In our discussion about men and women and church leadership, one of the questions that has come up several times is whether gender differences will be an eternal thing. More pointedly, the objection to seeing differing roles for men and women has been that Jesus told us to pray for things to be on earth as in heaven; does a teaching that recognizes gender differences imply that those differences will exist after the resurrection?
I’ve written before about my agnosticism regarding what happens after we die. I don’t have it all down pat the way some people seem to. But I do know that life after the resurrection won’t be like life before the resurrection, at least not exactly. I base that on the following event from Jesus’ life:
“That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:23–30; see also Mark 12:18-31 and Luke 20:27-40)
The Sadducees weren’t merely confused about what would happen after the resurrection. They denied it altogether. But part of their error was failing to recognize that life after the resurrection will be different. As regards marriage, at least, we will be like the angels; marriage won’t be a part of our reality.
Marriage is part of our present life. It’s a big part of the church’s life, according to Scripture. But it won’t be after the resurrection.
On the subject of gender, this is especially telling. I believe that the recognition of gender differences in the church is closely tied with the family and with marriage. If marriage is going to be absent in the resurrection, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see a change in the relationship between men and women.