The End of Marriage

"In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." (Matthew 22:30)


Every marriage is temporary. Marriage is not eternal. There is no sex in the New Creation.


And...you're saying that's a good thing?! Really? How can that true?


Last Sunday (01/19/2020) at Emmaus, we encountered this passage. I fear I opened a few cans of worms and some of the worms never found a home. So, what does this passage mean for how we approach marriage (and singleness, and sexuality, and work, and so on)?


Part 1: Till Death Do Us Part - "In the Resurrection"


The irony is thick that Jesus speaks to the Sadducees about the resurrection immediately after they have used a clever word play about the "resurrection" of a man's legacy and offspring (see the phrase "raise up" in 22:24). The Sadducees didn't believe (among other things) in the resurrection of the dead, and they wanted to make the resurrection look absurd.


Jesus affirmed the future resurrection of the dead by explaining that life in the New Creation is not absurd or illogical, just different because of God's power and Word. In the New Creation -- the New Age/the Age to Come -- there will be continuity with the current body and world, but also discontinuity. (The tension between how much will be the same and how much will be different is seen in 1 Corinthians 15. We will have an actual body, but the body will be transformed in important ways.)


So, why might marriage be part of this earth (this present age), but not be part of the New Creation? Because the purposes of marriage are distinctly related to the needs of the present world:

  • Multiply and fill the earth

  • Pass on the Worship and Word of God to generations

  • Provide a picture of Christ and the Church to the world

None of those needs will remain in eternity. So, "in the Resurrection," we see that things will be different. But how?


Part 2: No Sex?! - "they neither marry nor are given in marriage"


The first term -- "marry" -- means the bridegroom pursuing marriage; the second phrase -- "given in marriage" -- refers to the bride being given in marriage by her father. Certainly the woman's lack of an active verb reflects her lack of control in that culture, but don't miss how Jesus' promise of the resurrection will overturn the possessive "they all had her" of verse 28. This is yet another way Jesus affirms and dignifies women through His ministry.


  • Does "marry and given in marriage" only refer to new marriages in heaven? Maybe our current marriage continues?

Not surprisingly, Mormon scholars take Jesus' teaching in Matthew 22:30 to refer only to Sadducees (or anyone who isn't fit for eternal marriage by being sealed to their spouse with priesthood authority or through another person serving as their proxy in a temple ordinance). Plus, Mormon scholars often say Jesus was only addressing new marriages being started in the New Creation; He wasn't speaking, they say, about marriages that already exist. [1]


This might be possible, but it seems more likely the phrases used in verse 30 are a way of speaking about marriage as a whole (almost like the use of hendiadys in rhetoric).


Why is this? Jesus' use of similar phrasing in Matt. 24:28 seems to speak not just of the beginning of marriage, but the on-going, day-to-day reality. Also, here in Matthew 22, Jesus is responding directly to a story presented by the Sadducees, which ended with the question, "Of the seven, whose wife will she be?"


They are not asking about (and Jesus is not addressing) this woman being given in marriage again. They seem to be asking about the possibility of her being a wife in heaven for a man to whom she was married on earth. It's this idea of continuing marriage in the resurrection that Jesus says they've misunderstood.


  • Doesn't Jesus' teaching in Matthew 22:30 de-value marriage? Will we have a special affection for our earthly spouse when we are in the New Creation?

If marriage is temporary, why make such a big deal out of it? Why not abandon it now? Because, as we saw in the bullet points under the first section above, God has purposes for marriage that are good and holy in this world. Marriage is valuable because life is precious, God's Word is foundational, and the Gospel is powerful. Jesus' teaching about the Resurrection doesn't de-value marriage; if anything, His teaching heightens the importance of marriage for Christians.


For many -- me included -- the hardest part of Jesus' teaching to swallow is that a relationship of such emotional depth on earth would not continue in eternity. After going through so much together on earth, it seems tough to imagine no continuation of the relationship. Many spouses have found comfort that one day they would be reunited with their spouse in eternity. What do we make of this?


Immediately after Jesus' response to the Sadducees, He is asked another question by the Pharisees to which He gives His famous answer about love for God being the great commandment, and love for neighbor being a second great commandment like the first.


How does this help us think about marriage? While marriage may be temporary, love is not! And, while marriage is inherently exclusive, love is not. Jesus said marriage will end, but this doesn't mean we won't have special affection in eternity corresponding to close relationships on earth. It is not as though our affection for an earthly spouse will be lessened in eternity; if anything, it will be greater. The point is, though, that our experience of love and joy will not be limited to or defined by the relationships we have had on earth.


R.T. France wisely comments:

"Those who have found some of the deepest joys of earthly life in the special bond of a married relationship may be dismayed to hear that that must be left behind. But note that what Jesus declares to be inappropriate in heaven is marriage, not love. So perhaps heavenly relationships are not something less than marriage, but something more. He does not say that the love between those who have been married on earth will vanish, but rather implies that it will be broadened so that no one is excluded. Our problem is that we, like the Sadducees, have only this life’s experience by which to measure what is to come." [2]

  • Doesn't the absence of sexual pleasure seem surprising for a future New Creation that promises so much joy and love?

What Christian 10th grader hasn't been worried Jesus would return before he or she could get married and have sex? (At least I remember that fear circulating in my youth group in the '90s!)


Again, we are helped by France's comments just above and by another prominent quote, this one from C.S. Lewis:

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." [3]

The problem is not that our sexual desires are so strong, but possibly that they are too weak (or at least so limited and oftentimes distorted). A toddler who eats mashed up veggies cannot comprehend the joy of shrimp tacos and roasted vegetables (or, insert here, your fine food of choice).


Like so many things of this world, sexuality is a great gift, but a terrible god. We can say even the same about marriage itself -- marriage is a great gift, but becomes a terrible god when we find our ultimate identity in relation to another person, instead of God.


In this way, our view of the New Creation is limited and distorted when we imagine eternity only in comparison to the pleasures of this world. The joy of eternity must be viewed in light of the glory of God Himself. When we worship and love Him fully, our hearts are opened to wonders that will overwhelm anything we could ask or imagine.


Part 3: Singleness is Trending - "Like angels in Heaven"

  • In what ways will we become like angels?

Remember: We will not become angels, but like angels. (*Please be very careful in how you communicate this to a grieving parent who has lost a little one. We want to affirm the humanity of their child following death, but do so in a way that is pastorally careful and helpful.)


So, like we saw above, Jesus is explaining that marriage will not continue in eternity in the same manner that it does on earth. Like the angels, our relationships with one another will not be defined or limited by marriage.


Andreas Köstenberger has observed the following pattern:

"Singleness in creation: nonexistent;

Singleness in the Old Testament: uncommon and generally undesirable;

Singleness in the New Testament: advantageous for kingdom ministry;

Singleness in the final state: universal." [4]


Marriage is a good and holy part of God's created order. I am not arguing in any way that marriage should be eliminated in this world or that people should be discouraged from marrying. Desire for marriage is a wonderful thing; but marriage is not ultimate or necessary.


Marriage is, as we have said, temporarily part of God's purpose for His creation. Christian singles can desire and pursue marriage, but they should not be desperate for marriage. Desire is good; desperation is unnecessary, unhelpful, and even dangerous. When we draw in other teachings from Jesus about the family (see Matt. 12:46-50), the conclusion that we are all "trending toward singleness" seems accurate. [5]


  • What does Jesus' response to the Sadducees say about Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage?

Jesus' teachings about marriage in Matthew 19 and 22 are important considerations when discussing homosexuality and same-sex attraction/marriage.


If we are "trending toward singleness," and

If marriage is specially designed only for this present age, and

If sexuality and marriage will not be part of the New Creation,

the conclusion is not to "eat, drink, and be merry" (1 Corinthians 15:32).


The teachings of Jesus do not show a pattern that widens the concept of marriage or promotes the expansion of sexuality. Instead, the opposite seems true. Jesus affirmed marriage even as He gathered a new family around Himself (not a family of spouses, but of brothers and sisters). And, Jesus promoted holiness while pointing us to pleasures and fulfillment beyond sexuality.


Jesus points His followers toward freedom and love, but not toward free love. In the resurrection, we will love others fully beyond the bond of marriage; but it will be a love defined and guided by the perfect love of God shown to us in His Son by the Holy Spirit. The end of marriage is only the beginning of love -- love for God and love for others.


So What?

  • Affirm both marriage and singleness as good and purposeful callings in God's Kingdom.

  • Sexuality (like so many other things) is a good gift, but a terrible god. Pursue holiness while showing compassion and encouragement for those who are struggling with sexual temptations (including when the one struggling is you).

  • Whether in marriage, friendships, work, or play, we want to live with an eternal perspective for God's Kingdom purposes.


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[1] An explanation of these points from a Mormon scholar is available at: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1986/02/i-have-a-question/how-do-we-explain-jesus-teachings-in-matthew-22-29-30?lang=eng


[2] New International Commentary on the New Testament


[3] We might think here of C.S. Lewis's famous quote: "If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (from The Weight of Glory)


[4] I first encountered this quote in an article at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-ways-pastor-single-christians-longing-marriage/. The quote stems from Köstenberger's book, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. He further addresses some of the controversy around his quote about singleness in an article at: https://www.biblicalfoundations.org/the-gift-of-singleness/.


[5] Paul's discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, especially 29-31 and 39, seems to affirm the conclusions we have drawn from Matthew 22.

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