Will There Be Sex In Heaven?1
I’m asked this question more times than you can imagine, and I addressed it at length in my book, Tough Topics (Crossway). In this article I will try to shorten that explanation a bit.
If we are going to answer this question with any degree of accuracy (assuming it can be answered), we must set it within the context of Jesus’ interaction with the Sadducees and the question they posed to him in Mark 12:18-23.
And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife” (Mark 12:18-23).
The Sadducees and Pharisees were two groups of deeply religious people who differed greatly on issues of both lifestyle and doctrine. The Sadducees were not many in number. But they constituted the wealthy, aristocratic, ruling class. Most of the chief priests were Sadducees. They often collaborated with the Roman government when it served their purposes.
They had an interesting view of the Old Testament. They refused to accept the oral traditions of the Pharisees and acknowledged only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT, as inspired Scripture: that is to say, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They rejected all the historical books, the prophets, as well as the poetic literature such as the Psalms. The one thing that most set them apart, however, was their adamant denial of life after death.
Up until the time of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Sadducees had not shown a great deal of interest in Jesus or his message. In fact, they were probably quite happy to hear about his repeated denunciations of the Pharisees, their rivals. They watched and listened from a distance, giggling under their breaths: “Boy, that guy from Nazareth just nailed them again!”
But everything changed when Jesus entered the Temple and began to disrupt the merchants by turning over the tables and declaring God’s judgment on those who were trying to make a profit from selling sacrificial animals. The reason is simple: the Sadducees were in charge of the Temple concessions! This was their party. The Temple was their gig. Jesus was cutting into their profits. Their wealth was largely obtained from the commissions they charged on the sale of animals and other items associated with Passover. So Jesus has now invaded their territory. Jesus was little more than a blip on their radar screen until he hit them where it mattered most: their bank accounts! They could tolerate, and perhaps even enjoy, Jesus’ volatile encounters with the Pharisees. But when he disrupted their operations during Passover, the most financially lucrative time of the year, they launched a counter assault.
They had no doubt watched and listened as Jesus repeatedly made fools of the Pharisees. They were determined to succeed where their religious rivals had failed. So they conjured up what they thought was a trick question, hoping to publicly humiliate Jesus and dispose of him for good.
Their question was based on the OT custom known as Levirate Law. According to Levirate Law, if a man were to die without having any children, his brother was obligated to marry the widow, his sister-in-law, and raise up children in his deceased brother’s name (see Deut. 25:5-10).
The Sadducees concoct an obviously hypothetical scenario in which the law of the Levirate is followed seven times. No doubt smirking and laughing under their breath, probably with a gleam of revenge in their eyes, they ask the question: “In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife” (v. 23). You can almost hear them saying to themselves: “Jesus may have confounded the Pharisees when they asked him about his authority, and he may have tied them in knots and silenced them following their question about paying taxes to Caesar, but we’ve really got him now!”
They were no doubt thinking to themselves: “If all eight of these people appear in the afterlife in the same condition or circumstances as on earth, how can their marriage relationships ever be reconciled?” In other words, if the woman is to be the wife of all seven men simultaneously, that would violate numerous biblical laws, and if only one of the men is arbitrarily designated as her husband in heaven, which one will it be, and why? They are trying to make the point that the entire notion of resurrection and the afterlife is absurd.
Our Lord’s response is painfully pointed: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (v. 24). In other words: “You dummies! You chowderheads! In the first place, you’ve denied the clear teaching of Scripture concerning the resurrection. You claim to be scholars of the Word but are utterly ignorant of what it says. And if you really understood the Scriptures you would know that God is infinite in power and perfectly capable of raising the dead to an existence quite unlike this present one. You have wrongly assumed that if there is an afterlife it will be identical to the here-and-now. Don’t you realize that God is omnipotent and will radically transform and transfigure the conditions of our existence in the age to come?”
“For when they rise from the dead,” says Jesus, and I assure you all humanity will, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (v. 25). Let’s be sure we take note of what Jesus is not saying. He is not saying that there will be no memory of earthly existence and our relationships here. Much of heavenly life will be spent reflecting on the life we are now living as we are enabled by God to see the beauty of his redemptive and gracious work.
Don’t think for a moment that Jesus is suggesting that we will lack bodies in heaven. One of the great and lingering misconceptions many Christians have of the afterlife is that the redeemed of God will spend eternity in some bodiless, ghost-like existence (but see Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:35-49; Phil. 3:20-21; yes, the body we will receive is “transformed” and “glorious” but it’s still a body!). When Jesus says we will be “like angels in heaven” he does not mean we will be ephemeral spirits without physical bodies but that we will not experience death or marriage there. The angels don’t die and the angels don’t get married. When we get to heaven, neither will we (cf. Luke 20:36).
Neither is Jesus saying that in heaven we will lose our sexual identity as male and female. If you are a male now you will be a male forever. If you are a female now you will be a female forever. When we receive our resurrection bodies we don’t get de-sexed or neutered! Remember that Jesus was still a man after his resurrection. On Easter morning he was mistaken for a gardener or groundskeeper, a distinctly male occupation in the first century. And when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, they were still men.
Some mistakenly point to Romans 8:29 where Paul says we will be conformed to the image of Christ, and argue that everyone will therefore be male in heaven. Not to worry ladies! The conformity to Christ in view here is moral, not physiological, and refers to the fact that our nature or character will be like him and thus lacking in sin or corruption.
Sexual identity as male and female is foundational to our personality as created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). There is no such thing as a neuter human being. So, when the question is asked, “Will there be sex in heaven,” we must define the word “sex”. If you mean sex as a point of identity, the answer is Yes. I will always be a male and retain those characteristics of personality associated with maleness, and my wife, Ann, will always be female and retain for eternity all the characteristics of personality associated with her being a female.
So what, then, did Jesus mean by this response to the question posed? As we seek an answer, we need to remember that marriage has primarily a two-fold purpose: procreation and partnership, or fruitfulness and fellowship, or children and companionship. This is what Jesus says will end in heaven. In other words, marriage as an institution around which human life is organized will cease in heaven. Marriage as the social fabric or foundational unit of a society will end. Marriage as the means for procreation and the propagation of the human species will end. In heaven we will be like the angels, which is to say we will be immortal and incapable of dying. There is no need to procreate. And marriage as the primary context for fellowship, intimacy, and love will end. Now, on earth, it is in marriage that we experience to the highest degree the joy of interpersonal fellowship, love, sharing, growth, nurturing, and spiritual fellowship.
In heaven (that is, in the new heavens and new earth) all these things will continue. In fact, they will be expanded and intensified beyond our wildest imagination. Jesus isn’t saying that love will end in the eternal state. Quite the opposite. The love that on earth could best be achieved in a marriage relationship between husband and wife will be so marvelously magnified that all of God’s people will experience it jointly. That woman in the hypothetical story the Sadducees told will be able to love her seven husbands perfectly as they in turn will all love her perfectly, but none of them will live or love in the state of marriage.
Jesus is not saying you will love your earthly husband or wife less once you get to heaven, or that the relationships you now have will be obliterated or annulled then, but that what you experience now with but one person you will experience then to an infinitely higher degree with all of God’s people.
“OK, Sam, get to the point! Answer the question: Will there be sex in heaven?”
Some of you think that even to ask such a question is inappropriate and in poor taste. Some of you think that I asked the question just to get a few laughs out of my readers. All of you are wrong. If you are bothered by the question, I suggest you have a less than biblical perspective on the subject. Let’s not forget that this is in essence what the Sadducees were asking. But if we are going to answer it, as I said above, we must define what we mean by the word “sex”.
First, as I’ve already made clear, sex as identity or gender will always remain, for eternity. Second, sex as an attitude, or sexuality, will always remain. We will always recognize and appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the differences between male and female. Sexual passion, per se, is not sinful. Adam and Eve experienced sexual passion and desire before the fall into sin. There is no reason to think that sexual attraction will be absent from heaven, but it will most certainly not be characterized by lust or perversion or desire for illicit activity. But sex as a physical activity is meant only for this life.
Most of us simply cannot envision what life would be like in the absence of those sexual impulses we now experience as a normal, though often sinful, part of being human. One thing I believe we can know for certain is that in the new heavens and new earth we will remain anatomically male and female. I don’t want to be unnecessarily crude in making this point, but at least so far as men are concerned, the resurrection and glorification of the body does not entail some form of celestial castration. Men will remain anatomically and genitally male forever. Women will remain anatomically and genitally female forever. And both men and women will be aware of this not only in their own bodies but also in the other. It would be a grotesque and unbiblical reversal of God’s original creative design if the redeemed in heaven lived as genderless beings.
This raises the obvious question of the function of such genitalia in the eternal state. Only a Gnostic and overly spiritualized view of human nature would suggest that this dimension of our physical frame ceases to exist altogether, or if it does exist, it no longer functions in the way that God originally ordained for it.
So, if in fact our glorified bodies will remain anatomically male and female forever, to what end? Will men experience erections? Will women be susceptible to sexual arousal? If the answer is yes, then why? What would be the purpose of these sexual sensations if not intercourse? As already noted, although it exceeds our present capacity to understand, we know for certain that such arousal would by no means be sinful or caused by ungodly lust or perversion or in any way lead to inappropriate fantasies or actions inconsistent with the pure love that will obtain among all of the redeemed.
I know what some of you are thinking: “If there won’t be sex in heaven, I’m not going!” Or, “No sex in heaven? Sounds more like hell to me!” Allow me to put your fears and disappointment to rest. I can assure you that whatever physical or sensual pleasures one experiences in this life through sexual intimacy will be magnified and intensified apart from sexual intercourse in the next life. I don’t know how God will do it, but I’m convinced that the joys of heaven, the happiness and pleasures of heaven, will infinitely exceed those on earth.
No one put this better or more provocatively than did Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). One may be surprised to discover such language coming from the pen of America’s most famous Puritan pastor. But we would do well to ponder deeply the implications of what he says. In a brief meditation on the Happiness of Heaven, he writes:
“[In heaven] the glorified spiritual bodies of the saints shall be filled with pleasures of the most exquisite kind that such refined bodies are capable of. . . . The sweetness and pleasure that shall be in the mind, shall put the spirits of the body into such a motion as shall cause a sweet sensation throughout the body, infinitely excelling any sensual pleasure here” (Yale, 13:351).
What is this “sweet sensation” of which Edwards speaks? Perhaps I should simply leave it to your imagination. But regardless of how I answer the question, rest assured that you won’t be disappointed when you get there! You will be deprived of nothing in heaven that is essential to your optimum happiness. The problem is that you and I are very much like the Sadducees: we think heaven is going to be like earth; we think the next life is going to be precisely like this one. We mistakenly assume that the way in which we experience both physical and spiritual pleasures now is the limit for how we will experience them then. And Jesus says to you and me, “You are ignorant, and know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God!”
But before we close down this discussion, let’s not lose sight of what the real question is that the Sadducees have posed to Jesus. The real question isn’t whether or not there will be sex after death but whether or not there will be life after death. Is there a resurrection to life? Yes, says Jesus, and here is his proof.
And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong” (Mark 12:26-27).
Jesus quotes directly from Exodus 3:6 and the account of the burning bush. Note that Jesus uses for his proof text a passage from the Pentateuch, that one portion of the OT the Sadducees recognized as inspired and authoritative! Many believe the emphasis should be placed on the present tense verb, “I am the God of Abraham . . .” The point would then be, “If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even when addressing Moses hundreds of years after those three patriarchs had died, then they must be alive to him. In other words, the living God is the God of living men!
But perhaps the key word here isn’t the word “is” but the preposition “of”. “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” That is to say, I have committed myself to them and they are mine. God is saying: “I established a relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a covenant to which I pledged myself. I promised these men and their believing posterity blessings that are eternal. I promised to love them and care for them and provide for them forever. I am, therefore, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even as I declared to Moses.” The fact of God’s covenant commitment to these men (and to all believers) requires that they live in resurrection power beyond death in order to receive what was promised. Could the living, saving, covenant-keeping God establish a relationship with these men only to allow it to be terminated by their deaths? No.
To be “the God of” such men implies an on-going, caring, protecting, helping, saving relationship which is as permanent as the loving God who makes it. If Abraham or Isaac or Jacob did not continue to exist after their earthly deaths, then the promises of God to them are empty and void and God is a liar. God’s fidelity to the covenant requires that he raise the dead. God will raise the dead because he cannot fail to keep his promises to them that he will be their God and they will be his people.
The question is not whether sex will be in heaven, but whether you will be in heaven! All mankind will be raised from the dead to live eternally (John 5:25-29). The only question is whether that eternal existence will be in heaven, in the presence of God, or in hell, utterly separated and alone and isolated from everyone and everything.