Last week, I went on a bit of a marriage-blog-post rampage. (If you missed that, you can catch up here and here.) I don’t want to belabor those points unnecessarily, but a reader asked a followup question that I thought needed an answer:
Where in Scripture does it say you can add the phrase in parentheses (and now the inquirer quotes my post): “Therefore anyone who remarries after divorce (while their spouse is still living) is, in essence, married twice at the same time – that’s why the relationship is adulterous”? If marriage is for life for a married couple, where do you find in Scripture that the commitment…ends with the death of only one of them?
There are (at least) two passages, expressing two different-but-relevant principles, that make it clear that the death of one spouse (whether legally married or legally divorced) effectively ends the marriage in God’s eyes, even if the other spouse lives on:
1. Romans 7:1-3. Paul says, “the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives” (7:1), and then he illustrates this point from marriage. He goes on in 7:2: “By law, a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him.” Death releases a woman from the law that binds her to her husband; in other words, it ends the marriage in God’s eyes. Now, Paul goes on to say that through Christ believers die to the law (7:4). The overall point he is making about the law is that it is ultimately incapable of producing in us the righteousness that God demands from his people, in part because its effects end at death. That’s why we need Jesus, whose gracious reign continues past our death. But the fact remains, according to the law (which has ongoing significance, even for believers – see Matt 5:17-20), that death ends marriage in God’s eyes.
2. Matthew 22:23-33. The deeper principle in Scripture that answers this question goes back to what marriage really is. Marriage is a living picture of the steadfast, covenant love between Christ and the church (see Ephesians 5:31-32). Its highest aim and deepest meaning is to tell the world the truth about Jesus and the Church. But that truth-telling mission ends at death, because in eternity the picture is no longer necessary, for there believers will experience the real thing. Marriage is like a movie preview that helps us anticipate the feature film about Christ and the Church. But in eternity, when we get to see the full-length movie, we will no longer need the preview, so its effects end. That’s why Jesus can say, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).