“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.—Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV
In this statement we find that the very fabric of marriage is a picture of something larger than two people covenanting together to become one flesh. It is bigger than the establishment of a new covenantal household. It is bigger than two people being obedient to the commands of God. Marriage is a picture of Jesus Christ and his own bride, the church. Marriage is given to man as the clearest working illustration of Christ's sacrificial love for his church.
The primary function and purpose of marriage is to glorify God by showcasing the great mercy and grace found in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This gospel is the good news that was promised to Eve in the Garden. It is an assertion that Christ's victory over his enemies will be total and complete. It is a promise of salvation for all those who are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.
In order to understand the nature of this good news, we must turn our attention to the book of Genesis. We must begin with the book of beginnings. For it is within the first few chapters of Genesis that we find the first marriage established before God for the advancement of God's kingdom on earth. It is here that we find that the first man Adam failed in his task of subduing the earth unto God. It is within the first few chapters that sin enters the world through Adam's disobedience.
God established a law by which Adam and Eve were to live and conform their lives unto. Because Adam transgressed and violated this law by refusing to conform himself to it, he and all his posterity received the curse of sin upon themselves. Sin, in it's simplest definition is any transgression of, or lack of conformity to the law of God. These laws and commandments constitute our responsibilty of obedience before God. Anything short of absolute perfect obedience to these commands is sin, and justly deserving of condemnation and eternal damnation.
This same law that condemned Adam also condemns every man woman and child who has ever lived. The word of God declares that if we violate just one commandment of God we are guilty of violating the whole law. Man's refusal to follow and submit to the authority of God is an expression of his autonomy. It is an act of defiance against the creator and a futile attempt to suppress the knowledge of God. This same sin, the sin of asserting oneself as the determiner of ethics, justice, and morality is the sin for which Adam was expelled from the garden. It is the same sin that remains on each and every man woman and child today.
Yet even though this sin corrupts our entire being, and has driven us from fellowship with God, and has in fact placed us as enemies of God who face the wrath of God. He demonstrates his mercy and grace through the promise of his Son.
Immediately following the fall of mankind into sin, God decreed that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. This was a promise to mankind that God had provided a means of reconciling fallen mankind to himself. It was an assertion of the victory of the promised seed over sin and death.
This promise was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary he became a man without inheriting the sin nature of man. He lived a perfect life in obedience to the law of God, who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. He died upon the cross so that the he might be the propitiation for our sins. He rose from the dead proving his victory over the grave, and he has been exhalted to the right hand of power on the throne of heaven. God now commands all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness.
How then does this mystery of the Gospel relate to marriage? It relates to marriage in that Christ refers to all who are elect unto eternal life—having repented of sin and believed by faith in the Gospel—as members of his church, who is the bride of Christ. As redeemed men and women, we are brought into a restored fellowship and union with God. Christ's death on the cross functions as a bride's price, whereby he purchased us for himself and has made us sons and heirs of all things.
This splendor of salvation is what marriage is a picture of. As Christ loved his bride and laid down his life for her, so a man is commanded to love his wife, and lay down his own life for her. As the church is called to obey the word of God, so the wife is commanded to submit to her husband. As Christ has been given authority over all the earth and commanded the discipleship of the nations, so the family has been given authority to take dominion over the earth and subdue it unto the glory of God. Just as Christ declares that through the preaching of his word he will bring many sons to glory, so by parents instructing their own children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, they will likewise bring many sons and daughters to glory.