The church is.
Questions like this one are best answered by studying the scriptures as if you had never heard any discussion on the subject before. So often, when people attempt to answer a question like this, they run to commentaries or rely on something they have already been taught. Then their study is swayed by thoughts of either trying to prove or disprove what they have previously read or heard. This is a dangerous way to study the Bible.
If you were to simply open the Bible and read you would notice first of all that Paul never even mentions the word “bride” one time in his epistles. He refers to the church in the context of marriage in Eph 5:23-32 and in 2 Cor 11:2. In 2 Cor 11:2, he speaks of a chaste virgin (singular) being espoused to one husband. In Eph 5, he refers to the church as “it” (singular) being presented to Christ.
The word “bride” is only used by John in the New Testament. In his gospel, John quotes John the Baptist who refers to himself as the friend of the bridegroom, thus distinguishing himself from the bride and the bridegroom (Jn 3:29).
In the book of Revelation, John describes New Jerusalem “as a bride adorned for her husband,” (Rev 21:2) showing that the beauty of New Jerusalem is as the beauty of a bride. But then in Rev 21:9, John hears an angel say in reference to New Jerusalem, “I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” stating certainly that the bride is the city.
Then, finally, in Rev 22:17, John writes, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come,” without saying who the bride is.
If all you had to go on was the word “bride” and the references to that word in the New Testament, you would conclude that the “bride” is New Jerusalem.
By resorting to an illustration of a local church, you can see how the bride is a city. When people pass by our street address at1701 Rand Morgan Rd, they say, “There is Bible Believers Baptist Church.” And they are correct. But Bible Believers Baptist Church is not a building; it is a congregation of saved people who happen to meet regularly at1701 Rand Morgan Rd. The church is people but the name is often applied to the building.
Likewise, New Jerusalem is called the bride. But, the bride is people. They speak and say, “Come.” They are saints “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white,” (Rev 19:8). They marry the Lord Jesus Christ. So, to find out who the people are in the bride, we have to study beyond the few references to the word “bride.”
In Eph 5:30-32, we find that Jesus Christ marries the “church.” And the people that make up the church are “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” Interestingly, the church matches Eve in this context, for she came forth from Adam’s body. Adam said, in Gen 2:23, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Notice that Gen 2:24 is quoted by Paul in Eph 5:31. Hence, the “bride” is in the Lord’s body, like Eve was in Adam’s body, until the marriage.
Well then, if we can locate who is in the Lord’s body, then we can locate the bride. And if we can confirm that those in his body are called the church, then we will know for certain that the church is the bride of Christ.
When a person gets saved, the Bible says that he is baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Notice, the Bible says ALL. So, this is not some baptism that takes place like a second anointing of holiness. This is an operation of God that puts every born again believer in Christ the moment they are saved (Col2:11-12; Rom 6:3-5).
1 Cor 12:12-27 goes on to say that this body is made up of many members but that it is still ONE BODY, (Eph 4:4). Thus every born again believer is IN Christ, regardless of where his local church membership may be. Paul writes to saints in Christ who are among the Romans (Rom 12:5; 16:7); Corinthians (1 Cor 1:2, 30; 12:27); Ephesians (Eph 1:1; 2:6); Judaeans (Gal 1:22); Galatians (Gal 3:28); Philippians (Phil 1:1); Colossians (Col 1:2); and to some already in heaven and others still in the earth (Eph 1:10). These are all members of his body.
Additionally, we find that the Lord’s body is the church. Every person baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ becomes a member of the living organism called the church. Eph 1:22-23 says, “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” Col 1:18 says, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
Hence, all of us who are born again are in the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. As members of his body, we are members of his flesh and of his bones. And his body is called the church. Thus, we are the church and we are the ones who will come forth from the Lord’s body to be his wife. As Eph 5:32 says, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ, and the church.”
Hope this helps,
Pastor Bevans Welder