Both Matthew & Mark record Jesus as saying “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”, in response to a kind of trick-question posed by the Sadducees. The Sadduccees were a first-century Jewish sect that denied the belief among some Jews that there would be a “resurrection of the dead” at the end of the cosmos. In their skepticism, they had asked Jesus who an eight-times-widdowed woman would be married to in this “resurrection”. Jesus gives the above reply and clearly states that the Jewish belief in a resurrection was correct.
In his reply, the statement about being “like the angels in heaven” has been taken to mean that humanity will transcend sex, as in transcend having binary biological sexes, and simply be asexual. Of course, this interpretation trades heavily on the notion that angels are asexual. While the Old Testament does not refer to angels as female, using either neuter or male pronouns, it is difficult to assume too much from this, since this could reflect the sociological preference of the writers in the absence of having a clear way to distinguish what it would mean for such creatures to be sexed. So, instead, it seems likely that Jesus is just saying that there will not be marriage, and so the Sadduccees’ hypothetical question is moot.
All well and good. This also (assuming the sexual ethics that Jesus would definitively have assumed) implies that there will be no sexual intercourse in “the age to come”. But, why?
Christian theology should opt for a reason that avoids a demeaning view of sex since it seems to be inherently good part of the creation in the narrative of Genesis. The most readily available reply for why is something like what Dr. Dennis Hollinger proposes: “If sex is a yearning for connection and intimacy, it will no longer be significant when we are fully and ultimately connected and intimate with our Creator”. The dissemination of marriage analogies for the end of this present age throughout the New Testament lends this interpretation some weight, and it preserves that ethical position on the inherent good of sex. This, however, reverberates several implications back into Genesis.
If such a connection would make sex superfluous, we are implying that this connection was not present for the first humans, since, obviously, they had sex. Not only was sex an inherent good, it was the solution that God proposed for the fact that Adam was “alone”. But, if loneliness was the problem, why not give Himself to Adam in the way that we are proposing will be the case in the resurrection? If the only thing preventing us from such a connection now is sin, as some propose, and the narrative is placed in a “pre-sinful” state, the question is looming.
We should, because of all this, affirm that God did not create humanity with an ideal relationship with Himself. That is, a theological reading of the narrative arc in scripture must include the fact that there was from the beginning an available, but not given, relation to God more intense than the one the first humans enjoyed. This does not easily square with the idea that reconciliation with God through Christ is simply a restoration to a previously satisfactory connection with Him, one that we “lost” because of human rebellion. It seems to strongly suggest that there was work to be done, and, without going into it here, a reason for the Incarnation of Christ apart from the Fall.
Granted, Genesis does give us an “idealistic” picture. Adam walks with God, and the ability to hear and respond to divine communication are portrayed as natural. Without overturning the fact that such an awareness was present in a way that no longer is the case for us, we are still lead to say that humanity was created with a goal to strive for, and this because of how we are seeing the relation between sex and the eschaton that Jesus makes clear (and, more particularly, the rationale we are giving for it). This is less of a problem if we place all of scripture within the context of an “evolutionary” framework (and I use that word loosely), as opposed to an “Eden-Fallen-Restored” schematization. It also fits very well with other thoughts I’ve come across and written about on Genesis and theodicy.
All of this to say: Two decisions, one on the absence of sex after the resurrection and the second on why, will have huge ramifications for our view of the Christian story. To me, this lends the narrative more profundity. Instead of being the center of the story, humanity is swept up into a cosmic narrative, where emergence of our species is part-and-parcel of the unfolding mission of God to be “all in all”. It is, I think, more meaningful, more hopeful, and makes the nature of sex more beautiful.