THE DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION CAN BE DEFENDED BY UNDERSTANDING BOTH GOD’S WORD AND GOD’S POWER
The issue at stake in this controversy with the Sadducess is the doctrine of the resurrection. The hypothetical case study of how to handle marriage in the resurrection is a mocking attempt to make the doctrine of the resurrection appear ludicrous – thereby discrediting Jesus in the eyes of the people as a teacher sent from God. But Jesus once again turns the tables and completely embarrasses the self-proclaimed religious experts who prided themselves on a literal interpretation of the Torah.
David Turner: In both this encounter with the Sadducees and the previous one with the Pharisees, Jesus is asked a difficult question that is intended to discredit him. But both times Jesus discredits and amazes his interlocutors. Here the question concerns not a hot political issue, taxation, but theology and the interpretation of Scripture. The Sadducees evidently believe that Torah-based levirate marriage cannot be squared with the Pharisees’ notion of an afterlife. Perhaps they want Jesus to align with them against the Pharisees (Hagner 1995a: 640). Whatever their agenda, Jesus says that their denial of the resurrection is an error caused by ignorance. They think of resurrection and the afterlife as mere reanimation to life as before. They are ignorant that God’s transforming power means that people after resurrection are no longer sexually active (cf. 1 Cor. 15:35–39). Sexuality is part of the goodness of creation, but life in the resurrection will transcend this aspect of creation. This renders the levirate law moot. Jesus’s argument from Exod. 3:6 shows that the Sadducees are also ignorant of the scriptural inference that God’s covenantal loyalty to the patriarchs proves their eventual resurrection, along with that of all God’s people.
Charles Swindoll: Being presently earthbound creatures, our perspective is riveted to the created order outlined in Genesis 1: dirt and stone, water and air, drifting clouds and distant constellations. Experiencing these things day after day, year after year, we can’t help but think of all reality in terms of earth, sky, and outer space. It’s next to impossible for us to remove ourselves mentally from our earthly existence and really imagine what it would be like to dwell in another realm.
When the subject of the afterlife comes up, it’s our natural tendency simply to transfer a picture of our earthbound lifestyle to our notion of heavenly existence. But we need to recognize the vast difference between the temporal life and eternal life, life on earth and life in heaven. For starters, our bodies won’t be in their present, mortal condition. Rather, as we learn from the words of Jesus, we will be “like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30).
Donald Hagner: Since the resurrection of Jesus and hence of all the dead was to become so critically important in the church (cf. Acts 4:2), much is at stake in the present exchange.
Stanley Saunders: Since Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (16:16), Jesus has been warning his disciples that he will suffer and die in Jerusalem at the hands of the leaders with whom he now debates, and promising that he will be raised from the dead after three days (16:21; 17:12; 17:22–23; 20:18–19). This story roots his claim about the resurrection in the foundational theological conviction that God is God of the living. Jesus knows what will happen in Jerusalem because he knows his adversaries, but also because he knows who God is. Jesus’ crucifixion is not merely a story of tragic human disobedience, but the story of God’s defeat of death and of those whose power is rooted in death. For Jesus, the resurrection is neither an artifact of popular belief nor merely an assertion that God will make things right in the end. The resurrection is the defining and crowning revelation of the nature and effect of God’s power. The crucifixion and resurrection are thus the bedrock theological convictions that call forth and sustain all Christian proclamation and practice.
I. (:23-28) THE ATTACK ON THE DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION BY THE SADDUCEES
A. (:23) The Attack Initiated by Resurrection Deniers Via a “Gotcha” Question
“On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him
and questioned Him, saying,”
This type of approach should remind you of that obnoxious student who would try to make the professor look bad in class by some convoluted type of argumentation. The Sadducees have no sincere interest in investigating the truth of the reality of future resurrection. Their only motivation is to try to discredit Jesus.
David Turner: Jesus has been telling parables, and now the Sadducees approach him with a sort of riddle-parable of their own (cf. Mark 12:18–27; Luke 20:27–40). The Sadducees, in their denial of an afterlife, disagreed with the Pharisees (Acts 23:8; Josephus, Ant. 18.12–17; J.W. 2.162–66). This was evidently due to their rejection of the Pharisees’ oral tradition and their emphasizing the five books of Moses over the rest of the canon. Like others who are not Jesus’s disciples in Matthew, they address Jesus as “teacher” (cf. Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; 17:24; 19:16; 22:16, 36).
Charles Swindoll: Having just dispensed with a plot of the Pharisees, Jesus had barely caught His breath when a group of Sadducees showed up. The pressure was mounting. Like a desperate military campaign to take a fortified city, Jesus’ opponents were coming at Him from every angle with wave after wave of attacks. Little did the Messiah’s enemies know that their unrelenting assaults were slamming against an immovable object. No political tricks or theological subtleties would be able to trap the One who could not only see through their devices but could also see into their hearts and minds. So when a small group of Sadducees came to question Jesus about His view on the doctrine of the resurrection, they had no way of knowing what they were up against. . .
By the time of Christ, the Pharisees had developed a rich doctrine of the afterlife, including a bodily resurrection of the saved and unsaved, as well as teachings concerning rewards and punishments. Meanwhile, their theological rivals, the Sadducees, believed that the soul perished with the body and that the concept of resurrection was a myth. Since they accepted only the authority of the books of Moses, they rejected any teachings about the afterlife or resurrection that came from later prophets. They also denied the existence of angels and demons. Because they rejected the notion of life after death, they did not believe in heaven and hell or eternal judgment and rewards. They believed that obedience to God brought blessing in this life and that disobedience brought retribution in the here and now. They were worried far less about losing their eternal souls in heaven than about losing their temporal control of political power. We might compare the Sadducees of Jesus’ day to the very secular, theologically liberal clergy of our own day. In the book of Acts, Luke briefly notes the differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees this way: “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all” (Acts 23:8).
William Barclay: The Sadducees were not many in number; but they were the wealthy, the aristocratic and the governing class. The chief priests, for instance, were Sadducees. In politics, they were collaborationists, quite ready to co-operate with the Roman government if co-operation was the price of the retention of their own privileges. In thought, they were quite ready to open their minds to Greek ideas. In their Jewish belief, they were traditionalists. They refused to accept the oral and scribal law, which to the Pharisees was of such paramount importance. They went even further; the only part of Scripture which they regarded as binding was the Pentateuch, the law par excellence, the first five books of the Old Testament. They did not accept the prophets or the poetical books as Scripture at all. In particular, they were at variance with the Pharisees in that they completely denied any life after death, a belief on which the Pharisees insisted. The Pharisees indeed laid it down that anyone who denied the resurrection of the dead was shut out from God.
B. (:24-27) The Attack Framed in a Convoluted Test Case Regarding Levirate Marriage
“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies, having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up an offspring to his brother. 25 Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother; 26 so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. 27 And last of all, the woman died.’”
Grant Osborne: The purpose of levirate marriage was to protect the name of a deceased brother without children and to guarantee that he would have legal heirs and thus the ancestral lands would continue in the family, as well as to take care of the widow who would often be left destitute. So when a man died childless, his brother was supposed to marry his wife and bear children in his name. In Deut 25:7–10 the brother could refuse but would be publicly shamed for doing so. We do not know how extensively this was practiced in Jesus’ time (no instance is recorded), but the point of law was well known (discussed in Josephus, Ant. 4.254–56; m. Yeb.).
The use of “seven” is due to its being the number of completion; this is a “perfect” example. So far this is a classic case of levirate marriage, a childless widow given to the deceased man’s brother.
C. (:28) The Attack Launched Via a Ludicrous Question Aimed at Mocking the Doctrine of the Resurrection
“In the resurrection therefore whose wife of the seven shall she be?
For they all had her.”
Grant Osborne: The question itself assumes a stance against polygamy, and the Sadducees are trying to force Jesus into a no-win situation. Either he denies the afterlife or accepts polygamy.
It is clear that their entire purpose is to “ridicule the idea of life after death” and in so doing to “trap Jesus and discredit his teaching.”
II. (:29-32) THE DEFENSE OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION BY THE ONE WHO IS THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
A. (:29) Two Errors of Self Deception
“But Jesus answered and said to them,”
- First Error of Self Deception = Ignorance of the Word of God
“You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures,”
Daniel Doriani: First, they deny the resurrection even though Scripture clearly teaches it.
- Isaiah said, “Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead” (Isa. 26:19).
- Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another” (Job 19:25–27).
- Daniel said, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).
These Scriptures promise more than the immortality of the soul, that is, a soul that survives death. They promise a new body, one suited for the renewed creation, and one where wind still blows through our hair.
- Second Error of Self Deception = Ignorance of the Power of God
“or the power of God.”
B. (:30-32) Two Lines of Defense to Address Each of These Two Errors
(Jesus takes up each of these two errors and addresses them in reverse order)
- (:30) The Power of God Will Transform Human Existence in the Resurrected State
“For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage,
but are like angels in heaven.”
This transformation and new creation makes the question of the Saducees a moot point.
David Turner: Again Jesus does not directly answer his interlocutors. Instead he strongly rebukes them, telling them that their ignorance of Scripture and of God’s power has led to error (22:29). He first responds to their argument from Deut. 25:5 by affirming that people, like angels, do not live as married couples in the afterlife (Matt. 22:30). The Sadducees evidently err in assuming that the afterlife will be just like the present life, extrapolating from the present to the future (Hagner 1995a: 641). They also err in not accounting for the power of God to transform human existence.
Stu Weber: Since there was no marriage in heaven, the Sadducees’ question was invalid. The answer was that no one would be the woman’s husband at the resurrection. This, together with Ephesians 5:22-33, can lead us to the conclusion that God’s primary purpose for marriage is to paint a picture on earth of the heavenly marriage between the Messiah and his bride. When the actual marriage of Christ and the church takes place in heaven, there will be no more need for human marriage. It will be displaced by the greater reality toward which it pointed while we were on earth.
Donald Hagner: Modern disbelief in the future resurrection of the dead is the result of an entirely different set of circumstances, especially the naturalism of modern science. Such a viewpoint, however, is not dissimilar to that of the Sadducees, especially in the underestimating of the power of God and the misunderstanding of the NT view of the resurrection and the world to come. If God is truly God, then the raising of the dead can be no problem for him. The power to revivify cannot be denied to the One who created life in the first place. Furthermore, resurrection bodies and the world of the eschaton are neither to be misunderstood as “spiritual” or immaterial, intangible realities completely discontinuous with life as we know it nor, on the other hand, as flesh and blood, material realities completely continuous with the world we know. Although we know little concerning the nature of the world to come and our own existence in it, that future reality will be both continuous in some ways and discontinuous in other ways with what we have known. For one thing, we will have bodies, and thus we will not be disembodied spirits, yet those bodies will not be of flesh and blood but bodies of a new kind that we have yet to experience (the NT discussion of this subject is, of course, 1 Cor 15:35–50). Then the creation will have become the new creation of God.
Daniel Doriani: This leads to a common question: will there be sex in heaven? We can link this to similar questions: Will there be golf in heaven? Ice cream in heaven? Rock and roll or hip-hop music in heaven? (For some reason, people simply assume Bach’s music is in heaven.) The answer to all these questions is the same: If the Lord wills it, then we will experience them in heaven. If not, we will not miss them, because the Lord will give something better. There will be no grief, no sense of loss, in heaven.
There will be a “new world,” a regenerated world (palingenesia, Matt. 19:28), a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:11–13). We know there will be some continuity with this life. For example, there will be music, for we will sing new praises to God (Rev. 5:9; 15:3). There will be food, for we will enjoy our marriage feast with Jesus (19:9). We will be strong, for we will rest, but not sleep at night (Heb. 4:1–11; Rev. 22:5).
- (:31-32) The Word of God Offers Clear Testimony to the Reality of the Resurrection
a. (:31-32a) Covenantal Relationships with Each of the Patriarchs
“But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read
that which was spoken to you by God, saying,
‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob ‘?”
Grant Osborne: Now Jesus turns to the witness of Scripture itself and deliberately chooses a passage from the Pentateuch, the portion the Sadducees accept as canon. He begins with his typical challenge to their biblical understanding, “Have you not read?” (cf. 12:3; 19:4; 21:16, 42). By introducing Exod 3:6 with “what was spoken … by God” (cf. 1:22; 2:15), Jesus emphasizes the divine inspiration behind the passage, thus a double indictment (ignorance of God as well as Scripture). In v. 24 they asserted “Moses said,” so now Jesus trumps that by saying, “in actuality God said.” The presence of “to you” (ὑμῖν) and the present tense participle “spoken” (λέγοντος) highlight the fact that through the OT passage God is speaking now directly to the Sadducees (so Bruner).
David Turner: God’s ongoing covenantal relationship with the patriarchs implies their eventual resurrection. God’s being the God of the patriarchs during the “intermediate state” between their death and resurrection is tantamount to and guarantees his relationship with them in their final resurrected state (cf. 1 En. 20.8; 22.1–14; 60.8; 62.15; 2 Macc. 7:9, 36; 2 Esd. [4 Ezra] 7; Josephus, J.W. 3.374). The Sadducees have no rejoinder to this argument (Matt. 22:34), and the watching crowd is amazed (cf. 7:28; 13:54; 19:25). Jesus’s reference to angels in 22:30 may be intended to irritate the Sadducees, who do not believe in angels (Acts 23:8; Blomberg 1992a: 333; but see W. Davies and Allison 1997: 227 for a contrary view).
b. (:32b) Clinching Truth – God Is the God of the Living
“He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
(:33) EPILOGUE – RESPONSE OF AMAZEMENT
“And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.”
Stu Weber: As with the crowd at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (7:28-29), this crowd was also astonished at the authority with which Jesus dealt with his opponents. Not only did Jesus wield Old Testament Scripture accurately; he revealed new truth that the Old Testament had not revealed (22:30). Jesus had turned his challengers’ trap into an embarrassment and an accusation against themselves.
William Barclay: The Sadducean case was shattered. Jesus had done what the wisest Rabbis had never been able to do. Out of Scripture itself, he had proved the Sadducees to be wrong and had shown them that there is a life after death which must not be thought of in earthly terms. The crowds were amazed at a man who could take command of an argument like this, and even the Pharisees must have felt like cheering.
D. A. Carson: Matthew does not tell us that the Sadducees are convinced but that the crowds are astonished at Jesus’ teaching. The cause of the astonishment is probably Jesus’ authority and incisive insight into biblical truth (cf. 7:28–29; 13:54; 22:22). Luke (20:39) remarks that some teachers of the law, almost certainly of Pharisaic persuasion, responded, “Well said, teacher!”