What does Jesus mean when He says, “In heaven there is no marriage and no one is given in marriage?”
The saying of Jesus in question is found in all three of the synoptic gospels. Mark 12: 18 – 27, Luke 20: 27 – 40, and Matthew 22: 23 – 33.
For the sake of brevity and simplicity, we can only examine one specific text, regardless the three accounts are very similar. Mark as the oldest Gospel will be our focus for understanding this passage.
Mark 12: 25 reads, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
The context of this saying is crucial for understanding its meaning. The Sadducees are questioning Jesus about the idea of a resurrection because they did not believe in a resurrection. In Jewish culture, marriage for the sake of children was the means to live forever. Thus, the initial almost absurd question about seven brothers marrying the same widow in order to carry on the family name.
Jesus ignores this comical scenario and His response wants to show that life in the resurrection is qualitatively different from the present life. Thus, His saying that in heaven men and women are like the angels. His response and the verse in question is meant to exalt the idea of resurrection and not to belittle marriage. Marriage is ordered towards the unitive love between a man and woman and hopefully children. While spouses are called to assist one another in achieving holiness, marriage for Christians is not the means to eternal life. In heaven people will live for eternity because of the grace of participating in the Divine life of God.
Jesus is trying to help the Sadducees move beyond their earthly debates and focus on the higher mystery of God. As stated early, the Sadducees did not believe in life after death and would continuously debate the question with the Pharisees. Jesus is pointing them and us to what really has value, namely faith and hope in Our Heavenly Father.