I can’t speak for all the wedding customs around the world, but in the UK the marriage doesn’t take place when a couple become engaged and betrothed to each other, but only upon completion of the legally accepted marriage ceremony, usually in a church or registry office. When people are engaged they are not yet officially married and their relationship is not yet legally binding. The marriage certificate is only produced once the wedding ceremony has been completed. During the wedding ritual it is customary for the bride to wear a wedding dress and if in a church, she will proceed to walk up the aisle to the altar, where she will stand alongside the man she is to marry, at which point the person officiating the wedding will lead the couple through their vows and legal declarations, until the final statement is made: “I now pronounce you husband and wife”. So the sequence leading up to her wedding day is at first the betrothed woman is called the “bride to be”, then on the actual day of the wedding she is the bride, and finally, upon completion of the wedding ceremony, the bride finally becomes the wife, and is thereafter known and called the wife of the husband. This is somewhat different to the Hebrew wedding customs of Jesus’ time. In a traditional Jewish wedding the first stage of the marriage was the betrothal in which a contract (known as a ‘ketubbah’) was signed and legally binding. At this stage, the couple are considered to be fully married, although consummation is not yet permitted and the wedding feast remains until after the consummation. Remember Mary and Joseph? The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said “don’t be afraid to take Mary your wife”. They were betrothed, engaged to each other, and even though their relationship had not yet been consummated, Mary was still Joseph’s wife. Because the contract was legally binding, Joseph intended to divorce Mary privately to avoid her being disgraced. Matt 1:18,19
Now that we know it is the wife who becomes the Bride, and not the Bride that becomes the wife, let’s look again at Revelation 19:7 “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.”Though some translations say ‘his bride has made herself ready’, a study of the Greek shows the word used here is gynē (goo-nay) meaning wife, and is the same word used when referring to Mary as the wife of Joseph. The word for Bride is nýmphē (noom-fay) and is the word used in Rev 21:2 “Then I, John, saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned (beautifully dressed) for her husband”
So why is this distinction between a wife and a bride important? What is the difference between the two? You see being a wife means that although there is a wedding contract in place which exists in the New Covenant, being a wife does not mean that she is necessarily ready for her wedding day. Whereas being the Bride, means that she has made herself or is at least making herself ready, because she knows that her Bridegroom is coming. For this, the Bride must be adorned and beautifully dressed for her husband as in Rev 21. Being the Bride is about preparation (Matt 25:1-13), beautification (Eph 5:27), glorification (1 Cor 11:7) and consummation Eph 5:31,32 which reads “’For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Jesus our glorious Bridegroom King is coming for His wife that He might be one with her in a much more profound and intimate way than the way we understand being one and intimate with Him now. Yes there is an intimacy shared that we have with Jesus now, but there is a Bridal intimacy much deeper anticipated. He paid the price for His wife 2000 years ago when He died for her as her Kinsman Redeemer. He was then, is now and ever shall be ready for her, what He waits for now is for His wife to make herself ready for Him, for His wife to be His bride, beautifully dressed, adorned and glorious.