Matthew 22:23-31 The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
I believe that these verses are among the most universally misunderstood of any in the New Testament. At first glance, they do appear to be saying that marriage does not survive the grave. But for those willing to look a little deeper, there are some significant clues which imply that the truth is a bit more involved. Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate this same incident, but with some slightly different details, so I’m quoting all three of them. My comments, though, will be limited to Mark’s and Luke’s accounts.
We need, as always, to be aware of who Jesus’ audience was. In this instance, He was speaking to the Sadducees. What do we know about the Sadducees? First of all, they didn’t believe in a resurrection at all. In asking a question of this sort, do you honestly think they were looking for the truth? Or do you think that, as on many other occasions, they were simply trying to stump Jesus by asking a question that would cause Him to have to contradict something He’d previously taught. (It’s also likely that the subject of marriages enduring beyond the grave had been mentioned before. At least this question seems to be hinting that it had.) At any rate, it’s entirely logical to assume that Jesus, knowing their hearts as perfectly as He did, would have given them an answer that, while entirely honest, would pertain to them specifically. In teaching a truly receptive audience, His answer would likely have reflected His concern with their genuine interest in knowing.
John 17 (which I referred to earlier) makes frequent use of the phrases “of the world” and “not of the world.” These phrases are, in fact, used so many times that it’s almost impossible to brush them off as inconsequential. In the prayer recorded in this chapter, Jesus made a clear distinction between His followers, in other words, those individuals who, like Him, were “not of this world,” and those who rejected Him, thereby falling into the group who were “of the world.”
Looking at Mark’s account, we see another important indication of what Jesus really meant. Here, Jesus is recorded as having said, “Ye know not the power of God.” What on earth could He have meant by that? The power of God to do what – un-marry someone? In the context of His statement, He could only have meant that the Sadducees did not understand that God has the power to unite a husband and wife forever. Without such power, death would certainly end the marriage covenant, but with it, the covenant is eternal. Jesus gave Peter the keys to bind in heaven that which he would bind on earth. Having that authority, he would be able to exercise the power of God to make the marriage relationship endure. We know from the Old Testament that “whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever.” When Peter received the keys to the kingdom of God, he received the power of God to do something that would have eternal significance. A marriage performed by someone not holding that power would endure only under one or the other partner died.
Finally, it is significant that Jesus never did say that no one would be married in Heaven. He merely said that no one would get married in Heaven. There is a difference between these two things. The Greek word translated as “marry” is “gamosin,” the third-person form of the verb “gameo,” which means “to enter into the marriage state or to get married.” The term “gamizonai” (“giving in marriage”) is another way of saying the same thing. But, He never used the word, “gemesas,” (as is found in 1 Corinthians 7:33) to describe “a married person.” He never said that there will be no married individuals in Heaven; He only said that marriages won’t be performed there. And I believe this to be the case.