Matthew 22:23-33 (NIV) That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead–have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
The Sadducees only accepted the five books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) as authoritative Scripture. They argued that since there is nothing about a resurrection from the dead or even an afterlife, in those five books, it wasn’t real. Their argument to Jesus, a woman with seven legitimate husbands, was designed to show how chaotic an afterlife and resurrection would be, with people squabbling over whose wife was whose, and with all having legitimate claims. Surely God wouldn’t allow any kind of afterlife if it had potential to be that messy!
But Jesus showed them wrong on two key points. First, they did not know the Scriptures. God’s revelation is progressive, with Him making Himself known at deeper and deeper levels as each generation learns and assimilates the previous revelations. Thus the later writings, the history, the prophets, and the wisdom literature, show even more of God’s character, and throw additional light on the things He revealed about Himself in the earlier writings. This is true all the way to the point that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, and throws everything that He revealed about Himself earlier into the clearest light. (See Hebrews 1:1-3, and a lot of the rest of the book of Hebrews.) By not accepting God’s later revelation as valid, the Sadducees had intentionally left themselves blind to important things in the earlier revelation that they did accept.
Second, they did not know the power of God. The Sadducees were loath to accept any miracle. Even though they accepted the miracles in the books of Moses, they were more deistic in their theology, believing that God didn’t work that way anymore. This gave them a very narrow view of who God is and of what He is capable of accomplishing – even the ability to keep order among a woman and her seven husbands at the resurrection!
Jesus then made two additional points: one, a clear teaching about the nature of the resurrection; the other a clear teaching about something the Sadducees had missed in the books of Moses. The first teaching wat that the nature of the resurrection life is not just an extension of the natural life, but is supernatural in its very nature. People are resurrected to a life of such intense focus on God and on serving Him that there is no space for marriage or giving in marriage, or for squabbling over whose wife is whose.
The second teaching is that the books of Moses really do support an afterlife and resurrection. When God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6), He used the present tense: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” They were still alive in God’s presence even as He was speaking to Moses, long after their earthly lives were over.
Don’t miss the reaction of the listening crowd in verse 33. Many people had for years bought into the theology of the Sadducees, partly because they were the party of the high priests, and partly because their logic seemed unassailable. But Jesus’ teaching rang to true to their hearts that they suddenly saw everything in a new light – a light full of hope for a future in God’s presence.
Father, Jesus’ teaching shows us a lot, but way more than just about the afterlife and resurrection. He also gives us greater confidence in Your word, and all of the depth of meaning that You have put into even the earliest writings for all who have eyes to see. Thank You, Lord! Amen.