Everyone knows that heaven is supposed to be filled with happiness. David wrote in the Psalms, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Some people have wondered whether the joy of heaven includes married partners continuing their relationship.
Obviously, some marriages are very happy and some are unhappy. Some people marry for true love and some for convenience, wealth or pleasure. Some are together because they have chosen each other and wish with all their hearts to be of one mind and share their whole life with each other, while others are together because their families have arranged it or circumstances have pressured them.
Since marriages vary so much, part of the answer about whether marriages will continue in the next life is another question: What kind of marriages are we talking about?
When the Sadducees asked Jesus about marriage in the next life, part of His answer was, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-40). Some people have taken this to mean that all marriages end with death and that people in heaven are stripped of all sexuality and love for their partners. In fact, these are unwarranted conclusions. Jesus says that in the resurrection we become as the angels, but He never says that angels are single or asexual, genderless beings. When we look more carefully at Jesus’ words we can see that He never said that true love ends with death.
The Sadducees who asked this question were not sincerely looking for an answer, but looking for a way to embarrass Jesus. They did not believe in life after death, and so they tried to contrive a question about life after death that Jesus would not be able to answer. This was not a question from a loving husband, “Will I be with my wife in paradise?” It was not even about that kind of love and marriage. The Sadducees were not asking about normal marriage or marrying for love, but a legal arrangement called a “levirate marriage” that was solely for providing offspring for a man who died childless. Mosaic law provided that when a married man died without offspring his brother could marry the widow and father a child who would then inherit the dead brother’s name and possessions (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). In this marriage arrangement the living brother was simply becoming a surrogate father to provide a son for his dead brother. One would hardly expect this kind of arrangement to exist in heaven, where there is no concern for either material inheritance or physical offspring.
Another indication that Jesus was speaking specifically of the “levirate marriage” as not existing in heaven is the way He said that those in the resurrection are not given in marriage “nor can they die any more” (Luke 20:35-36). There is no reason why immortality (not dying any more) should stop someone from being married, so it would be to say the least rather cryptic to say “they don’t marry because they don’t die.” A “levirate marriage” on the other hand could only take place after the death of the former brother, so there would be no reason to have that kind of marriage in the next life when no one dies.
In those days, a marriage contract was generally made between the groom and the father of the bride. The bride was seldom given any say in the matter. Women were treated almost like property. To be “given” in marriage meant they could be given by parents to an unknown man (Genesis 24, 21:21), or given as a reward (Judges 1:12; 1 Samuel 17:25). They could be bought and sold (Genesis 29:20,Ruth 4:10, Hosea 3:2, 12:12), or even kidnapped (Judges 21:21-23) or captured in war (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). The Sadducees contrived a story in which seven brothers each married the same woman in turn, all of them dying childless. They asked, “Whose will the woman be, for they all had her.” It could also be translated, “Who will she belong to, for they all possessed her.”
The Greek word for “give in marriage” (gamidzo) is a verb related to the noun for “marriage” (gamos), but the two words do not have the same connotations, even though they have the same root. By comparison, the English noun “woman” has positive connotations, but the verb “womanize” is quite negative. The New Testament never uses “given in marriage” (gamidzo) to refer to a happy, free, loving marriage. Rather, Jesus uses it to describe this “levirate marriage” and the marriages in the time before the Flood (Matthew 24:38,Luke 17:27), when the earth was filled with violence and evil and the sons of God saw the daughters of men and took wives for themselves of all whom they chose (Genesis 6:1-5). Paul also used this term to refer to marriages arranged in a time of distress because of lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7). Being “given in marriage” always refers to a less-than-ideal arrangement. This is the kind of worldly coupling the Lord was referring to when He said, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:34). When Jesus said that in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, it means, according to the way these words are used elsewhere, that in heaven there are no marriages for lust and no arranged marriages or buying and selling of women.
In contrast with this, the Greek noun for wedding or marriage (gamos) is always used in a positive sense. Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding (John 2:1), and says that heaven is like a marriage (Matthew 22:1-14, 25:1-13). Furthermore, our relationship with the Lord is like marriage. John wrote, “The marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). Later, he saw the Holy City as the bride and wife of the Lord, coming down from God out of heaven “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2, 9-10).
When God first created people, He made them in His own image, male and female (Genesis 1:27, 5:1-2). He saw that what He had done was very good (Genesis 1:31) and He blessed them (Gen 5:2). If it is very good, why should it not continue after death? Jesus said, “They are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore, God has joined together, let no one put asunder” (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9). If God has joined them together, will the bond not survive death? “I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
God Himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). “The Lord, the God of Israel, says that He hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16). If He hates divorce, why would He divorce every wife and husband from each other by death? There are many passages which compare the relationship between God and His people to a marriage. “‘Your time was the time of love…. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,’ says the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 16:8). “Your Maker is your Husband,” He says (Isaiah 54:5). “I am married to you” (Jeremiah 3:14). “I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hosea 2:19). “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). Our relationship with the Lord is to be a blessed, heavenly, eternal relationship. Would our union with God be compared to something which ends with death and has no part in heaven? Or is marriage also a blessed, heavenly, eternal relationship?
Just as a loving marriage is like being in heaven and close to the Lord, relationships based on lust represent things that draw us away from the Lord. Adultery is like idolatry, and when the Lord’s people sin and turn away from Him, they are compared to a harlot (Ezekiel 16, Hosea 2). When they turn back to Him, they are called “the virgin of Israel.” “Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! …Turn back, O virgin of Israel, turn back to these your cities” (Jeremiah 31:4, 21). People who are faithful to the Lord are symbolically called virgins: “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Revelation 14:4-5). This doesn’t mean that only people who are literally virgins can go to heaven, but that we are symbolically virgins if we keep ourselves from evil desires and deceit.
Similarly, when Jesus praises those “who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (Matthew 19:12), He does not mean that we should all literally castrate ourselves, but that we should not be “married” to our destructive desires, whether sexual or just selfish. Anyone who turns from evil and is faithful to the Lord, whether married or not, is symbolically a “virgin” or a “eunuch” or one who “not defiled with women” and is “neither married nor given in marriage.”
Often when someone’s spouse dies, the survivor is comforted by the thought that eventually they will be together again in heaven, and their relationship will continue as it had before. For those who truly love each other, their heart’s desire is to be together again. Any time we are separated from people we truly love we grieve and long to be reunited. David grieved over his dead son, but knew he would see him after death. “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not come to me” (2 Samuel 12:22). When Martha and Mary lost their brother Lazarus, Jesus assured them, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). When the thief who was crucified with Jesus asked Him to remember him in the next life, Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). If brother will be reunited with sister, parent with child, Teacher with disciple, will not also partners who love each other be reunited?
There are many things that will not survive beyond the grave. We can’t take our money or possessions with us. But love survives. “Love bears all things, …endures all things. Love never fails.” Though languages and knowledge may pass away, love will remain (1 Corinthians 13:7-13). “For love is as strong as death… its flames are flames of fire… Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).
When married partners truly love each other it is the Lord who brings them together and gives them their love for each other. If they live, they live in the Lord and if they die they die in the Lord, so whether they live or die, they are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8). “Neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). For those who desire to be with their true love after death the Lord makes a promise: “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9). “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you” (John 15:7). “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).