Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife and died without children. 30 And the second took her as wife, and he died childless. 31 Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children and died. 32 Last of all the woman died also. 33 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife.” 34 Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. Lk20:29-36NASB
This passage concerns Jesus’ response to a group of Sadducees, a Jewish sect who denied the resurrection of the dead. They try to trick the Lord by presenting him with the scenario of a woman who marries seven brothers in turn. Ok then Teacher, if there is such a thing as resurrection whose wife would she become now? Jesus’ reply raises some interesting issues that I will briefly comment on in this post. Firstly, in the age to come, the resurrected shall not marry and more importantly will never die. Most Christians will agree about that. But note Jesus’ reference to “those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead”.
This cannot be referring to the general resurrection for all are eventually be raised, worthy or otherwise (cf. Jn5:28-29). It is referring to the first resurrection spoken of in Revelation reserved for “those found worthy of that age” (not “world” as some translations incorrectly portray it). Such is also indicated by Jesus teaching that those who partake of His body and blood shall be “raised up on the last day” That implies of course that others will not be so raised (Jn6:54). Refer also to Rom8:19-23 which speaks of the whole creation being restored when the sons of God are revealed. The latter, Paul describes as awaiting “the redemption of their bodies” (v23).
The millennial age
Such passages lend support to the pre-millennialist viewpoint held by the majority of the ante-Nicene Christian writers. The first of these openly to challenge this perspective was Marcion. He was later denounced as a heretic for rejecting the use of the Old Testament and any epistles not written by Paul. Moving forward it was once again Augustine of Hippo who most greatly influenced medieval theology. As a result the Catholic Church has long rejected pre-millenarianism as an approved doctrine. For more details on the background to these developments see this page of Wikipedia.
Regardless of the various millennial perspectives it should be evident to any diligent, open minded researcher of Scripture that the emphasis of the New Testament is not “our spirits going to heaven when we die” but to share with Paul the aspiration to “attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil3:11). For the latter is not obtainable via any natural precepts but requires special revelation and faithful discipleship to Jesus Christ.