Jesus makes me uncomfortable. There, I said it. Like a thorn in my La-Z-Boy, Jesus sometimes makes me squirm in discomfort. The scribes and Pharisees felt the same way. So did Jesus’ disciples (Mark 8:33). He challenges agendas, disrupts comforts, unravels presuppositions, slaughters sacred cows, and beheads Dagon-like idols (see 1 Samuel 5:1-5).
Jesus did it again this past week as our church studied Mark 12:18-27 together. One verse in particular made me pause and say, “Wait, what did he…? Did he really say…? Surely, he couldn’t have meant…?” Yes, yes, he did:
“For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Mark 12:25).”
According to Jesus, marriage doesn’t last forever. It’s a good, but temporary institution. Contrary to the Sadducees assumptions (and many of our own), there will be a resurrection and the new creation will not simply be more of the same from this life, only better.
Some might instinctively argue that this demotes the significance of marriage, but I think that rings untrue! The loss of marriage at the resurrection doesn’t evacuate our marriages of meaning, but aggrandizes them! For a Christian, the reality of a future resurrection injects meaning into our lives—and our marriages—because it sweeps us up into a much larger redemptive story of which our own stories are but a part.
Love in marriage instructs us in God’s love—God’s love for us, our love for God, and, consequently, our love for one another because of God’s love for us (1 John 4). Union in marriage—what it means to become “one”—builds a rudimentary category for our union with Christ. Sexual intimacy and pleasure in marriage has been designed by God as a way for us to know God more fully. It should come as no surprise, then, that that language and imagery of sexuality are the most powerful the Bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people (e.g. Ezekiel 16:4-10).
According to Jonathan Edwards, Christians have no reason to grieve the loss of marriage, or despair at the prospect of dying single, because an infinitely greater reality awaits those who are in Christ:
“When a saint dies, he has no cause at all to grieve because he leaves his friends and relations whom he dearly loves; for he doth not properly leave them, he enjoys them still in Christ, because everything that they love in them, and love them for, is in Christ in an infinite degree, whether it be nearness of relation, or any perfection and good received, or love in us, or a likeness in dispositions, or whatever is a rational ground of love.“
Edwards elaborates on this theme elsewhere, concluding that whatever pleasure we enjoy in this life cannot be compared with the pleasures to be enjoyed by the Church after their resurrection:
“We know not what sort of bodies the saints shall have after the resurrection. But it seems to me probable that…the glorified spiritual bodies of the saints shall be filled with pleasures of the most exquisite kind that such refined bodies are capable of; not with any pleasures that in the least tend to clog the mind, and divert from mental and spiritual pleasure and the pure joys of holiness…The sweetness and pleasure that shall be in the mind, shall put the spirits of the body into such a motion as shall cause a sweet sensation throughout the body, infinitely excelling any sensual pleasure here.”
God created marriage, as he did all things, to declare and display His glory (Psalm 119:1; Romans 1:19-20). John Piper (predictably, but rightly, I think) echoes Edwards when he asserts, “The ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable.” In other words, when a man and women are covenanted together in love, we are catching a glimpse of God’s glorious character and gospel promises on display! In marriage, we are reading a “Cliffs-Notes” version of the kind of relationship the Church will enjoy with her Bridegroom forever (Ephesians 5:22-30)! Edwards again:
“In the future world the saints’ love, one to another, will be such, that it will be a very delightful consideration to them that Christ Jesus dearly loves the other saints, and it will fill them with joy to see him manifesting his love to them. They again shall see the other saints rejoicing that Christ loves and delights in them.”
Ultimately, marriage equips the Christian to anticipate and live for something greater than his or her marriage—namely the display of His “manifold wisdom” through the church “according to the eternal purpose that he has accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:10-11a). God didn’t ultimately create the Church in order to display His glory through our marriages, but ultimately created marriage as a signpost of how He would display His glory and demonstrate His love in and through the Church! Local churches are not to be family-centered, but Christ-centered! The church doesn’t ultimately exist to help us “focus on the family.” Rather, we focus on the family only insofar as our families exist to display the love and glory of God in Christ as we, His Bride, eagerly anticipate the immeasurable pleasures of resurrection life with Him.