The Lord who lives
What would you do if convinced that there was no resurrection?
Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and has been in conflict with the Jewish leaders. He hadn’t even reached the gates of the city before being approached by the religious leaders and questioned (Luke 19:39). And his first act on arriving, according to Luke, was to disrupt the corrupt behaviour in the Temple (Luke 19:45). In Chapter 20, the authority of Jesus was questioned but Jesus silenced the people wanting to trap him.
While the mouths of the teachers of Israel have been silenced (Luke 20:26), a sub-group within the Jewish leadership, known as the Sadducees, sought to prove themselves right before Jesus. Luke tells us in Verse 27 (see also Acts 23:8) that they do not believe in the resurrection from the dead – that is, that there is no afterlife. They also denied the existence of angels, and they adhered only to the Torah (meaning ‘the law’), being the first five books of the Bible (AKA the Pentateuch).
Read Luke 20:27-47
27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’d 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
41 Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
43 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ’g
44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
What did you see?
- The Sadducees raise a good question (27-33)
- Jesus corrects the Sadducees (34-38)
- Jesus teaches us to read (39-44)
- Jesus warns us of the real issue here (45-47)
The Sadducees raise a good question (27-33)
“Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection…” See the Background above. Acts 23:6-10 gives us some insight into how firmly the Sadducees refuted the resurrection (of anybody) and how opposed the Pharisees were to this point of view. This story opens with an internal doctrinal dispute. We will see how this story shows Jesus interact with the dispute, not to take sides, but to show that both groups allow their passionate points of view to get in the way of just good reading of the Scriptures.
“…came to Jesus with a question.” We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Jesus was a person worth knowing. Even though he will be rejected by most of these leaders and crucified, he was not a nobody. Quite the contrary, he was a threat and person to investigate. The Pharisees and Sadducees had established credibility as “teachers of the law” etc. They were coming to Jesus with questions. If Jesus was just a weirdo, crazy want-to-be-messiah or prophet figure, then they could just ignore him and get on with the business of Jewish leadership. But Jesus had something to say and they knew it. It is apparent that they wanted either Jesus to support their point of view or say something that would discredit himself – either way they win – but Jesus shows himself to be impartial (Luke 20:21).
“Teacher”, they said…” See the last point on how they viewed Jesus! He was not obviously a crazy person or someone rambling some new cult. The people knew that he taught the things of God. He was a player.
“Moses wrote for us…” Remember that the Sadducees only regarded the writings of Moses as worth anything. Beautifully, Jesus will use the text of Moses to answer their question!
“…if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.” See Deut 25:5ff; Ruth 4:1-12. This was the duty of a brother-in-law in the Old Testament. It can be hard in our Western culture of individuality to swallow a command like this. It might be hard in any culture. One narrative of the bible is the story of family, of first-borns, of inheritance and of duty to something greater than yourself. I don’t wish to justify the laws of Moses as if they each have a pragmatic reason lying behind them. The unmarried brother-in-law can carry on the name of his brother through that woman. This was the law, which had an out-clause which resulted in shame for the brother-in-law. But it was the law and the Sadducees see this as creating a great problem in the theology of the resurrection. This was their slam down argument for winning the dispute.
Application note: when division happens in the Christian church over doctrine, it is often because the greater picture of God’s grace is misunderstood or misapplied. The greatest unity in the church comes when we celebrate the absolute truths of the gospel and carry with us an epistemological humility (or remaining humble in our knowledge of things).
“…now there were seven brothers…finally the woman died too…at the resurrection whose wife will she be…?” The Sadducees lay out their argument. Sounds like 9 seasons of ‘Married without children!’ This lady either married into the wrong family or she should have her house checked for arsenic! Anyway, this is the scenario played out for Jesus to reflect on. Even though it is a very specific kind of scenario, it does play out as a legit question. We can find a similar type of question asked in relation to the gospel: “If you’re saying I can be forgiven for any sin then I’ll just keep sinning and Jesus will just forgive me! Brilliant! Makes no sense.” But Paul tackles that problem in Romans 6. And his answer is something similar to Jesus: you don’t really get the point if you’re asking that question.
Jesus corrects the Sadducees (34-38)
“Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.” Jesus decides to respond to their question rather than push back (see his response to a previous challenge in Luke 20:3). The phrase ‘this age’ can mean this generation or people this side of the cross or people of the world or people who are not part of the kingdom of God or simply people on this side of death! As always, it is context that gives us the meaning. Surely Jesus is referring to people who are still alive. We may wonder what he means by ‘those who are considered worthy’, but it will become clear that Jesus is referring to those who enter eternal life. The first point of Jesus is to say that marriage is a thing for this age. Just because marriage happens here does not mean that it has the same meaning in the next life.
But, marriage is for this age. God created men and women to leave their parents and to come together as one (Gen 1-2), the scriptures uphold marriage as a beautiful thing (Song of Songs) and as a great image or illustration for God’s uniting himself to his people. Marriage is about two ‘differents’ being united under a promise to be one with a mutual love and other-person centredness. Although that is the picture, it is very much not like that in reality. Sin (introduced after the marriage covenant of Genesis 1 and 2), means that men and women together in marriage will live in conflict (Gen 3:16). As we’ve seen in previous studies in 1 Corinthians 7, the curse of sin and the cure which is Christ makes the age that we live in unique. We live in the age of Christian mission when the message of the Spirit (which is the gospel) is to go to all nations. This is our mission. To make disciples of all nations. We are not commanded to settle down and make homes here but to have kingdom minds. However, we still live in the age where people of this world marry and are given in marriage.
“But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” In the age to come, at the resurrection, there will be no more marriage. That seems to be the clear teaching of our LORD here. Who is worthy of eternal life? That answer is clearly given elsewhere (Matt 19:29; Hebrews 9:15; James 2:5; Rev 21:7). That list of New Testament promises regarding eternal life give us the two sided coin of grace and perseverance. We are saved by no merit of our own but on Christ’s merit but we are saved because we cling to him as our only hope. We have heard the true gospel and responded from truly understanding the grace of God.
“…and they can no longer die…” Jesus has answered their question but he’s not done with them yet. To his audience who do not believe in the resurrection nor in angels, Jesus wants them to listen further and learn.
“…for they are like the angels.” I can imagine Jesus looking them in the eyes and simply stating that angels are real. The God who created all things, including the angels, has no issues setting the record straight. Angels, it appears, do not die because they are not suffering under the curse of mankind. Of course, the rebellious angels will receive their punishment in full at the end of time.
“They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” Will that be your title one day: child of the resurrection? A description of the children of the resurrection can be read in Revelation 21:1-8 and also 7:13-17. Surely none of the Sadducees who deny the resurrection can take part in it? Entrance into the kingdom of God, as a norm, requires knowledge and belief whenever and wherever it is made available.
“…even Moses showed that the dead rise…” Jesus has moved from stating facts that only he would know to pointing now to the scriptures that even the Sadducees accept and showing from the text that the resurrection is taught even by Moses.
“…for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’” Exodus 3:6. In this part of the story, Jesus begins to use the Scriptures in a very technical way. What do the words say? What do they mean? Now, I’ll confess that I would have read that account in Exodus a thousand times before it would dawn on me that God is talking about being the God of the living. He doesn’t say that he was their God but that he is their God.
“…for to him all are alive.” The context would suggest that ‘all’ refers to all who have been worthy to take part in the age to come.
Jesus teaches us to read (39-44)
“Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” This lot are pleased that Jesus set the Sadducees straight. But look out for the way that Luke transitions now into a lesson from Jesus to the teachers of the law on how to read the scriptures too.
“Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David?” The teaching of the Messiah was well established by the arrival of Jesus. Some texts that were likely key to the Jew’s understanding included, 2 Samuel 7; Ps 89; Isa 9:5-7; 11:1-10; Jer 23:5-8; 33:14-26; Micah 5:2; Ezek 34:23-24. The theme that crosses most of these is that God will raise someone up who will be a righteous king of the line of David, Jesse’s boy from Bethlehem. We can, from Jesus’ words, conclude that the teachers taught that the Messiah would be a son of David (descendant) and this is fair theology given the texts above.
“David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:” Now, this may be a boring point for some but there are commentators who question whether the Psalms of David (as they say in the title of the Psalms) mean that David wrote them or that they are rather Psalms for David. The language can work like that but Jesus happily tributes the penwork to David.
“David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” Psalm 110 describes a figure who David regards as his Lord being given the right handed seat to the Lord. That is, God is allowing this Lord of David’s to sit at his right hand. It seems that Jesus is drawing people’s attention to the idea that Psalm 110 is actually a Messianic Psalm. Who could be more important than the David, great King of Israel? This is a prophecy of Jesus, the descendant of David who is not just an ancestor but who is before David and Lord of him also. He is seated at the right hand of God until all enemies are subdued. 1 Corinthians 15 names the last enemy as death itself. Jesus wants the teachers of the Law to see what the scriptures actually say and to process it. The Messiah is someone greater than David, and who precedes David.
Jesus warns us of the real issue here (45-47)
“While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law.”” Jesus has been directly challenged by the teachers of the law, then challenged secretly by spies and then challenged by another party within the Jewish leadership and all of them have failed to trap, outsmart or trip Jesus in his ability to teach and know the word of God and the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus concludes this whole chapter with a warning to watch out for such teachers who think, presume and act like they have all the answers and yet they are far from the kingdom themselves.
“They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at the banquets.” Nobody likes that guy. Some people, even me and you, can get misplaced in our need to be needed and our want to be wanted. One’s identity can get trapped inside a need to be important – to be called when a crisis happens, to be at the table when decisions are being made, and to be thanked whenever a function has gone well. No teacher of God’s word should get trapped in this. If a brilliant and well educated man or woman never writes a popular book, will they still not be known by God?
“They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” Such a person is all show and no glow. In the right culture and setting they can dominate others like bullies. Big words baffle others and can make the simple believe that they are closer to God. They look and sound like the know the bible well. They speak confidently about their belief and can sound as though the rest of the world do not understand the bible like they do. They are needed in other people’s lives if they are to be right with God! They take money, time and power from others in the name of God.
“These men will be punished most severely.” Forgiveness is available to all but if someone maintains a boastful knowledge of God and yet has not grasped the grace of God then they will be punished for their sin and severely punished for destroying others in their ministry.
What did we learn?
Some people will stand firmly on doctrine that they believe is true because they have been raised to believe it and are just absolutley sure that their arguments from the scriptures are true. Divisions arise from such hard headedness. Jesus has confidence in the scriptures too which point to God’s Messiah preceding David and reigning at his right hand until death itself is killed and has called all who have saluted the Messiah to the resurrection. Eternal life is surer than death for those who turn to Christ.
Topic A: What are you living for? This world is passing by. Jesus has taught us here that the resurrection is real, and that those who have inherited eternal life will be called children of the resurrection – never again to die. It is difficult to imagine what exactly it will all look like, feel like and be like. But there will come a day when the day will not end (so to speak). The burdens and troubles of this world will be no more. To quote a preacher I heard recently, “just 15 minutes ‘there’ and anything we are going through now will be forgotten.” Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Topic B: Do you stand for things you think are true or do you stand for truth? The art of reading the bible begins with surrendering our assumptions and being ready to listen to the words in the book. Noticing small things in the bible can open up great revelations. So, reading great chunks of the bible will give us the benefit of context and understanding the overarching story of the bible, while reading slowly and meditating on every word will help us to see the glorious details that the bible has to offer. It really has been written by a genius.
Topic C: Seeking good teachers to lead. Jesus does not condemn all teachers but those he described as proud, seeking glory here on earth and misleading others by their own lies. What we need are good leaders who watch their life and doctrine closely. Who teach people to read the bible well for themselves. Bible teachers who fixate on particular doctrines that subdue the glory of God displayed through the gospel make me nervous. Teachers who spend more time pulling down other people’s theology rather than teaching what is true, that too makes me nervous. However, a church that is keen to raise up leaders for the gospel for the glory of God and without the leadership feeling threatened by upcoming leaders – that sounds like a healthy church obeying the great commission.