Through the Bible: Matthew 23, Luke 20-21
34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke 20:34-36)
Jesus’ response to the Sadducees about marriage in the resurrection is troubling for anyone who loves their spouse. My wife has been my life partner for nearly thirty years, and I literally can’t imagine life without her.
And so, when Jesus seems to teach that there won’t be marriage in heaven, it’s frankly devastating. Why would the greatest blessing of my earthly life not be a part of my eternal life?
It’s important to see what Jesus is, and isn’t, actually saying. He is not saying that a lifetime of married bliss on earth will be voided in Heaven. Truthfully, this teaching is only tangentially about marriage at all. The Sadducees had come up with what was, in their mind, an ingenious expose of how absurd it was to believe in the resurrection in the first place. They presented an extreme situation to Jesus—a woman who marries seven brothers who all die. I suppose they were hoping Jesus would say, “Wow. You’ve stumped me there. I guess you’re right. Believing in the resurrection really is dumb.”
But Jesus doesn’t go there. Instead, He says, “You guys don’t get it. The way things work up there is totally different from the way things work down here. And by the way, there really is an “up there.” God is not the God of the dead, but the living.”
Keep in mind how the Sadducees—and how people in general—viewed marriage in Jesus’ day. Women weren’t seen as equal partners in marriage. They were seen as little more than property—disrespected, dishonored, and able to be discarded at the whim of the husband. The Sadducees question: “Who will she belong to, because all seven had her?” reflects this mindset. And I really think that’s what Jesus is correcting with this teaching.
“Who does she belong to?”
She belongs to Me, says Jesus.
“Who will have her?”
I will, says Jesus.
It’s not going to be the way it is on earth. Maybe instead of trying to work out if it will be in heaven as it is on earth, you could work a little harder on making marriage be “on earth as it is in heaven.” Where men and women are joint heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). Where there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). Where the ground in front of the throne is as level as it is before the cross.
So what will marriage be like in Heaven? I don’t have any idea. But I believe it is going to be more than we can imagine.
When I was in third and fourth grade, I was smitten with a girl named Jennifer. I asked her to be my girlfriend thirteen times. Usually with a note that I passed to her: “Will you be my girlfriend? Check yes or no.” She checked no. Every. Single. Time.
Its been nearly fifty years since third grade. My understanding of what it meant to have a girlfriend, to say nothing of what it means to have a wife, wasn’t just limited. It was non-existent. And I think that even the most renowned marriage therapists in the country will one day be with their spouse in eternity. They will realize that their books and seminars and marriage encounter weekends have about as much in common with true kingdom intimacy as my notes to Jennifer had with an actual relationship.
All the jealousy and misunderstanding and missed communication that are part and parcel of even the strongest marriages will be swept away. They will be fully and finally free of the sin which separates people from God, and men and women from each other. And they will look at each other and say, “My God. I had NO IDEA it would be like this.”
What a glorious day that will be!