Several years ago, I gave a lecture on “The Bridegroom Messiah,” in which I briefly traced the story of the Bible from the first wedding in Genesis to the final wedding between Christ and the Church at the end of time. At the center stood the crucifixion of Jesus as his ‘wedding day’. The response to the lecture was phenomenal. It really seemed to touch something deep in the audience, by helping them see the passion of Jesus—and the history of the world—differently. I realized I was onto something, and began learning as much as I could about ancient Jewish wedding customs and the biblical prophecies of the Bridegroom God coming to wed his people. As I dove in, dozens of passages in the Bible—the Exodus, the Song of Songs, the Wedding at Cana, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the End of Time—suddenly sprang to life and were filled with new meaning for me as chapters in a divine love story between Creator and creature, between God and Israel, between Christ and the Church.
As a biblical scholar, your focus has been on Jesus and the Jewish roots of Christianity. Can you share with us a little bit of your background and how you came to focus on this particular area of Biblical study?
Although I grew up a cradle Catholic, during my graduate years, I studied under several Jewish professors who really encouraged me to immerse myself in the Old Testament and to become familiar with the practices and beliefs of first-century Judaism. Almost immediately, I began to notice striking parallels between the Old Testament and the New, between ancient Judaism and Catholicism. When I myself started teaching, I found that when I shared these parallels with students, their eyes would light up as they began to understand that the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New. And that it’s all part of a divine plan that’s been there from the very beginning.
This book begins with the apostle Paul’s teaching that Christ is the “Bridegroom” and the Church is the “Bride.” How could a first-century Jew like Paul, who knew how brutal Roman crucifixions were, have ever compared it to a wedding?
Because Paul knew that the history of salvation in the Old Testament isn’t just a history of priests, prophets, and kings. Paul knew that it is also the story of the Bridegroom God of Israel, who will stop at nothing to save his holy people from sin and unite them to himself in an everlasting marriage covenant. So many of us today think of God primarily as a ‘higher power’, or an invisible problem-solver, or even just as the creator and judge. But for Paul, the God Yahweh was a person. As a former rabbi, Saint Paul also would have known that at an ancient Jewish wedding, the bridegroom would celebrate a wedding banquet and be dressed like a king and priest. And that is exactly what happens in the passion of Jesus. He celebrates a wedding banquet with his disciples at the Last Supper; he is crowned with the crown of thorns; clothed in the seamless garment of a priest; and led to the cross where he will offer his life for his bride. And when Paul realized this, it transformed the way he saw all of reality, and the way he saw the Cross.
In the book, you write that “the key to unlocking the deeper meaning of many of these familiar passages in the Gospels can be found by trying to understand them in their original, first-century Jewish context.” Can you offer a few suggestions for how readers can do this?
The trick is to read the New Testament in light of the Old Testament, as well as ancient Jewish tradition. For example, when Jesus provides the wine for the wedding at Cana, he’s not just performing a miracle, he’s revealing his identity as the Bridegroom Messiah. In Jewish tradition, the Messiah would provide the miraculous wine of the wedding banquet of God (Isaiah 25). Likewise, when Jesus identifies the wine of the Last Supper with the blood of the “new covenant,” he’s alluding to the prophet Jeremiah, who speaks about a new marriage covenant between God and the twelve tribes of Israel (Jeremiah 30). In other words, the Last Supper is not just a meal, but a wedding banquet. Finally, when Jesus speaks to the Samaritan Woman at the well about the “living water” he wishes to give her (John 4), he’s alluding to the living water that was used for the ritual washing of a Jewish bride before her wedding. In other words, the living water Jesus wants to give is that which will flow from his side on the Cross and wash his bride clean from sin. In short, whenever you find something strange or mysterious in the New Testament, the key to unlocking its meaning is almost always in the Old Testament.
In chapter 4 you make an interesting observation about the crucifixion of Christ saying, “…because the crucifixion of Jesus is so familiar, it can also be easy to forget or to underestimate just how horrific this manner of execution really was.” What can we do to ensure that we don’t get complacent when it comes to our view of Christ’s passion and how can we remind ourselves of the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross?
The first thing to do is read the chapter on what crucifixion was really like in the first century. I made sure to get first-hand testimony from ancient Roman and Jewish writers, in order to try and ‘go back in time’ and see what actually happened to Jesus. The second thing to remember is that it is not just how much Jesus suffered on the cross; even more important is how much he loved. And when we see Jesus not just as Teacher, Prophet, or King, but also as the Bridegroom Messiah, then this love becomes something personal. As Saint Paul put it: “the Son of God… loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
You write about how understanding the passion of Christ through the lens of the Bridegroom Messiah can help us understand other aspects of our faith such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper and marriage to name a few. Is there one aspect of your faith that has been especially deepened by viewing Christ’s passion in this way?
Personally speaking, I was most deeply impacted by the section on marriage and the “great mystery” of Christ’s love for the Church (Ephesians 5). Paul describes Christian marriage as a kind of ‘living icon’ of the love between Christ and the Church. Now, if Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is the Bride, then this means that Christian couples have a very high standard for the sacrificial love they should show one another! I find this an incredible challenge to live out the mystery of marriage and an amazing consolation to understand the sacrament of marriage as a foretaste of the joy of the eternal Wedding at the end of time.
What do you hope readers will take away from Jesus the Bridegroom?
I hope that people will see Jesus of Nazareth—and the whole history of the world—differently. For if Jesus really is the Bridegroom God made flesh, then he didn’t just come to save humanity from sin and hell. He came and died on the cross in order to unite us to himself forever in a personal relationship of love. And this relationship between Christ and the Church is so intimate, so permanent, so sacrificial and so life-giving that it can only be de described as a marriage—the eternal “Marriage of the Lamb” (Revelation 19). Indeed, it is the marriage, the only one that will truly last forever.
To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Brant Pitre, please contact Katie Moore, publicist, email@example.com, 719-268-1936.