What is the future of marriage? Typically when we hear this kind of question, we think about the debates about marriage in our culture. Many are not very encouraged about the future of marriage in our cultural setting today. Nonetheless, it’s an important question to ask not from a cultural perspective but from a broader perspective within the kingdom of God. What is the future of marriage in God’s kingdom? What may be helpful in all of this is to ask what the future of marriage is from the perspective of eternity. In Mark 12:18-27, Jesus says that ultimately marriage is going to come to an end. Let’s read Mark 12:18-27.
I. The Sadducees’ question is posed in verses 18-23.
The Sadducees’ motive for asking this question is to try to once again trap Jesus. The Sadducees were scholars from the upper crust of Jewish society. They completely denied the resurrection of the body and believed that there was nothing at all after death. They wanted to discredit Jesus by showing that the idea of the resurrection was crazy.
The scenario they give to Jesus was extreme and almost preposterous. A couple get married, but before any children are born the husband dies. This same scenario happens six more times with this woman and her husband’s brothers and then finally the wife dies. The basis of their example was an Old Testament Levirate law regarding marriage. This law said that if a wife was widowed before being able to have children, the brother of the dead husband was required to marry the widow and impregnate her. Then the widow would hopefully be able to bear a son and carry on the name and line of her dead husband. In the example the Sadducees give, this happened 7 times.
And so the Sadducees ask, “whose wife will she be” after the resurrection? Will all seven brothers be her husband? Just the first husband? Just the last one? They are saying, “Jesus, this resurrection scheme simply doesn’t work!”
Before we look at Jesus’ response, let’s admit this raises a really good question: what will our lives and our relationships be like in heaven? Our family relationships are very special to us. We love our family members more than anything else on this earth. And so to us, it only makes sense that part of the blessing of heaven is to continue in those special relationships with our family members. Moreover, for those who have remarried, either after divorce or death of a spouse, the question is real: “Who will be my husband or wife in heaven?” Which marriage counts? We want to know what will happen.
Our future life in heaven is important because it gives us hope now here on earth. So many people don’t have any hope for life after death. Joseph Bayly, in his book The View from a Hearse, tells of what he said to offer hope to a woman whose small son was dying. “It’s good to know, isn’t it,” he spoke slowly, choosing his words with unusual care, “that even though the medical outlook is hopeless, we can have hope for our children in such a situation. We can be sure that after our child dies, he’ll be completely removed from sickness and suffering and everything like that, and be completely well and happy.” The woman replied, “If I could only believe that, but I don’t. When he dies, I’ll just have to cover him up with dirt and forget I ever had him.” This woman’s words express the hopelessness of many people around us. But if this is not the hope of the Christian, what should our hope be?
II. And so we ask the question of Jesus as well: Will there be marriage in heaven?
In verses 24-25, Jesus answers very clearly: “No!” He says that the Sadducees’ basic assumption is simply wrong. They are ignorant about the Bible even though they are scholars. Nor do they know the real power of God.
Jesus says there will be a resurrection where the dead will rise. That means there won’t be death any longer. And if no one dies anymore, there is no need for people to reproduce themselves. Thus, there is no need for sexual union, and if no need for sexual union, then the ordinance of marriage is no longer needed.
So Jesus says that the risen dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage since they will be like the angels in heaven. Now that raises even more questions. Does that mean that we are going to be gender-less? Does that mean we won’t have our own personality which is intimately tied up with our being male or female? But Jesus’ point is that the angels are not married and neither will the resurrected be married in heaven for marriage is simply not needed in heaven.
In Luke 20:34-36, we see another reason for why marriage in heaven is not needed. In the new age, we will not only be similar to angels, but we will also become God’s children, children of the resurrection. Our relationships with other Christians will be greatly enhanced. We will be fully a part of the completed family of God. It is hard for us to imagine what life in heaven will be like, but when the Bible speaks of it, it always describes it as the most beautiful possible. There will not be marriage in heaven, but the relationships we will have will somehow far surpass our relationships now. We must simply believe this even though we cannot fully understand it.
Of course, many questions still remain. Will we recognize others in heaven or will the new relationships cancel out our present relationships on earth? The Bible is not explicit here, although there are certain clues that indicate our being able to identify and recognize others. In the parable Jesus tells in Luke 16, the rich man recognizes Lazarus and Lazarus seems to be very conscious of the fact that he is with Abraham. Moreover, since the Bible tells us that we will have beautiful communion with each other, it would seem natural that we would be able to recognize each other. I think the Bible indicates that we will be able to recognize and share meaningful fellowship with those we know here on earth. But what specifically those relationships will be like we don’t know.
Piper writes, “Sweetie-pie. As I walked to the car, I thought . . . if a marriage covenant between a man and a woman can produce that kind of fidelity and commitment and affection under those circumstances, then surely under the great and merciful terms of the new covenant in Christ, God has no difficulty calling you and me (sick as we are!), “Sweetie-pie.” And if he does, there is no truth more unshakable in all the world than this: For them and for us the best is yet to come.” We need not fear the unknown because our life in heaven is assured by a risen Jesus and we, and all who love him, will be there in heaven with him.
III. A promised resurrection is the basis of our hope.
In verses 26-27, Jesus says, “Remember the story of Moses and the burning bush?” When God spoke to Moses, he spoke of his being the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God said this to Moses after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all died. God didn’t say to Moses, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” God is the God of the living. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have not ceased to exist. They continue to live and he is still their God.
Moreover, the phrase, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” is used to describe the covenant faithfulness of God. God beautifully cared for and richly blessed them while they were alive on earth because of his covenant promises to them. If God blessed them so much in their lives, God will certainly not forsake them in their death.
Jesus is telling the Sadducees very clearly that there is a resurrection life. Now the Jewish concept of the resurrection was very limited. They thought the resurrection would be an infinite prolonging of the present life on earth now. Of course, there would be some modifications and improvements. But things would continue on pretty much as before. Jesus dispels this idea and makes it clear that heaven will be significantly different than anything on earth.
It’s easy for us too to think that the resurrected life will be much as life is now for us. But our life in heaven will be far different from our life here and now and it will be so much better. Rawley Meyer writes: “When we get to heaven, the first hundred years we will feel like such fools -- we thought we knew so much and we will discover we knew next to nothing. The second hundred years we will be saying prayers of thanksgiving grateful to God for rescuing us from our stupidity.” Life now is great, but life in heaven will be even greater.
IV. So what is the future of marriage?
What is the future of marriage and family within this broader perspective? Is marriage just a waste of time on earth since there won’t be any marriage in heaven? Should we all just seek to be single and live our lives faithfully to God? It is important to remember that we are not yet part of the new life in heaven. We are still very much a part of this earthly age. And the Bible speaks very clearly to us regarding maintaining marriage and family relationships while we are on earth.
While we are still on this earth, marriage and family are very important. We must make the most of our marriage and family relationships. Remember that your marriage and your family is a gift given to you from God and he expects you to care for this gift with every effort you have.
But do so with the right perspective. As beautiful as these relationships are, they will be far surpassed in eternity. Bob Hoffman and his family went to Liberia in 1989 to serve as short-term missionaries. They soon realized that this was a place where God was using their talents and abilities in a special way. So they decided to stay for a longer term. Liberia had become home to them. Then civil war broke out and hundreds of missionaries were forced to flee, including the Hoffmans. They returned to their hometown in Michigan. To support his family while awaiting a possible return to Liberia, Bob went back to his old job, teaching in a Christian school. The surroundings were the same as before, but he felt out of place -- like a stranger. His heart was across the Atlantic Ocean in Liberia.
While we enjoy the blessings of family, let’s make sure that our hearts are yearning for heaven and eternal life with our Lord. At that time, we will all be united in praising God together. We can all thank God for the beautiful blessings of family on earth. Let’s praise God for the even greater blessings we will have in heaven.