At the time Mary got righteously knocked up by the Holy Spirit, she was betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal is an important concept to think about, especially when considering current/future church era, the literal metaphor of the Bride of Christ, and what intimacy with God looks like.
In walking through ancient Jewish marriage design, betrothal came first. This is where the man and the woman entered into covenant together with a promise “by one’s truth” to fully marry each other after a period of time (usually a year). This was much more weighty that our current idea of engagement…
First of all, the betrothed were considered husband and wife, there was no fiancee title (which literally mean betrothed/promise). Second, the man was to care and protect and provide for the woman as if they were married (with a major exception noted below). Third, if either party became wishy-washy on their commitment and intention, there could be legal penalties; even though they were not married-married, there would still need to be a certificate of divorce to undo the betrothal (hence, why Joseph tried to divorce Mary before God revealed to him that Mary wasn’t a hussy).
Even though there was all this interweaving of love and responsibility for one another before the actual wedding, the couple would only be actually married once the bridegroom took home his bride and consummated the relational covenant through sexual intercourse. Before that, in the betrothal stage (and previous), there was no
hokey pokey hanky panky. It was like you were married, but without the sex.
Rabbit trail… this no-sex-marriage might slap some of us (specifically Christians) in the current-culture-face, making us question why the crap we would get married if we couldn’t have sex. We might question this because in the concept of intimacy we are immature (I don’t mean that negatively) or an a-hole (you should take that negatively)… on the other hand, if we’re completely fine with that thought of no sex in marriage we might be gnostic (which is the worst negative remark in this sentence). But I digress… this is a theological post, not a cultural one… so on we go.
From an eagle eye perspective, the Church is in the betrothal period. One reason that is important to consider is so we don’t fall into practical heresy. Please be aware that below I will be mixing theological and poetic thoughts together.
Paul in 2 Timothy 2 talks some smack about two false teachers named Hymenaeus and Philetus. It seems that their eschatological views were skewed (something in the form of Preterism), saying that the resurrection had already happened. Now, I’m going to assume (text is not clear) that this means that they thought the general resurrection of humanity, meaning the return, second coming of Christ, had already happened. Paul says that in their swerving of the truth they were greatly upsetting the faith of others.
Hymenaeus and Philetus got ahead of God. They tried to live in the not-yet of the future. They were saying the church and the age was fully married to the Lord, but it wasn’t. For us this is dangerous as it can place unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others, as well as the culture around us, leading to nothing more than unhealthy shame.
Now to bring some balance to this, and not swing the other way heretically, let’s think about the word ginosko for a moment. This is the word Paul uses in Philippians 3 about pressing on to know Christ Jesus. This knowing is both mindful and experiential; it is a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. So now, in this age, there is still this deep, significant connection we can have with God in Christ that we shouldn’t neglect delving into. God is with us now through the Holy Spirit.
However, to bring it back full circle (and to the core of what I’m getting at), the wondrous knowledge of God we can have now will fail in comparison to what is to come. This is something to be hopeful for in the future, knowing that the junk we interact with in ourselves and others, while serving it’s purpose, will not always be. This future hope can and should inform our faith and love in the present with perseverance and joy. Earlier in Philippians, Paul emotionally displays this tension of already/not-yet intimacy when talking about declaring the Gospel, saying that he desires to depart and be with Christ which is far better, but that the present state of living has it’s God given purpose. This present-now is not everything, we look forward to the eternal-now of God dwelling with His people more fully in being married-married to Him; we also shouldn’t forsake the ability of intimacy available now with God.
At present, the Church livse in the betrothal period between “It is Finished” and “It is Done.” These are two phrases, or rather words, that John uses in his Gospel (19:30 – teleo) and Revelation (21:6 – ginomai). Both are spoken from God’s mouth.
When Christ uses teleo from the cross, He’s saying that the debt of sin on humanity is fully paid through His sacrifice. The craziest thing about the resurrection to me, is that Jesus still had His wounds. The wounds of Christ, in my opinion, are a symbol of a wedding ring to His church, of a promise that was made with more than words and solely on the basis of Himself and not us (think Abrahamic covenant). Oh, and in Jewish custom, the wedding ring would usually be given at the time of betrothal.
Where teleo is fulfillment by end (though still with future benefit), ginomai has the connotation of fulfillment by beginning – to become, to be birthed. It is at the future consummation of heaven and earth, at the full joining of God and His people, and at the point of cosmic salvation that God says, “It is done.” God and His creation are now married-married.
Christ has betrothed us, promising us by His truth (death/resurrection) that His home will be ours. There is care and provision and intimacy with Him now, but no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has comprehended the greatness yet to come. Let us rest in the knowledge that It is Finished… let us yearn in anticipation for when It is Done.
Think about friends or family members who have suffered through a divorce.
Think about other friends and family members who are still married
and yet seem to be functionally divorced when it comes to intimacy with one another.
How can future hope be a path to freedom? How can it turn into something debilitating?