In Matthew 22 Jesus fields a series of questions meant to entrap Him in His words. It’s in answer to one of those questions that Jesus says that “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
The immediate context of Jesus’ teaching that at the resurrection people will not marry is to answer a group of Jewish religious leaders called the Sadducees. The Sadducees presented a scenario where a woman was widowed seven times without any children, and each time, following the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 25:5), she married her deceased husband’s brother, who was to bear a child for his deceased brother. In the Sadducees’ scenario, the woman was married seven times to seven different brothers. They then asked Jesus, “Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 22:28).
The Sadducees’ question was dishonest to begin with, because they denied the reality of a future resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). So, their question was purely for the purpose of trapping Jesus. Jesus’ response not only answered their question but also confronted their error concerning two doctrines: the future resurrection and the existence of angels.
Jesus attributes the Sadducees’ doctrinal errors to ignorance of two things: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Jesus then reveals the truth that “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). He proceeds to prove, from the Scriptures, that there is life after death and there will be a resurrection. Quoting Exodus 3:6, Jesus points to God’s self-identification as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since God said, “I am” their God (present tense), and since “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:32), the patriarchs are still alive, and God is still their God.
Jesus does not address why people will not marry at the resurrection. Some have speculated that marriage won’t exist in the resurrected state because procreation will not be necessary. Some suggest that marriage, as a symbol of Christ and His people (Ephesians 5:22–23), will not be necessary as the reality will have replaced the symbol. Either way, Jesus is making several things clear: 1) there is certainly a resurrection; 2) this state of being will be drastically different from what humanity experiences now; 3) marriage will not occur; and 4) humanity will be like the angels, who also do not marry.
By answering the Sadducees’ question this way, Jesus was able to affirm the resurrection in the presence of many and provide the solution to the post-resurrection marriage conundrum. Existence in the resurrected state will simply be different from what we know now.
People will not marry or be given in marriage in the resurrected state, but that does not mean people will not remember their earthly relationships. To conclude that people will lose their memories of life before the resurrection stretches the text beyond what it says. Also, being “like the angels in heaven” does not mean that people will become angels, only that they will be like angels regarding marriage.
We should look forward to the resurrection, as it will be a glorious event and state of being:
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever (Revelation 22:3–5; cf. Romans 8:18 and Matthew 17:1–3).