When I was a pastor, I loved performing weddings. I remember seeing the joy on everyone’s face when the big day arrived.
Now, and I hesitantly admit this, I enjoy watching romantic movies on the Hallmark channel, along with my wife of course, that sometimes lead up to a wedding. In these shows, we see all the excitement and exuberance of the happy couple although Hallmark always tosses in a few troublesome problems to keep viewers hooked (we anxiously wait to see what will happen but really never doubt the happy outcome).
Weddings are typically times of excitement to which both the future husband and wife joyously anticipate.
I believe this is why Jesus used words reminiscent of the first century AD Jewish wedding customs when He first mentioned His return to take believers back to His Father’s house, known today as the rapture (see John 14:1-3). His announcement would have sparked positive and hopeful comparisons to the disciples as they listened to Him that night in the Upper Room.
Once the bridegroom confirmed the marriage covenant with his bride, he announced that he was going to prepare a place for his bride in his father’s house.[i] He would not see his bride again until he completed his work on their honeymoon chamber and returned to take her back to his father’s house and to the place he had prepared for her.
Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3 mimic this announcement given by ancient Jewish bridegrooms, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
I believe Jesus purposely chose words to show how His actions resembled a groom leaving to prepare a place for his bride. Just like the grooms of his day, He announced His intention to prepare a bridal chamber in his Father’s house and promised to return take his bride, the church, back to the place He had prepared.
Jesus’ words would not have failed to spark pictures in the minds of the disciples of the wedding customs of their day.
The mention of “many rooms” further expands the comparison. In Jesus’ day, the groom only prepared one room for his wife. Jesus is preparing places for millions upon millions of his followers who comprise His glorious bride, the church.
Do not let the number discourage you. Despite the large number of followers, I believe Jesus is preparing a place just for you! This alone should be more than enough to stir your hearts with great anticipation of His return for us.
The Return of the Bridegroom
The Jewish bridegroom, after he finished work on the bridal chamber, returned to take his bride back to the place he had prepared. Below is how one writer describes the groom’s return for his bride:
“When the bridegroom's father deemed the wedding chamber ready, the father would tell the bridegroom that all was ready and to get his bride. The bridegroom would abduct his bride secretly, like a thief at night, and take her to the wedding chamber. As the bridegroom approached the bride's home, he would shout and blow the shofar (ram's horn trumpet) so that she had some warning to gather her belongings to take into the wedding chamber. The bridegroom and his friends would come into the bride's house and get the bride and her bridesmaids.”[ii]
The Jewish groom of Jesus’ day enjoyed coming as a “thief in the night” to quickly snatch away his bride and take her back to the place he had prepared his father’s house. He typically arrived at her home with much fanfare as his friends shouted and blew a shofar or trumpet to announce his arrival.
After that, the groom took his bride back to the bridal chamber for seven days. This snatching away, if you will, was something the bride looked forward to with great excitement as she longed for the day her groom would “kidnap” her and take her back to her bridal chamber, the one her groom had prepared for her.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul tells us that Jesus will come for his church with a shout, the “voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (v. 16). These are all terms that resemble the raucous scene of first century Jewish grooms coming for their brides.
Anyone who lived in a city where there was a large population of Jews, such as Thessalonica, would associate Paul’s words with a groom coming for his bride. Who could forget such loud commotion in the middle of the night?
This is precisely what Jesus promised to do in John 14:2-3. When Christ comes for us, he will take us home to the place he is specially preparing for us, just as the first century Jewish grooms did for their brides.
Notice that in ancient times the groom did not return for his bride until his father said the wedding chamber was ready. The groom’s father determined the timing of both the honeymoon and wedding celebration that followed. Once he determined the preparations were adequate and the time was right, he told his son to go get his bride.
Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the Father only.” Do you see how this also fits into the Jewish wedding customs? Just as the father of the groom determined when his son would go to fetch his bride, so our Heavenly Father determines the timing of the rapture, or Jesus’ return to take us back to his Father’s house.
Someday, perhaps soon, the Father will tell his Son to go get his bride, to go get us! What a time of rejoicing and celebration that will be for us!!
In the meantime, we will continue on with the encouraging similarities between the rapture and the first century marriage customs.
[i] Joy Winston, Jewish Wedding Ceremony
[ii] Quote is from The Rapture and the Jewish on the Wedding Bridal Covenant website: http://www.bridalcovenant.com/wedding1.html