Last week, we learned a bit about the context of taxation at the time of Jesus, and why the Pharisees hoped to ensnare Jesus on the question of tax evasion. This week we will see the Sadduccees attack Jesus on teh topic of resurrection; but again, some context is helpful to understand the passage.
As CS Lewis argued early in Mere Christianity, every honest culture and person throughout history has known that we have this concept of universal morality and yet fail to live up to it. The great religions have some sort of an explanation for this.
Modern materialistic evolutionary theorists, for example, argue that this moralistic code merely exists as a byproduct of evolution, helping us to organize into civilizations; meanwhile we often violate that code because we are trying to survive and follow instincts in that direction. (I find this as wholly insufficient an explanation as Lewis did.)
Well the ancients knew this as well. The Jews of course believed that man was Fallen: that is, we were made in the image of God and His Spirit speaks to us to try and become holy, but because of Adam's sin and our sin, we are fallen creatures exiled to Earth. Our failures are sins and rebellions against God. Our flesh, minds, and souls are neither bad nor good, but Fallen: designed to be good, used for evil.
This was by far a minority view, however. Most philosophers believed that the universe should be seen as two parts of a whole: the spiritual realm was ideal and perfect and pure, and the material world is polluted and impure and flawed. So to most of the Greek philosophers, perfection in the afterlife came from being FREED from the material world and existing purely in our "perfect" form as a spirit.
This was a very divisive issue at the time for Judaism. The Pharisees and other traditionalist Jews tended to hold to a stricter reading of the Torah, and from it those who believed in an afterlife saw it as a bodily resurrection: God would set right the wrong that Adam did to creation, God would redeem fallen man.
Other Jews, however, like the Sadduccees, were highly influenced by the philosophies of their day. And so to the Sadduccees, either there was no afterlife at all or, if there was an afterlife, certainly the material body would not come back to life! After all, the material world in their minds was the root of the sin in the first place. Thus there would be no bodiliy resurrection, only a spiritual afterlife.
(And by the way, this debate would continue long into Christianity, with many heretical sects claiming exactly the "spirit only" afterlife.)
Now that you understand the background, we can teach on the passage:
"The same day the Sadduccees came to Him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked Him a question, saying, 'Teacher, Moses said, 'If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.' Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.' " (Matt 22:23-28)
Now of course, this is not an honest question. These Sadduccees are not truly concerned about the situation but are attempting an absurd argument, taken to an extreme, in order to try and show a problem with resurrection. What they are hoping is that Jesus will either look foolish in front of their clever philosophizing, or will deny the resurrection.
Jesus of course surprises them, doing neither.
"But Jesus answered them, '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 resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said 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.' And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at His teaching." (Matt 22:29-33)
Jesus addresses the two real questions that are being posed by the Sadduccees: the first question is what would happen in this hypothetical marriage situation; the second question is whether the body will be resurrected.
First, Jesus says that this is not what Scripture teaches. After our resurrections, we will not be married in the sense of Judaism. Now some people take this teaching much too far, assuming that this means that we will be strangers or have no relationships in the afterlife. This is untrue. Based on many implications from Scrpiture, we can be confident that we will be recognizable as individuals and know and enjoy time together in the afterlife (2 Sam 12:23; Matt 26:29; Matt 8:11; Job 19:25-27; 1 Thess 4:13-14; Luke 16:19-31; Matt 7:21-23; 1 Cor 15:35-44).
But the Bible does say that the institution of marriage as we have it today will no longer exist; in some way we are married to God (indeed, God as the groom and believers as the bride is the most common Scriptural analogy of our relationship to Him). Marriage on earth is a picture of our marriage to Him, and thus marriage will no longer be necessary.
How will this work? I have no idea. Our bodies are still resurrected and redeemed, and the Bible says we will spend time with our kids and we will drink wine with our friends; how will it work with couples who were married here? Do we share the same bed at night? Most likely these are meaningless and silly questions that we cannot possibly answer, for so much greater is God than us. But what we are told is that there will be no pain or tears or sting in the kingdom of God, and that we will be blissfully happy, and that we will maintain in some way the relationships we have on earth. So I am confident that I will be spending eternity with my beloved wife; but how the details will work I do not know. It will be "like it is with the angels", but of course we do not know what that means.
What it definitely does mean is that the redemption removes the Curse of the Garden of Eden, and one aspect of the curse is that the woman is below the man in authority. Much of ancient marriage was about this relationship: the woman was subject to the man, and the man provided for her. Jesus is saying that this will no longer be the case: woman will be complete in her own right, free from the subjugation to man, and not needing any man to provide for her or protect her. It is this that Jesus is addressing, and we do ourselves wrong when we take His statement as somehow meaning that we will not be with those whom we love. This was clearly not His intent.
Secondly, Jesus addresses the 'real' question. And He says definitively that there will be a bodily resurrection. Jesus, knowing that the Sadduccees accepted no books as divinely inspired except the Torah, quotes the works of Moses when referring to God as saying "I AM the God of...". Jesus argues that the present tense of this verb shows that Jacob, Abraham, and Isaac are currently still living and not dead.
(By the way, to those of you who are not inerrantists: Jesus clearly was, and like any good exegetical teacher, He cares even about the tenses of verbs!)
Thus did Jesus refute the arguments of the Sadduccees, by pointing out that their question was invalid, and their REAL question was easily disproved from the Torah. Jesus did not back down from the challenge, but boldly taught the concept of a bodily resurrection.