Life after death is one of the central teachings of Christianity. Our conception of life after death has a vital influence upon our daily life and our relationship with God. So it might seem strange that the Lord has not told us more about it in the New Testament. But He has reason for not telling us everything at once. He never forces us to believe. He gives the truth to those who are ready to accept it. He guards our freedom above all else, always giving enough truth to make choice possible, but never so much that it forces our belief. There is no point in the Lord revealing more truth to those who are unwilling to believe what they already have. "If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" (John 3:12) "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16:31)
This is why the Lord so often spoke in parables. Those who were willing to believe would understand the hidden meaning. Others would not. So the Lord told His disciples, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to the rest it is given in parables; that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." (Luke 8:10) In fact when speaking with the crowds, the Lord always spoke in parables "as they were able to hear it, and without a parable he did not speak unto them."(Mark 10: 33, 34; Matthew 13:34, 35) There were many things that even the disciples were not ready to believe. Jesus told them, "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.... These things I have spoken to you in figurative language, but the time is coming when I shall no more speak to you in figurative language." (John 16:12, 25)
Keeping in mind that the Lord has much more to tell us about life after death than He was able to reveal at the time of the New Testament, let us consider the question of whether there is marriage after death. There are many passages which bear on this question, but there is one verse which often seems to be used to the exclusion of others: "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage." (Matthew 22:30) Taken out of context, this passage does seem to say that there is no marriage after death. Very often, however, a careful examination of the context will completely change the meaning of a passage. To be sure that we get the correct meaning of the passage, let us look at the whole context carefully.
The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: "Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first dies after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third even to the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her."
Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, `I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33. See also Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-40)
Now let us consider what this passage actually means. Note that marrying and being given in marriage do not refer to the married state, but only to the wedding itself. The question focused on a woman who had married seven times for apparently worldly reasons, with no evidence of having formed a spiritual bond with any of her husbands. The Sadducees were not talking about a true marriage, but merely about a legal ritual—an outward coupling without the inner meaning.
The Lord answered their question in terms of their own idea of marriage, which was quite different than ours is today. In those days, the marriage contract was generally made between the husband 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 Sam 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) This is kind of worldly coupling the Lord was referring to when He said, "The children of this age marry and are given in marriage." (Luke 20:34) Perhaps we should take the saying "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage," to mean, "In heaven there is no buying and selling of women and legal contracting such as you are used to."
The Sadducees were not actually interested in learning about marriage after death. They did not even believe in the possibility of life after death. All they wanted was to discredit the Lord's teaching about life after death. They would neither have listened nor understood if the Lord had tried to explain the difference between a genuine marriage based on love and trust and the kind of legal, physical coupling they thought of as marriage. The Sadducees were among those who would "see without seeing, and hear without hearing"—the kind of people the Lord could speak to only in parables. (Mark 10:33, 34)
Even the Lord's disciples had difficulty with the concept that marriage should be enduring. When the Lord taught that marriage should last to the end of life in this world, the disciples replied, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But Jesus said to them, "All cannot accept this saying but only those to whom it has been given." (Matthew 19:10, 11) Now if He told them about earthly marriage and they could not believe, how could He possibly tell them of heavenly marriage? This is a strong indication that what the Lord said to them about marriage in heaven was spoken in a parable, which would not be understood until a later time. It may be a mistake to take the passage too literally.
When the Lord said that in heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage He was speaking the truth. However, taken in context, the passage does not tell what heaven is like, but what it is not like, namely, that in heaven they do not arrange weddings in the same way that people do on earth.
So far we have spoken of only one passage. However, there are many passages which might give us an indication of whether marriage continues after death, even if it is not in so many words. When God first created people, He made them male and female. (Genesis 1:27) He saw that what He had done was very good. (Genesis 1:31) 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) 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 putting away." (Malachi 2:16) If this is the case, then why would He put away every wife and husband from each other by death?
There are many, many passages which compare the relationship between God and His people to a marriage. "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) 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?
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. The Bible is not clear about marriage after death. One or two passages, taken out of context, seem to say that there is no "marriage" in heaven. Many more passages hint that true marriage is an eternal covenant. The Lord said, "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." (John 16:12) Could it be that among the many things the Lord has to tell us is clear knowledge about what happens to true marriages when the partners are together in heaven?