I am writing this because of a conversation I had with my dear friend and sister in Christ, Linda. Thank you for all you have done for me and my family. I hope this is helpful and maybe even convincing! 🙂
One central question and one supporting question are at hand here. The central question is this:
- What will happen to marriage in heaven and/or the new creation?
A supporting and related question that I think must first be answered is this:
- Will we know each other in heaven and/or the new creation?
I have attempted to frame the questions very thoughtfully. We must bear in mind that our ultimate goal is not heaven, but new creation. Our final resting place is in the new heavens and new earth with resurrection bodies ruling and reigning with Christ (Isa 65:17; 1 Pet 3:11-13; Rev 21:1-8). This is why my questions carefully distinguish “heaven and/or the new creation” because potentially answers could be different for heaven than for the new creation. “Heaven” has become a catch-all term for believers meaning “where we go when all is said and done.” This video by the Bible Project very simply and clearly explains the conundrum:
Now equipped with a better grasp on the ultimate goal to which we are going we are ready to continue. We will begin with the supporting question and then move on to the central question at hand.
Will we know each other in heaven and/or the new creation?
First, there is nothing in scripture that says or implies that we will not know each other in heaven and/or the new creation.
Second, there is no place in scripture that explicitly states that we will know each other in heaven, but there are places in scripture that imply that we will know each other in heaven and the new creation. Here is a brief, non-exhaustive list of some of the more prominent examples:
- When the patriarchs died they were said to be “gathered to their people” or being laid down with one’s ancestors – Abraham (Gen 25:8) – Isaac (Gen 35:29) – Joseph (Gen 47:30).
- King Saul consults a medium and conjures up the spirit of Samuel who recognizes others and is recognized by others even in a disembodied state (1 sam 28:13-19).
- Over and over again when the kings of Israel die they are said to be asleep with and be buried with their ancestors – David (1 Kings 2: 10) – Solomon (1 Kings 11:43) – Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:19) – Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:31) – Abijam (15:8) – etc.
- Jesus said many will come to eat at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mat 8:11) and Jesus spoke with Abraham and Elijah at the transfiguration (Matt17:3-5/Mark 9:4-8/ Luke 9:30-31). Abraham is in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – though this is a parable and it is not heaven, but “hades” that is being described here (cf. Luke 16:19-31). The patriarchs will be recognized by us in the new creation and they were recognized and recognized others while in the in-between state of heaven before the new creation.
- Surely drawing on OT language from the patriarchs and kings of Israel, Paul speaks of those who have “fallen asleep” in 1 Thessalonians 4. The idea is that people will wake up to the resurrection and then live in the new creation in a resurrection body like that of Jesus (1 Cor 15).
- Hebrews speaks of a great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us and cheers us on from heaven (Heb 12:1-2). The implication of this is clearly that we would know who is in that great cloud of witnesses.
Personhood is dependent on personal relationships. God’s own self is a community of personal relationships: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since humanity was made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) humanity will not lose personal relationships in heaven or the new creation. Based on all of this, I think we can say with great confidence that there is no Biblical reason why we should doubt that we will know one another in heaven. This would, of course, include that we would know our spouse in heaven and the new creation. The question then, is not whether or not we would know our spouse in heaven and the new creation, but whether or not we would still be married in heaven and the new creation.
What will happen to marriage in heaven and/or the new creation?
Marriage will not be necessary in heaven and the new creation, but I think the Bible implies that we will still be closely connected with our spouse in a special way we are not with anyone else. The primary passage of scripture that is brought into this discussion is in Mark 12:18-27/Matt 22:23-33/Luke 20:27-40.
We will focus the discussion with Luke’s telling. The most important part of this story for our discussion here is in Luke 20:34-36. The context leading up to that passage is important to appreciate before discussing the text itself. The Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection, but set out to question Jesus about it (Lk 20:27). Probably, they are trying to set up the absurd scenario about a woman who marries seven brothers who die in sequence to show what in their eyes is the stupidity of believing in the resurrection. The custom behind this story they construct is called levirate marriage and is proscribed in the Torah (Deut 25:5-6). The practice was intended to protect widows economically since they would have been incapable of earning adequate living wages on their own. The Sadducees probably got the idea for this story from the Apocryphal book of Tobit where seven successive husbands of a pious woman named Sarah die though they have added the detail that they were brothers.
So in context, Jesus is rebuking the Sadducees who are trying to prove the resurrection to be an absurd idea. This is clear based on the conclusion of this passage where Jesus quotes scripture to show that the resurrection is not only plausible, but to deny resurrection is the true absurdity (Lk 20:37-40). Jesus’s answer shuts-up the Sadducees (Lk 20:40) and pleases the scribes (who are not the same group as the Sadducees) who say, “teacher, you have spoken well.” (Lk 20:39). The context then makes clear that this passage is not primarily about marriage, but primarily about resurrection with marriage as a case study for the plausibility of the resurrection.
Now the oft cited passage in question:
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. (Luke 20:34-36 NRSVue)
Jesus does NOT say explicitly that marriage is dissolved in the new creation. It may very well be implied, but all he says is that at the resurrection (in the new creation) people will no longer marry or be given in marriage. That is, he makes no explicit comment about what happens to marriages that already existed prior to the resurrection, but instead speaks of how there will no longer be a need to marry or be given in marriage in the new creation.
What then is the connection with the second line? Why does it logically follow from this point (“indeed,…”) that they cannot die anymore and are like angels and are children of God? The connection is that they are preoccupied with absurd hypothetical questions in an attempt to dismiss the resurrection rather than accepting the resurrection and letting the questions of details be worked out as they will. In other words, just because this hypothetical situation seemed to make the resurrection seem absurd does not mean it is absurd. This would be an exceptional case and not the normative rule for sure. I think Eugene Peterson captures the thrust of the argument well in the Message:
Jesus said, “Marriage is a major preoccupation here, but not there. Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage nor, of course, with death. They will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. Even Moses exclaimed about resurrection at the burning bush, saying, ‘God: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob!’ God isn’t the God of dead men, but of the living. To him all are alive.” (Luke 20:34-38 MSG)
Just because marriage is a major preoccupation here (in this life), does not mean it will be a major preoccupation there (in heaven and/or the new creation). In fact, I think we can safely say it will be a minor preoccupation since apparently we will no longer marry or be given in marriage.
I could very well be wrong in my interpretation(s) on this matter. I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong. The problem is, I have not found arguments to the contrary very convincing. It does not seem to logically follow that, since we will no longer continue to marry and be given in marriage in heaven and the new creation, the marriages which were established on this side of eternity will then dissolve into nothing. I think to claim that from the passage above is an assumption we have read back into the text and not something inherent in the text itself. Further, does not our Lord say, “what God has joined together let no one separate” (cf. Mark 10:9)? And in the idealized state of Eden before the fall, did not God himself say that it was not good for man to be alone (Cf. Gen 2:18)? If the new creation is in some sense a return to this state of communion and harmony with God before the fall then why would we assume that there will be no such thing as marriage there?