“When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” Mark 12:25 (NIV)
The Sadducees — who didn’t believe in the resurrection — had befuddled the Pharisees — who believed in the resurrection — with a ridiculously absurd argument they believed undermined the truth of resurrection based on the levirate marriage law. The law was designed to protect a childless widow from a life of poverty by allowing her family line to continue (see the Book of Ruth).
The Sadducees thought they could embarrass Jesus in the same way. Instead, they got a lesson about the truth of the resurrection and one brief insight into the nature of marriage in the afterlife. Jesus answer taught them…and us…a lesson about God’s power: God does raise the dead (vss. 24-27), and God makes a new life for his people through the resurrection (vs. 25).
The most we can say from Jesus statement is: in the resurrection, life as we know it now will be different including marriage. There will be no marriage — as we understand it today — in the resurrected life. Jesus qualifies his statement by saying that those raised from the dead will be like the angels in heaven regarding marriage. Lots of people have their own ideas about what this means regarding relationships, marriage, sexuality, and sex but most of these ideas are mere speculation. Here are some of the things we know for sure:
- We will have glorified bodies after the resurrection, like Jesus’ resurrected body (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:43).
- There will be similarities to our earthly bodies but we will not be the same (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
- In our resurrected bodies the spirit and not the physical predominates (1 Corinthians 15:44, 49).
- We will recognize each other including our marriage partners (1 Corinthians 13:32).
With his statement, Jesus was not undermining marriage nor dissolving the eternal aspect of marriage. He wasn’t doing away with sexual differences in the resurrection, or teaching that we will be asexual beings after death. What Jesus was saying is: God is powerful to raise the dead and to make all things new according to God’s eternal plan.
For the time being, we hold on to God’s power through faith recognizing that God has begun to make all things new. He has brought us to spiritual life through salvation and is transforming us to be more like Jesus Christ in the present. We live our lives — including…or perhaps especially…our marriages — as expressions of “on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven” relationships of love, service, respect, and honor. We look forward with hope to the day when God makes all things new — even our bodies — and ushers in his kingdom in all of his God-intended glory.