Reality of Our Resurrection

Jesus rode into Jerusalem signifying the fulfillment of Zechariah 9, the establishment of the messianic kingdom. He has been teaching and healing in the temple complex. The chief priests and elders have now tried and failed to put Jesus to shame. The disciples of the chief priests and elders and the Herodians similarly failed. Now, the Sadducees question Jesus. On fig Monday, Jesus’s understanding of the Scriptures will either be proven or collapse under the scrutiny of the Jewish experts.

Matthew 22:23-33

23 Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ Σαδδουκαῖοι, λέγοντες μὴ εἶναι ἀνάστασιν, καὶ ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν  24 λέγοντες· Διδάσκαλε, Μωϋσῆς εἶπεν· Ἐάν τις ἀποθάνῃ μὴ ἔχων τέκνα, ἐπιγαμβρεύσει ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναστήσει σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ.  25 ἦσαν δὲ παρʼ ἡμῖν ἑπτὰ ἀδελφοί· καὶ ὁ πρῶτος γήμας ἐτελεύτησεν, καὶ μὴ ἔχων σπέρμα ἀφῆκεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ·  26 ὁμοίως καὶ ὁ δεύτερος καὶ ὁ τρίτος, ἕως τῶν ἑπτά·  27 ὕστερον δὲ πάντων ἀπέθανεν ἡ γυνή.  28 ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει οὖν τίνος τῶν ἑπτὰ ἔσται γυνή; πάντες γὰρ ἔσχον αὐτήν.  

29 Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Πλανᾶσθε μὴ εἰδότες τὰς γραφὰς μηδὲ τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ θεοῦ·  30 ἐν γὰρ τῇ ἀναστάσει οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται, ἀλλʼ ὡς ἄγγελοι θεοῦ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ εἰσιν·  31 περὶ δὲ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῶν νεκρῶν οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑμῖν ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ λέγοντος·  32 Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ θεὸς Ἀβραὰμ καὶ ὁ θεὸς Ἰσαὰκ καὶ ὁ θεὸς Ἰακώβ; οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ θεὸς νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων.  33 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ὄχλοι ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ.

Disproving the resurrection (v. 23-28)

On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Jesus and questioned Him, asking, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.”

On the same day, Fig Monday, some Sadducees came to Jesus and questioned Him. The text does not reveal their motive. Jesus has silenced a debate between the Pharisees and Herodians. Now, a different theological camp questions Him. It could be that they are testing Jesus to see which theological camp He falls into. It could be entrapment. Or, the Sadducees might simply desire to hear what this new teacher has to say about the topic they care most about. The Sadducees disagree with the Pharisees on the doctrine of the resurrection. They don’t believe there will be any resurrection of the dead. When a person dies, that person is dead. The Sadducees use only the Torah, or Pentateuch. They do not believe any explicit claim in the Torah necessitates any kind of resurrection to Heaven or Hell. In fact, they believe that they can show the absurdity of a resurrection in relation to the Law such that if the Law is God’s word and never nullified, there can be no resurrection of the dead.

Such a discipline is called philosophical theology. If one believes the Bible authoritative, then, but he desires to know something that is not explicitly stated in Scripture (e.g. Will there be a secret rapture or future seven year tribulation), one must do philosophical theology. In most cases, like we see with the Sadducees, philosophical theology is eschatological and ethical. Many people in our day have used philosophical theology to develop an eschatological model they believe consistent with Scripture comprising many events that are nowhere foretold in Scripture. They have used certain verses in order to defend what they have contrived using philosophical theology. This is how the Sadducees have used the Torah.

They present Jesus with a hypothetical scenario, which people today love to do when talking about their moral considerations especially related to abortion. A woman is married several times. Each husband dies. She dies. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? In their opinion, the feasible scenario disproves the resurrection because, if the resurrection is real, the marital laws in the Torah must be broken. If the woman is given to one brother in the resurrection, the other lawful marriages are nullified—rendering the Law nullified. Thus, there can be no resurrection unless the Law of God is nullified. The Law of God cannot be nullified because God is perfect and His words cannot pass away. Since God gave the Law, there can be no resurrection of the dead.

The matter is, then, decided. There can be no resurrection of the dead.

Proving the resurrection (v. 29-33)

But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding 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.

Jesus claimed that the Sadducees do not understand the Scriptures and are mistaken. What are they mistaken about? Let’s observe the Law:

When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

Notice, the wife was not to be married to her brother-in-law as property to him but in order to provide an heir for her first husband in order to continue the particular family line in Israel. The law is not about marrying or being given in marriage. Instead, it is about the longevity of family lines. The woman need not remarry if an heir was already provided. So, the Sadducees had misappropriated the law. Knowing the law helps us to understand Jesus’s answer.

“…in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.” Since, in the resurrection, there is no death and no need for heirs to ensure the posterity of a family line, each one’s inheritance is secure. We will be like the angels who have no need to procreate to ensure the longevity of a worldly nation or tribe or family—which was the purpose of remarriage in Torah. 

Referring to the hypothetical characters presented in the hypothetical scenario presented by the Sadducees, Jesus says “they (the seven brothers and their wife) neither marry nor are given in marriage. Why? They have received their everlasting inheritance, and the Law is fulfilled. There is no longer a need to maintain a system of remarriage if there is no death.

If procreation were the only reason for marriage, we could appropriate this single statement to assert that there will be no form of marriage between people in the resurrection. I will let you philosophize about that on your own because my present purpose is exposition, not philosophical theology. What we know, here, is that the type of marriage presented by the Sadducees was not biblical marriage according to Torah. In the resurrection, Torah is upheld. The “problem” the Sadducees have presented is no problem to the doctrine of the resurrection at all, much like today’s “problem” of evil—which is no problem because, if we identify anything as evil, we necessitate an ultimate standard for good as a way to distinguish the evil from the good.

Simply because the “problem” of remarriage is no problem at all does not prove the resurrection. So, Jesus continues.

“But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and 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.

Since the Sadducees believe only Torah was inspired by God, Jesus appeals to the explicit wording of Torah, particularly Exodus 3:6. When God spoke to Moses, after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died, God claimed to be their God—present tense rather than past tense. How could God be the God of anyone who no longer lived? The resurrection is necessary because God is the God of the living, not the dead. If they had gone out of existence, God would have claimed that He was their God. But He is their God. If there is no resurrection, God lied to Moses. If God lied to Moses, He is not God, and truth does not come from Him. Thus, the Sadducee position against the resurrection is self-defeating. To deny the resurrection is to reject Torah and deny Yahweh. God is powerful to raise His people from the dead. The Sadducees do not understand such power like they do not understand Torah.

The crowds are astonished. They marvel at Christ’s teaching. He rode into Jerusalem only one day prior, signifying the establishment of the messianic kingdom. Now, He shows that all things will be fulfilled in the resurrection. Israel will receive her inheritance forever. Such an inheritance was represented in the law about remarriage. God is good. We look forward to the blessed resurrection.

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