I often hear this question from unmarried people, and occasionally from a spouse. The unmarried want to know because if there’s no marriage in heaven, they want to get married and have children now. I’m not sure why those who are married ask the question, but in most cases it appears they would like to continue the relationship in heaven. (In some cases they may be looking forward to being free from the relationship!) The Bible provides a clear answer that seems to create a theological problem.
1. The Answer From Jesus: Jesus was asked this question by Sadducees who hoped to disprove the doctrine of the resurrection. They presented a hypothetical case based on the biblical law of Levirate—where the brother of a man who died without having children would marry the former husband’s wife in order to have children for the dead man (see Deut. 25:5, 6). The Sadducees told Jesus about seven brothers who, in fulfilling that law, had to marry the same woman because none of them had children with her. This was their question: “Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife” (Mark 12:23). It was an attempt to discredit the idea of the resurrection.
Jesus charged them with ignorance: they didn’t know what the Scriptures teach about the resurrection, much less the power of a God who is able to bring the dead to life. He then addressed the unspoken premise of the question. The Sadducees assumed that life after the resurrection would be a continuation of life as we know it now. Jesus surprised them by pointing to a significant element of discontinuity: “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (verse 25). According to Luke, Jesus clarified the thought by saying they will “neither marry nor [be] given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35, 36). At the resurrection people will not get married, because in the absence of death there is no need to perpetuate the human race through reproduction. In that sense humans will be like the angels, who don’t have to marry because they don’t die.
2. Theological Implications: Jesus’ answer creates in the mind of some a theological dilemma: If marriage, like the Sabbath, was instituted before the entrance of sin, why would it be incompatible with life in the new age? Would not this suggest that sin was able to damage a divine institution beyond repair, and that evil somehow thwarted divine intention for humanity?
These important questions deserve comment, even though we may not be able to provide final answers. In order to deal with the theological issue raised here I have to assume that God did not originally intend marriage to be a permanent or eternal social institution. This idea seems to be hinted at in Genesis. Marriage had two clear and closely related functions: procreation and companionship. Procreation had a very specific goal—“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28)—implying that in the absence of death once that goal was achieved procreation would come to an end. This was confirmed by Jesus in His answer to the Sadducees.
Marriage as an expression of companionship was, in the absence of sin, transcended by a deeper fellowship and union with God. It is to this deeper—and at the present time—mysterious experience that Jesus referred to when He said that the resurrected ones “are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36, NIV).* This refers to an experience of family life that goes infinitely deeper than marriage, enriching us in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. Our circle of loved ones will reach cosmic dimensions in the purity of unselfish love.
Feel free to disagree with me.
* Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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