Jesus told the Sadducees that resurrected ones “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Luke 20:34-36) Was he talking about the resurrection on earth?
This is an important question, especially if your marriage mate has died. You may have a strong desire to be reunited in marriage with your resurrected mate in the new world. One brother said: “My wife and I did not choose to end our marriage. It was our heartfelt desire to remain united in worship as husband and wife forever. These feelings have not changed for me.” Is there any reason to believe that those who are resurrected on earth will be able to marry? We cannot say.
For many years, our publications have said that Jesus’ words about the resurrection and getting married likely refer to the resurrection on earth. Also, our publications have said that in the new world, resurrected ones will most likely not marry. * (See footnote.) (Matthew 22:29, 30; Mark 12:24, 25; Luke 20:34-36) However, is it possible that Jesus’ words refer to a resurrection to heaven? Without being definite about this matter, let us examine what Jesus said.
To whom was Jesus talking when he made that statement about the resurrection? (Read Luke 20:27-33.) He was talking to the Sadducees. This religious group did not believe in the resurrection and tried to trick Jesus with a question about the resurrection and brother-in-law marriage. * (See footnote.) Jesus told them: “The children of this system of things marry and are given in marriage, but those who have been counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. In fact, neither can they die anymore, for they are like the angels, and they are God’s children by being children of the resurrection.”
Why have our publications said that Jesus was probably talking about a resurrection on earth? There are mainly two reasons. First, it is likely that the Sadducees were referring to the resurrection on earth when they spoke to Jesus. So it seemed logical that Jesus would have answered them by speaking about a resurrection on earth. Second, Jesus ended his answer by referring to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These faithful men will receive a resurrection to life on earth.
However, it seems possible that Jesus was referring to a resurrection to heaven. What reasons do we have for saying this? Let us examine two statements in Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees.
“Those who have been counted worthy of gaining . . . the resurrection from the dead.” Faithful anointed ones are “counted worthy of the Kingdom of God.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5, 11) Because of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, God views the anointed as righteous. When they die, God views them as being free from sin. (Romans 5:1, 18; 8:1) Anointed ones are called “happy and holy” and are viewed as worthy of a resurrection to heaven. (Revelation 20:5, 6) This cannot be said about those who are resurrected to life on earth, because they will include “the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) Can such “unrighteous” ones be “counted worthy” of a resurrection?
“Neither can they die anymore.” Jesus did not say: “They will not die anymore.” Rather, he said: “Neither can they die anymore.” Other translations render that phrase “they are not subject to death any longer” and “death has no more power over them.” Anointed ones who remain faithful are resurrected to heaven. There they will be immortal. This means that they cannot die and that their life cannot be destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:53, 54) Death has no power over those resurrected to heaven. *
Based on the information we have discussed so far, what can we conclude? We learn that Jesus may have been referring to a resurrection to heaven. If so, then we understand three things about those who are resurrected to heaven: (1) They do not marry, (2) they cannot die, and (3) in some ways they are similar to angels in heaven. But if Jesus was referring to a resurrection to heaven, the following questions need to be answered.
First, the Sadducees were probably thinking about a resurrection on earth, so why would Jesus refer to a resurrection to heaven? Jesus did not always answer his enemies according to their way of thinking. For example, when some Jews asked Jesus to perform a miracle, he said: “Tear down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus likely knew that they were thinking about the temple building, “but he was talking about the temple of his body.” (John 2:18-21) Maybe Jesus did not feel that he had to answer the Sadducees, who were hypocrites. After all, they did not believe in the resurrection or in the existence of angels. (Proverbs 23:9; Matthew 7:6; Acts 23:8) Instead, Jesus may have wanted to provide his disciples with details about the resurrection to heaven. They were sincere ones who would have the hope of going to heaven.
Second, why would Jesus end his discussion by referring to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? These men will be resurrected to life on earth. (Read Matthew 22:31, 32.) Before mentioning these faithful men, Jesus began his statement with the words “regarding the resurrection of the dead.” This phrase may allow for a change in the discussion from a resurrection to heaven to a resurrection on earth. Jesus knew that the Sadducees accepted the writings of Moses, so he quoted God’s words to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus wanted to prove to the Sadducees that a resurrection on earth is part of God’s purpose.
Third, if Jesus’ words apply to the resurrection to heaven, does this mean that those who are resurrected on earth will be able to marry? God’s Word does not give a clear answer to that question. If Jesus was talking about the resurrection to heaven, then his words do not explain whether resurrected ones on earth will be able to marry in the new world.
The Bible definitely says that death brings an end to a marriage. So if your marriage mate has died, you should not feel guilty if you decide to remarry. That is a personal decision. And no one should criticize a person who seeks the warm companionship of a marriage mate.
We may have many questions about how life will be in the new world. Instead of trying to guess the answers to these questions, we must simply wait and see. But one thing is certain: Those who obey God will be happy, because Jehovah will satisfy all their needs and desires in the best way.
^ par. 4 See The Watchtower, June 1, 1987, pages 30-31.
^ par. 5 Brother-in-law marriage was a custom in Bible times. If a man died and had no sons, his widow would marry his brother. This would allow a son to be born and the family name to continue.
^ par. 9 Those who are resurrected on earth will have the hope of living forever, not of being immortal. To learn more about the difference between these two hopes, see The Watchtower, April 1, 1984, pages 30-31.