Our congregation has been recently exploring what the New Earth could be like; the discussions have been interesting. Our topic this past Sunday focused on if we will be married. The subject becomes front and center in Matthew 22 when the Sadducees challenge Jesus with an absurd hypothetical: “In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven [husbands she married] will she be?”
Jesus responded “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
Scripture has a lot to say about marriage: how we’re designed for relationship, God’s purposes for marriage, how holiness is to characterize marriage, how we are to treat our spouses. So after all the page-space and historical emphasis Scripture invests into marriage, why does marriage now get so easily discarded in the resurrection? A legitimate question to be sure.
Perhaps a more instructive question to ask, however, could be what is it about the resurrection that makes marriage unnecessary?
Jesus doesn’t explain. Since the Sadducees didn’t really believe in the resurrection, their question is a ruse he swiftly moves past. Yet the issue remains. How can all the energy, emotions, commitments, and sacrifice people have invested in their marriages be suddenly made irrelevant? We must look elsewhere in Scripture for possible answers. Thankfully, I believe Scripture provides those answers.
Ephesians is probably Paul’s most noteworthy text on resurrection living. Much of its latter half is spent explaining how the reality of the resurrection uniquely redefines our relationships and behavior. Concerning marriage, in Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul draws a significant correlation between a husband and wife’s marriage to Christ and the Church. Paul patterns the relationship dynamics between a husband and wife after Christ and the Church. Since the Church is the body of believers whose lives inhabit that of Jesus’ through his love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and continence, marriage becomes the perfect setting for such virtues to be authentically and maturely grown. In light of the reality-altering redemption Jesus’ resurrection affects, marriage is now most meaningful as a reflection of the covenant between Christ and the Church. In short, marriage potentially trains us to be the people of God. One could even call Christ-centered marriage a practicum.
If we also look carefully at Paul’s first letter to Timothy, who was then ministering at Ephesus, we can see this same idea at play. While there are several comparative examples, the clearest is probably 1 Timothy 3:5 where Paul bases a church leader’s competency on the quality of his home life. Possibly the process was learning Christian discipline from a teacher, practicing it at home with family, and continuing maturing with the assembled congregation. By learning to follow Jesus, they learn to lead their families, which subsequently teaches them to encourage and build up the larger congregation. From the teacher to the person, to the family, to the congregation, Christ is given expansive exposure and attention “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
From this perspective, the Christ-centered covenant between husband and wife is ultimately meant to move us deeper into the Christ-centered covenant with each other, his body the Church. Perhaps it is this perspective that begins to help us see why the resurrection renders marriage unnecessary, or rather, ultimately fulfills marriage. By the time of the resurrection, marriage will have played its part in nurturing the communal intimacy rooted in God’s love for us and expressed in our love for each other. Christ-centered marriage trains us to love so that when God establishes the New Earth, Christ-centered love is both new and natural.
The struggle with this topic is the dissolving of a precious bond so many people have spent so many years nurturing. It seems to make marriage meaningless. But rather than the dissolving of a precious bond, the Scriptures point to the uniting of a billion bonds more. They reveal that when “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready”, the love which has flowed from Christ will bind us into a blessed belonging with those whom God has joined together, forever.