The Work of Messiah
Verse 26-27, …To make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
This is the work of Jesus on the cross. Yet I’ve heard respected pastors use this section as a husband’s responsibility in marriage. Assuming “head” means “authority” they will say it is the husband’s job to sanctify or make his wife holy, almost as a priestly representative mediating between God and wife.
This explanation is very difficult to believe for this one reason alone: If the wife is part of the church, then she is already washed by Jesus. She doesn’t need to be washed by her husband too. Is Paul describing for the one and only time in Scripture that women particularly need a “double-washing”? If it is the husband’s job to purify his bride then
1) unmarried women are less pure because they have no husband to do this, or
2) unmarried women are more pure because Christ is their direct purifier and isn’t interrupted by a fallen human husband, and
3) it renders the atonement of Christ as suspiciously lacking in thorough effectiveness.
Take your pick. None of those options make any sense when compared to the rest of Scripture. We don’t want to twist our understanding of Redemption out of motivation to retain our cultural rules about marriage.
Some will note that marriage does sharpen us, help us overcome our defects of character. It has often been said that marriage is a great sanctifier! No doubt this is true, and even more true with children! But it goes both ways. A woman who walks with Jesus will sharpen her husband as much as a husband who walks with Jesus will sharpen his wife. And we must do away with any idea about a husband having a priestly office in the home. There is only one mediator between God and humans, Jesus the Messiah (1 Tim 2:5).
It is clearest to me to read this description of the Messiah’s work in verses 26-27 as showing how far he will go in his love for us. It is the preeminent example for husbands in loving their wives. It’s the deepest submission to constantly lay down one’s life.
The next verses continue this idea of submitting one’s life in love.