What Happens to Marriage after the Second Coming?
A few months ago I received a letter from an elderly man who had some searching questions. He had promised his wife before she passed away that he would start attending church so they could be united in Heaven. One day, after her passing, he was thumbing through her Bible and he came across Mark 12.
This man had been married three times and even though he was dutifully going to church, he was not particularly religious. After reading Mark 12, he became concerned about something Jesus said. He wanted to spend eternal life with his third wife whom he dearly loved, but he didn’t want anything to do with his first two wives, even if they made it to Heaven.
He asked me to review Mark 12 and answer some questions. Here is the text to which he referred: ” ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children.
The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’
“Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.’ “ (Mark 12:19–25)
The letter began by asking, “If all four of us make it to Heaven, what will be our relationship? Will we know each other? Will we have physical bodies or spiritual bodies? I know Jesus said that people will not marry or be given in marriage, but will previous marriages be recognized?
Will I have to live with all three women or the woman of my choice? Will we be sexual beings in Heaven? What should I expect to find if I get there?” He closed by saying, “Thank you in advance for your response. Your answers will help me decide if I want to go to Heaven.”
I had to smile at his final comment because this sentiment is not that unusual. Many people make the mistake of weighing the value of Heaven with an earthly mind. How can the value and experiences of eternal life be understood unless we have heavenly minds?
How can God’s character, God’s love, God’s grace and God’s wisdom be appreciated unless a person is born again? Nevertheless, the man asked some practical questions and although the Bible does not say much about life in the hereafter, it does reveal certain important things. Here is the short list:
Will we know each other in Heaven? Yes, we will know and recognize one another in Heaven! Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “Now we see but a poor reflection [of the future] as [looking] in a mirror; [however, after Jesus gathers up the saints] then we shall see [the glories of God’s creation] face to face. Now I know in part [small snippets about eternal life]; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known [by those around me].” (Insertions mine)
What type of bodies will we possess? Paul writes: “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 15:50) Does this text indicate that we will be spirits floating around with the clouds? No, the redeemed will not be ghosts. They will have physical bodies.
The phrase “flesh and blood” is an ancient idiom. It is used sixteen times in the NIV and five times in the KJV. This phrase is meant to contrast the temporal body of fallen man (earthly order) with the glorious order of beings who live in Heaven (heavenly order).
Mankind is made of dirt and our bodies are sustained by the life-giving properties found in our blood (Leviticus 17:11). The term “flesh and blood” indicates that we are of this world, and Paul used this well known expression to make a sharp distinction between man’s present condition and the glorious change that physically occurs at the Second Coming.
Will we have physical bodies in Heaven? Yes, every saint will be given a perfect body! Paul wrote, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep [some saints will be alive at the Second Coming], but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the [righteous] dead will be raised imperishable, and we [that is, the living saints] will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–53, insertions mine)
Consider this contrast. When Lazarus was resurrected from the dead, he was not given a new body. (John 11) However, when Jesus was resurrected, He came from the tomb in a new physical body that would last forever. He was not immediately recognizable in this new body. (Luke 24:31; John 20:15, 27) The same Jesus who ascended to Heaven will also return to Earth! (Acts 1:11)
When Moses and Elijah were taken to Heaven, they were given glorious bodies. When they descended from Heaven to meet with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John recognized them. (Luke 9:30, 31) The twenty-four elders sitting around the throne are real people with crowns on their heads, redeemed from Earth. (Revelation 4:10; 5:9)
Furthermore, the Bible indicates that Heaven is a physical place! The Holy City will descend from God out of Heaven, and the dimensions of the Holy City are literal! (Revelation 21:2–17.)
I would not be surprised to learn that Heaven (the place of God’s Great Throne, Headquarters of the Universe) is located on a planet that God moves around from place to place as needed. If true, the Father and the Son are always able to camp close to their children wherever they may be. Isn’t that amazing?
Now, on to the real concern of my friend’s letter. What will be the relationship between previously married people in Heaven? This is a double edged question. I have a number of dear friends who suffer from a terrible sense of loss because their life-long spouse—their soul-mate—has passed away.
I also have friends who enjoy a sense of freedom since the death of their spouse because it brought a difficult marriage to a close. Married people understand that marriage can be holy wedlock or wholly deadlock. So as we proceed, let us keep the implications of good marriage / bad marriage and endless years of eternal life within view.
Paul wrote, “‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.’ The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9–10)
To help us understand the issues surrounding this topic, I need to present a short parable: “One day, a gorgeous butterfly landed beside a caterpillar, named Glenn, who was busy eating the last leaf on a shrub. Even though the caterpillar saw the butterfly, he did not acknowledge its presence.
Eventually, the butterfly spoke. He simply asked the caterpillar how he was doing. The caterpillar continued to chew because he had nothing but contempt toward butterflies. After a few moments of silence, the butterfly flew to a position directly in front of the caterpillar to confront him.
This time, the butterfly said, “Glenn, I’m your brother, Randy! Don’t you recognize me? I’ve been transformed into a butterfly and I have come back home to see how you are doing.” Glenn snapped back, “Well, good for you! Why don’t you run along and leave me alone.” The butterfly said, “Glenn, I have come to tell you that someday you will become a butterfly.
You will soar with the wind and gather nectar from beautiful flowers! You won’t live as a hairy caterpillar forever.” The caterpillar responded, “I don’t want to become a butterfly. Butterflies don’t eat shrubs, and I love shrubs. Besides, butterflies don’t live very long.
Have you ever looked at car bumpers or under the hoods of cars? They are full of dead butterflies. Nope, I love going to caterpillar parties and eating everything in sight. I enjoy dancing and drinking and I really enjoy cocoon parties. Floating around in the sky as bird food doesn’t appeal to me. So, good-bye and don’t mention the subject to me again.”
The moral of this parable is this: The caterpillar and butterfly are the same insect. The caterpillar represents our present earthly condition and the butterfly represents our heavenly condition after we are changed at the Second Coming.
Many people dislike the ways of God because they have the caterpillar mindset, the earthly mind. God has purposefully kept mankind from knowing very much about the glorious form of life that is coming because there is no similarity between the life of a caterpillar and that of a butterfly, even though they are the same creature!
In other words, how can caterpillars get excited about life as a butterfly if their affections are centered on the things caterpillars do? Heavenly minded people know this world is not our home! Heavenly minded people are caterpillars with butterfly minds – waiting for their butterfly body!
A few years ago, a recently married young woman said to me, “If my husband doesn’t make it to Heaven, I don’t want to go!”
On another occasion, a young married man confided to me, “If there is no sex in Heaven, I really don’t want to go!” My response to both individuals was the same.
You say these things because you have an earthly mind. If God took you to Heaven and replaced your marriage and/or your sexuality with something better, you would not want to come back here. The young man thought about it for a moment and said, “What could be better than sex?” I said, “You err, not knowing the power or the plans of God for His children.”
Since the Bible does not answer every question we may have about the future, I will close this discussion by making two comments. First, after studying the ways of God for almost 35 years, I have no doubt that eternal life will be more glorious and all of our relationships more fulfilling than anything experienced on Earth.
Second, I suspect the redeemed of all ages will live together as one family – as though we were all married to each other. By removing the issues of sexuality and sinful propensities, sinless people will be able to progress through many intimate relationships throughout eternity without violating God or themselves; and each special relationship will ennoble and enrich each saint.
God’s family is huge and every saint will have billions of delightful and loving companions. I think it is safe to assume that each saint will also have favorite relationships for a few million years and these favorites may change from age to age, and from assignment to assignment.
I think this is how the angels presently live. This arrangement would keep life very interesting and very satisfying. We can be assured of this – there will be joy and happiness in Heaven. There will be no place for marital discord. Doesn’t this sound like Heaven?