23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”
29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. – Matthew 22:23-33 ESV
Jesus is facing yet another confrontation with the religious leaders. This time it is the Sadducees. They were the religious liberals of their day who rejected the idea of an afterlife, the doctrine of the resurrection or the reality of angels. For them, this life was the only life and it was to be lived in strict adherence to the written law as found in the Torah. They were elitists who rejected the oral law of the Pharisees, the “traditions of the elders” that contained hundreds of additional laws or addendums to the written law. But while they were not exactly bosom buddies with the Pharisees, they shared one thing in common with them: A hatred for Jesus. So, we see them coming to Jesus posing a question that they intended to use to expose Jesus’ heretical views on the resurrection.
Their question is a lengthy one, in the form of a short story. It’s a fictitious scenario involving what was called the Levirate Law, part of the Law of Moses found in the book of Deuteronomy. This law ruled that when a man died, leaving his wife a widow with no children, one of the deceased man’s brothers was obligated to marry the woman. The intention behind the law was to carry on the deceased man’s name and keep any inheritance he might have had in the family.
The law states, “If two brothers are living together on the same property and one of them dies without a son, his widow may not be married to anyone from outside the family. Instead, her husband’s brother should marry her and have intercourse with her to fulfill the duties of a brother-in-law. The first son she bears to him will be considered the son of the dead brother, so that his name will not be forgotten in Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6 NLT).
These Sadducees had purposely created a highly unlikely scenario where the woman ends up marrying seven different brothers, each one dying before they could father a son with her. And their story ends with the woman’s death, seven times a widow and without any children. This complicated and completely contrived tale had a purpose behind it. Matthew makes it clear that the real point behind their question was the resurrection. They were not really interested in Jesus’ interpretation of the law, but in His views on the resurrection. Which is why they ended their story with the pointed question: “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her” (Matthew 22:28 NLT).
They think they have Jesus trapped. Because the Torah did not teach explicitly about the resurrection, they did not believe in it. Their little story was designed to expose the ridiculousness of the whole idea of the resurrection. In their minds, they had shown that the very concept of the resurrection would conflict with the law itself. How could a woman have seven husbands in heaven? But Jesus exposes the flaw in their thinking and the problem in their lives. He simply states, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God” (Matthew 22:29 NLT).
This would have been like a sucker punch to the stomach. Jesus had caught them off guard and had wiped the smug look of satisfaction off their faces with one simple sentence. They prided themselves on their knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and here was Jesus accusing them of not knowing the Word of God or the power of God. They were intelligent, but ignorant. In all their study of the Scriptures, they had overlooked God’s power. They had relegated all they know about life to the here-and-now and rejected the idea of a hereafter. So, Jesus rocked their religious sensibilities by informing them that, in the resurrected state, there will be no marriage.
Their whole scenario was pointless and irrelevant. The woman would not be married to any of the brothers, “For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30 NLT). This statement by Jesus must have totally surprised the Sadducees, catching them completely off guard. And it may be just as shocking to many reading these words right now. Your concept of heaven has always included marriage. You have assumed that if you are married here on earth, you will be married in heaven. But what would be the purpose of marriage in heaven? As an institution, it was designed to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. It was intended to be a physical representation of a spiritual reality.
In heaven, the union of Christ and the Church will be complete. There will no longer be a need for a symbol of that union. And while we may find that idea disturbing and possibly disappointing, we have to remember that our condition in our resurrected state will be one of perfection. We will be like Christ and have perfect fellowship with God the Father. Our primary relationship will be with Him. There will no longer be the need for another person to complete or complement us.
But Jesus knows that the real issue behind their question is their view on the resurrection, so He cuts to the chase and takes it head on.
“But now, as to whether there will be a resurrection of the dead—haven’t you ever read about this in the Scriptures? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead.” – Matthew 22:31-32 NLT
Once again, Jesus questions their knowledge of the Scriptures, letting them know that in spite of all their study, they had missed a key point. When referring to His relationship with the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people, God had spoken in the PRESENT tense. He had said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” These words were spoken long after all three of these men were dead and gone, and yet God refers to His relationship with them in the present tense. Jesus made it clear that this was not a grammatical error, but a theological truth. There is an afterlife and there will be a resurrection. The Sadducees’ problem was that they tended to study the Scriptures with a biased view and a limited understanding of the power of God. The idea of the resurrection was impossible to them. It was inconceivable. So they simply refused to believe in it. In establishing their doctrinal views, they had unknowingly limited the power of God. Because they couldn’t understand something, they simply eliminated it from consideration. But Jesus made it clear that the resurrection was not only possible, it was undeniable and inevitable, because of the power of God.
For the Sadducees, life had become all about what they could see and explain. Their view was limited and restrictive. They had no room in their theology for an afterlife, because they couldn’t comprehend it. So, they put all their eggs in one basket, concentrating all their efforts on making the most out of this life. In doing so, they had missed the whole concept of the afterlife, of heaven and the resurrected state. For them, this earthly life was the only life. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet, there are many who live that way today. Even those who claim to be Christ-followers live as if there is no eternal life, focusing all their attention and energies on making the most of this life. They ignore what they can’t explain or understand. And yet, we are encouraged throughout the Word of God to run the race of life with the end in mind. We are to set our affections on things above, not the things of this earth. We are told to consider ourselves as strangers here, and to remember that this world is not our home, we are simply passing through on our way to somewhere better. There is an afterlife. There is a heaven. This is not all there is. And we should live with that reality in mind.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.