There are quite a few images that Scripture uses to speak of the church. Each of them conveys a different message as to what the church should be like. Here are some of the main ones:
Eph 1:22; Col 1:18, 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 4:12; 1 Cor 10:16-17
The church is describes as a body in order to communicate a few things.
(1) Jesus is the head of the body and should be in control of it all.
(2) The idea of working together without distinctions. (In their culture with Jew and Gentile distinctions, it was important to realize that the church should be different.)
(3) The body image also communicates that it should grow and be nourished by Christ as He brings leaders into the fellowship.
(4) The unity/oneness of the body with each part needing the other.
Eph 5:2, 23, 25, Jn 14:1-3; 1 Thes 4:16-17; Rev 19:7-9
The bride image points to the great love that Jesus has for the church. It also shows the value of the church and speaks of the promised blessings which she shall receive. As the espouse bride, the church should be waiting in expectation for Jesus’ return when He comes to take her as His wife as they celebrate the wedding feast together.
Eph 2:20; 4:12-13; 1 Pet 2:5
This image stresses the unity of the church (Jews and Gentiles alike) which is built upon the “foundation of the apostles and prophets.” The apostles are called the foundation and Jesus is the cornerstone. In Christ the whole building is being “fitted together” which shows Jesus as the constructor of the church. The church also grows as new believers are added to the building.
1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6
All believers are considered priests who represent God to humanity and offer spiritual sacrifices to Him. The church believers are actually called both kings and priests (royal priesthood). The have direct access to God through Jesus Christ.
Jn 10:16, 26-27; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:3
This one depicts the church as a flock of sheep under Jesus’ care. They belong to Him and they know His voice. It speaks of intimacy and of His protection. The church is secure under Jesus.
This image describes the close relationship that the church has with Jesus. They are tied to Him directly and receive nourishment/life from Him. They will be fruitful if they stay connected to Him. It also helps to explain some of the “pruning” times in our lives when God is cutting things away so that we can be more fruitful.
How does this make a difference in my life? Each of these images speaks to me in a different way, and in different times of my life, I need to remember each one. As I have said before, I also hope to be a part of a church plant one day, and these images will be foundational for figuring out how the church should be structured and how it should relate to Jesus.
(Info from “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns, pg 349-351)