Those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
Luke 20:34-36 (// Matthew 22:30 // Mark 12:25)
Jesus’ ethic around sex, marriage and family is rooted in both God’s creation of this present age and in his promise of new creation in the age to come.
Jesus affirms the vision put forth at the very beginning of the Bible in the Book of Genesis: God made men and women to live together as equal partners in unbreakable bonds of lifelong sexual and emotional intimacy through which succeeding generations are born and nurtured. This is the “one flesh” of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 19:4-6. This is the way of blessedness and happiness.
Marriage is one of God’s good gifts. Nevertheless, it is not for everyone. The sexual and procreative relationship of marriage is a this-age phenomenon. In the age to come, Jesus says, we will be “like angels” who do not marry. Presumably, Jesus is not announcing bad news for the blessed: “Tough luck folks; no more sex in heaven.” On the contrary, it suggests that human intimacy in the age to come will transcend even the intimacy of marital relations. The joys of heaven may be difficult for us to envision, but we can be certain that God will make our lives more complete when Christ gathers us to himself in glory.
As a very young boy I spent countless hours flying back and forth on the swing behind my house. I drove the swing upward with my legs, laid my head back and grew dizzy as I watched the clouds glide above. It was exhilarating, but that was long ago. I no longer want to spend my days on a child’s amusement. My life is much richer now, even without a swing to ride in my backyard.
In a similar way, God will enrich our relationships when we come to full maturity in the coming age, even without the joys of marital relations. The lives of celibate, unmarried Christians, then, are signposts pointing to the coming of the kingdom, or at least they should be.
Jesus explicitly gave unmarried believers a place within the community of faith. In Jesus’ striking figure of speech, those who do not marry have “made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). Jesus is speaking of metaphorical eunuchs, not literal. For unmarried Christians, the way of faithfulness entails celibacy. This, too, is the way of blessedness and happiness.
Those who do not marry anticipate the life of the age to come, not just in what they don’t do – marry, have sex and bear children – but more positively in the life they live within the family of God. The single life is not supposed to be a life without intimacy, affection or companionship. If the church is a foretaste of the coming kingdom, then the relationships we develop within the church ought to feel something like the relationships we will have in the age to come.
Jesus truly gave us each other to be a kind of family. When Peter complained to Jesus about all that he had given up to follow Jesus, Jesus reminded him of all that he had gained.
Peter began to speak to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you!” Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:28-30)
Those who follow Jesus have been adopted into a family with hundreds of brothers and sisters, parents and children. This is the kind of affection and companionship we ought to experience in the church, whether we are married or single.
The all-too-common absence of close Christian companionship indicts us as the Church. We do not always offer ourselves or open our lives to others as we should. We should pray for all who still long for that experience of intimacy built into us as human beings, and we should seek to be better friends and companions ourselves.
No matter how positive we find our Christian relationships – within our households or within the larger Christian family – we often find ourselves longing for more. Within this age, feelings of isolation and loneliness persist. These longings remind us that the joys of marriage and Christian fellowship are only a foretaste of the age to come.