Is There Marriage in Heaven?
The Christian Church believes that there is no marriage in heaven, because of the Lord's saying that the sons of the resurrection shall "neither marry nor be given in marriage". Yet Swedenborg unhesitatingly proclaimed that the angels live in married bliss! How can such an apparent contradiction be explained?
Swedenborg's claim is that he was twenty-seven years in the spiritual world and was fully conscious there, not there just as to eyes and ears, but as to all his senses; not there for a brief while in a trance like spiritualist mediums, but present there from the time that he was fifty-seven years old until he died at eighty-four, continuously and consciously a citizen of both worlds. His claim is the most amazing that is made in history. No one else has ever made such a claim as that. Yet after we come to believe what he taught, it is not hard for us to realize. We, too, are actually in the spiritual world as much as we will ever be in it. But we are not conscious of it. Swedenborg, however, was fully conscious of both worlds at the same time. And he testifies that he saw thousands of married people in the spiritual world. He says it is full of people who are married, and, with the exception of certain nuns and monks and people who, from religious conviction, had made vows of celibacy and who sincerely believed those vows, everyone in heaven is married.
My task is to show you that there is no real contradiction between what Swedenborg saw in the spiritual world, namely, many married couples, and the Lord's words that there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage in heaven. But that you may better understand this situation, I must give a little of the background of the statement.
The Lord's words are recorded in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew (verse 30), as well as in Luke (20:35) and in Mark (12:25). They were spoken the last week of His life, on the Tuesday before His passion. We know a great deal about what the Lord did during that week.
On this Tuesday the Lord had a long day of conflict with His Jewish enemies. Some of these were the Herodians, who followed Herod. Another group were Pharisees, who were the aristocrats, the better-than- you people of Jerusalem, the socialites, the type to whom other people would kowtow, they knew that they were superior. And finally there were the Sadducees, a sect of people who did not believe in any life after death. Many of the Sadducees were rank materialists. They believed that when they died they were buried: that was the end of life, and there was nothing beyond the grave. They also insisted on a literal interpretation of the five Books of Moses and believed that if they obeyed those Books, Jehovah would bless them; but if they disobeyed them, He would curse them; and their heaven or hell would be right here on earth.
This last Tuesday of the Lord's life, from morning to night, He talked in the Temple and related many famous parables: the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five were foolish (Matthew 25:113); the parable of the master who went away and left his servants, one with five talents, one with two, and one with one (Matthew 25:14-30); and the parable of the householder who let out his vineyard to husbandmen, and went away, and then, at the appointed time, sent for some of the produce, with the result that the husbandmen stoned his servants, and finally killed his only son, saying, "Let us seize on his inheritance" (Matthew 2 1:33-41). All these parables were obviously directed against the priests, the scribes, the Sadducees, the Herodians, men who had risen up in violent opposition to Him, and who even now were seeking His death. The plot was gathering and was to reach its bloody climax on the coming Friday.
His words about marriage were spoken on Tuesday. You remember that on Palm Sunday He had ridden into Jerusalem on an ass's colt on which no man had ever sat before. He rode into Jerusalem as the kings of old had ridden up to the city, and the people spontaneously thought that now He was going to create the hoped-for revolution. They strewed palm branches before Him and spread their garments in the way, and sang, "Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." They were ready to make Him a king. But to the disappointment of the populace, He told them that His kingdom was not of this world. He did not proceed to the palace but to the Temple, where He had been at twelve years of age and which He had then called 'His Fathers' house'. And now He overturned the moneychangers' tables and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, saying, "It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." (Matthew 21:12-13)
The priests were making huge profits from the temple mart. It was estimated that at the Passover in those days more than a million people came to Jerusalem. They came from all parts of the civilized world: Jews and proselytes from all around the Mediterranean basin, from Egypt, from Greece and Rome and Persia. They came for the yearly Passover. They had money: Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Parthianall sorts of money. The priests, however, had made the ruling that all offerings had to be made in temple shekels. So the priests were busily exchanging temple shekels for the money of those people who came; and that is how they made the temple a den of thieves. For they cheated the people whenever they could. The Lord therefore said that they had made His house a den of thieves. And He ruthlessly overthrew their tables, spilling the money over the floor. You can imagine how those Jews were filled with rage. This festival was their big time for making a fortune, and to have the opportunity spoiled by this Reformer did not please them at all; so they came to the Lord and began to put Him under inquisition.
They wanted to trap Him in such a way that they could arouse the multitude against Him. He had just been acclaimed by the people, and in the crowd there were children whom He had cured of their diseases, and there were blind people who had received their sight. There was Simon whose leprosy had been cured and who had entertained Him on Monday night at a banquet. You cannot arrest a man with a popular following and crucify him without stirring up a revolution; so the Jews were trying to force the Lord to say something that would lessen His popularity and discredit Him with His followers.
First the priests came to Him and demanded, "By what authority doest Thou these things?" that is, "Who gave you the right to come into the Temple and upset the moneychangers' tables and cast out them that bought and sold?" Of course, all the people, the great multitude who stood by, were waiting to hear how the Lord would answer. And the Lord answered and said unto them, "I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it, from heaven, or from men?" (Matthew 21:24,25) The priests got together and whispered among themselves, for they knew that if they said that it was from heaven, He would say, "Why then did not you believe John?" And they also feared that if they said it was of men, the people might even stone them, because they thought John the Baptist to be a prophet. John had died a martyr's death. He had been beheaded by Herod, and the people had acclaimed him as the last of the prophets, and he had been held in great honor by the common folk. And so these priests came back to the Lord and said they could not answer His question. The Lord said, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things." (Matthew 21:27) That put the people on the Lord's sideit seemed like a fair proposition. "If you do not answer my question, then I do not have to answer your question"; and they did not answer His, so He did not answer theirs.
The priests went away. The next group that tried to entangle the Lord in His speech were the Pharisees. You remember that they came to Him and asked, "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" (Matthew 22:17) At this time in the history of the world, about 30 A.D., Tiberius was the Roman emperor, or Caesar (a title of Roman emperors), and he ruled over the whole Mediterranean basin. The Roman Empire composed the civilized world of that day. Tiberius was the absolute ruler of it, and his word was law in Jerusalem as in all the Roman provinces. On the other hand, the Jews were fanatical nationalists. Even through seventy years of captivity in Babylon their racial patriotism had been so strong that they had refused to intermarry with the Babylonians, and the result was that they came back from Babylon an integral people, without losing their identity.
I heard a lecture recently in which the speaker pointed out that, if Nebuchadnezzar had really wanted to destroy the Jews, he would have sent his Babylonians into Jerusalem and provided the opportunity for the Jews to intermarry with the Babylonian women in Jerusalem, and they would soon have lost their identity; but by dragging them away into Babylon, he unwittingly fostered in them a loyalty and comradeship, which was typified by the courage of Daniel, who braved the lions' den, and of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who faced the fiery furnace rather than to have any part in the Babylonian life or worship.
The more fanatical Jews wanted to throw off the yoke of Rome. It galled them to think that they had to pay tribute to Caesar, and that they were not an independent nation; and they looked for a soldier king like David who would break the yoke of Rome. Thus the question, "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" was very crafty. The Pharisees had planned that if He said, "By no means, do not give anything to Caesar", then they would just call in the Roman guards, saying, "Do you hear what this man says?" Then He would be taken off as a traitor to Rome. On the other hand, if He spoke out boldly and said, "Yes, give tribute to Rome", then the whole Jewish mob would be out to stone Him, and He would have lost His prestige with them, which was what the Pharisees wanted. But the Lord simply called for a penny and asked, "Whose is this image and superscription?" They answered that it was Caesar's, and then the Lord said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God, the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:20,21) The common people marvelled at the answer, because there was no offense given either to Caesar or to the rabid Jewish mob, and the Lord gave a law that is applicable in all of our affairs and shows the correct relation between the things of the State and the things of the Church. The things of the State are to be rendered to Caesar, and the things of God to God. So for the second time, in the eyes of all this multitude, the adversaries failed to discredit the Lord.
Now came the third class of Jewish opponents, the Sadducees, skeptics and materialists. They did not believe in a spiritual world, yet they drummed up a question about the resurrection which they thought would surely silence the Lord. We read:
"The same day came to Him the Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection, and asked Him, saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at His doctrine." (Matthew 22:23-33)
There is no question whatsoever that the Lord said "they neither marry nor are given in marriage". But let us look at the word marriage. We have, each one of us, a certain idea of marriage which we have gained through all our past experience, and when we read these words of the Lord that there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, we might naturally get the idea that He meant there is no marriage such as we know of. And literally, there is in heaven, in the life after death, in the resurrection, no such marriage as the Sadducees had in their minds; and because there was no such marriage as that, I invite your intelligent consideration to the fact that the Lord's words do not mean there is no true marriage in heaven and that He did not intend to rule out true marriage when He said that they are "as the angels of God." For the angels of God, we believe, are in conjugial love or true marriage. What did the Sadducees mean by marriage? Let us look at their story.
There were seven brothers, and all six of the remaining brothers might have been married when the oldest brother died without any child. According to the law of Moses, for the sake of order in the representative of a church, which was purely external and where there was no conjugial love and where marriage was for the sake of procreation only, it was permitted the people, "for the hardness of their hearts", to have polygamy. It was permitted them to have the wife of a dead brother taken by another brother, to have a child raised up that would be called by the dead brother's name. (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) If that brother happened to be already married, we would call that relationship polygamy at best, or else adultery. We would not call that marriage, would we? This woman passed from one of seven brothers to the others successively, whether they were married or not; and the Sadducees asked the Lord to tell whose wife she would be in the spiritual world, since all seven had had her to wife.
We would not admit that any of the six younger brothers had her to wife. There had not been a marriage between any of the six and this woman, according to our conception of marriage. In the literal sense, the Lord could not have answered that there was in heaven the kind of "marriage" that the polygamous Jews advocated on earth. If He had answered to that effect, He would have established, in the very first days of the Christian Church, a sensualism which it could never have outlived. He would have debased the whole spiritual conception of marriage in the Christian Church. And so, to prevent that, and to answer the Sadducees on their own plane of thought, He said to them, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven." Imagine saying that to the Sadducees who thought they were the experts on the Scriptures. They thought they knew the Books of Moses better than anyone else.
I want to point out to you how the Sadducees thought they were going to trap the Lord. They wanted to have Him discredited with the crowd so that they could crucify Him without causing a riot. The law of Moses was the fundamental religious law, and the masses venerated it. It was written in the law of Moses that, if a man died and left a wife, a widow with no child, his brother should take that widow and raise up a child who should be called by the dead brother's name and who should inherit the property of the dead brother. (Deuteronomy 25:5) That was called the law of the levirate. And if the Lord had said that the woman was the wife of any one of the seven brothers, He would have left out the other six brothers and he would have discredited the law of Moses. But the law of Moses forbade polyandry, that is, more than one husband for one woman. (Numbers 5:20) if the Lord had said that after the resurrection, she would be married to all seven of them, He would thus have violated the law of Moses. So the Sadducees failed to entangle Him by their catch question. For He answered them in a way that they did not expect, and said that "in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven."
So much for the literal understanding of the Lord's words. He may not have convinced the Sadducees, but, as the Proverb says, you have to answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:5), and I think that the Lord told those Sadducees the exact literal truth, that there is no marriage, no polygamous marriage such as they had in their minds, in the kingdom of heaven. There could not possibly be.
Let us now go a step further and see if the Christian Church is justified in ruling out the idea of marriage as part of the concept of the life after death just from the evidence of the Scriptures themselves. When instituting marriage, the Lord abolished polygamy. When He gave the
Christian marriage law in the Gospels, he said, They twain shall be one flesh . . . What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." (Matthew 19:6) That is how the Lord stated the law of marriage in the New Testament. This allows for no polygamy. Monogamy, one man and one woman, has been the marriage law of the Christian Church from its beginning. "What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
The Christian Church, without any warrant that I can see, has added the idea that God puts man and wife apart by death, so it has taught that marriage lasts for this world, but that when death intervenes, that is God putting asunder the marriage covenant. Let us see if this will stand the light of reason.
God's purposes do not change. God sees all the way through to the end of the problem. We see just to the first curve, and we have to wait until we get to the bend in the road before we can look around it, but God does not. He is all-wise, and He sees clearly through to the end of the problem. And if He sees fit to create humanity in two complementary forms, the form of the male and the female, neither one of which is complete with. out the other, and the two perfectly complement each other; and when He joins them together and says, "Let not man put asunder what God hath joined together", what logic would require us to believe that they are put asunder by death and that man, waking up in the spiritual world, no longer needs to be complemented by woman nor woman any longer needs to be complemented by man?
There is no real reason to believe that God meant that death was the end of marriage, for I believe that what God hath joined together remains joined together. That is irrevocable unless man himself, in his freedom, wishes to destroy his marriage which is, of course, possible. Any man can do that, but it does not mean that where man does not want to destroy his marriage, God will destroy it by death. We have to go back to the fundamental purpose for which God has created everything, because there is wealth of irresistible evidence for marriage in heaven. The Lord indeed knew that His words would make the Christian Church believe that death was the end of marriage. He knew that, and He spoke advisedly in order to keep the Christian ideal of heaven from being a sensual ideal, and to keep it on a spiritual plane; and this was in Providence, since the doctrine of truly conjugial love could not yet be revealed.
Look at the whole scheme of creation. We have an irresistible body of evidence for the continuance of marriage in the spiritual world. In the first place, the two fundamental qualities in God Himself are the quality of love and the quality of wisdom. God Himself has these two qualities and they are united, or as it were, married in Him and are the source of all creation and all human life; and we know that woman is the form of love and man the form of wisdom. And just as God loved to create the universe, that love had to be married to His wisdom, to His ability to know how to create the universe, and without that ability to know how and without the love to do it, He could not possibly have created the universe. But He did create the universe, and so we have this expression of two necessary complements of life. Wherever you look, you are going to see two things which long to be conjoined, and until they are conjoined and complement one another each one is imperfect by itself Let me illustrate this by a magnet. A magnet has two poles, the positive pole and the negative pole. The poles attract each other so that if I have two magnets and put the positive to the positive they repel each other, but if I put the positive to the negative and the negative to the positive, they bind each other together. Let us think of the positive and the negative as the love and wisdom in God. And the Word does not merely say that God created man in His image and in His likeness but that He created them male and female.
Look at the map of the world. We see that it is made up of land and water. Land is the feminine and water is the masculine: we spontaneously say "Mother Earth", do we not? We say of the Mississippi River that it is the "Father of Waters." Did not Horatius, before he swam across the stream with all his armor on, say, "Tiber, Father, Tiber, to whom all Romans pray"? We instinctively talk about rivers as masculine and the land as feminine and for a very good reason, because the earth receives the rain. Without receiving the rain it brings forth nothing. It is positively sterile. But when it receives the rain it brings forth the produce. The earth is like the mother of everything. We find this duality wherever we look. We have it in the sun itself in heat and light, and we find it in the chemical world. We have acids and bases, and when you add them together, you get salts which are like the offspring of the acids and bases. And then in the vegetable kingdom, we have bees flying from masculine blossoms to feminine blossoms, and if they do not pollinate the blossoms, there is no fruit. You have an appearance of sexes even in plants. Then you come to the animals.
From the tiniest animals, all the way up to man you have this division of sexes the male and the female. That is so universal that we cannot escape it; and it is that way because God Himself is love and wisdom and everything created reflects something of His image and likeness. The whole world is created in the likeness of a marriage. And since the spiritual world is a continuation of life, no one would wish to wake up in that world something different than he had been, but we want to wake up in the spiritual world loving the things that we have learned to love with intense passion and interest in this world, we want to go right on loving them. We do not want to be somebody different, even if we could have the name of an angel. We would just rather be ourselves. And the longer we are married, the more completely lost we feel when we do not have the companionship of our partner. And to contemplate an eternity where one would become a creature deprived of what in this life is the sweetest of all human experiences is abhorrent and unthinkable. To have the things that you do not have supplied by your partner who has them, and to give your partner the things that your partner does not have, one mutually complementing the other, is the delight itself of life. To think of death as a jumping-off place, where you take off for eternity and suddenly are all alone, without hope of ever seeing your married partner, would seem to be running in the face of the whole scheme of creation, running in the face of all that evidence we have laid before you. It seems to be utterly illogical to think that marriage should stop at death. I have two more reasons for believing that marriage does not stop at death. The first one is that heaven is the same in greatests and in leasts, just as human society here is the same in greatests and in leasts. The United States is a Grand Man. It has a head which we call the government and it has its nerves, the telegraph and radio services. It has its muscles which are its police and military forces to enforce the law and protect the country. It has its stomach, its great grain centers like Chicago. It has its veins, its arteries, which are the trains and trucks which bring food for the stomach all the way to the local store and at last to the individual house which is the unit cell. The whole country is a man. The state is a man in smaller form. The county is one, too, and finally we come all the way down to the borough which has its burgess, its borough council, and all the functions of a man; and finally we arrive at the individual.
All is in a human form. That is the way God planned it, and Swedenborg simply testifies that it is extended into the spiritual world, and that the whole spiritual world is a man in the sight of the Lord, each of the three heavens is a man. Each society in heaven is a man, as well as each individual angel.
The Lord Himself calls Himself the Bridegroom, and calls Heaven and the Church His Bride and Wife, and this all through Scripture. Just to quote a single passage: "I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2) It is only one of many passages which treat of the Church as the wife and mother, and the Lord as the Husband and Father of the Church and of the children of the Church; so that if we can think of a marriage so holy that it can be said that the Lord is married to the Church, then surely the institution of marriage must be something sacred and lasting. It would be hard to think that there is a marriage of the Lord and the Church, if the people of the Church in the spiritual world were all sexless creatures that themselves have no marriage.
In conclusion we shall be reminded that the Word says of the Lord: "Without a parable spake He not unto them." (Matthew 13:34)
Everything the Lord said was spoken with deeper meanings than just the surface meaning. The surface meaning was for the child-like state of the people to whom He talked. He talked to the Sadducees in a language they could understand, but within His conversation were eternal truths which will be valid and true ages after the name of the Sadducees has perished from man's memory. And the deeper truth involved in saying that there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage in the spiritual world refers to that marriage of the Church and the Lord which is produced when man takes the truths which he receives from the Lord in the Word and marries them to the goods of life, in his own life, in this world. That is also what is meant by putting oil in our lamps as the wise virgins did in the parable. They had taken the light of truth represented by their lamp and they had also taken oil, which represents the good to which truth leads; and when truth leads to good in a man's life, it is said to be married to the good, conjoined to it. And to have this internal marriage of good and truth is the essence of conjugial love.
The spiritual meaning of the Lord's words is that it is in this life on earth that we are free to choose whether we will live the life of truth or not. If we live the life of truth, the good and truth in our life are spiritually married to each other. After we go into the spiritual world it is too late to marry goods and truths; and so spiritually there is, as the Lord said, neither marriage nor giving in marriage in the spiritual world. For if we do not choose to marry good and truth in this world through the process of regeneration, they cannot be conjoined in the spiritual world.
Spiritually speaking, therefore, there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage after death. And so, to sum up, the Lord's words do not bar the concept of eternal marriage in the spiritual world. First of all, the Lord gave a literal answer to the Sadducees whose thoughts were of polygamy or adultery and not of conjugial love or marriage; secondly, the whole scheme of creation from God Himself down to the least of the mineral kingdom is dual, and everywhere we see represented the feminine and masculine, nowhere complete unless conjoined together on whatever plane it may be, mineral, vegetable, animal, human. The masculine always complements the feminine and the feminine always complements the masculine. And thirdly, the Lord could not describe the whole heaven as the Bride and Wife of the Lamb and Himself as the Husband and Father of the Church unless that marriage was universal and extended from the firsts which are in Him down to the lasts, which belong to angels and men. Lastly, it can clearly be seen that the spiritual sense refers to the marriage of good and truth in the life of each individual, that is, to the application of the principles of truth which you believe to your life. Here and now, this world is the place where that must be done, and if not done in this world, then in very deed it cannot be given in the spiritual world. Speaking with the spiritual sense in mind, the Lord therefore said that "in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels of God in heaven."