by Stephen McAlpine

I was speaking with a young Christian woman recently at a writers’ event I was attending, when the topic of our bodily resurrection sparked a little more reaction than I expected. 

I casually mentioned that we are headed towards a bodily resurrection in which we will be completely who we were designed to be. I added that it would be interesting to know what it would mean to be fully the man I was intended to be. That’s when she fired up a little. “You’re not saying that you’re going to be a man and that I’m going to be a woman in heaven are you?”

“Yes, of course, that’s what I’m saying,” I responded, unsure as to which part of that would seem strange to her.

man and woman riding bicycles, in silhouette.

What will eternity be like? There will be men and women, for starters, writes Stephen McAlpine. (Photo: Everton Vila on Unsplash)

“But Jesus said we’d be like the angels in heaven,” she pushed back, quoting Jesus’ words to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-45 and concluding, “We won’t be women or men.” 

Others in our group began to push back against her claim, but they were not  quite sure where to land.  

“But Jesus is a man still,” I said. “What do you think happened to him when he rose from the dead and then went to heaven? There’s a man on the throne of heaven ruling the world!”

This could have been quite a fruitful (and probably a more animated) conversation, if allowed to go further. But it was a side street to the main road of the event, so we put the car into reverse, then continued the meeting. Sadly, we didn’t get to finish the chat afterwards.

Leaving aside the specific issues she raised for a moment (don’t worry, we’ll get back to them), it struck me that there are likely many Christians who think like this young woman. Maybe not this specific issue about gendered resurrection; more likely, it has not crossed their minds that that we will have fully resurrected bodies, and that Jesus is, in bodily form, ruling the universe. They assent to the resurrection, but haven’t grasped its implications. For too long our view of what the age to come, and our reality within it, has been particularly thin, more of a “go to heaven when we die” moment. 

Let’s not disown the fact that we will be with Jesus when we die. If I am disembodied at death then the only comfort I have is that I am not my own and that in life and in death I belong solely to Christ, as the Heidelberg Catechism states. But we long to be reunited with our bodies because we were created whole – body, soul and spirit. And God is going to reunite and glorify us.

Our hope is not to waft around on a cloud like a gossamer thin piece of cling film, playing a harp or some such nonsense. No – we will be resurrected. And that means in our bodies. The God who created us in the first place will renew our bodies. What that body will look like or at what “age” we will be, that’s beside the point. It will be us – male or female us!

This is important for two reasons.

Judgement and Salvation

One is a judgement reason, whether judgement to condemnation or to salvation.  We will be answerable for what we have done in the body (Daniel 12:1-3). This passage likens the resurrected righteous to stars rather than angels, so clearly it is a simile.

This judgement reason is recapitulated in the New Testament when Jesus clearly states that his voice will raise the dead from their graves for judgement (John 5:28-29).

It’s a sobering passage. For all of the dread of disembodied death without Christ, what would be worse  is the second death that will involve an embodied death. What that means we cannot speculate, but it’s best avoided!

God’s Sovereign Plan 

The second reason we have our bodies in the new age is to demonstrate that God’s good creation plans have not been thwarted by sin and death. That he can raise our mortal bodies and glorify them, completing the broken journey begun by Adam and Eve, is testament to his power over all things.

There is hope in this truth;our resurrection will pave the way for the renewal of all things. As I get older I realise just how much I want this to happen. As I see the world tear itself apart, I realise how much I need this to happen.

So, back to the question about angels and heaven and marriage, raised by my fellow conference attendee. Now, the Sadducees had come to Jesus with a crazy story about a woman and her seven dead husbands, who had all been brothers.

The Sadducees were merely trying to tangle Jesus in a word game because, we are told, they didn’t believe in the resurrection. It was just another of the many word traps that Jesus encountered in his earthly ministry. Jesus points out that there is no marriage in heaven to the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection anyway. He’s giving them no wiggle room about whether there is a resurrection and a heaven. 

But it’s also important – for the sake of my young Christian friend – to realise that the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels either!  Have a read of Acts 28:8-9. Paul uses this fact as a dividing point between the Sadducees and other Jewish religious groups, in order to strengthen his own position.

his means Jesus was not giving the Sadducees an inch. No angels and no resurrection? He was tying them in knots! It’s a great example of Jesus’ biting humour. He casually mentions angels, almost daring them to knock that one back too! That they don’t probably shows how tongue-tied he had made them.

Marriage: The Finishing Act Between Men and Women

The mention of angels – and how like them we will be – is not to do with their supposed asexuality, but their “finishedness” – so to speak. By that I mean that they are complete.

And marriage is a finishing act for humans in this age. Something that, when done in God’s sight and to his glory, is a great act of sanctification and promise. 

But when fully sanctified in the age to come, when the promise of glory is complete, we will see marriage for what we know it is: a shadow of a greater reality.

So Jesus is saying to the Sadducees: “You don’t know what you are talking about on a whole bunch of levels,” noting that God is not only the God of the living, but living men, who Jesus goes on to name because, long after they were dead in the flesh, God named them (Matthew 22:32, referencing Exodus 3:6).

A Gendered Resurrection

It matters for lots of reasons that we believe in a gendered resurrection. And if we don’t then it seems futile to argue the case about gender identity from a Christian perspective in this present age. We can hardly prosecute the case for a binary view of humans going forward if we believe that God started something but lost interest in it along the way.

You see, what we believe the future looks like determines how we behave in the present. That’s why the age to come, and the judgement of the body, profoundly shapes our present lives. And if the future is gendered male and female, then the present is also. The truth can be denied, distorted, or destroyed, but it cannot – ultimately – be defeated. 

Ethically men must behave as men, and women as women in the present, precisely because that will be their declared reality by God in the future. It also means that men must treat women as they would  in the resurrected future.  We don’t get to treat women one way in this age, and expect to treat them differently in the age to come, or at least we won’t get away with it if we do. 

Men – including me – will be answerable in that bodily resurrection for how we have treated women.  A church that fails to take this seriously – either by overlooking sinful behaviour by men towards women, or by affirming a radical gender theory that belittles women and celebrates the trans movement – will be judged by Jesus. 

The same is true, clearly, for women. I leave it to women to discuss the implications.

Behold The Man

Of course this could lead us all to despair when we realise how short we fall of what true manhood and womanhood is. We see the gap between what we are and what we should be. 

But our hope is that there is a man in heaven. One true man who is resurrected and glorified. He knows us as men – and as women – and his behaviour towards both genders while on earth was equitable, honourable and full of grace and truth.

When Pilate stood Jesus before the crowd and smirked, “Behold the man!” he was stating more than he knew. And one day Pilate will have to stand before this man and give account for his own actions. A chilling thought indeed.

Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension is our hope going forward. Sure I want to see my wife in heaven, but the reality is that the woman I call Jill, who I love, and who I have committed myself to, won’t mean less to me in the age to come by dint of the resurrection, but more.

Now whether that means she will be my wife and I her husband (it doesn’t say there are no married couples, just no marriages being conducted), the point is that we will have reached a state of perfection as a man and a woman, and as a husband and wife, that will ensure we are a fully formed and fully completed male and female.  

And whether I die or she dies, and then one of us marries another, it matters not a jot to God’s good plans for resurrected men and women.  

Share this on Social Media
Share This