By Jeff Boldt
It’s been more than a decade now since Dan Brown proposed in The Da Vinci Code that Jesus might have been married. This is supposedly scandalous since the Gospels portray Jesus as celibate to the day he died. And yet after Jesus’ Resurrection, in Revelation we see Jesus as married — to the Church. Chapter 21 reads: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”
This isn’t a new idea. In the Old Testament, God is Israel’s husband. The idea appears frequently, and Ezekiel 16 even interpreted Sinai as a marriage. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea described the rocky relationship that resulted in something like divorce when Israel committed adultery with foreign gods (e.g., Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:6-10).
Furthermore, you could probably line up every woman in the Bible to show how she’s a symbol for God’s people.
Let’s take one obvious example. Paul says that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is an image of “The Jerusalem that is above … [who] is our mother” (Gal. 4:26). Now what made Sarah into a likeness of the Church? It is this fact alone: Sarah was infertile but received her child by the Word of God. Paul says that God chose to resurrect Sarah’s womb when she conceived Isaac (Rom. 4:19). In the same way, the Church is a single people — Jew and Gentile — who were barren but are now fertile.
Here’s what barrenness means. It’s the kind of death that infects families. Spiritual death entered the world when Adam and Eve rebelled against God. As a consequence, we experience physical death in two ways. We die. Our families die.
Think of Eve. Her firstborn son murders her second-born. Think of Naomi in the book of Ruth. She outlives her husband and two sons. Or think of Hannah in 1 Samuel, who can’t conceive, or Bathsheba in 2 Samuel, whose son dies. The list of women could continue to today. Indeed, until recently one in four women died in childbirth.
History moves on and on because people keep being born. But every single baby who is born — every one of us, no matter how long we live — ultimately dies. “A generation goes, and a generation comes” (Eccl. 1:4). Doesn’t death make it all meaningless?
It would be, except Christ rebooted the cycle of birth and death by becoming barren like us — dead like us. This is why he was celibate. Isaiah 53:8 foretold that the Messiah would die childless, and he did. So, the fact that Jesus was unmarried was in fulfillment of Scripture. It also confirmed to contemporary Jews that Jesus was an imposter and not the Messiah, because barrenness is a curse.
We’ve already seen that the wise women in the Old Testament were subject to barrenness, and not a few wise men never married (Jeremiah), were widowers (Ezekiel), or were cheated on (Hosea). We can all relate, can’t we? We all lose parents or children or spouses. If the Son of God hasn’t identified with these problems of barrenness, if we can’t meet Jesus in them, then these losses are meaningless.
Yet since Jesus was raised from the dead, we also are raised from the dead. That’s what we believe happens at Christ’s return. Souls and bodies are reunited, families are reunited, and Christ reunites with his Bride, the Church.
Think as literally about this as you can. Scripture tells us that when a husband and wife marry, the two become one flesh. This is literally true when their two sets of genes come together to make a baby.
It is no less literal with Jesus’ marriage to the Church. In a natural marriage, children are born. In Christ’s marriage, all the children who have died (you and me) are being born again from the grave. One way of summing up the Gospel is to say that Jesus came to bring babies back to life. The resurrection thereby fulfills procreation by turning the tomb into a womb. Life wins!
Nothing in the Bible makes sense when you don’t understand the resurrection.
Without a resurrection, everything becomes overly spiritual. Take marriage. Paul says that Adam and Eve were an image of Christ’s marriage to the Church (Eph. 5). Is this just a romantic metaphor? Yes, and a lot more. Just as spouses together make babies, Christ makes babies … alive again!
So much talk about marriage has become spiritualized by talk about love, love, love, and nothing about labour pains, and placentas and umbilical cords, and that feeling the first time you hold your child covered in blood and amniotic fluid — that’s love! Nails in the hands and a spear in the side, blood and water — that’s love!
I know women experience it differently than men. Maybe Christ’s sufferings bring him closer to the experience of mothers. In both cases, bleeding is the cost of living. Bleeding is the cost of loving. That’s what marriage is about; that’s what the wedding of the Lamb is about.
I know there’s a marriage debate going on, and I know there are things to be said on either side, internet trolling to be done, mean tweets to tweet, provocative Facebook posts to post. But is anybody talking about kids, labour pains, miscarriage, widowhood, loneliness, and barrenness? All these things that make our families miserable, Jesus came to redeem — or so I thought. Maybe it all is meaningless?
We all had parents. Most of us will have kids. We’ll all die. Can you imagine a religion that had nothing to say about these facts? Can you imagine how irrelevant it would be to the majority of human beings if it had nothing to say about labour pains, umbilical cords, birth and death as sacramental? That’s the Catholic way to say it — a Protestant would say ordered by God. God thought this up and made it meaningful. He made it meaningful by resurrecting families.
What does that mean, concretely? Every time my parish celebrates an infant baptism, the parents and sponsors promise to train the baby in the faith. Then the church promises to help, and our priest lists all our children’s ministries: the toddler room, Sunday school, summer camp, youth group, confirmation. Then there’s everything we do at home with our kids: reading them Bible stories, saying prayers, singing songs, teaching them right and wrong, living our life in front of them without being hypocrites.
The Bible says there’s no point having kids unless you give them a shot at eternal life. Why did God invent marriage? The prophet responds, “Because he seeks godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15). Faithful people make the world go around. And the Church is making millions of them every day — every time someone is born again from the tomb of sin and death.
Being the Bride of Christ means that Jesus loved us enough to meet us in our barren place. He loved us enough to shed his blood for us to give us life. He literally raises us from the dead, and he puts families back together. And every time one more human being is born again, one more tomb becomes a womb.