother, Jesus decides to begin manifesting Himself by changing water into wine. Since it was the groom’s responsibility to provide the wine, through this miracle Jesus shows Himself to be the long-awaited bridegroom.
The Eucharist and the Cross
Jesus further reveals himself as the bridegroom at the end of his life through the Eucharist and on the Cross. More than a last meal, the Last Supper is a wedding banquet wherein Jesus, like a good husband, offers the total gift of Himself. On the Cross, Jesus consummates this gift and weds himself totally to humanity forever. Jesus, the bridegroom, offers Himself for His bride, the Church. The mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church is explained through nuptial imagery. The Catechism summarizes, “The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb … He has joined her with himself in an everlasting covenant and never stops caring for her as for his own body” (796).
Awaiting the Wedding Feast
As the Old Testament foretold the union between God and man in Jesus, the New Testament provides the spiritual context for understanding why Jesus is called the bridegroom. Using this image, we see that Jesus offered Himself so that others might have life in Him. We await the life to come, to join the “wedding supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7) when we, as members of the Church, will live forever with Jesus.
Father David Endres is associate professor of Church history and historical theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary/The Athenaeum of Ohio.