ANY EXAMPLES EXIST OF HOW things in the physical realm mirror or shadow things in the spiritual realm.
The sacrificial services with the priests and the lambs were a shadow of the more perfect example, the sacrifice of the guiltless “Lamb of the world” Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:11-14).* The Communion service reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice for us. However, the first act recorded in Scripture that reveals a spiritual purpose was in the Garden of Eden, when God performed the first marriage.
Whether you are married or single through choice or circumstances, I’m sure that you realize the deep nature of marriage, and that we must continue to guard its sanctity and mere existence. If we don’t, we may lose one of the most visible examples of God’s plan of salvation: His plan to save you and me.
The beauty of God’s salvation is that you do not have to be married to learn from marriage’s example. Even if you entered marriage under less-than-ideal circumstances, God can use it to help you understand His salvific purposes. And whatever stage of a relationship you are at, a spiritual implication exists.
The relationship timeline goes something like this:
• First encounter
• Marriage ceremony
• Setting up home
Many of us will have gone through some, if not all, of the above phases. To fully appreciate what is being said, you need to think back to when you were involved in a relationship, or to the one you’re in now.
Think back to when you first met. What were the circumstances of the meeting? Who was pursuing at this point? How was the approach received? Were you welcomed, or were you knocked back?
How does your experience compare to our first encounter with Christ? While many of us came across Christ before we can remember because our mother sang us songs or repeated verses from the Bible, others may not have met Him until later in life. But how was it for Jesus? He said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5).
That goes for you and me too. Before you and I were born, He knew some of the dastardly things we would do, and yet, knowing all this, He was still prepared to pursue us. He said that the purpose of His coming to earth was to “seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
For some couples, it’s love at first sight. For others, it may take months or years to realize their deep affection and love for each other. But for most of us at this stage, we are still on our best behavior. We go out of our way to do and say nice things and give gifts. We are also assessing each other to see if this is the right person for us. We make phone calls, write letters, send text messages or e-mails, and simply find any excuse to be with each other.
So what’s Jesus saying to us? He says things like: “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12) and “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isa. 1:18).
Christ showed His love when the relationship between us and Him was at its lowest because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Engagement takes place when the answer “yes” is given to the question, “Will you marry me?”
We become engaged to Christ when we say “yes” to His offer of eternal life and receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The Holy Spirit is a vital component in our day-to-day living and, ultimately, the plan of salvation. Here are a few of the ways the Spirit works in our lives:
• He gives us power (Acts 1:8).
• He comforts us (Acts 9:31).
• He brings life and peace (Rom. 8:6).
• He causes us to be sons and daughters of God (Rom. 8:14).
• He produces love (Gal. 5:22-25).
Marriage CeremonyYou’ve arrived at the big moment--the day when you are united in the sight of God and others. You’ve invited scores of friends and loved ones to your public declaration of your love. The groom stands patiently up front while his bride walks up the aisle to meet him.
No matter how grand our wedding was or plans to be, when we are united with Jesus, it will be the ceremony to beat all ceremonies! As we are baptized and scores of our friends and loved ones are watching, we make this public declaration of our love for Christ; the “bridal party” includes the whole of heaven! Thousands of thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand of angels are in attendance.
Another spiritual reality that we can learn through today’s marriage ceremony is that of the bridegroom who waits for the bride. In the spiritual realm, the roles are reversed: the bride is waiting for the bridegroom.
We have heard about the promise of Christ’s return for many years, and still He has not arrived. But ask yourself, “Is God ever late?” We must accept that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We know too that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [to come again] . . . but is . . . not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NKJV).† We can conclude that this apparent delay is for the benefit of the bride, so that she can “come to repentance.”
This ceremony of the righteous meeting their Lord will be so large that no place on earth can hold it; it will be in the air (1 Thess. 4:17).
Newlyweds tend to escape to some secret hideaway to start their married life together. It’s a period of freedom from all other intrusions; a time of relaxation, travel, and intimacy. Some couples, still fresh with the glow of newly married love, get away for only a few days; others take an entire month; others travel the world in 80 days! And some couples carry the glow of these first days and months of newly married love their entire lives!
There will also be a spiritual honeymoon for the redeemed. After their baptism, some carry the glow of newly committed love for several weeks, some for months, and others never lose their “first love.” And after their Bridegroom comes to take them away to their heavenly home, there is also a honeymoon. But it won’t be for two weeks or one month. The saints will spend 1,000 years in heaven basking in the love of God and understanding more of how His love sought to save everyone! “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection . . . they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6).
Setting Up Home
The honeymoon is over, and it’s time to establish the home. The redeemed will also be moving into their new homes. Where will they live and what type of home will they have?
In the earth made new there will be no more sea. And when you consider that 75 percent of the current earth’s surface is made up of ocean, there’ll be lots of room. There will be mansions for homes, streets paved with gold, perfect health, everlasting life, and freedom from crime, pain, and death. No government on earth can deliver these conditions.
You may have agreed with what has been discussed thus far, but wondered how divorce fits in with the principles outlined. If you’ve accepted the premise that all the stages leading up to the wedding and setting up of the home have a spiritual bearing, to be consistent it must also apply to the “not so pleasant aspects of marriage” as well.
After the glow of the first love has softened, and the responsibilities of life bear down on us, we can take this most important relationship for granted. Our time is given to other pursuits, communication breaks down, and we can question the importance of our relationship. It is then that unfaithfulness to our marriage covenant can become a dangerous temptation. Adultery takes place when one partner has been unfaithful to the other and has entered into another relationship, no matter how brief, with another “partner.”
In the spiritual realm, when you and I sin we have become the unfaithful partner in our relationship with Christ. Jesus has the right to put us away. Does He do that? No.
If you accept the premise that the way God treats us is to be an example of how we should treat others, and that marriage is designed to shadow our relationship with Christ, how should we treat erring partners? Should divorce exist among God’s people? Should we be forgiving of partners who have broken the most intimate of covenants? It may be the ultimate betrayal, and that’s why it took the ultimate sacrifice by Christ to redeem us.
Don’t be mistaken--this is not a charter for us to commit adultery, expecting our partners to forgive us, just as God’s forgiving grace is not an excuse to continue sinning against Him. The point here is that when we have the right to dispense justice for a wrong that has been committed against us, we should ask ourselves, “What if God were to dispense justice the first time each of us sinned?” David says, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10).
Forgiving a partner who has been unfaithful is perhaps the hardest thing to accept (I write as one who has never gone through this painful episode). But that does not change the fact that forgiveness is part of God’s plan for all of our sakes.
But doesn’t God sometimes punish? Yes. On several occasions, God has had to “put away” or “divorce” Himself from His people. Take, for example, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden or Israel’s captivity in Babylon. His people were scattered, but always with the proviso that “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
There are times when a partner in a marriage is abusive to the other or to children. Situations such as this should not be tolerated--especially among those who profess to be Christians. It would be wrong to suggest that the abused should remain in such a state.
If we go down the route of separation, it should be with the intention of taking back the wayward spouse when/if they have come to their senses, just as God woos us to return to Him even after He has had to discipline us. And just as God works on us through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we should be working on our estranged partner through prayer, and asking the Spirit to intervene and change hearts. At the same time, our hearts have to be changed in order to receive them and treat them as though they had never sinned.
Hope and a Future
Wow! That’s how God treats us. Can we do the same for others?
God has placed within our lives a mechanism for revealing His plan of salvation: marriage. Even though there are those who choose to remain single as an act of faithfulness to God, there are still stages within the marriage relationship from which they can learn lessons about God’s love and salvation.
There’s nothing we can do about past relationships, unless the situation is recoverable. But let’s examine our present relationships in the light of God’s divine plan, and draw closer to each other for the purpose of demonstrating His love.
*Unless otherwise noted, texts in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
†Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mike Johnson is first elder of the Milton Keynes church in the United Kingdom. For the past 25 years he has promoted many of the Adventist musical performers in the U.K. and Europe through Number Seven Promotions.