One of the conundrums of life is the oft irrational hostility towards the Christian faith. Yes, sadly some professing Christians have carried out terrible abuses. But the big picture is that over the centuries God’s people have shown care and compassion for the poor and the needy – exemplifying a facet of the public ministry of Jesus – seeking the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).
Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, the media in all its forms chooses to overlook such welfare. I say ‘not surprisingly’ because people in every generation want to cut down anyone who threatens them. The Jewish leadership felt threatened by Jesus of Nazareth. So much so that they endeavored to trap him with gotcha questions which could discredit and destroy him. This was increasingly evident during the days before the Passover – at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.
In Luke chapter 20, verse 25 Jesus had responded to the question, ‘Teacher, … is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?’ with ‘… Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’. Confounded by his answer they were silenced (Luke 20:26).
Nevertheless, despite this unexpected setback, the aggressive questioning continued. This time the Sadducees, another group of Jewish leaders, pressed him on the subject of the resurrection.
The Sadducees were conservative aristocrats. The high priests were drawn from this group. Willing to work with the Roman authorities, their privileges were protected.
However, they were treated with suspicion by Jewish loyalists and pious Jewish people. In his Antiquities Josephus tells us that the Sadducees only accepted the written Scripture, not oral tradition which the Pharisees accepted (xiii.297; xviii.16). However, the Sadducees denied life after death and therefore, resurrection. This was the question on which they challenged Jesus (Luke chapter 20, verse 28).
Using the law that required the brother of a man who died childless to take his brother’s wife in marriage (levirate law), the Sadducees framed their question. Yet, given that there are only a few recorded occasions of levirate marriage – one being that of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:5, 21) – and that the practice seems to have been dropped by the time of the New Testament, their question was more hypothetical than real.
They posed the situation of seven brothers successively marrying the same woman. None of the marriages produced any children. In turn they asked Jesus whose wife the woman would be in the resurrection (20:29-33). Implying there could be no answer to their question, they used it to argue there could no resurrection.
But Jesus responded: ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage’ (20:34). His implication is clear. Given the successive marriages portrayed by the Sadducees, Jesus affirms the norm and the appropriateness of marriage between a man and woman. Significantly, in saying this he also confirms the creation order of Genesis 2:24.
But he didn’t stop there. He continued by contrasting our present experience and that in the life to come: “Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage…” (20:35). In a tightly worded sentence he affirmed the reality of life beyond death and also the resurrection.
‘Life in the age to come will be significantly different for all who are considered worthy,’ he says. Not everyone will experience the new age and the resurrection.
His words here are consistent with the movement of thought that unfolds in Luke: only those who have been rescued (Luke 19:10) will enjoy life and resurrection in the coming age. Marriage as we know it will no longer apply. It will no longer be needed for ‘they cannot die any more…’ (20:36b).
One of the reasons for marriage is the procreation of children in a world where everyone dies. But in a world where death no longer reigns, marriage and the birth of children is unnecessary.
Notice Jesus didn’t say they no longer die but rather, they cannot die. In the coming age we will share something in common with the angels: ‘… they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection’ (20:36c).
So important was the question of resurrection that Jesus used the opportunity to point out that it was implied in the Old Testament. Drawing from the scene when God revealed his name to Moses (Exodus 3:15), Jesus drew attention to God’s description of himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (20:37). Jesus then drew out the logic of God’s words, saying: “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (20:38).
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were long dead when Moses was alive. The statement that God is the God of these men, can only be true if they are alive, even though they have died. The alternative is to say that God is the God of people who no longer exist, which is nonsense.
Luke then includes words not found in the other gospels, ‘…for to him (God), all of them are alive” (20:38b). To us they are all dead, but that is not how God sees them. Death cannot break God’s relationship with them.
The Sadducees were silenced! And at least one other group the scribes, who did not necessarily like the Sadducees, agreed: ‘Teacher, you have spoken well’ (20:39). They were pleased to see the Sadducees silenced: For they (the Sadducees) no longer dared to ask him another question (20:40).
The 17th century mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal commented in his Pensées, ‘… The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love and of comfort, a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom He possesses, a God who makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and His infinite mercy, who unites Himself to their inmost soul, who fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, who renders them incapable of any other end than Himself.’
A prayer. Merciful God, it is by your gift alone that your faithful people offer you true and pleasing service. Grant that we may so faithfully serve you in this life that we do not fail at the end to obtain your heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
You may like to listen to Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty
© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.
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