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Will there be gender inequality in the resurrection?

Another place where gender and eschatology intersect is Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees’ question about the woman whose misfortune it is to be serially married to seven brothers: “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife”. In Luke’s more developed version Jesus explains that those who will be judged worthy to attain to the age to come and to the resurrection from the dead will not engage in marriage “because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Lk. 20:34–36; cf. Matt. 22:30; Mk. 12:25). Paul Adams wonders whether this passage has a bearing on the headship question.

Jesus presumably has in mind Daniel 12:1-3. At a time of great trouble for the Jews, “such as never has been since there was a nation till that time”, the people will be delivered, “everyone whose name shall be found written in the book”. In conjunction with this salvation, many of Israel’s dead will awake (or “arise”, anastēsontai, in the LXX), “some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”. The “wise”, who bore the brunt of Antiochus Epiphanes’ persecution (Dan. 11:33), will “shine like the brightness of the sky above… like the stars forever and ever”. The point to stress is that this is not a universal resurrection: it is a resurrection of the good and the bad in Israel at the end of a very ugly crisis.

Jesus describes the coming tribulation faced by Israel in similar terms—only it will be much worse: “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matt. 24:21; cf. Mk. 13:19). The historical focus is confirmed by Josephus’ reflection, in the introduction to his account of the war against Rome, that “the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were” (War 1.12).

Jesus also speaks of a “resurrection of the just” when the righteous will be rewarded (Lk. 14:14). When the Son of Man sends his angels to judge Israel, to separate out the weeds from the good harvest and throw them into the fiery furnace, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). The comparison of the resurrected dead to angels in heaven may have been suggested by Daniel’s description of the wise as shining like the “luminaries of heaven” (LXX). In John’s Gospel the Son of Man is given “authority to execute judgment”, and at that time “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn. 5:28–29). Finally, there is the curious episode of the dead “saints” being raised and emerging from their tombs at the moment of the crucifixion.

If Daniel 12:1-3 constitutes the apocalyptic background to Jesus’ comments about marriage and resurrection at the turn of the ages, then we have to reckon with a restricted eschatological horizon. In his mind this is a resurrection that takes place when Israel is judged, when the temple is destroyed, when the wicked are thrown into the valley of Gehenna, when the few righteous in Israel are “saved” and vindicated.

So what happens to the resurrected righteous?

Well, he may be thinking that they will participate in the life of restored Israel on earth, in accordance with the scenario depicted in Daniel 12. Because they are “sons of the resurrection”, they have overcome death, therefore they “cannot die anymore”, therefore they don’t need to have children, therefore they don’t get married.

Or the point is perhaps that, like Jesus himself, the resurrected righteous will live (and reign) with God in heaven. This is certainly the post-Easter perspective. The dead in Christ or the martyrs are raised at the parousia—at the moment when not only Israel but the pagan world is judged and the saints vindicated (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 20:4-6).

Marriage, naturally, is an irrelevance in heaven. But we may imagine that when heaven and earth are reunited in the new creation, when the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, descends to earth, and the dwelling of God is with humanity, men and women will pick up where they left off—except that they will no longer be under the sentence of patriarchy.

In any case, as Paul Adams suggests on the CBE blog, eschatology offers no hope to the complementarians. On the contrary, the prospect of new creation is precisely why the church must practice equality now.