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One Bride for Seven Brothers (Luke 20:27-40)

Matthew 22:23-33 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 have children 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?” 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’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Luke 20:27-40 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 have children 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 that age 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.66 They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the 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.’ 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.

Mark 12:18-27 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “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 have children for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” 24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

Introduction

In my college days, Ted was my partner on the cleaning crew. He and I were washing windows one afternoon. We were cleaning the windows of the dormitory in which we lived. In the basement of the dorm, classes were in session. Little did we realize that what was about to take place would create such a disturbance they would have to dismiss the classes. Ted was far up on his ladder, washing the outside of the second floor dormitory windows. In the basement below him, classes were in session. Then Dan arrived.

Dan was always into some harmless, but irritating mischief. He would set up his stereo system so that he could broadcast messages from his window. Today, as he walked by the ladder on which Ted was standing, he could not resist giving it a little shake. Those of us who have stood high up on such a ladder know the disconcerting feeling of that motion telescoping up the ladder, so that we feel tossed about in the air. My friend Ted was not pleased with Dan’s humor, and so he did the only thing possible at the moment—he wrung out his sponge on Dan’s head.

This was the beginning of a water war so great that afternoon classes had to be dismissed. It rapidly escalated to buckets full of water, not just thrown about on the outside, but thrown and dumped in the halls. The place was swamped. It was about this time that George, the head resident, was informed and appeared on the scene. Believe it or not, I was not involved in the water war. I was stationed on my ladder, outside of the dorm, two stories high. It was from this vantage point that I could see everything—more than I really wanted to.

George came into the dorm room in front of me, and looked out the window I was washing to see what all the disturbance was about. He saw me, inches away, busy at work. That was a shock. He looked down to see Dan, on the ground below me, drenching wet. It was no surprise for George to learn that Dan was in the middle of this disaster. George was playing out his supervisory role, dealing with Dan.

My friend Ted was not in sight. Not in sight to everyone but me, that is. Ted had gone back into the dorm to refill his bucket. (You should not need to ask why it was empty.) On his way down the stairwell, Ted looked out and saw Dan standing directly below him, two stories down. Do you have any difficulty deciding what Ted did? Ted was on his way to the window, one room to my right. From their positions, neither George, the head resident, nor Ted, my partner could see each other, because a wall separated them. I could see both. I could not warn Ted because I was standing face to face with George. I would not warn Dan. And so it happened. In front of George’s eyes, a bucket of water descended on Dan, and swamped him. I did the only thing one in my position could do, I shouted, “Run!” to Ted. Ted disappeared, just as George did, and both collided in the hall. I was there to see it all, and to hear George say to Ted, “Man, Ted, You hit him dead center!”

Now here were words I had never expected to hear from the lips of a head resident. How could he commend the “straight shooting” of a fellow who had just instigated a water war? I think that George was right. He knew that Dan was always in trouble, and that Ted was a hard-working, dependable fellow. In essence, George was acknowledging that Dan deserved just what he got. So he did. I have the same response to the words spoken by the “teachers of the law,” to what Jesus had said in response to the question of the Sadducees. These teachers, who seem to have been Pharisees, and who had thus been challenging Jesus from the very outset of His ministry (from Luke 5:17 on), here commend Jesus for having spoken well. The reason, of course, is obvious. Jesus had proven the position of the Sadducees to be wrong. He had taken their “best shot,” their most profound argument in favor of their case, and shown it to be shoddy thinking. The Pharisees, though their differences with Jesus were great, could not but commend Him for His words here. It is as though they had said, in George’s words, “Man, Jesus, you hit them dead center!”

The Background

Jesus had now arrived in Jerusalem, in a variety of ways demonstrating Himself to be Israel’s Messiah. A number of people received Him gladly, but no one understanding fully who He was, or the implications of His coming. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, and His daily possession of it for teaching and ministry was viewed as a serious threat to their authority and positions by the Jewish leaders, who had already purposed to put Him to death (cf. John 11:53; Luke 19:47). But when they challenged Jesus’ authority, Jesus became even more outspoken against them. The parable of the vineyard and the vine-growers (Luke 20:9-18) was a painful blow to them, for it not only identified Jesus as the Son of God, sent by the Father, but it revealed them as God’s enemies, who would be destroyed, only to be replaced by Gentiles. Before, their opposition was “nothing personal”; now it was something very personal. They wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot, but the masses would not allow it. They thus implemented a multi-pronged plan to have Jesus arrested and put to death by Rome.

One prong of this attack was the hypocritical question posed to Jesus concerning paying taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:21-22). Jesus’ answer was not only unexpected, but amazing. Never would they have thought Jesus could get out of this one, but He did. They would not have dreamed that Jesus would teach that taxes belong to Caesar, but He did. As a result, they were left utterly speechless.

It is this silence that afforded the Sadducees the opportunity they had been looking for. They were only too happy to use this occasion to pose yet another question to Jesus, one which they believed would establish their theological position, and which would stump Jesus as well. At this point, I do not think that the Sadducees cared about putting Jesus to death so much as they were interested in making themselves look good. They had an ax to grind (no resurrection, Luke 20:27), and they would gladly do so at this golden opportunity.

I think that the eyes of the other groups (Pharisees, in particular) were rolling when this interrogation began. I can hear one Pharisee saying to another, “Oh, for goodness sake, here they go again.” What joy these Pharisees had, watching the Sadducees go down in flames. While they had not successfully drawn blood with Jesus, they at least had the pleasure of watching one of their rival groups be discredited, publicly.

The Structure of the Text

(1) The Setting—(v. 27)

(2) A Passage, A Premise, and a Problem—Whose Wife?—(vv. 28-33)

(3) Jesus’ Answer—(vv. 34-38)

(4) Marriage is not for Heaven—(vv. 34-36)

(5) Moses and the Resurrection of the Dead—(vv. 37-38)

(6) The Response of Some Pharisees—(vv. 39-40)

The Purpose of the Question

The question of the one bride and the seven brothers is not a search for the truth. The Sadducees do not expect, indeed, do not want, an answer. They hope to stump Jesus, and thus to demonstrate how “foolish” ideas of a resurrection from the dead are. The purpose of this question is not to “get Jesus into trouble,” but to further the dogma of this group. If Jesus, the most noted and unstumpable teacher alive, could be stumped by their question, then He would become (reluctantly) an endorsement for their view.

This scene bears witness not only to the authenticity of this gospel record, but also to the predictable humanity of mankind. Even though these rival groups had come to some kind of alliance (formally or informally) to rid Judaism of Jesus, they still had their own pet dogmas and practices, their own “sacred cows,” which they could not leave alone, even for a short period of time. The rivalry and competition are still here, even in the midst of this inquisition.

The Sadducees
(20:27)

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the Sadducees is to say that they are the opposite of the Pharisees. If a Pharisee said “White,” the Sadducee would be almost certain to argue, “Black.” The contrast between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, according to Edersheim at least, can be found in three major areas: (1) their view of tradition (at least the traditions of the Pharisees), (2) their view of the supernatural, especially the resurrection of the dead, angels and spirits, and (3) their views on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The Sadducees were disenchanted with the traditions of the Pharisees, they rejected the concept of the resurrection of the dead, and the existence of angels and spirits, and they leaned heavily on the role of the responsibility of man. Luke here tells the reader (as do Matthew and Mark) that the Sadducees “say there is no resurrection” (v. 27). In Acts 23:8, Luke further informs us that the Sadducees do not believe in angels or spirits.

Geldenhuys summarizes the distinctives of the Sadducees in these words:

The Sadducees were the priestly aristocracy among the Jews by whom the political life of the people was largely controlled from the time of Alexander the Great onwards. They tried to live in close contact with the Roman rulers after 63 B.C. so that they might as far as possible promote the secular interests of their people. Consequently they took little interest in religious matters and in many respects clashed with the Pharisees, especially as regards the Pharisees’ attachment to the ‘traditions of the elders’ which made Jewish religious life so intricate. Everything which, according to their views, was not taught by ‘the law of Moses’ (the first five books of the Old Testament) was rejected by the Sadducees as forbidden innovations. So, as the Jewish scholar Montefiore puts it: “They were in a sense conservative. The letter of the Law was enough for them; they did not want the developments of the rabbis. In doctrine, too, they were against innovation.… Many of these priests, and many of the nobles and ‘rulers,’ possessed, I should think, but a very formal and outward religion. We may compare them with many of the bishops, barons and rulers of the middle ages” (Synoptic Gospels, part i, p. 102).67

In the past, I would have called the Pharisees the “conservatives” and the Sadducees the “liberals,” which is somewhat true. But in terms of insisting that doctrine be grounded in biblical revelation, the Sadducees wanted “chapter and verse,” while the Pharisees were content to cite their traditions. Note, too, that the Sadducees have not been mentioned in the gospel of Luke to this point, appearing only here, but referred to five times in the book of Acts (4:1; 5:17; 23:6, 7, 8). If the Pharisees were the moving force behind the opposition to Jesus before His crucifixion, death, and resurrection, it is the Sadducees who take up this role afterwards, for now the issue of resurrection has become a crucial part of the gospel message.

The main thing which Luke wants us to be aware of is that the Sadducees, who are pressing Jesus for an answer concerning the resurrection do not really believe in it themselves. The hypocrisy of the Sadducees is thus apparent and undeniable. They were asking Jesus about something they didn’t believe. Indeed, they were seeking to establish their premise that belief in a resurrection from the dead is both unbiblical and impractical.

The Question
(20:28-33)

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 have children 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?”

I cannot conceive of the question asked here as being an original one. It is no doubt that question which the Sadducees had found most effective in promoting their particular doctrine and practice. It surely was not new to the Pharisees, whose eyes must have rolled when they realized that it was being raised, again. The question was based upon a command given in the law by God through Moses. The command is found in Deuteronomy:

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

The purpose of this legislation was to assure that each family and tribe in Israel was perpetuated by the bearing of children. When the oldest brother married, but died before having any children, the younger brother was to take the widow as his wife so that the first son would carry on the name and the leadership of the deceased. Other legislation assured that the inheritance of land would remain in the tribes and families. Here was a very practical law, given to assure future generations. One can especially see the importance of this legislation when you recall the fact that Messiah would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15), from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9-10), of the line of David (2 Samuel 7:8-16). How crucial it was for the tribes of Israel to perpetuate, for from such the Messiah would be born.

The Sadducees did not have this purpose in mind when they cited this text, however. They saw this text as a prooftext for their denial of the resurrection of the dead. Since by this law Moses made provisions for the perpetuation of a dead Israelite’s family line, the Sadducees seemed to have come to two conclusions. First, they seemed to conclude that immortality was not attained by resurrection from the dead, but by the carrying on of an Israelites' family line through his offspring. Immortality was the perpetuation of a man’s name through his offspring. Second, they concluded that since a man’s younger brother had to assume the duties of his deceased brother, Moses must not believe that men would someday be raised from the dead. Why would such provisions need to be made for the perpetuation of a man’s offspring if he were someday going to be raised from the dead?

At first glance, it would seem that the argument had considerable weight. Did this legislation imply that men would not rise from the dead? The Sadducees thought so, while the Pharisees strongly disagreed. Jesus does not argue every point of error, but highlights two crucial errors in the thinking of His opponents. These Luke outlines in verses 34-36 and 37-38. Let us briefly consider these two errors of the Sadducees, as exposed by our Lord.

The Dispensational Error
(20:34-36)

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 that age 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.

The Lord Jesus was an advocate of a “new age” movement. That expression has many disturbing connotations today, but the fact remains that Jesus was arguing for a “new age,” as very distinct from the “old” order. The Sadducees thought of the kingdom in terms of the present, not in terms of the future. The kingdom to them (especially since they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead) is now. Consequently, there is no future age. It also follows that since the “kingdom” is thought of in terms of the present, it will not differ from the way things are now.

The entire argument of the Sadducees is predicated on a single premise: life in the kingdom of God things will be just like it is now. Consequently, the present institution of marriage is assumed by the Sadducees to continue on in the kingdom. Thus, a woman who was married to seven brothers would be in a terrible predicament in heaven, for she would have to choose one of them to live with.

Jesus’ answer was direct and devastating. He speaks of two ages, “this age” and “that age,” which are very different from each other. The kingdom of God will be very different from the way things are now. There will be no death, there will be no bearing of children, and there will be no marriage. Thus, the theoretical problem posed by the Sadducees is erroneous and non-existent. Resurrection will pose no problem for husbands and wives. Marriage is for now, but not for heaven.

People in this age die, and thus the need for God to spell out through Moses provisions for preserving the family name. People in the future age will not die, and thus there is no need for such legislation. One of the reasons why men will not die in that future age is that their bodies are different, too. Men in that future age will be “like angels,” which neither die nor reproduce. How different conditions will be in that future age, and thus how foolish of the Sadducees because they cannot see how present conditions can be continued after the resurrection. That is precisely the point. They can’t be continued. There is no inconsistency, then.

The Israelites all erred in placing so much emphasis on the “law of Moses,” the Mosaic Covenant, that they minimized the Abrahamic Covenant. They failed to recognize that the Mosaic Covenant was temporary, imperfect (unable to perfect), and provisional. They were partial to the law of Moses, I believe, because it offered them the opportunity (or so they supposed) to earn righteousness before God, while the new covenant would give it freely, on the basis of faith as a gift of God’s grace. Legalists do not like grace, however, and thus they will always opt for a system of works. Such was not what God had given in the law of Moses, but it was what the people had made of it. They therefore preferred the temporary to the permanent, the imperfect to the perfect.

Jesus’ words should have provided the Sadducees with much fuel for thought. What were some of the other ways in which “that age” will differ from “this age”? How is it that only some Israelites will enter into that age, to take part in it (by inference), and what is it that causes one to be worthy of it? Jesus did not give the answers to these questions, but He did challenge His audience to think about them. All of the answers would be very clear, after His crucifixion and resurrection. For the time being, they only knew that those who enter into the kingdom are referred to as “children”—“children of God” and “children of the resurrection.” Resurrection, then, is the gateway to the new age. Surely those who reject it will not enter into the kingdom.

Moses and the Resurrection of the Dead
(20:37-38)

37 But in the account of the 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.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

The second error of the Sadducees was their assumption that Moses rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus now will demonstrate that Moses was a believer in the resurrection of the dead, contrary to the belief of the Sadducees. There were a number of clear Old Testament texts which spoke of the resurrection of the dead, to which our Lord could have referred, and to which the apostles will refer after our Lord’s death and resurrection (cf. Acts 2). Here are but two of the clearest:

Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits (Isaiah 26:19, NASB).

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).

If the Sadducees were wrong to think of the “kingdom” in “present terms,” they were also wrong to think that Moses did not believe in the resurrection. This our Lord goes about proving from the Pentateuch, which was the Word of God written by the hand of Moses. It was not enough for our Lord to prove the resurrection of the dead was taught in the Old Testament; He was intent on showing that Moses believed in it, for Moses was the one to whom they appealed.

Luke is careful to tell us the context of these words, written by Moses and spoken by God. These words come from an early portion of the book of Exodus known as “the bush” section. That is, these words were spoken to Moses by God from the burning bush. Both the precise words and the context are of great significance to us in the matter of the resurrection of the dead. Let us consider both briefly.

God identified Himself to Moses, and thus to Israel, as the “I am,” the eternal God. But further, God referred to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thus speaking of these patriarchs not as dead men, but as those who are alive, immortal. If God spoke of dead men as though they were alive, then this implied that these men would live again, they would rise from the dead. This is that which the writer to the Hebrews spoke, not only of these three patriarchs, but of all the Old Testament saints:

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own (Hebrews 11:13-14).

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR SEED SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type (Hebrews 11:17-19).

The matter of the Israelites’ resurrection from the dead was not merely an obscure and unimportant truth, vaguely referred to in the words of Exodus 3. In reality, resurrection is the thrust of these words, the assurance of which the writer to the Hebrews referred, and that which would serve the Israelites as a motivation for obeying the commandments which God gave through Moses from atop Mt. Sinai.

You see, the context of “the bush” section is the exodus of the nation Israel from Egypt. God was sending Moses to Pharaoh, to demand the release of His people. Furthermore, God was sending Moses to Israel, to call them forth from Egypt. For people to do as God commanded through Moses was to face the very real possibility of death at the hand of Pharaoh and his armies. Virtually every command of God to His people poses a threat to the true believer in Him and in His word. And yet our text indicates that in spite of the difficulties which seem to be present, dead men will rise, some to everlasting blessing; others to everlasting torment. It was God’s character as the eternal One, the I am, and His promise of deliverance from death which gave the Israelites confidence to obey God’s leading, even when it seemed to be the “way of death,” as the crossing of the Red Sea surely seemed to be, beforehand.

In his gospel, Luke has already made frequent reference to the resurrection of the dead, either directly or indirectly. Simeon, the saint to whom it had been revealed that he would not die until after he had seen the Messiah. Thus, on seeing the Christ-child, he could eagerly face death:

“Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples” (Luke 2:29-31).

Herod feared that Jesus may have been John the Baptist, raised from the dead (9:7-9). Jesus taught that one’s actions ought to be based on the assurance of one’s resurrection, which was to be accompanied by rewards for obedience in this life:

“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).

The God who is greater than death is the One who has assured mankind that all will be raised from the grave, some to their rewards, and others to retribution (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29). Because of this, Jesus taught, God views all men as alive. This is why our Lord referred to the dead as only sleeping (Mark 5:39; John 11:11-14). The resurrection was no small matter. It was, and is, one of the fundamental and foundational truths of the Bible. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, if there is no resurrection “we are of all men most to be pitied” (15:19).

And so the Sadducees are wrong on two counts. In the first place, they were wrong in their assumption that life in the future, in the kingdom of God, would be but a continuation of life here in this age. They failed to make a crucial dispensational distinction. This led them to reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead because it seemed that it would be impossible for men to continue in the present as they had begun on earth. Their second error was in supposing that Moses rejected the hope of resurrection, based on their erroneous understanding of the Law of Moses, and particularly of the legislation pertaining to the preservation of the oldest brother’s line of descendants.

The Stones Cry Out:
Jesus Praised for His Words
(20:39-40)

39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

What irony! The expressed purpose of the rulers of the Jews was to discredit Jesus by His own statements, to catch Him in His own words. And yet here we find some of the Jewish leaders praising the Lord for the words which He just spoke, words which were especially tough on some. This is, to me, a greater miracle than that of the rocks crying out in the praise of God. His answer was so powerful, His adversaries had to commend Him. While they differed with Him in many respects, they were firmly in agreement about the resurrection of the dead. The praise of the Pharisees will be short-lived, however, for in the next question, raised by our Lord Himself, Jesus will show the Pharisees they do not understand the Scriptures.

Conclusion

I believe that many questions were asked of Jesus during this period of time (which I refer to as “the great debate”). Why did Luke choose to record this particular question and Jesus’ answer, when we have not heard from the Sadducees before in Luke? I believe that that are at least two reasons: First, the Sadducees will become a more prominent and aggressive force in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 4:1; 5:17; 23:6-8). Second, the issue of the resurrection of the dead is one that is crucial to the gospel. Paul clearly taught this, as can be seen in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Jesus staked His credibility and His gospel on His own resurrection (Matthew 12:38-40). The Holy Spirit will utilize the empty tomb as a powerful witness to the righteousness of Jesus Christ (John 16:10). The gospel of Jesus Christ stands or falls on the truth of Christ’s resurrection, and thus the resurrection of all men. In introducing the Sadducees to us here, Luke is preparing us for their appearance and activity in his second volume, the book of Acts.

The resurrection of the dead is also crucial because it is the gateway to the future kingdom of God, it is the means through which God’s promises made to those who have died will enter into the blessings which God promised. All of the Old Testament saints died, without having received the promised blessings of God, but by means of the resurrection of the dead, they will (cf. Hebrews 11).

The degree to which we believe in the resurrection of the dead will determine the way we presently live. If we are assured of our own resurrection, we will boldly stand for Christ, neither fearing man, nor death. If we are certain of a future life in God’s kingdom, entered into by means of resurrection, then we will look at this life very differently. We will be encouraged to lay up treasures in heaven, rather than to hoard wealth on earth.

On the other hand, the degree to which we live obediently to the commands of our Lord in this life, the more we will cling to His promises concerning the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. The commands of our Lord to “sell our possessions, and to give to the poor” can now be seen as God’s gracious imperatives, designed to stimulate in us a hunger for heaven. Notice how the obedience of Paul to his calling, and even the afflictions and adversities of his life caused him to have a greater hunger and hope for heaven:

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).

It is quite easy to look at the Sadducees with a very critical eye. How foolish, we might think, for them to reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, when it is so clearly taught in the Scriptures. How evil for them to love this present evil world so much that they do not want that which is sure to come. But let me ask you, as I ask myself, how much do we believe in the resurrection of the dead? How does the certainty of our resurrection, and of the kingdom of God to come, impact our present lives?

When I was a boy not yet 16, I used to fear that the Lord would come before I got my drivers license. That seems foolish to me now, and yet I still have many earthly desires for the future, and I do not yearn for heaven as I should. Unlike the Sadducees, who at least were honest enough to admit to rejecting the resurrection and the future life, I hold to it. But my lifestyle and my values betray my lack of faith in this area. How much like the Sadducees we really are. We are so “blessed in this life” that we would set aside thoughts of the next. May God grant us a certainty of the resurrection, and a yearning for heaven that overturns the way in which unbelievers live.


66 We are told by Luke in Acts 23:8 that the Sadducees did not believe in angels either.

67 Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), p. 513, fn. 1. Morris adds, “The Sadducees are mentioned here only in this Gospel. None of the Sadducee writings has survived so our information about the sect if fragmentary and we see the Sadducees only through the eyes of their opponents… They were the conservative, aristocratic, high-priestly party, worldly-minded and very ready to co-operate with the Romans, which, of course, enabled them to maintain their privileged position.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), pp. 289-290.

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