Admit it. You’ve thought about it. Will we have gender in the afterlife? Jesus did say that there is no marriage after the resurrection. No marriage=no gender, right? And didn’t Paul say in Galatians 3:28 that “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Maybe God is going to take Paul’s advice and go ahead and αποκοψεται (i.e., chop the whole thing off; Gal. 5:12) after death; no more Y-chromosomes. The current worldview in our culture sees gender as merely superficial, external, and downright inconvenient most of the time. In our Christian culture, the downplay of the resurrection of the body is a perhaps unintentional slight to God’s design through gender. So what gives?
I have of course taken Jesus and Paul’s words out of context, and what is that context? Well, both men are teaching against the backdrop of Genesis 1 and 2. Many would say that the creation account cannot be both historical and thematic, but Paul and Jesus would beg to differ (1 Timothy 2:12-15 and Matthew 19:3-9, respectively). Looking back at the creation of mankind, I believe we can find at least four reasons why gender is an eternal part of what it means to be “mankind”:
1. Doug Wilson explains it so well in his lectures Sexual by Design (given at IU Bloomington last year) that Genesis 1 illustrates the diversity of God’s creation. God created light, and he separated the light from the darkness. God created the water, and he separated the waters above from the waters below. God separated the sea from the dry ground. Then God went and filled those environments with “fruit trees in which is their seed”, swarms of fish for the water, birds for the air, and “living creatures according to their kinds.” His final crowning achievement was no different: when time came to make man, he separated man and woman. To a Christian, the creation account is a celebration of true diversity–the God ordained diversity of male and female.
2. Genesis 1:27 states,
So God created man in his own image
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Can you see the poetic symmetry? This verse shows us that something about being created male and female is a reflection of God himself. As a Trinitarian Christian, once you get to Genesis 2:24, it all makes sense: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The one flesh union of two separate distinct persons is a celebration of a unity of diversity. Sound like the Trinity? Yeah, it does to me too. God created mankind male and female because the one flesh union of diverse persons is an image of the truine God (as well as providing an amazing picture of Christ’s union with the Church–Eph. 5:22-ff).
3. We as Christians look forward to a new heavens and a new earth. This new reality will have continuity with this present creation, but will surpass it in every way. When you read about this new world, it is described in terms reminiscent of the Garden of Eden (e.g. Rev. 22:1-2) . Marriage will no longer be the defining unity of mankind. Jesus will be. Christians will all be perfectly unified in Christ–from every tribe, tongue, nation. The fulfillment of marriage will be found in the marriage supper of the Lamb, but that does not mean (as I have said) that gender will not still point to the amazing mystery that is the Trinity–three in one.
4. God clearly enjoys and celebrates diversity. He displayed it in Genesis 1 every time he declared his diverse creation “good.” Why would God eliminate what he declared “very good” in the beginning? No, the new heavens and the new earth are about bringing to complete perfection a human race that was broken. Jesus did not come to eliminate gender, but to see it perfected.
I would encourage you to think about God’s purpose in salvation. Is God in the process of eliminating parts of our current humanity, or does he mean it when he declares, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5)?