Luke 20:35-36 “Those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age 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.”
When I die, I don’t want that to be the end for me. And I am not alone in thinking that way. Christians historically have confessed their faith in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. But people of every culture in almost every kind of faith throughout time have longed for a life to come as well. Over 4500 years ago the ancient Egyptians built their pyramids in hope of an afterlife. Today, over 50% of people believe there is a heaven even when they have no religion at all. All of this reflects what the author of Ecclesiastes once wrote: “(God) has also set eternity in the heart of man.” We long for something more than the life we know now.
But “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” has always had its skeptics. We see what happens to dead bodies over time. “Living” skeletons and zombies and mummies and ghosts are fine for the horror films, but we don’t actually see the dead return to life like that, much less in perfectly restored form. It’s not hard to see why atheists, who demand more than God’s promises, would have their doubts. Nor have the skeptics always come from outside the church. Paul had to deal with people who denied the resurrection in the church of Corinth, and there are professors in Christian colleges and seminaries today who teach that there is no real resurrection of the body.
The Sadducees of Jesus’ day were a religious party whose skepticism led them to deny a resurrection of the dead. They tried to make the idea look ridiculous by confronting Jesus with a scenario in which a woman was widowed multiple times. If there is a resurrection, whose wife would she be in the next life? Surely God would not allow her to live with multiple husbands! To these men, life after death was a farce.
So Jesus explains that marriage is an institution for this life only. It doesn’t follow us to heaven. Those God considers worthy of a place in that new world will face no dilemmas regarding spouse or family.
Nor do we need to fear that heaven will somehow be inferior to our current experience, then. The absence of marriage doesn’t mean we will have something less. Jesus implies that this new life will be a huge upgrade. “Those who are considered worthy” will take part in it. Don’t misunderstand his words. It’s not that any of us actually is worthy in and of ourselves. God considers us worthy because of the value and worth of Jesus our substitute. If we listed our own qualifications on an application for heavenly membership, we would submit a blank piece of paper. The only “qualifications” we can claim are borrowed. They come directly from his own perfect life of love. And no background check can turn up any marks against us, because every sin has been permanently removed from our record by his innocent death on the cross.
That God should look at us as people worthy of heaven, then, is a powerful expression of his grace. From the externals, the difference between us and a worthy candidate for heaven is far greater than the difference between a bag lady or a homeless person and a country club member. One would expect that our presence would only spoil it for everyone else.
Then we find that God has filled heaven with others just like us, people considered worthy because they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. All of them have been cleansed, transformed, and made immortal. “They can no longer die.” In his grace God has given us the priceless privilege of participating in a new life with a new body indescribably better than anything we now know.
The resurrection is not only a certain promise we can believe. It is a beautiful promise we want to.