Reading Time: 8 Minutes
Today’s passage is a bit complicated. However, once I understood what Jesus was saying, it became one of the most important passages in the Bible for me. If you have any questions, please write a comment either on Facebook or on the real-voices.com website. I will attempt to answer it.
Once again, an imaginary person who has traveled with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem will tell what was happening.
When the Pharisee left, Jesus stopped speaking for a few minutes. There was a quiet murmur among the large crowd that had gathered, as they discussed what they had seen and heard.
Some people came to Jesus and asked him to heal them or someone they had brought with them. Several mothers carried small children in their arms and asked him to bless them. While people like me were able to take a breath for a few minutes, Jesus was continually in action ministering to one person after another.
As the crowd was milling around and people were talking to Jesus, a group of Sadducees approached. They were the power structure behind the Temple and the richest men in Jerusalem. People saw them approach and they grew silent. These powerful men weren’t to be taken lightly.
The Sadducees were very different from the Pharisees and often got into heated arguments over their differing beliefs. The Sadducees pictured God as a Being who created everything, gave us the five Books of Moses, and then left it up to people to manage what he had created.
They didn’t hold to the idea that God got involved in the affairs of people, where the Pharisees believed that he did. They also differed about the resurrection from the dead, not believing in one, while the Pharisees did. They believed that only the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) were to be used for faith and practice. On the other hand, the Pharisees accepted all of the books in the Hebrew Bible.
One of the Sadducees got everyone’s attention and asked Jesus a question. He said, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”
Just a few minutes ago, I heard Jesus turn the Pharisee’s question about paying taxes to the emperor back on him, showing him to be a hypocrite. I wondered how Jesus was going to answer this man.
I didn’t know a lot about the Sadducees, since I lived in Galilee and they weren’t interested in our part of the country. About the only thing I knew was that they thought the only way for a person to live on after death was through their family.
I sort of remembered a passage in the Bible where if a man died and had no children, one of his brothers was to make sure his wife had a child.
Their whole question made me mad. Jesus was the greatest and most loving person I have ever met, and they were trying to embarrass him in front of big crowd. I should have known that they wouldn’t succeed.
Jesus looked the whole group of Sadducees in the eye and said, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.”
When Jesus said this, the whole crowd walked away, completely astounded at his teaching (Matthew 22.23-33).
Here are a few notes that will help us appreciate the tremendous insights that Jesus gave us in this encounter with the Sadducees.
The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) do not explicitly speak about the resurrection of the dead. The clearest Old Testament reference to resurrection is in the Book of Daniel, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12.2).
Because the Sadducees held only to the Five Books of Moses, they did not believe in life after death. The Pharisees based their belief in the resurrection from writings in the Psalms and prophets.
The Bible passage that the Sadducees used to base their question to Jesus was from Deuteronomy 25:5-6. The continued existence of the family name through the birth of a son was very important and this practice was an attempt to keep the family name alive.
The Sadducees belief in God was one that we might describe with an analogy of a watchmaker. The idea is that God is like a watchmaker, who has created everything. Once created, all of creation is designed to operate on its own. In this view, God maintains a separate distance from what he has created and does not involve himself in the affairs of humankind or the world.
Jesus countered the question of the Sadducees with the statement, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22.29-30).
The Sadducees did not know the power of God, because they had no idea that God could make resurrection life infinitely better and richer than anything we can conceive on earth.
Many people are troubled by what Jesus said about marriage. Love between married persons will not end in heaven. Instead, love will be expanded so we will love everyone like we love our closest family members.
Just to be clear, marriage may be out in heaven, but love isn’t. Heavenly relationship are not less than what takes place on earth, but exceedingly more.
The Sadducees also didn’t know the scriptures. Jesus’ reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob involved one of the most crucial aspects of Israel’s identity. At the burning bush, God called Moses to lead his people out of slavery and into the promised land.
In that encounter with Moses God said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3.6). Everyone knew that God had a committed relationship (a covenant) with these three men. They knew that God was personally involved in their lives.
What Jesus made clear is that God did not cheat these men. He didn’t live in a relationship with them and then separate himself from them at death. Jesus knew that their relationship lived on beyond clinical death. Thus, Jesus could say this about God, “He is God not of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22.32).
Don’t miss it. If you have a personal relationship with God, it will never end. Consider the words of Paul and rejoice in the goodness of God.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.35, 37-39).
Dear Jesus, thank you for the truth of heaven. We can only guess at how great it is, but we believe it will be an eternity filled with the best gifts a loving God can give his children. We praise you that we are connected in an everlasting friendship with the living God.