His Bride and His Body for Himself: Ephesians 5:21–33

 One of the most famous and powerful descriptions of the church is as the bride of Christ. This popular image comes from Ephesians 5 and is alluded to throughout Scripture (a fascinating book on this topic is God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery).

In this section of Ephesians, beginning in verse 21 (or verse 15, or perhaps verse 1, or even 4:25), Paul writes on submission in human relationships — while there are distinct individuals in every relationship described (marriage, slavery, families), they are to love the other person as if they were the same person. Here he talks about the relationship between husband and his wife, but he is primarily talking about Jesus and the church,

“This mystery [marriage] is great, however, I speak to Christ and to the church.” – Ephesians 5:32

Head of His Body 

 “ …Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ…”  – 23-24a ESV

 Here the image of a “head” is not the English idiom, like in “head of state”, or “head of the accounting department.” “Head” is about a physical head on a physical “body.” A person’s head is what distinguishes them. Someone cannot be identified nor related to a body part, but rather through their face. The church derives its very essence from Christ, having no identity apart from him. The church is to submit to Jesus’ control in the same way a body enacts what is desired by the brain in the head.

Saved for Himself

The metaphor seems to break where Christ not only is the anatomical head of his own body, but is the savior of it. We see this elaborated in verses 25–27,

“[a.] Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [b.] in order that he might sanctify her, [a.] having cleansed her by the washing of water in the word, [b.] so that he might present to himself the church in glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such things but that it would be holy and blameless.”

 Here we see both purpose and method. Jesus gave himself up for the sake of his love for the church. He did this by “cleaning her by the washing of water [noun] in the word”, which in this context, was his act of giving himself up — his sacrificial death. The reason that Jesus cleansed his church and gave himself up for her was so that the church would be holy. This involves the removal of things that are bad and the establishment of things that are good. While the sanctification of the church is “for her”, it really is for Jesus’ benefit because he can “present to himself the church in glory.”

In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” – 28

 While the above verse is speaking mostly about husbands and wives, it is integral to understanding Paul’s argument about Jesus and the church. By using the connector, “in the same way” (Οὕτως ὀφείλουσιν), Paul is inferring that Jesus’ act of making the church holy is him loving his own body.

One Flesh Forever

 He then goes on to drive this nail in further,
“For no one at any time hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes  it, just as Christ does the church, for we are members of his body.” – 29

 If a husband should love his wife as his own body, Christ loves his wife that is his body. Jesus and his body were always meant to be united, he wouldn’t abandon his own body to starvation, or to be left permanently stained by sin’s dirtiness. 

“ ‘Because of this, a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and two of them will be into one flesh.’ “ – 31, quoting Genesis 2:24

The marriage metaphor shows that Jesus didn’t simply die to rescue the Church, but to be fully intimate with the church. When a husband and wife enter into matrimony, they can be effectively treated as one person though originally separate. The sexual, relational, and “legal” intimacy of a married couple is a lesser kind of intimacy than what every Christian, collectively (not just individually), will experience with Jesus.  

Adam called Eve the “flesh of my flesh and bones of my bones” because Eve was literally made from his body and she was made for Adam 1. Our rescue doesn’t just benefit us — Jesus can say we are his flesh and his bones; we are the physical presence of Jesus on this earth and we were made for him to cherish forever. 


  1. Not only do we benefit from our Salvation, but Jesus benefits because he gets to please himself through our holiness forever
  2. Jesus died that his church would be holy. This involves the removal of all of our dirty stains.
  3. Jesus didn’t just die so that we would be saved, but so we would be truly intimate with him
  4. “Two will be one flesh” is ultimately about Jesus and the church. Marriage is shown here, but as as lesser human reality to the greater spiritual reality
1.  Expositor’s Greek Testament, note on Ephesians 5:30. Some manuscripts actually say, “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”


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