Matrimony No More
Why the End of Marriage in Eternity Is Good News
Surely God’s purpose for his children in the resurrection is not only that eternal life will replace death, and righteousness replace sin, and health replace sickness, and joy replace sorrow, and pleasure replace pain, but also that unimaginable, unending, ever-increasing ecstasies replace the best of our most intense pleasures in this world.
In other words, the age to come is not only an improvement over the worst of this world, but over the best. I say this for three reasons.
Even Gains Are Loss
First, the apostle Paul did not say, “Whatever loss I had, it turned out to be gain because of Christ.” What he said was, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Christ is an improvement over the best, not just the worst.
And I take the word whatever seriously — “Whatever gain I had . . .” He underlines it in the next verse: “Indeed, I count everything [including all “gains” of this world] as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Nor can I imagine that he meant, “Christ is better in this world, but in the next world we will all bemoan the losses.” No. Christ will be better than this world’s best forever.
God Will Improve Our Best Pleasures
Second, the apostle said, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). If an infinite, all-wise, all-powerful Being loves us, and tells us that he has planned experiences for us in the age to come that exceed our ability to imagine, then we may conclude that these experiences will be inconceivably better than our best pleasures in this world for the simple reason that we can indeed imagine these.
Indeed, our imaginations can extrapolate from these even better pleasures than the best that we have. But God says that his planned pleasures will be even better than the best we can imagine.
No Deficits in the Age to Come
Third, the biblical images of the age to come leave no doubt that God intends for us to see those joys not only as better than the worst here, but also better than the best. For example,
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
“Fullness of joy” does not mean less than the joy you knew in this world, but more. This world’s best always leaves us feeling like there is more. I can imagine more. Indeed, there is. And “fullness of joy” is meant to promise it. Literally, the Hebrew for “fullness of joy” is “satiation of joys” — that is, joy beyond which there is no more joy to be had.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights. (Psalm 36:8)
If we have tasted this feast, and drunk from this river already in this world, will not the “homecoming” (2 Corinthians 5:8) be the kind of feasting and drinking that made the taste seem scanty?
. . . that in the coming ages [God] might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)
This is the purpose God had in raising us from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:4–5). Mark the words: Grace. Riches of grace. Immeasurable riches of grace. Immeasurable riches of grace in kindness. In the coming ages. What can this mean but that God’s purpose is to spend the endless ages of eternity dispensing on us riches of kindness which will take an eternity to spend, because they are literally “immeasurable.” Such language leaves no room for deficits of ecstasy in the age to come.
So, I conclude that heaven is not only an improvement over the worst of this world, but over the best.
Jesus Dispenses with Marriage in the Age to Come
If you are with me so far, we are now in a proper position to hear Jesus dispense with marriage in the age to come.
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 20:27–36)
What at first stuns us here is the reason Jesus gave for doing away with marriage in “that age.” Notice the argument: They don’t marry in the resurrection, “because they cannot die anymore.” This sounds at first like the only purpose for marriage is procreation. So, when the need for preserving humanity goes (since no one dies in the resurrection, and the number of the elect is perfect, Romans 11:25), marriage goes.
Our Bodies in the Resurrection
Keep in mind that what precipitated this statement was the Sadducees’ claim that there is no such thing as a resurrection. Bodies don’t get raised. They decompose, and that’s that (Luke 20:27). So, this text is about the resurrection of the body. This means that when Jesus says no one marries in the resurrection, it’s not because we don’t have bodies. The point of the passage is: We do.
Marriage was the flashpoint here because the Sadducees tried to make the resurrection of the body look ludicrous. If they were arguing with me today, instead of with Jesus two thousand years ago, they would have said, “Well, John Piper, whose husband will your father, Bill Piper, be in the resurrection, since he had two wives?” There was Ruth, my mother, who died after 36 years of marriage, and Lavonne, my stepmother, who died after 25 years of marriage. So, the Sadducees ask, will there be polygamy in the resurrection?
Jesus answers, “No.” There will be no polygamy in the resurrection because there will be no marriage in the resurrection.
If they had asked him, “How in the world do you know that?” he could have answered, “Because that’s the way I decided it would be when I planned this history of the universe.” But they didn’t want to go there. “They no longer dared to ask him any question” (Luke 20:40).
Is Procreation the Only Biblical Reason for Marriage?
Back to our question: When Jesus says that the reason there will be no marriage in the resurrection is because no one dies, is he implying that the only reason marriage exists is to make babies, and raise children, and to replenish the earth? If marriage is for more than procreation, then wouldn’t God keep it for those reasons?
Reasons like sexual pleasure, or being known and loved deeply by one special person, or the doubled pleasure of sharing experiences with one whose responses you enjoy, or the warmth of sleeping back-to-back under the covers on a cold night, or conversations with a spouse who understands every shade of meaning and emotion, or that undefinable comfort of just being together in the same room without a word.
And, of course, the Bible teaches that marriage is for more than procreation. Lovemaking in the Bible is not merely pragmatic. It is passionate — intended to be passionate.
A lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love. (Proverbs 5:19)
This also means that sex is not just a dam against the flood of fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2) — which it is. But not only.
And when we read about the wife of Proverbs 31:10–31, which begins, “She is far more precious than jewels” (verse 10), you don’t get the impression she is mainly an incubator. The biblical vision for marriage has always been about more than procreating replacements and preventing immorality.
So Why Does Marriage End?
If, then, the Bible itself teaches that marriage is for more than procreation, why does marriage end when the need for procreation ends? My suggestion has three parts.
Your Pleasures Will Escalate
The pleasures of this world are foretastes and pointers to the inconceivably superior pleasures of the age to come. To use the words of Paul, “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:10). He was speaking about the spiritual gifts of prophesy, tongues, and knowledge. I am applying the same principle to pleasure.
We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:9–12)
Paul says that comparing human life in this age with human life in the age to come (when the perfect comes) is like comparing human life as a child with human life as an adult. Apply this now to the pleasures of marriage.
The most exquisite sexual ecstasies in this age are like a child’s enjoyment of ice cream. There is as much distance between sexual pleasures in this world and the ecstasies of the spiritual body in the age to come as there is between a child’s enjoyment of ice cream and the pleasures of his marriage bed twenty years later.
Childlike ice-cream pleasures are prelude and pointer to adult sexual pleasure. Similarly, sexual pleasure in this age is prelude and pointer to unimaginably greater pleasures of the spiritual body in the age to come.
Marriage “Under the Sun”
I think the writer of Ecclesiastes glimpsed the limitations of the best pleasures of marriage in this age and pointed us to something better. He called this age “life under the sun.”
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)
The best human pleasures we know in this world — relational, emotional, psychological, and physical — are wonderfully suited for “life under the sun.” But in the age to come, “The city has no need of sun to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (Revelation 21:23). Should we, then, not say that the pleasures known by the natural body in this age are as inferior to the pleasures of the spiritual body as the sunlight of this age is inferior to the brightness of the glory of God?
Therefore, marriage ends for the same reason the sun ends. And childhood ends. And the natural body ends. All of them were foretastes, prelude, pointers. When the perfect comes, the pointers pass away.
What the Sadducees Would Understand
But why does Jesus mention deathless resurrection bodies as the reason marriage ends? “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” (Luke 20:35–36). Why not respond, “Since the pleasures of sex will be transposed into something unimaginably greater, therefore marriage will be no more”?
Perhaps the answer is this: If there is no death in the age to come, and if the number of the elect is complete at the resurrection (Romans 11:25), then there is only one experience in marriage that cannot be intensified in that age; namely, the production of new human beings. Evidently, the Sadducees agreed that, if procreation is not needed, marriage is not needed. So, Jesus simply chose to answer them in the most straightforward way they would understand.
Singlehood Is No Disadvantage
Finally, the third part of my answer to why God does not make marriage an eternal ordinance without procreation is that its disappearance clarifies what has always been true — that non-married people are the full beneficiaries of the greatest eternal joys. God had said to those who did not marry, but kept his covenant,
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:4–5)
Now it becomes clear that this “monument” and this “everlasting name” is a position with no disadvantage to the not-married in the resurrection, since all are not married.
Rejoice That Marriage Will Be No More
In sum, marriage ends because its procreating purpose is not needed in the resurrection (Luke 20:35–36). Marriage ends because all its pleasures are preludes and pointers to something so much better that the human heart cannot imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9). When the perfect comes, the partial passes away. And marriage ends in order to put the married and the non-married on the same footing for enjoying the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Let’s end where we began. If the age to come is not only an improvement over the worst of this world, but over the best, then the end of marriage is spectacularly good news. Do you see this? Marriage in this age, at its best, offers some of life’s most intense pleasures, and sweetest intimacies. If you have ever tasted these, or have ever dreamed of tasting them, then you can feel the astonishing force of the promise that marriage will be no more because it was too weak to carry God’s best eternal pleasures.
The more you feel like you would miss it, the more you should rejoice that it will be replaced. With every taste or every dream, remember: this is only foretaste — only prelude. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). All of us, married or not.