At some point between the withdrawal of Rome’s legions in 410 CE and the advent of Saxon England in the 6th Century, a Celtic chieftain named Arthur restored a measure of order to Britain. Arthur’s reign occupied a bubble in time, set apart from the chaos that preceded and followed it. Although the mists of time shroud the truth of Arthur’s career, the legends born of that truth still inspire us 1,500 years after his passing. Who cannot admire a king so good, so wise, so honorable, and so humble that his very presence compels the allegiance and obedience of all good people? Such a king is invincible, for no evil thing can overcome him. If Arthur has a fault, it is that he bestows his love too freely and trusts too completely. And in this we find the enduring tragedy of King Arthur. His downfall and the end of his shining kingdom of Camelot came not at the hands of an enemy, but through his beloved bride and his greatest friend. We rejoice with Arthur that he finds in Guenevere a queen of exquisite purity, grace, beauty, wisdom, and kindness, and we rejoice still more when he is joined by Lancelot, the epitome of knightly honor, courage, and fidelity. How it wounds us when Guenevere and Lancelot cannot remain true to their king, but fall to the attraction they have for one another. Their adulterous affair ruins the king and the kingdom with him.
One of many moving interpretations of the Arthurian legend is John Boorman’s film Excalibur, starring Nigel Terry as Arthur, Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere, and Nicholas Clay as Lancelot. At the high point of the film, all is well in the kingdom except for the perpetual absence of Lancelot. Because of his attraction for Guenevere, the good knight has exiled himself from court so as to avoid temptation. Everyone in the kingdom seems to understand this, everyone, that is, except the king himself. No one speaks of this matter until one day when Sir Gawain (played by Liam Neeson) takes it upon himself to address this blight on Camelot’s perfection. Gawain accuses the queen of driving Lancelot from the company of Arthur’s knights. Stung at the assault on her honor, Guenevere turns to Arthur and cries, “Will you not champion me?” He replies:
I cannot! I am your King, and I must be your judge in this. Lancelot must do it. He also stands accused. I decree – that at sunrise, two days from now, the champions will meet, and the truth shall be known. For by the law of God, no knight who is false can win in combat with one who is true.
The trial by combat proves Guenevere’s innocence as Lancelot defeats Gawain, but which the secret is exposed Guenevere can no longer hide her attraction. Before long she and Lancelot are indeed lovers, leaving Arthur devastated and bringing about the dissolution of Camelot. Yet in the end Arthur has a chance to restore order by leading his knights in one last, desperate battle against Mordred, his mortal enemy. On the eve of the battle he goes to visit Guenevere, who has turned from her sin and sought a life of holiness in a convent. There she has kept Arthur’s great sword, Excalibur, in hope that one day he will take it up again in the cause of justice. After receiving the sword from her, Arthur bids Guenevere farewell with these words:
I’ve often thought that in the hereafter of our lives, when I owe no more to the future, can be just a man, we might meet. You’d come to me, claim me yours, know that I am your husband. It is a dream I have.
Arthur’s dream is the very dream, and the very promise, of the Holy One of Israel.
We know of this holy dream by the words of the angel who spoke with the Apostle John in the midst of his vision of the end of this age:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7-9 NASB)
Who is this Lamb? It is God Himself, the Holy One Who has given His life for His Bride. This, too, is in the revelation given to John:
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5:6-10 NASB)
The Lamb is Messiah Yeshua, the One prophesied from time immemorial by our father Abraham (Genesis 22:8), proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53), and announced by John the Baptist, a Levitical priest who recognized Yeshua as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is the Lamb Who takes a pure and spotless Bride, but not a new Bride. His Bride is no replacement for the one He had taken in ages past, but the same Bride made clean from her iniquities. We understand this from the promises of the New, or Renewed, Covenant, explained by the prophet Jeremiah:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NASB, emphasis added)
Israel is the Bride of YHVH God Himself. If we may believe the testimony of Messiah Yeshua that He and the Father are One (John 10:30, 17:20-24; Proverbs 30:4), and the testimony of the Apostle Paul that salvation through Messiah brings adoption into the nation of Israel (Romans 9:1-5, 11:1-36; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:21-23), then the “Bride of Christ” is in fact the regathered Kingdom of our God and of His Messiah. And if this is true, then how are we to live as the Bride of the King of Israel?
There is more to this question than meets the eye. In the first place, our Bridegroom is not only our King, but our High Priest. That is the one prophesied change to the Torah (Law) of God recorded in Scripture. The Lord initially chose Aaron and his sons to be the priests of Israel, and the high priests were to come from them (Exodus 29:9; Numbers 3:1-10). However, as King David prophesied, and as the writer of Hebrews explained, Messiah Yeshua has become our High Priest:
The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek [King of Righteousness].” (Psalm 110:4 NASB; see also Hebrews 5:1-10; 6:13-20; 7:17-22)
Zechariah addresses this as well, specifically stating that Messiah would hold the titles of King and High Priest:
Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua [Yeshua] the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ Now the crown will become a reminder in the temple of the Lord to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen the son of Zephaniah. Those who are far off will come and build the temple of the Lord.” Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And it will take place if you completely obey the Lord your God. (Zechariah 6:11-15 NASB)
This does not mean that all of Aaron’s descendants cease being priests. The Levitical priesthood will continue to function in Messiah’s Kingdom, but as Ezekiel explains, only the descendants of Zadok, the righteous priest who remained true to the son of David (I Kings 1:5-40), will be accepted into the priestly service (Ezekiel 43:18-19, 44:9-16). The reason for the change is that most of the priests during Israel’s ancient history had failed in their God-ordained task of teaching the people the difference between the holy and the profane, or the clean and the unclean (Leviticus 10:8-11; Ezekiel 22:26). That was a fatal error. As the Lord explains through Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles, He has called His people Israel to be a kingdom of priests to Himself (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6-10; Isaiah 61:6, 62:11-12, 66:21; Titus 2:11-14; I Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 1:4-6, 5:10). How can they minister to Holy God and be an example and mediation for the rest of the world if they do not know what “holy” means?
This, of course, is why we study the entire Word of God, starting with the Torah. The basic definitions are in the books of Moses, even in those seemingly tedious and indecipherable parts. For example, Leviticus 21:1-24:23, the Torah portion known as Emor (Say), contains much that is straightforward and understandable, such as the summary instructions about the Sabbath and the Feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23). Yet it also contains the commandments about how the Levitical priests are to conduct themselves. Why would the average person, particularly the average Christian, need to know that the priests are not permitted to come into contact with any dead person, except the closest of relatives, lest they defile themselves? Why do we need to know the physical conditions that disqualify a man from taking up the priestly office? For what possible reason would we care what sacrificial offerings belong to the priests, or that certain servants within the priest’s household are allowed to eat some of those sacrificial offerings?
Let me propose something by way of an answer. The requirements for all the priests include these:
They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they present the offerings by fire to the Lord, the food of their God; so they shall be holy. They shall not take a woman who is profaned by harlotry, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God. (Leviticus 21:6-7 NASB, emphasis added)
The Lord establishes an even more restrictive standard for the High Priest:
The priest who is the highest among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not uncover his head nor tear his clothes; nor shall he approach any dead person, nor defile himself even for his father or his mother; nor shall he go out of the sanctuary nor profane the sanctuary of his God, for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is on him; I am the Lord. He shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by harlotry, these he may not take; but rather he is to marry a virgin of his own people, so that he will not profane his offspring among his people; for I am the Lord who sanctifies him. (Leviticus 21:10-15 NASB, emphasis added)
Later, when the Lord explains to Ezekiel the qualifications for the priests of Zadok’s line in the Millennial Kingdom (Ezekiel 44:15-31), He says this:
And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman but shall take virgins from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest. Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. (Ezekiel 44:22-23 NASB, emphasis added)
These passages tell us that there is a direct linkage to holy matrimony and the holy office of the priest. If the priest is to present the right example to the people, then his wife must be beyond reproach. She must be an Israelite herself, and virtuous in every way. In fact, she is to be the perfect living example of the nation of Israel itself.
And thus we arrive at the meat of this lesson. If Israel is the Bride of Messiah, and if Messiah is both King and High Priest, then what does that mean for those who profess to follow Messiah Yeshua? It means nothing less than this: we are no longer strangers and foreigners, but are of Messiah’s own people, Israel. It means that the blemishes of our spiritual adultery have been removed by His very Blood. And it means that we, like the wives of the priests long ago, must know the difference between the holy and the profane, the clean and the unclean, so that nothing may hinder the works of righteousness our King and husband desires to accomplish in and through us.