(Luke 20:34-36) Jesus said to them: “The children of this system of things marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who have been counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 In fact, neither can they die anymore, for they are like the angels, and they are God’s children by being children of the resurrection.
Until about 80 years ago, no Christian—nominal or otherwise—had a problem with this passage. Everyone was going to heaven to be like the angels, so it was a non-issue. Even today, it is not a hot topic within Christendom for the same reason. However, in the mid-1930s, Jehovah’s Witnesses identified the other sheep class and things began to change. It wasn’t a hot topic right away, because the end was near and the other sheep were going to live through Armageddon; so they would continue married, have children and enjoy the whole enchilada—unlike the billions of unrighteous resurrected. This would create an interesting New World society in which a tiny minority of a few million would exist surrounded by countless billions of (presumably) neutered humans.
Unfortunately, the end didn’t come right away and beloved mates started to die off and gradually, the application we were giving this passage became charged with emotion.
Our official position in 1954 was that the resurrected will not marry, though there was an odd codicil to that interpretation, presumably to calm members of the other sheep who had lost beloved mates.
“It is even reasonable and allowable to entertain the comforting thought that those of the other sheep who now die faithful will have an early resurrection and live during the time when the procreation mandate is being fulfilled and when paradise conditions are being spread earth-wide and that they will share in this divinely given service. Jehovah holds that hope of service out to them now, and it seems reasonable that he will not let them lose out on it because of untimely death now, perhaps a death brought on because of faithfulness to him.” (w54 9/15 p. 575 Questions From Readers)
This unfounded wishful thinking is no longer part of our theology. The last reference to Luke 20:34-36 in our publications was 25 years ago. We don’t appear to have broached the subject since. Thus it remains our official position on the matter, which is that the resurrected will not marry. However, it does leave the door open a crack for other possibilities: “So if a Christian finds it hard to accept the conclusion that resurrected ones will not marry, he can be sure that God and Christ are understanding. And he can simply wait to see what occurs.” (w87 6/1 p. 31 Questions From Readers)
I read that as a tacit tip of the hat to the idea that maybe we’re wrong. No worries though, just wait and see.
Given the apparent ambiguity in this Scripture (Was Jesus referring to the heavenly resurrection, or the earthly, or both?) one wonders why we take a position on it at all. Is it that we feel we have to have an answer to every Scriptural question? That seems to have been our position for quite some time now. What then of John 16:12?
Nevertheless, we have taken a position on this Scripture. Therefore, since the purpose of this forum is to promote unbiased Bible research, let’s re-examine the evidence.
The situation that gave rise to this revelation by Jesus was a thinly veiled attack on him by the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection at all. They were trying to trap him with what they saw as an unsolvable conundrum.
So the first question we must ask is, Why did Jesus choose to reveal a new truth to his opposers instead of this faithful disciples?
This was not his way.
(be p. 66 pars. 2-3 Know How You Ought to Answer)
In some cases, as Jesus indicated to his apostles, a person may ask for information to which he is not entitled or that would really not benefit him.—Acts 1:6, 7.
The Scriptures counsel us: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Col. 4:6) Thus, before we answer, we need to consider not only what we are going to say but how we are going to say it.
We are taught to imitate his teaching example of Jesus by determining what is really behind the question we are being asked—the true motivation of the questioner—before framing our answer.
(be p. 66 par. 4 Know How You Ought to Answer)*
The Sadducees tried to entrap Jesus with a question about the resurrection of a woman who had been married several times. However, Jesus knew that they actually did not believe in the resurrection. So in his reply, he answered their question in a way that dealt with the mistaken viewpoint that was the underlying basis for that question. Using masterful reasoning and a familiar Scriptural account, Jesus pointed out something that they had never considered previously—clear evidence that God is indeed going to resurrect the dead. His answer so amazed his opposers that they were afraid to question him any further.—Luke 20:27-40.
After reading this counsel, were you to meet an atheist in the field ministry and be asked a question about the resurrection intended to confound you, would you get into details of the resurrection of the 144,000 as well as that of the righteous and unrighteous. Of course not. Imitating Jesus’ example, you would discern the atheist’s true intention and give him just enough information to shut him up. Too much detail would be grist for his mill, opening up other avenues for him to attack you. Jesus deftly gave the Sadducees a brief answer that shut them up, then using a basis in Scripture they respected, succinctly proved the resurrection to them.
We argue that because the Sadducees knew nothing of the heavenly resurrection, Jesus must have been referencing the earthly one in his answer. We bolster this argument by showing how he referenced Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all ones who will enjoy an earthly resurrection. There is a problem with line of reasoning.
First, the fact he referenced their forefathers doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been referring to the heavenly resurrection in his answer. The two parts of his argument are separate. The first part was intended to give them an answer that would defeat their pitiful attempt to trip him up. The second part was to prove them wrong in their reasoning using their own beliefs against them.
Let’s look at it another way. If the earthly resurrection does not preclude the possibility of marriage, then would Jesus have reasoned that because they didn’t believe in the heavenly resurrection he was restricted to talking about the earthly. Not likely? They didn’t believe in the earthly either. If the earthly does include marriage, then there are many Gordian knot situations that arise and which only Jehovah God can resolve. Knowledge of how he resolves them falls under the umbrella of John 16:12 and Acts 1:6,7. We couldn’t handle this truth even now, so why would he have revealed it to opposers back then?
It makes a lot more sense to conclude he gave them the scenario of the heavenly resurrection, does it not? He didn’t have to explain that he was talking about the heavenly resurrection. He could let them make their own assumptions. His only obligation was to speak the truth. He wasn’t obliged to go into detail. (Mt. 7:6)
Of course, that is merely a line of reasoning. It does not constitute proof. However, neither is the contrary line of reasoning Scriptural proof. Is there Scriptural proof for one argument over another?
What Does Jesus Actually Say?
The children of this system of things marry. We are all children of this system of things. We can all marry. The children of that system of things do not marry. According to Jesus they are worthy of gaining both that system of things and the resurrection from the dead. They do not die anymore. They are like the angels. They are God’s children by being children of the resurrection.
Both righteous and unrighteous are resurrected to life on earth. (Acts 24:15) Do the unrighteous come back to a state where they ‘can never die anymore’? Are the unrighteous resurrected as God’s children? Are the unrighteous worthy of the resurrection? We try to explain this away by stating that this only applies after they successfully pass the final test at the end of the thousand years. But that isn’t what Jesus is saying. They will ‘gain…the resurrection from the dead’ hundreds of years before the final test. They are counted as God’s children not for passing a final test, but because God has resurrected them. None of the above fits what the Bible says about the state of the unrighteous resurrected ones.
The only group of resurrected ones for whom all the above is true without engaging in any theological gymnastics is that of the 144,000 spirit anointed sons of God. (Rom. 8:19; 1 Cor. 15:53-55) Jesus words fit that group if we simply let him mean what he says.
What About Jehovah’s Purpose?
Jehovah designed man to live in partnership with the female of the species. Woman was designed as a complement to man. (Gen. 2:18-24) No one can thwart Jehovah in the completion of this purpose. No problem is too difficult for him to resolve. Sure, he could change the very nature of the male and female to remove the need for them to complement one another, but he doesn’t change his purpose. His design is perfect and needs no alteration to accommodate changing circumstances. Sure, we could speculate that he intended to neuter humankind at some point in the future, but if that were so, would Jesus let the cat out of the bag to a group of unbelieving opposers and not to his faithful disciples? Would he reveal such a sacred or holy secret to unbelievers? Wouldn’t that be the epitome of throwing pearls before swine? (Mt. 7:6)