What will it mean for us to ‘be like the angels’ in Luke 20?

The Sunday’s lectionary reading for the Third before Advent in Year C is Luke 20.27–38. Once more, the lectionary makes an odd choice; it would be more natural to read on to verse 40 and complete the pericope. The narrative recounts an exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees, who do not believe in bodily resurrection, and so offers an immediate answer to the question of our post-mortem hope. But Jesus’ answer also gives a window into some key aspects of biblical anthropology—that is, how the Bible construes human bodily existence—and this has some very contemporary applications.

On the text itself, I offer here an extract from my 2016 article ‘Are we sexed in heaven’, which is published in the book Marriage, Family and Relationship: Biblical, Doctrinal and Contemporary Perspectives which came out of the 2016 Tyndale conference on the subject, before noting some important pastoral implications. The whole chapter is attached at the end.

The passage occurs in all three of the synoptic gospels. Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts run very closely in parallel, though with some minor variations. In contrast to these close parallels, Luke offers some significance differences. The account of the Sadducees question remains the same, though slightly abbreviated by use of the adjective ateknos, ‘childless’ (Luke 20.29). But Jesus’ response is significantly refigured.

First, Luke recasts the response in more explicitly eschatological terms of ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ (vv 34–35); this configuration echoes Jesus’ comment in Matt 24.38 suggesting that ‘marrying and giving in marriage’ distinctively belong to ‘this age’. As part of this, Jesus links the age to come with judgement, since only those ‘worthy’ (v 35) can participate. And in contrast to the other two accounts, he brings out the theological or philosophical reason behind this; marriage and procreation belong to the age of death, since it is only because we die that we need to have children to continue our line and our work.1

Commenting on Luke’s version, James Alison picks this up with some rhetorical force. In the old dispensation, the way past universal reign of death was having children, and in this context, levirate marriage was the man’s passport to immortality of sorts. But, in sharp contrast to the Sadducees failure of understanding and imagination (Alison declares) ‘There is no death in God’.2 Robert Song also highlights this key observation.

What happens in the resurrection, when death shall be no more? If there is no death, the sustenance of the people of God no longer requires future generations to be born; and if there is no need for future generations to be born, there is no need for marriage…where there is resurrection, there is no death; where there is no death, there is no need for birth; where there is no birth, there is no need for marriage.3

Song then cites John Chysostom: ‘Where there is death, there is marriage.’ (On Virginity, 14.6).4

In Luke, Jesus then extends the logic of this into an eschatological reconfiguration of familial belonging, parenting and childhood. Those who rise are ‘children of the resurrection’, presumably because it is their resurrection which has given birth to them in this new age, but since it is God who has brought about this resurrection, they are God’s children, and this displaces any lines of heritage in ‘this age’. This idea makes clear connections with Jesus’ radical reconfiguration of family relations at several points in the gospels, and most explicitly and strikingly in Matt 12.49 = Mark 3.34 = Luke 8.21: ‘whoever does the will of God are my mother, my brothers, my sisters.’

‘Being like the angels’

Assuming that, overall, Jesus’ comment here is consonant with the emphasis elsewhere in the NT on bodily resurrection as post-mortem destiny, what might the phrase ‘they are like the angels in heaven’ mean? As Lehtipuu highlights, the resurrection of the body came to be hotly contested in the early centuries of the church, and with it there was debate about precisely what the phrase meant. Origen took it to mean that at the resurrection the human body will be transformed into a celestial ‘spiritual’ body of a much finer and higher substance than the ‘earthly’ body.5 But Methodius follows the teaching of Pseudo-Justin and Tertullian and argues against Origen, not least on the basis of the nature of analogies. To say ‘the moon shines like the sun’ does not mean that the moon is, in every regard, similar to the sun, and so the likeness between people in the resurrection and the angels offers only a partial parallel.6

Out of the debates about this text in the context of resurrection, five distinct questions emerge:

  1. In the age to come, will we have bodies, that is, is our destiny bodily resurrection?
  2. If we have bodies, will those bodies have the marks of sex difference, that is, will we be male and female?
  3. If we have bodies which are sex differentiated, will we engaged in sexual intercourse, that is, will our sexual organs have any utility?
  4. If we have bodies with sexual organs which will have a use, will that lead to procreation?
  5. If we have bodies which are sex differentiated, whether or not our sexual organs will have a use, and whether or not there is procreation, will marriage persist?

The importance of identifying these distinct questions is highlighted when we consider two alternative visions of the age in relation to Jesus’ teaching here.

First, this Midrashic text (in written form from the 8thcentury but claiming to record the teaching of Akiva ben Yosef from the end of the first century), sets out one possibility:

All the orifices [of the body] will spew out milk and honey, as well as an aromatic scent, like the scent of Lebanon, as it is said: “Milk and honey are under your tongue, and the scent of your robes is like the scent of Lebanon” (Song of Songs 4.11). And “like seed” which will never cease [to flow from the bodies of the righteous] in the world to come, as it is said: “He provides as much for His loved ones while they sleep” (Ps. 127.2), and friends are none other than women, as it is said: “Why should my beloved be in my house?” (Jer. 11.15). Each righteous person will draw near his wife in the world to come and they will not conceive and they will not give birth and they will not die, as it is said: “they shall not toil for no purpose” (Is. 65.23)…. and they will come to the world to come with their wives and children. (Midrash Alpha-Beth)7

In this vision of post-mortem existence we have bodies, sex difference, sexual intercourse and marriage—but no procreation. This is the kind of ‘mundane’ view that Jesus appears explicitly to be refuting.

Secondly, Ben Witherington argues that the phrase ‘they will neither marry nor be given in marriage’ abolishes the sex difference in the process, suggesting that there are no new marriages in the resurrection, but that existing marriage bonds will persist. Jesus here is not arguing against the existence of marriage per se, but against the need for levirate marriage since this is an institution which specifically exists to counter the consequences of death.8

This is a surprising reading, since the Sadducees are in fact asking a question about existing marriages and not about marriages that might be conducted in the age to come. The pressing issue is precisely: this woman has been married to each of these men (bracketing out the issue of whether levirate marriages were considered to be full marriages in the usual sense); if marriage does indeed persist in the resurrection, what will it look like? And which of these marriages will persist?

Witherington’s reading also goes against the understanding of marriage elsewhere in the NT; it is Paul who introduces the idea of conjugal rights in 1 Cor 7, arguing that marriage should naturally involve sexual intercourse. And this in turn is tied in with an expectation of procreation; it is the fruitlessness of sexual relations in Romans 1 which contrasts with the fruitfulness of Abraham and Sarah in Romans 4, the contrast between idolatry and faith in God. In other words, across the NT the questions of marriage, sexual relations and procreation are bound closely together.

Virginity and resurrection life

We can confidently conclude, then, that Jesus’ saying answers ‘no’ to the last three questions about resurrection life: there will be no marriage, sexual intercourse or procreation in the age to come. This reading is confirmed by the majority of patristic interpretations of this text, which took it as a key text advocating virginity as an anticipation of the life to come—and it is striking how much interest there is on virginity in the fathers.9

Cyprian of Carthage is typical of the kind of discussion we find: virgins are living the resurrection life already, because they are exemplifying the pattern of existence that Jesus is setting out in these verses.

What we shall be, already you have begun to be. The glory of the resurrection you already have in this world; you pass through the world without the pollution of the world; while you remain chaste and virgins, you are equal to the angels of God.10

But what is really fascinating in the patristic writers is the way that they frequently move from the question of resurrection life and virginal existence (encouraged not least by Rev 14.4) to the question of the bodily organs, including sexual organs. They often appear to be responding to a very similar kind of reductum ad absurdum argument to the one that the Sadducees presented to Jesus: if we are to be raised bodily, and if we are going to do without sex in the resurrection, what is the point in having sexed, differentiated, sexual organs? The answers given are unambiguous. Lehtipuu summarises the arguments of Pseudo-Justin and Tertullian in this way: ‘If having sexual organs does not unavoidably lead to sexual intercourse in this world, it will certainly not do so in the world to come.’11

This conclusion has a direct impact on the relationship between questions 2 and 3 above. If there is no marriage, procreation and sexual relations in the resurrection, but virginity demonstrates that sex difference need not lead to sexual relations, that allows for the possibility that our resurrected bodies will indeed be sex differentiated. But is this necessary? The answer of Jerome (also an ardent opponent of Origen) is unequivocal: bodily resurrection must of necessity imply the continuance of sex identity. ‘The apostle Paul will still be Paul, Mary will still be Mary.’12 Since we only know ourselves as bodily persons with sex identity, then true continuity into the resurrection (whatever the discontinuities) must involve retaining this.

If the woman shall not rise again as a woman nor the man as a man, there will be no resurrection of the body for the body is made up of sex and members.13

Jerome supports this by himself going back to Jesus’ saying and noting that the phrase ‘they will neither marry nor be given in marriage’ in fact presupposes sex difference. If to be ‘like the angels’ implied losing sex difference, there would be no need to make explicit the absence of marriage, since that would not be a possibility.14 If indeed ‘Paul will be Paul and Mary will be Mary’, then after the resurrection ‘Jesus was Jesus’; since Jesus’ body was sexed prior to his death and resurrection, and that, following the resurrection, Jesus’ body still bore the marks of his wounds, then it is hard to envisage Jesus’ resurrection body not also being sexed.

Jerome’s conviction has shaped the history of Christian art in this regard. A particularly good example of this is the series of frescoes of the Last Judgement in the cathedral of Orvieto in Umbria, central Italy, by the Renaissance artist Luca Signorelli, painted in 1499 to 1503. Men and women can be seen pulling themselves out of the earth and then helping others to do the same as they prepare to stand before the throne (Rev 20.11). There is no doubting that their bodies bear the marks of sex differentiation!

This is the point at which new creation connects with first creation. We experience our creatureliness in our bodiliness, and we experience this as male or female, receiving such differentiation as ‘a gift’ from God. It was not possible, for example, for Jesus to have been incarnated as a ‘generic’ human being; he needed to become either a man or a woman, and this historic particularity is expressed in recent decisions about the revision of the English versions of the Nicene Creed which have all retained ‘and he became man’ and resisted change to the sex-inclusive ‘he became human’.

We should not in passing that there is a parallel debate about sexual organs and digestive organs. If we cannot die in the resurrection, will we need to eat? If we cannot eat, why have digestive organs? The fathers make this connection, but so does Paul; in Romans 1 Paul associates a certain kind of sexuality as idolatry, but in Col 3.5 he calls greed idolatry. In the church in Corinth, problems with sex ran parallel with problems and questions about food and the stomach—and, Paul tells us, ‘God will put an end to both.’15

Jesus’ brief teaching here has a very wide range of practical and pastoral implications.

In the context of bereavement, those who experience loss often express hope for life after death in the most mundane of ways. In particular, when the person who dies is a widow or widower, people often use the phrase ‘They are both together again’ or something similar. This expresses a quite mundane understanding of life after death, as in some strange way the couple are once again living the shared life they had (sometimes imagines with pets, gardening and other hobbies!) but just in some slightly more divine way. This parallels the Jewish vision of the mundane afterlife cited above. The right theological and pastoral answer to this is not to say ‘Oh no, it won’t be like that’ in a way which suggests that there will be less to life in the new creation than there was in this age. Jesus is clear that the reason there is no marriage or no need for marriage is that there is so much more to the new creation than this. We won’t need our nuclear family structures because we are all family, and we will not need the intimacy and security of marriage relationships because (as Rev 21 makes clear) we will find this superlatively in our intimacy with God.

But this teaching also highlights four vital issues related to contemporary debates around relationships and sexuality. First, Jesus confirms that marriage and parenting is God’s usual intention for life in this age. Where there is no death, there is no marriage—but in this life there is death, and so marriage and parenting is to be expected as a normal part of this life. We are deeply wired in this way, and to create a culture where this is either not possible or perceived as not desirable is to create pastoral problems and frustration. As Annabel Clarke (herself single) puts it:

The Bible values singleness and marriage. Single people are equally valuable and competent as married people. At the same time, God’s design from the start has been for marriage to reflect his covenant relationship with the church, to be foundational to society, and to be personal experienced by most people.

Whatever the personal issues around Emma Watson’s decision to call herself ‘self-partnered’, for our culture it signals a loss of vision of something that is vital to our well-being as God created us—and this move is one that will mostly be detrimental to women.

Secondly, in the context of resurrection hope, Jesus is here depicting the single and chaste life as an anticipation of heavenly reality. Although marriage and parenting might be the norm for life in this age, the kingdom of God creates a new norm, in which death is overcome not by marriage and procreation but by being born into new life in Christ by water and the Spirit. The kingdom equivalent of procreation is evangelism and discipleship; where in the first creation we are commanded to ‘be fruitful and multiply’, in the new creation (anticipated by the downpayment of the Spirit) we are commanded to ‘go and make disciples’. Marriage is not the path of salvation; coming to faith, and inviting others to do the same, is.

Thirdly, if marriage and sex are no longer present in the new creation, then our sexuality cannot be the fundamental reality that defines who we are. Nuff said.

Fourthly, and conversely, if the life of the age to come is that of bodily resurrection, and our bodies are sexed, then sex difference persists into the new age. This is a point of continuity with this age; sex difference is a basic part of who we are. Men and women are equal, but that does not merely they are in any simple sense interchangeable.

Attached here is the full chapter from which the exegesis of Luke 20 has been extracted: Ian Paul Sexed in Heaven for pubn

For discussion of these issues between James and Ian, including reflection on some of the pastoral implications, see this video:


  1. Making the eschatological framework more explicit, and moving on to wider philosophical questions, could support the idea that Luke is making a Jewish discussion comprehensible to a largely non-Jewish readership.
  2. Alison, Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination p 38.
  3. Song, Covenant and Calling p 15.
  4. The intimate connection between marriage and death is captured in the title of Dvora Weisberg’s exploration Dvora E. Weisberg, “Between the Living and the Dead: Making Levirate Marriage Work,” AJS Perspectives, Spring 2013, 10–12.See also her book-length exploration Dvora E. Weisberg, Levirate Marriage and the Family in Ancient Judaism(Waltham, Mass: Brandeis University Press, 2009).
  5. Origen, De Principiis 2.2.2. Origen appears to be using the language of ‘spiritual’ body here in a different way from Paul in 1 Cor 15.44, where for Paul the resurrection body is animated by the Spirit but still clearly a physical body in some sense.
  6. Methodius Discourse on the Resurrection, preserved in Epiphanius’s Panarion 64.12–62. See Lehtipuu ‘No Sex in Heaven’ p 30.
  7. Midrash Alpha-Betot, Batei Midrashot, II, ed. S. A. Wertheimer (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kuk, 1980), 458, cited in David Nirenberg, “Posthumous Love in Judaism,” in Love After Death: Concepts of Posthumous Love in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Bernhard Jussen and Ramie Targoff, 2015, 55–70, p 60.
  8. Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: Socio-Rhetorical Commentary(Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2001)pp 328-329.
  9. Although various reasons are often read back into the fathers on this issue, their interest is surprising not least because the socio-scientific evidence suggests that it was the Jewish commitment to marriage and family, carried over into the early Christian communities (rather than virginity) which set Christians apart from their pagan contemporaries. See Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997) chapter 5.
  10. Cyprian, On the Dress of Virgins 22, cited in Lehtipuu ‘No Sex in Heaven’ p 33.
  11. Lehtipuu, ‘No Sex in Heaven?’ p 26.
  12. Jerome, Letter 75 (To Theodora) 2.
  13. Jerome, Letter 108 (To Eustochium) 23.
  14. At this point, it would be possible to enter a debate on whether angelic beings are envisaged in Scripture as being sexed. If the ‘sons of God’ in Gen 6.4 are taken to be angelic, then they are not only sexed but oversexed; the angelic visitors to Abraham representing the presence of God in Genesis 18 appear to be ‘men’, as are the angels at the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection; it is often thought that the seraphs covering their ‘feet’ in Is 6.2 is a euphemism for covering their genitals (compare Ruth 3.7); this could explain Paul’s enigmatic ‘because of the angels’ in 1 Cor 11.10; and in Zechariah 5.9 we find angelic women. But Methodius’ argument, that ‘like the angels’ suggests similarity in some regards rather than identity in every regard, means that such observations cannot settle whether our resurrection bodies will be sexed.
  15. I have argued elsewhere that the regular and frequent fasting related in the New Testament, contrasted with periodic fasting related in the Old Testament, is symbolic of eschatological expectation, and so reflects a community which prizes both marriage (as an affirmation of this age) and virginity (as an affirmation of the life of the age to come.

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64 thoughts on “What will it mean for us to ‘be like the angels’ in Luke 20?”

  1. Hmm, I’ve never thought about sowing and reaping as being the evangelistic equivalent of the male and female principle. Watering is parenting then?

  2. Was marriage invented (by God) in order that people could have children, and so get round death? Isn’t marriage implied in the creation of Eve in Genesis, which predates the Fall, and is stated to be for the purpose of companionship?

    • The purpose was to fill the earth, extend God’s rule kingdom, as Father in relation with him. Everything was good, very good but not everything was garden. Or it was Temple/Garden.
      Till rebellion, disobedience .and blessing and curse, and the fall from that height, put out and barred from reentry, the whole of humanity, until the Seed of the woman, Jesus, who took the curse on the cross, the last Adam, to incorporate and generate a new God Breathed , new birth in Him.
      We are either in Adam or in Christ. Worlds apart, old creation; new creation.

    • Hi Penelope,

      Yes, marriage for companionship seems to be its original purpose. I would suggest the lesson from this is that procreation is ‘a’ purpose of marriage rather than ‘the’ purpose of marriage.

      Notice that Genesis 2:24 is out of sequence in the story—it belongs to the post-Edenic world.

    • I do not think so. In some ways Genesis 2 can be seen as an extended commentary on Genesis 1:27-28. The command to the male and female – right there at the start – is to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” That does seem to imply procreation right from the start.

      The interpretation of Genesis 2 of “it is not good that the adam should be alone” as an issue of companionship – i.e. an inward facing relationship, seems to me to hang too much on the translation of the Hebrew bad as ‘alone’ which is then understood as ‘being lonely’. Better, I think, to see it as the need for partnership in the task set before the adam.

      There is also a good argument for seeing “becoming one flesh” as referring to the creation of a kinship group. Compare, for example, Gen 29:14 when Laban says to Jacob “surely you are my bone and my flesh.”.

      I’m not saying that there is no companionship in marriage. But the reasons for the privileges and responsibilities accorded to the married, and the exclusive nature of it – forsaking all others – stems not from companionship but the procreative aspect of the male-female relationship.

      • Hi David,

        Nonetheless, some early rabbis did see Genesis 2:24 as a later editorial addition to the text.

        My comment is that marriage in Scripture in its specific teaching and in the narrative accounts is about companionship and/or procreation. In other words, either motivation is valid. To read the text differently has led to the view of some that a couple can only marry if they are deemed able to have children.

        And I agree— ‘one flesh’ in Genesis 2:24 does mean the creation of a new kinship group—and I suggest similarly every reference to Genesis 2:24 in the NT carries the same meaning. In other words, in the Hebrew Bible there is no sacramental or necessarily sexual meaning to the term and nor is there I suggest in the NT.

        • Colin

          The view of ‘some rabbis’ hardly casts doubt on the mainstream accepted flow of the text. While both procreation and companionship are both part of marriage in Genesis 1 where fecundity is emphasised and essential for creation’s flourishing it makes great sense for human procreation to me mentioned.

          I think it is very wooden thinking to argue if a couple are infertile they should not marry. It’s hardly a necessary implication of the text.

          I think ‘one flesh’ has sexual implications. Paul criticises the Corinthian men who visit prostitutes. They become ‘one flesh’. He specifically cites Genesis. Sexual union with its intimacy of faithful love illustrates the ‘real’ marriage, that between Christ and his church.

      • And David, is not Genesis 2, zooming iin, whereas Genesis 1 is a wide angle view.
        The distinction is God first forming, moving to filling. Forming and filling the earth with
        God’s likeness. Indeed there are hints of union, a oneness, but distinctives in our Triune God, and ultimately Union or incorporation in Christ.

        And how about this for putting the cat among the pigeons: after Adam sinned we were generated in his dislocated, shattered, less – than -God- breathed, Holy Spirit, God generated likeness, ( maybe Russian dolls are a poor illustration of what it mean it be “in Adam”.)??? And so we die, generation after generation…”and he died,…and he died….and he died.”
        Except God intervened to ensure his plan, (
        his intra- Triune covenant of Redemption anyone?) his pre- creation plan to fill the earth with his family, family likeness.
        Had he withdrawn his breath of life, Holy Spirit, generation, with significant exceptions?
        John 1:1-13: John3:3-8

    • Probably, though the first instruction given to Adam and Eve (part of his blessing. It seems) is to be fruitful and multiply. Gen 1.

      • And the theme of fruitfulness can be traced through scripture and most importantly “first fruits” with a linked theme of a “new creation” in Christ.

  3. For Christians marriage and sexual activity go together, but so do they in other cultures, though possibly understood rather differently, and in our modern western world sexual activity is no longer promoted as being confined within a marriage bond. One of the challenges in these discussions is to have a distinctively Christian understanding of marriage, recognising that it may well overlap considerably with other understandings, be at odds with how others think, and also acknowledging that human beings can procreate without need for marriage. Humans can also be sexually active without those activities being pro-creative, and some couples who would dearly love to pro-create are unable to do so. Animals pro-create – it requires a pairing, maybe only temporary!
    Societies have been generally concerned to put boundaries round inheritance and ownership (“my” wife!).
    Sexual activity, procreative sex, the pairing of a couple more permanently, the formal affirmation of that pairing, and then a Christian understanding of what that pairing should be – these are the various layers that need to be recognised in all this. Assuming marriage may be to ignore the reality of the lower layers. Starting with the lower levels may be to minimise God’s call on our lives, how God wants us to live; how do we move both ways?
    As Colin says Gen 2:24 is an editorial interpolation to the narrative, and we need to think carefully how we respond to this editorial insertion. I think that the Genesis 2 narrative suggests that the fellow human was created for companionship, and the Genesis 1 narrative is clear that humans are made in the image of God and pro-creative (which is the implication of “male and female he created them”). I am not sure at what point in the history of the Israelites monogamous marriage became the approved norm – Abraham, Moses and David are not monogamous! Monogamy certainly cannot be said to be the golden thread through all of Scripture, and so “marriage” clearly means rather different things in the different periods of Scripture. I think we have to be really careful with our language and presuppositions in all this. Pro-creation in the OT world was probably more commonly understood as a man’s seed growing in a fertile woman, and that is a very different way of viewing pro-creation and men and women, from our modern view.
    Thank you for this exploration and for the background knowledge that informs it. As ever, much food for thought.

    • It is scripture uncorrectable as we have it, no matter what. It is also God breathed.
      And now you stand over scripture as redactors in chief, to cut. Of course subscriptions may be paid to the schools of documentary hypothesis, higher criticism, Wellhausen, with his underlying Hegelian philosophy of history.
      As you know there are others.
      Who wrote the Pentateuch? Moses!

      • J, E, D and P and the reliance on redactors to argue a point.
        So a later redactor entry can be argue to falsify or negates, in furtherance of the claimants point, rather than solidifies or enhances or makes clear the point being made.
        “Every appeal to the redactor is a tacit admission on the part of of the critics that that their theory breaks down at that point.” Allis

        • Hi Geoff,

          I wasn’t suggesting that the verse was an editorial addition—rather that that was the perception.

          Indeed, even its position in the text I think is inspired—and in my view it forms basis of the most startling sensus plenior in Scripture—and one that Moses could never have imagined: Ephesians 5:31–32.

    • All societies are underpinned by marriage and patriarchal marriage at that. Only recently has this paradigm shifted. A faithful marriage is the building block for security and stability for what is true of he home transfers to society.

      Polygamy enters the biblical record through the unsavoury pre-diluvian character of Lamech. Polygamy is found in the marriage of a number of OT saints. In many cases the narrative reveals how dysfunctional the families were because of it.

      The law neither condemned polygamy nor condoned it. Deut 21 is an example of case law which neither condemns or condones but regulates what already exists. I think we can draw the conclusion that that the law is not as some claim a transcript of God’s moral character rather it is a code that takes account of those to whom it is given – a kind of rudimentary code at every level for a people in spiritual infancy. Maturity belongs to the gospel, ethically and spiritually. While their is a great correlation between the OC and the NT there is necessarily difference. Jesus says, ‘because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed a bill of divorce but from the beginning it was not so’. The law, although perfect and good for the purpose given was an inferior revelation and at times moral code. It allowed women taken captive in war to be forcibly married to Israelites (polygamy??)… Deut 21:10. There are merits in this of course for the women whose rights are thereafter protected. A similar motive is involved in levirate marriage (Deut 25). There were checks too of course. Kings were forbidden to have multiple wives (Deut 17) yet we feel some cognitive dissonance with NT standards. There are many examples of such laws. Perhaps they were the lesser evil. Women left on their own would have a very hard life. Polygamy ameliorated these difficulties. The biblical reason given however is making allowances for hardness of heart (Matt 19).

      Jesus uses creation as the basis for interim ethics in the kingdom of God. Living in the old creation we uphold its values as we travel to a new creation where many will be irrelevant. Marriage involve ‘two’ who become one flesh. Matt 19 undermines polygamy (‘two’) and divorce ‘from the beginning it was not so’. Although Jesus sees monogamous lifelong marriage as God’s desire for all it is his kingdom people to whom he really speaks. He expects to see in the church the creational standard he outlines (Matt 19). How far have we fallen. (Timothy and Titus both express that elders must not be polygamous).

      Polygamy has little mention in the biblical record after the exile though paradoxically it seems to have been the Romans, who despised polygamy, who contributed to its demise in Israel. However, even today, polygamy has a place in some strands of Judaism.

      It is only a matter of time until polygamy is part of our culture and underpinned by law. The liberal ethic that anything is permissible as long as it does not (obviously harm others paves the way for all kinds of behaviour – polygamy, incest, some forms of pedophilia and so on.

      Let’s not think the church will not cave in. It will. It caved into divorce. It has caved in to homosexuality, not as significantly, but this is because homosexuality is removed from most families and its easier to take a stand.

  4. I find it odd that there doesnt seem to be any real discussion of the nature of angels in this discussion. If Jesus’ message was that there wont be any marriage or sex in the next life (because there wont be a need for either), He could have just said that. Why the comparison with angels? Is it simply because they are viewed as ‘spiritual’ beings belonging to God’s kingdom rather than the earth, so He is saying you’ll be fully in the kingdom in the next life rather than partial as it is now? Are angels non-sexed? I always got the impression that angels were depicted as male, not least because in certain accounts they were represented as men (eg story of Lot). Though I’m not sure they have penises.

    Regarding the comments on food and eating, are you saying humans wont be eating in the next life, or rather we will but no idolatry involved? I would think the latter. Especially if it is on a renewed earth, largely physical. I think eating and drinking will be a joy. Not sure about going to the toilet later, but then again when everything’s working, that too can be pleasurable per God’s design. Ill maybe stop there !


    • Who were the angels going up and down on the son of man? Aspects of the Holy Spirit? The fruit of the Spirit? People led by the Spirit coming and going , finding pasture? Are we therefore the angels / sheep going in and out of The Gate, up and down The Ladder?
      Shame this blog is only about the basic , base interests; there’s so much to explore.

      • And the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnational appearance of Jesus, a Christophany? See (Anglican Bible scholar) Motyer and others of a reformed persuasion.

        • Not sure. I think The Angel of the Lord is the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus is The Lord, His Angel is His Spirit in action.
          If somebody is working , doing the will of Him who sent them, they are an angel. Philip, after preaching to the Ethiopian was whisked away. Perhaps many godly people , not necessarily Israelites, in O.T. Times , we’re used in similar ways and we’re taken for angels. I’m thinking the Angel who appeared to Joshua was one such. In hindsight why not? The Lord In the O.T. Is Jesus. Surrounded in fire and cloud. All other manifestations could well have been people moved and motivated by the Spirit. He was doing the same then as now.
          …I’m not a fan of the idea Jesus appeared as a man or angel before his incarnation. If he could do it then why did He not do it again at his birth? No. He saved His incarnation as The Event In HisStory.

  5. I agree that the Genesis record doesn’t seem to suggest marriage was given because we die and procreation was necessary to preserve the species. Yet of course with the benefit of hindsight we can see why marriage was necessary. Perhaps we may say God’s foresight (not to mention plans) made marriage necessary.

    What we can see is that creation to new creation involves not only continuity but discontinuity. Radical discontinuity. We cannot imagine a world without marriage and the nuclear or extended family. We cannot imagine one without romantic love. These are things we cherish in our present world.

    Yet they will be absent. I think they will be absent because they will be replaced by something better. There may be no nuclear family but there will be a truly extended family – we will be one enormous family in the fullest sense of the word. And we will be married, not in the conventional sense but conventional marriage was only ever intended to give us a glimpse of the marriage between Christ and the church. I believe our love for Christ will be deep and fulfilling as will his love for us be deeply rewarding to him.

    Tied in too is the beatific vision. God’s astonishing glory will fill the New Jerusalem and all will be bathed in glory. We will ‘see his face’ and be ‘lost in wonder love and praise’. John’s vision of the New Jerusalem is one of transcendent glory and joy.

    To be sure we will be active. A city implies a culture. However, when we see heaven as endless golf our thoughts are too small. I wonder in the culture of heaven whether the married bride and bridegroom will have much thought of cultural activity. In an ideal honeymoon the newly weds are absorbed by each other – other pursuits are very secondary. Ours will be a romance that will never die, a honeymoon that will never end. In the endless day that is eternity only God has the capacity to satisfy forever.

  6. The primary purpose of marriage is to mirror God’s eternal plan of Christ and the church.

    Consider the consequences of saying that its primary purpose is any of the following (note I said PRIMARY purpose – I am certainly not attempting to argue that the general pattern of marriage is not to have children):

    – Companionship – this means that if one’s marriage partner is left dumb by a stroke that one can leave him or her.

    – Parenting – this means that a same sex couple who are willing to adopt should be able to be married

    – Reproduction – this means that a couple who cannot conceive should either not get married – or aren’t spiritually married even if they are legally.

    It is crucial that we understand the primary purpose of marriage or otherwise cause ourselves and others to be confused in respect of how to respond in a godly manner to the push for same sex marriage and practising homosexuality.

  7. Hi Philip,

    I agree. Thus:

    “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh (Greek = sarx, Hebrew = basar – both, in context, mean ‘family’). This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31–32)

    Entrance into the Mosaic Covenant was by birth (i.e., by blood). In contrast, entrance to the ‘family’ of Christ (the elect) is by the affinity union. A blood union is non-volitional and non-covenantal, and you do not change families in the process. An affinity union is volitional, covenantal, and involves being counted as (in the case of the bride) belonging to a new family—signified often by a bride’s change of name.

    The Bridegroom? He is the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). That is how the circle is squared—we come to be of the seed of Abraham and this able to embrace God’s promise by the affinity, not the consanguineous union.

    Paul comments:
    “This means that it is not the children of the flesh [sarx, meaning here the consanguineous family union, see how Paul uses sarx in this way in Philippians 3:3–4] who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as [the affinity union] offspring.” (Romans 9:8)

    In other words, entrance into the promised family of Abraham is exclusively by the volitional affinity union with the promised seed, Jesus Christ.

    • Colin

      Why not ; entrance into the family of Christ is by new birth.

      Surely the blood (or flesh) union of the mosaic covenant conferred covenantal status. Also, in the Mosaic covenant you may not exchange family but you enter one for the first time. I guess my problem is ‘affinity union’ seems a clumsy and esoteric expression. Faith union or Spirit union seem much clearer.


  8. Yes, as commented above, there is little in this blog about angels per se, such would require more extensive discussion?

    It seems that God created two separate spheres that in some way reflected his own being— humans and angels. They certainly both had agency and volition—including in these created spheres the ability to choose evil.

    The difference between them seems to be that humans were made from the earth and therefore mortal and needed access to the tree of life to maintain life—the angels did not.

    In the resurrection the elect will gain access once more to the tree of life (Revelation 22) and be like the angels in that they will have the eternal life that angels always had.

    • Thanks for that Colin. Though not all angels have eternal life, ie those fallen. So I dont think angels by their very being automatically have eternal life.

      I also wondered if the Sadduccees had particular views of angels which Jesus used in answering their question. But perhaps not.


  9. Colin

    Does not the description of angels as ‘winds’ and ‘flames of fire’ not suggest transience? Certainly Hebrews compares their transience to Christ’s eternity. I know you’re using the expression ‘eternal life;’ loosely but it’s worth saying that angels do not have eternal life in the qualitative sense that believers do. If they live forever it is not with the life of God in their souls. One day we will rule angels and probably judge those who fell. Angels are our servants – ministering spirits to those who are heirs of salvation.

    Yes. They had agency and volition – some left their first estate. Presumably they didn’t have eternal life.

    To quibble again. Is made from the earth necessarily mortal? Adam would not have died had he not sinned. Yet I remember made from the ‘dust of the earth’ implies something inferior. Man became a living soul/person. He had the divine breath implanted though this falls short of the divine life breathed out in the new birth.

    • ‘Angels do not have eternal life in the qualitative sense’ you say. But Jesus said ‘you will see the angels of God going up and down upon the son of man. ‘ He was speaking of Himself as Jacob’s ladder and alluding to the work his was just embarking on. These angels seem to me to be none other than the sevenfold Spirit of God. Surely not created beings in His service.
      Jesus said, ‘ you will be like the angels’ because He had not yet ascended to the Father.
      Now we can say we will be like Him after the resurrection. ‘Like the Angels’ means like the Spirit of God therefore, ascending and descending before the throne.

        (As distinct from angels)
        This is from Anglican, Dr Alec Motyer, Biblical Scholar (OT in particular) starting with the last sentence conclusion to a section of the same heading, an executive summary as it were. What follows on is consideration of scripture, leading to the conclusion. The scripture references have not been followed up by me,

        The topic may be new to some of us, ill-considered, or considered and dismissed, but is likely to be challenging (Steve?) perhaps even edifying and delightful.
        Hope it isn’t too much of an imposition and digression.

        “The Angel is a chief Old Testament pre-view of the Second Person of the Trinity.

        Throughout the Old Testament we meet angels (e.g. Gen. 19:1,15; 32:1; Ps.103:20; Zech.1:9,13) but alongside this general revelation of the existence of angelic beings, there is a very special personage called “The Angel of the Lord”.

        The Angel is both an independent person (e.g. Gen. 16:7-12) and is also recognised as Yahweh revealing himself (e.g., Gen 16:13). He speaks in his own right (Gen. 22:15-18) repeating Yahweh’s promises.
        He is both “the Angel” (Exod. 3:2) and Yahweh (“the LORD”) (Exod.3:4), the God of the fathers (Exod. 3:6).
        Many of the other references confirm this understanding of the Angel, so that writers on the Old Testament speak of him as “the double of Yahweh” or “Yahweh’s alter ego”, “a distinction without a difference”.

        The Angel came to reveal Yahweh’s reactions/purposes/commands (Gen. 16:7-16) to reaffirm Yahweh’s promises (Gen. 22:15-16), to intercede (Zech.1:11-12).
        Though “the Angel” is “the LORD” (Yahweh)- striking people with awe such as only the divine holiness can effect (Judges 13:6, 21-22) bearing the divine Name (Exod, 23:20-21), whose coming is the Lord himself (Mal. 3:1) yet he also represents some “accommodation” to the human situation (Exod33:2-3). It is n outreaching of mercy (without any “diluting” of his full divine nature) Even when he appears, sword in hand, his essential purpose is mercy. (Num. 22:31-33).

        When anyone saw the Angel of the Lord, they saw him as a man (e.g., Judges 13:6ff), none of the angelic “trappings” of church tradition -such as a winged form.
        We can relate this to Genesis 1:27 and the creation of “man” in the image of God.

        Put it this way: in his essential nature God is Spirit, and invisible, but when he wishes to clothe his invisibility in an outward shape, there is a form uniquely suited to his nature. It was in that form he created “man”. Hence, even the human form of the Angel itself marks him out as God become visible.

        The revelation of “the Angel of the Lord” thus leads us back to Creation, but also it leads us forward to Jesus.
        Where else in Scripture is there one who is both distinct from Yahweh and identical with him; who, without losing or even diminishing his divine essence and holiness, yet accommodates himself to the company of sinners; who can both affirm the wrath of God and at the same time be the supreme outreaching of divine mercy?
        Who but Jesus.

        The Angel is a chief Old Testament pre-view of the Second Person of the Trinity.”
        Transcribed from, “A Christian’s Pocket guide to Loving The Old Testament, by Alec Motyer: One Book, One God, One Story
        (Endorsement include CoE Richard Bewes, All Souls)

        • Thank very much Geoff,
          My only quibble is this: what about the third person of the trinity?
          In the laudable desire to show Jesus working in the OT the Holy Spirit gets hardly a mention.
          Jesus throughout his earthly ministry had the Spirit on him, they worked as a pair. Are manifestations of The LORD singularly Jesus or Jesus + The Spirit?
          ‘We will be like the angels’ could mean: we will be like manifestations of God.

          • Hello Steve,
            Or it could mean, humans “as worshippers* worship God as angels worship? Could we out -do them in worship? Or would we get bored? Embarrassed?
            I think there’s a need for further scripture support for your proposition. Motyer has cited much scripture support for his. I’ve not encountered any support for the Angel of the LORD being the third person if the Trinity, but I’d be pleased to look at it.

      • Can’t agree with your assumption Steve. Angels are angels – created beings. The spirit of God is a divine person.

        The communion between earth and heaven in the ascending and descending angels refers back to Jacob’s ladder. jacob called the place the house of God. The ascending and descending angels on Jesus indicates that he is the house of God, the temple. Access to God would be through him. But there is no suggesting these angels are the Spirit who is often mentioned in his own right in the gospel.

        • Don’t you think Jesus the ladder is similar to the sheep pen? The sheep go in and out. The angels go up and down. Therefore angels = sheep. We are therefore like the angels , coming and going. Being productive.
          To see the angels as spirit beings is interesting but only that. There is no practical application to living as a Christian in that. We are like the angels said Jesus. We come and go in Him.
          It’s late…what was I rambling on about?

          • “To see the angels as spirit beings is interesting but only that. There is no practical application to living as a Christian in that.”

            I doubt any of us can fully know all about angels in our lifetimes. However, I do believe we mat be encouraged to trust that God sends angelic beings (who serve God) to help us in some situations. I believe that should be part of the ‘trust’ element in our lives and prayers. Part of the economy of God, if you like?

            I have ‘sensed’ angelic presence three particular times in my life (though more generally at other times too.

            1. I was a serious mountaineer, and one day after a climb, I was trying to descend to the valley and safety, but the weather broke, and in the mist and rain and wind I could see no way down. However, I became acutely aware of some guiding hand showing me the next few metres ahead of me, and leading me to safety. I could have just thought that was God but – for whatever reason – my sense was of an angel guiding me, and I had a sense of my Christian great aunt praying for me. This was in the days before any ‘born again’ experience.

            2. The night before my own ‘born again’ experience, I was being driven by a friend (who was drunk) along a narrow Highland lane, when he lost control and in a flash of headlights we rolled over and over, off the road, and into a river. We were submerged. Or rather, I was (he had been thrown through the windscreen and landed, injured, in a bush).

            The car ended upside down under the water, and I was in total darkness. I just thought ‘this is your time to die’. Then what seemed like a guiding presence led me through a gashed hole where my feet had been, and up to the surface. It was the strongest sense of some sort of (invisible) angel guiding me in the darkness. Next day I wept with repentance for many sins in my life, and encountered Jesus in a personal way, and my life was turned upside down.

            3. I have had the strongest sense of angels in prayer in the context of spiritual warfare, acutely so one night when I was praying for a young woman to give her life to Jesus (she was a pupil of mine). I found myself in prayer in tongues, deep into the night, such that I knew I shouldn’t stop praying for hours. I knew it was like a battle, and that it seemed like there were angels involved, encircling the situation. Next morning at school, some other kids came to me and told me (they knew I was a Christian) “x became a Christian last night”. There were probably other people praying for her, not just me, but I think I was part of the jigsaw, and it felt like the angels were too.

            This leads me to trust that in Christian life there are supernatural agencies, angelic beings, and of course, the power of the Holy Spirit.

          • Hi Susannah,
            It would be good to experience a church where the gifts of the Spirit were more in evidence. I go to a Baptist church now; the prominent gifting is preaching and various degrees of administration… Early on I did recieve the gift of tongues. I only use it privately now. As for angels… they would be the icing on the cake in a more gifted church. I don’t think they show up for finance and admin. meetings!
            Sorry. Bid off the wall…again.

          • You quite often seem ‘a bit off the wall’ Steve, but I think you have an interesting brain, so I’m always on the look out with your posts. Some people write in quite small logical steps (I’m a bit like that), but with you I sometimes see imaginative leaps and use of synthesis and the connections of separate ideas. You can be quite visual. Diversity is good.

          • Susannah, My wife asks me all the time nowadays to start at the beginning. My off the wall comments are partly an untrained brain and being 66. The good thing is, I know what I’m talking about…most of the time!

    • Hi John,

      “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” (Revelation 5:11.)

      This does not suggest transience to me.

      • Hi Colin
        Nor does it suggest permanence. It says nothing about their longevity rather the emphasis is on their enormous number while Hebrews specifically contrasts transience and eternity. Hebs 1:7 and its contrast with the Son’s eternity is the verse that needs to be grappled with.

        We all tend to work Roms assumptions. I more than most. Popular mythology rather than Scripture can easily inform our opinions. When I first really grappled with the Hebrews passage I was surprised.

  10. Hello Colin,
    I don’t think that answers the question. It is only what was seen at that point in time, was it not?
    And how about the excluded angels?

      • It was Colin, thanks. How much more the angel worship team.
        It is all part of the unseen spiritual realm, and as Susannah said, the Spiritual battle, not against flesh and blood.
        Is n’t there some suggestion that angels can turn up as people, who encounter us, then vanish? I could describe one encounter I had as such. If not it was a supernatural , God-incident. Not sure if that is scriptural or in something I read.
        Billy Graham wrote a book on angels I think.
        But as always, we can be too ready to worship them, even as non believers do in place of God in Christ.
        I don’t know if Ian would have foreseen the direction his article would take, interesting as it is, but he is more than well used to it.

      • Colin

        These verses do suggest that fawn angels exist forever. We probably shouldn’t think of eternal destruction as living forever. These verses need weighed with Hebs 1:7.

    • In interpreting Scripture I have a few major principles. Firstly I try to read it within its immediate context of its surrounding verses, then the wider context of the book, then finally the canonical context. We grow in awareness of the canonical context with age and diligence in reading the Scriptures. However, we can be greatly helped by a good reference Bible and good commentaries and Study Bible.

      Which brings me to my last point, I normally use commentaries of good repute among mainstream evangelical scholars for help. Although I don’t accept their conclusions blindly (I want what they say to reflect the text as I read it) I am very cautious about ideas I may have that I cannot find others saying, especially others from an orthodox (small ‘o’) background. Paul urged Timothy to learn from him and to pass this on to faithful men who will teach others also. The faith, once and for all delivered to the saints (now the inscripturated word), is most reliably expressed by mainstream theology. This means consulting good commentaries especially good evangelical ones of which there are many nowadays.

      I don’t say commentators always get it right or always (even mainstream) speak with one voice (though there is great agreement), however, it is wise to be hesitant if their view finds little support in the academy. Naturally, the further a writer veers from a notionally historical orthodoxy the more cautious I am about his conclusions. It is often not too hard to see when conclusions are biblically dodgy.

      Can I say too that the more a view is based on a constructed background the more cautious I am about embracing it. I wait until it has wide approval from those I trust. I am also chary of theology that is built on the head of a pin. Or theology that reflects current trends sin society.

      We were never meant to be maverick in our theology. Protestantism has embraced an over-individualism that seems to have little regard for the teachings enshrined in creeds and confessions and bible teachers of the past. A good biblical theology (Gentry and Wellum: Kingdom through Covenant or Chris Wright: The Mission of God or Schreiner :The King in his Beauty) and a reliable Systematic Theology (Grudem’s Systematics, Berkhof’s Systematics, Feame;s Systematics ) will help to keep us orthodox in belief – at least within the evangelical stable (though all examples cited also lean towards a moderately reformed expression of evangelicalism. I am giving these as examples though in truth I have been unable to read them largely for health reasons. I have dipped unto Grudem and Berkhof a fair bit in the past,
      In terns of commentaries there are many series of trustworthy commentaries. I think the American Expositors commentaries new edition and the New International Bible commentaries are a great foundation. Over the years I have sampled many of these, The Tyndale series is also worthwhile.

      What God wants in those who teach his word is not charisma or force of personality, nor is it originality or great learning and erudition. He is looking for faithfulness to the apostolic word. It is required of a steward that he be found faithful.

      We have lots of discussions here. Sometimes, we speak before we think, at least I do. While we want to challenge each other we should most want to edify each other, building each other ip in our most holy faith. Its a grand objective. I hope we increasingly achieve it.

  11. Back to the topic of the post. While we will have no need for sex organs as such these same organs (or some of them) are used to dispose of bodily waste. We don’t know whether our resurrected bodies will dispose of waste. In resurrection, Jesus ate some fish, not incidentally but deliberately. This suggests a normal alimentary canal.

  12. These verses are most likely back-to-back chiasmi. What the takeaway is, I am not sure, but it might be helpful to notice.

    Luke 20:34-36:

    And Jesus said to them,
    A. “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage,
    B. but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age
    B’. and the resurrection from the dead,
    A’. neither marry, nor are given in marriage;

    A. for neither can they die anymore,
    B. for they are like (equal to) angels,
    B’. and are sons of God,
    A’. being sons of the resurrection.”

    • Thanks Craig, that is a very helpful observation. Three takeaways:

      a. chiasm is a natural and powerful way of speech.
      b. The start and end indicate the framing subject, that is, eschatological hope.
      c. The turning point in the middle communicates the key message: there is no more marriage, highlighting a key point of discontinuity with this age, contrary to the ‘mundane’ alternative Jewish visions.

      When you put that together with the *continuity* of bodily identity, I think you end up with the five-point schema in the article.

      Interesting, someone criticised this post on FB for spending too much time talking about sex and marriage, when the real question was resurrection. Your observation about chiasm shows that, for Jesus, sex and marriage are (literally) at the centre of this debate.


  13. If Jesus could walk through walls after the resurrection, He could walk through people. If we will be like Him, we will be able to walk through each other. We could therefore be separate entities in the New Jerusalem but still be ‘in Him’ in a very real way. all too mind boggly boggeling for me. All this must beyond the limits of metaphor to describe ‘like the angels’

  14. I remember Robin Gamble (a curate at a CYFA camp) saying that Satan had never created a pleasure, only corrupted the good things that God has given us as sex was great on earth he couldn’t wait to get to heaven!
    God’s constraint of sex being between men and women within marriage on earth, is because we are fallen, and this guidance is therefore for our emotional, physical and spiritual protection. But just as our resurrected bodies will be totally different but recognisable as us (in the same way that we identify the acorn with the oak tree), I suspect that sex will also exist in its proper fullness in heaven.


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