Does Singleness Show Heaven?
Individual believers are not Christ’s bride; His church is. Individual singleness does not point to the heavenly marriage; the church does. Yes, people can be fully human and complete without marriage. No, singleness is not a picture of heaven. While scripture nowhere presents singleness as a picture of heaven, it constantly presents marriage as a picture of heaven. Therefore, believers do not “embrace” “this future reality” by being single. Instead, they show and receive a small taste in marriage.
Whether it’s the 4B movement in South Korea or the trend of households in the United States, singleness is a growing reality. This, in turn, is leading to an alarming drop in fertility around the globe.
In short, post-familialism and its sobering consequences in the US and abroad are certainly the present and very likely the future of modern life. But is singleness our ultimate future? Our heavenly future?
In his article Does Singleness Waste My Sexuality?, Sam Allberry claims that singleness provides us with a powerful human picture of the heavenly state. After a helpful explanation of how earthly marriages point toward heavenly marriage Allberry states:
[Jesus’] singleness on earth bore witness to this ultimate marriage he had come to establish.
Singleness for us now is also a way of bearing witness to this reality. Like Jesus, we can live in a way that anticipates what is to come. Singleness now is a way of saying that this future reality is so certain and so good that we can embrace it now.
But does singleness in the present age indeed point forward to heaven? Does it embrace the future? Is it appropriate to compare our singleness to that of our Lord Jesus? And how might we encourage those who are grieving the losses that come with this state?
Marriage in Heaven
In the Gospels the religious leaders wanted to destroy Jesus. A few days before the death of Christ, they sought to trap him with a riddle, having failed before at this same scheme with a trick question about taxes. They proceeded instead to the topic of marriage (cf. Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-40). The Sadducees (who did not believe in the resurrection) ran their best play: a question meant to reveal how laughable it is to claim that there is life after death. What if a woman has seven consecutive husbands here on Earth? Of course, she cannot be married to all seven at once in heaven, so who will be the lucky man wedded to her for all eternity? They believed there was no answer, making them confident they will stump Jesus just like everyone else they have asked. Instead, he rejects the question’s premise:
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. – Mark 12:24–25 ESV
But why will marriage change in heaven? Jesus does not reveal this directly, but he points to the answer by naming the Sadducees’ problem: a lack of knowledge of the Scriptures. Those who know the Scriptures understand that human marriages are all meant to point to one, final heavenly marriage. The Old Testament gives a picture of marriage between God and His people (cf. Ezekiel 16:8-21, Isaiah 54:5-8, Hosea 2:19-23); the New Testament between Christ and His bride the church (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33, Revelation 21:1-4).
Marriage is meant to teach about heaven. Thus, there will be no marriage between humans in heaven because earthly marriage will be obsolete. A mere picture is unnecessary when the reality arrives. The appetizers disappear when it is time for the meal. The best marriages here cannot compare to the ultimate marriage there. No matter how much love, connection, joy, intimacy, and safety you can experience in marriage now, you will experience them infinitely more in the presence of God in heaven.
Singleness does not point to heaven; marriage does. Allberry correctly affirms the latter. In fact, his article teaches much the same. However, he wrongly elevates the former. Scripture never presents singleness as an anticipation of heaven. In fact, quite the opposite. In Isaiah 56:4-5 the Lord does not encourage eunuchs that their celibacy bears witness to heaven. Instead, he tells them that heaven will reverse the pain they experience now. They should endure with faithfulness because the challenges of singleness will be replaced by something even better than marriage.
If marriage shows us a piece of heaven, then one way of “bearing witness to this reality” is by engaging in marriage. Marriage, not singleness, “anticipates what is to come.” The Bible sends us to marriage, not to singleness.
You’re Not Jesus
But what about Jesus? Does not his singleness show the goodness of ours? In one sense, yes. Allberry is correct when he teaches:
This reminds us that marriage now is not ultimate. It will be absent in the age to come and is not vital in this present time. This reality is reflected in the life of Jesus himself. The most fully human and complete person ever to live on this earth did so as someone who was single, and yet he called himself “the bridegroom.” The marriage he came for was the one all of us who are in him will enjoy will him for eternity. His singleness on earth bore witness to this ultimate marriage he had come to establish.
However, it is for these very reasons that some of Allberry’s conclusions in the next paragraph are wrong. He goes on:
Singleness for us now is also a way of bearing witness to this reality. Like Jesus, we can live in a way that anticipates what is to come. Singleness now is a way of saying that this future reality is so certain and so good that we can embrace it now. It is a way of declaring to a world obsessed with sexual and romantic intimacy that these things are not ultimate and that in Christ we possess what is.