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Matthew 22:23-33

June 6th, 2011


Marriage at the Resurrection

23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

This exchange also appears in Mark 12:18-27 (blog) and Luke 20:27-40 (blog). The Sadducees were a wealthy, aristocratic, intellectual sect of Judaism who did not believe in the resurrection or an afterlife, as opposed to the Pharisees, who did. They also only regarded the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, as true scripture. They were literalists who rejected the Pharisees’ “hedge” around the law, the thousands of extra rules they had added to the law to keep them from breaking the law itself. The Sadducees didn’t impose as many rules and weren’t nearly as strict as the Pharisees. Priests and the Jewish aristocracy tended to be Sadducees, and scribes and teachers of the law tended to be Pharisees. It’s interesting to me that many of the doctrinal divisions between Pharisees and Sadducees back then still exist in Judaism today, between Hasidic and Reformed Judaism. Hasidic Jews’ beliefs are more in line with the Pharisees, and Reformed Jews’ beliefs are more like the Sadducees.

The disagreement between Pharisees and Sadducees on the subject of the resurrection of the dead was exploited by Paul when he appeared before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-10, blog). He was able to disrupt the entire proceeding by just bringing up the subject.

The resurrection of the dead is one of the central doctrines of Christianity. Without it, our faith is void. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14:

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 is devoted to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The more I study the Bible, the more convinced I become that the Bible does not really teach the existence of an immortal soul that lives on after our body dies. That concept comes from Greek philosophy, and the apparent references to it in the Bible, primarily in the writings of Paul, are just that, references, not teaching intended to establish doctrine. They are, I believe, attempts by Paul to use Greek language and concepts to explain Christianity to Greek speaking people. What Paul, and Jesus, and the rest of the Bible really teach is that the righteous and unrighteous alike will be raised on the last day, the Day of the Lord, to be judged. See 1 Samuel 2:6, Job 19:26, and Isaiah 26:19. In both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, the eternal soul is not mentioned, but the resurrection of the dead is listed as one of the essential doctrines of our faith. As I have said previously in this blog, as I continue my study of the Bible, I am questioning everything I’ve been taught to believe. I am not interested in believing anything just because that’s what I’ve always heard in church. I want to know what the Bible actually says.

But I digress. The Sadducees were not trying to make a serious point or ask a serious question. They were trying to make the doctrine of resurrection seem ridiculous. This was like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or if Adam had a belly button. But their question has some of the same flaws regarding the concept of Heaven that people have today. Jesus not only points out how wrong they are about marital relationships in Heaven, but also about resurrection in general.

29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

Jesus tells the Sadducees that they are in error because they don’t know the scriptures or the power of God. So many silly doctrinal and philosophical arguments arise from just those two problems, and one leads to the other. If we don’t know the scriptures, we will not know the power of God. On the subject of marriage in Heaven, Jesus says that marriages will not continue into the afterlife. Though marriage is ordained by God, and at its best, is a spiritual union, its origin lies in sexual attraction, which is a biological impulse. It’s the biological impulse to reproduce, and it’s very powerful. But when we get to Heaven, there will be no more reproduction, as far as we know. Marriage is God’s way of channeling our sex drive so we don’t behave like animals. But in Heaven that will no longer be necessary. Marriage and reproduction are necessary in a world where people die, but in Heaven, where we will never die, it’s obsolete. I believe we will know and recognize each other in Heaven, and we will see our loved ones there, but our relationships with them won’t be the same. Our joy will not be in being reunited with our loved ones, but in the fact that we are all there with Jesus. Romantic ideas of being “together forever,” even in Heaven, are not scriptural.

While talking about marriage, Jesus never leaves the subject of the resurrection of the dead. He makes sure the Sadducees know that he assumes the truth of that doctrine throughout all he says. Most of the Old Testament passages regarding the resurrection are in the prophets. Since the Sadducees only held that the first five books of the Old Testament were true scripture, he quoted from Exodus 3:6. Jesus’ point was that God did not say “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” he said “I am their God.” The patriarchs were long dead when God said that to Moses, but Jesus said to the Sadducees that God is the God of the living, not the dead.

The resurrection of the body is one of the great mysteries of the Bible, and of our faith. The patriarchs had not been resurrected by that point, from our perspective, but they were alive to God. Moses and Elijah had appeared bodily at the Transfiguration a few weeks before, but from an earthly perspective, the resurrection had not happened yet. I explain it this way. God and Eternity exist outside of time. In Heaven, and to God, there is no past or future, only an eternal present. Therefore, from God’s perspective, everyone who will be in Heaven after the final resurrection is already there now. God is like someone watching a parade from the top of a tall building, whereas we are like people watching the same parade from street level. We only see a sequence of events, but God sees the whole picture from start to finish as one event.

Jesus says that at the resurrection, we will be like the angels in heaven. What does that mean? I don’t think it means we’ll have wings and play harps. What do the angels do? They continually surround the throne of God, praising and worshiping him (Isaiah 6:1-3). They perform tasks that God gives them to do (Psalm 103:20). They rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10). They are awesome, eternal beings with great power. They are not disembodied spirits. I believe that they have glorified, immortal bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body. They are not bound by time and space like we are in this life. I also believe that’s what our resurrected bodies will be like. 1 Corinthans 15:49 says, “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” The resurrected Jesus was not a phantom, or a disembodied spirit. He walked for miles on the road to Emmaus. He had flesh and bones. He still had his scars. It was recognizably him. I believe that our resurrected bodies will be like that. We won’t be disembodied spirits, but will have physical bodies that will be recognizably us. We will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

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