Sunday, December 13, 2020

A Flashlight in the Eternal Sun

It has been pointed out that when God gave Eve to Adam, it was for eminently practical reasons and not merely on account of the typological significance of being “one flesh” with a complementary created being. So the primary purpose of marriage is often taken to be companionship — “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

Companionship is indeed of great importance, but we should not miss the point that this gracious gift was provided by God with a specific end in view — helping, and helping in a way that was appropriate to Adam’s needs.

It is logical to ask ourselves what exactly Eve was intended to help with.


As it turns out, even so early in the history of humanity, Adam already had a job. This is framed in various ways. Genesis 1 tells us mankind was to “have dominion” over creation and to “subdue it”, while Genesis 2 continues, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” There was a broader concept or mission to the job, that of running the show, but as to the daily specifics, Adam’s primary occupation was gardening. He was given the job of producing fruit, and here I mean not just apples and oranges but “fruit” in its wider and more traditional sense. Adam was to cultivate, care for, grow and re-grow everything that lay under his dominion.

Now, those of us who have ever tried to help anything living to grow properly have probably realized something about dealing with agriculture: the job never ends. It is a perpetual task season in and season out. The better you are at it, the more work is involved. The more growth, the greater the harvest. The greater the harvest, the more seed may be sown next year, and the harvest increases again. So man works away, finding fulfillment in his work. That was God’s plan.

Now, when sin came into the picture, “fruit” of another sort was required. Succession planning became a necessity. God had always intended mankind to reproduce — sin brought about not “childbearing” or even “pain in childbearing” but the multiplication thereof. However, with the introduction of death into the picture, the need for Adam and Eve to generate more of their own kind became a matter of some urgency. If the first couple had departed this scene without heirs, they would have left nothing of the original design in the world. Moreover, the role with which God had tasked them would be left unfilled, and God’s earth left untended.

It turned out Eve was remarkably suited to helping with that task as well.

When Good Things Go Missing

That’s all background, and it’s mostly or entirely familiar to our readers, but it sets the stage for a question that has always gotten me thinking: If marriage is one of the good things God has given to us (and scripture is unequivocal that it is), why is it that marriage ends with death, and that the marriage partnership does not continue throughout eternity? Eternal life is full of good things — indeed, the very best things. How is it that marriage is not among them?

Despite the questions it may generate, this fact is established beyond a shadow of a doubt three times by our Lord’s teaching in the synoptic gospels. Matthew and Mark tell us this: “For when they rise from the dead” (or else “in the resurrection”), “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” The epistles confirm this: a Christian man or woman whose spouse dies is free to be married to whom they wish, “only in the Lord”. If the marriage bond was intended to last into eternity, this would hardly be the case.

So then, the matter is both well-attested and rarely contested, but it is also not overly-explained. Much about the eternal state and our role in it is left to our sanctified (and not-so-sanctified) imaginations, ideally fed with the teaching of scripture and the principles we derive from it.

They Cannot Die Anymore

However, there is a little more to be said on the subject from the Word itself. The third occasion on which Jesus speaks to this issue in the synoptic gospels is a little bit more expansive than the first two. Luke says this:
“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
The word “for” is an English translation of the third usage of the same negative adverb [oute] which is translated “neither” and “nor” in the previous clause. Here the words “for they cannot die anymore” are linked together with the statement that in the resurrection men and women no longer marry, and I suggest that when we look back to God’s original plan for the human race and how it was subsequently adapted in Genesis, there may be an implicit causal relationship for us to consider. That is to say, the permanent elimination of death renders the primary functions of marriage superfluous.

This is true in at least two obvious ways. In the resurrection: (1) we no longer need to produce fruit, and (2) we are no longer on the clock. It is true in other ways as well, but I will not attempt to explore all of them here.

Producing Fruit

To the first matter, in resurrection life reproductive sexuality is rendered unnecessary by the sheer quantity of everlasting fruit already produced and still in process.

Scripture speaks to this issue in many different ways. It calls the Lord Jesus “the firstborn among many brethren” and speaks of bringing “many sons to glory”. Jesus taught his disciples to conceive of the Father’s house as a place with “many rooms”.

How many? Well, the dimensions of the New Jerusalem are provided to us in Revelation. It is spec’d out at 12,000 cubic stadia.

Consider that for a moment: A stadion is around 600 feet, so 12,000 of them works out to approximately 1,500 miles. So the ground floor of the New Jerusalem is 2,250,000 square miles of territory. That’s slightly over 1/3 the size of Russia. For Canadians, that’s six times the size of the province of Ontario. For Americans, six times the size of the state of California.

But then John says the city is also 12,000 stadia in height. For that measurement to have any significance, I take it we are not talking about a city of single storey buildings with very high ceilings.

A Story About Storeys

A modern “storey” is usually 10 to 12 feet. I’m going to go with 12, since I like high ceilings. But that still allows for 660,000 storeys. My office building, which has a pretty impressive view, has thirty-ish. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, currently the world’s tallest building, has 200. You would have to stack over 3,000 Burj Khalifas one on top of the other, with each storey having the square footage a third the size of Russia, to reach the penthouse of New Jerusalem.

Now, if the New Jerusalem has the population density of New York City, it could house a little over 787 million people. But that’s on one single floor, not 660,000 of them! I could multiply those two very large numbers together for you, but at a certain point increasing the number of zeroes means nothing most people could begin to apprehend.

Many will argue that these numbers given us in Revelation are figurative rather than literal, and I will not waste time disputing that. The point is that they signify something, and that something is very, very, VERY large. When God’s harvest comes in, an unbelievable amount of room has been set aside to store it. The obvious implication is that the harvest will be massive beyond our ability to contemplate, and certainly well beyond our ability to fully explore and enjoy over the course of eternity.

There will be no need in eternity for men and women to reproduce ourselves. The human race will be well represented in the Father’s house.

The Pleasure of Companionship

Now, is reproduction the whole purpose of marriage? Of course not. But to the second matter, we are no longer on the clock. Finiteness is excluded in eternity. It will be possible to enjoy personal intimacy without the exclusivity that such a very limited lifespan makes mandatory.

I think we see a picture of that in the Lord’s story of the rich man and Lazarus. While the rich man suffers in Hades, the poor Lazarus is carried by angels to the comfort of what is referred to in some translations as “Abraham’s bosom”, or “Abraham’s side”. We are told Jewish myth-makers conceived of Abraham’s bosom as an actual location within Sheol, or the grave, where the righteous dead awaited judgment. The image comes from the practice of reclining at a banquet in proximity to the other guests. To be in Abraham’s bosom would be to have a place of high esteem and closest intimacy with one of the most prominent invited guests.

What is more interesting is the way the Lord depicts it for us in Luke. The great patriarch Abraham is not only in close proximity to Lazarus, but he knows the poor man’s own life story and can spell it out for anyone who is interested — this man who in earthly terms is the very least of Abraham’s genetic descendants, removed from him by dozens of generations, multiple social strata, and a lifetime of wildly different experiences; this man who is only one of untold thousands who have passed from death to life and into in the company of Abraham and other saints. And yet Abraham has no end of time to devote to this man, no pressing obligations to attend to that would make Lazarus a lower priority. Finiteness is excluded in eternity.

It is no trivial detail to note that unrestricted access to so august a personage as Abraham appears to be available even now to the poor of the first century. It suggests eternal life will involve a level of intimate personal engagement we never experience on earth, and of which marriage provides us with the merest hint. Even if we leave out the fellowship to be enjoyed with the infinite Christ, the greatest and most intimate of all relationships earthly and heavenly, it is clear no one will be begging for more companionship in glory. It will be a never-ending feast of social and emotional fulfillment. Nobody will be “alone” in any sense that matters.

Marrying and Being Given in Marriage

So where is marriage in all this? I am quite sure it is eclipsed. Far from losing something we value (and often value far too little, if the divorce rate among Christians means anything), in eternity we stand to gain something of which even the best and most fondly-remembered marriages are only pictures. Moreover, whereas in this life some Christians enjoy the intimacy, companionship and help of life with a willing, loving partner, in glory every believer without exception will enjoy the same intimacies and comforts, unhampered by our looks, wealth, poor upbringings, personality flaws, emotional injuries and other baggage, jealousies, fears and the various impediments that plague our relationships in the here and now.

In the brightness of eternal sun there is no need for flashlights.


  1. That's one perspective of course. And, since all perspectives are speculative only, we can add our own. The differences in perspectives should come about, as for most things we are capable of, in the degrees of probability that can be assigned to one scenario or another. E.g., from my perspective it is impossible to discard the enormous quantity of pure real estate that the universe represents. It has to figure in somehow into the hereafter as well. It is clear that the proposed Jerusalem would still be infinitesimal when compared to the scale of the universe. Combine that with fact of human nature having been created to engage in work and activity (and not only for reclining at dinner) and it stands to reason that we are on a never ending mission of co-creation and constructive activity in the physical and the supernatural realm. In other words, you won't EVER get bored. There is a reason why the new Jerysalem is compared to a city with its usual hustle and bustle.

    Furthermore, I have known couples where the spouse has died due to illness, accident, or natural time and the spouse left behind out of love desired nothing more then to also pass on to be in the presence of their beloved partner. I do not think for one second that earthly marriage bonds and union are negated, diminished or unimportant in the hereafter and cannot continue as an important function. The implication is that there is probably constructive work to be done in the hereafter as well in a setting that we cannot imagine since we do not know how it can be to be free of the constraints of time.

    1. In other words, you won't EVER get bored.

      I totally agree with you there.