And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 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, 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)
Of all the Scriptures dealing with marriage, this is probably one of the least likely to appear on a wedding program. And no surprise there. After all, what young couple embarking on the most important relationship of their lives wants to hear that it won’t last into eternity?
In fact, for many believers who are serious about the Scriptures, this qualifies as one of those “difficult sayings” of Jesus. Isn’t marriage the most profound institution God created for humanity? Isn’t the bond between husband and wife meant to be the most intimate, treasured relationship in this life? How can heaven be heaven without it?
Humans are designed for intimate relationship – primarily with God
As with all things, the ultimate answer is grounded in the person and character of God. From before creation, God has always existed in perfect, loving relationship between the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He didn’t create the universe because He was lonely or needed something to do. He did it as an outpouring of His good and giving nature.
Consequently, as His image bearers, humans are designed for relationship, to love and be loved – in a word, to belong. And the deepest expression of this relational nature that God has given humanity is found in the institution of marriage.
The universality of marriage has been borne out across all cultures throughout history. To be sure, we live in a fallen world and there have always been aberrations from God’s perfect design, not least in our own time. Nevertheless, the majority of societies have recognized the central value of marriage between one man and one woman for life.
This is reflected to an overwhelming degree in our arts and entertainment. How many stories and songs, poems and plays, novels and films have been written with love as their main theme? They celebrate its joys, mourn its heartaches, and more often than not, end with some version of happily ever after. There’s an old joke about Shakespeare that his tragedies all end with everyone dying, while his comedies all end with everyone getting married.
Love and death are at the core of our stories because they’re at the core of our reality. Knowingly or otherwise, these tales all reflect something of God’s overarching story, His grand narrative of creation, fall, redemption and restoration.
In light of this, the human capacity for love cannot be seen as simply horizontal, between one person and another. Its primary purpose is to be vertical, between each individual and God. In our most essential being, we were created for a loving relationship with our Creator.
Marriage is a picture of the union between Christ and His people
To that end, marriage, the most intimate of human unions, was designed by God as a picture of the bond between Christ and His Church. This is true of all marriage, Christian or otherwise, regardless of whether the participants recognize it as such. Instituted by God at creation, marriage offers a ubiquitous but temporary image of His final, eternal relationship with His redeemed people in the New Heaven and New Earth.
So then, there is indeed marriage in heaven – one great, ultimate consummation between the Lamb and His Bride, described at length in the book of Revelation:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-9)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
In heaven, the picture will be superseded by the reality
According to the Apostle John’s vision of the eternal city, there is no temple in it because God and Christ the Lamb are its temple, being intimately present with their people. Likewise there is no need for sun or moon or lamplight because the Father and the Son will be the source of light for the city. Just as a lamp is unnecessary in the light of the sun, so the sun itself will be unnecessary in the light of God.
And so it will be with the marriages of this present world, fleeting as they are and inevitably severed when death do us part. They will be superseded by that which is far more intimate and beautiful – our perfect, everlasting union with God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why then do we struggle at times with accepting this truth? Why do we fear the perceived loss of emotional and physical intimacy? It’s because we only have direct experience of the things God has given us in this life. We anticipate by faith what He has promised for the future, but we can’t begin to imagine the reality of it.
In his book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis addresses this difficulty with one of his typically insightful metaphors:
The letter and spirit of Scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternatives either of bodies which are hardly recognizable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer ‘No,’ he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.
This side of heaven, we can indeed only catch glimpses of the things God has prepared for us. We cannot grasp what it will be like to no longer be married or given in marriage, or how that could possibly be better than the relationships we now enjoy.
But we have our Lord’s assurance of His eternal, intimate union with us, and that it will be as far superior to our current state as the light of the sun is to a lightbulb.
We have but to trust and wait and see.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.