Whose Wife Will She Be at the Resurrection

Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40

Tuesday the twelfth of Nisan

DIG: Given that the Sadducees were status quo politicians and strict materialists (Acts 23:8), how do you imagine they questioned Yeshua? With what title? Tone of voice? How seriously did Jesus treat this absurd question? What did Christ say was the source of their erroneous assumption? What if He had ridiculed it? What does the Lord teach about life after death? How does He demonstrate the fact of the resurrection?

REFLECT: Which do you know more about – the Scriptures, or the power of God? What are your hopes for growing in the other area? How do you deal with someone who wants to argue a point in the Bible? What if the person has honest questions and you don’t have the answer? What hope does the resurrection give to you?

The Sadducees were the second major religious sect in Isra’el during the first-century. There is no doubt that the sect of Sadducees originated in reaction to the Pharisees, and were the polar opposite of them. Relatively few in numbers, they were not held in as high esteem by the people as were the Pharisees. The Sadducees dressed elaborately, in white-and-blue linen caps with a gold band on the brow, and blue robes adorned in bright tassels and bells. Over their robes they wore capes and purses adorned in gold and precious stones.1287 They took everything very literally, both in their judgments and in their doctrinal views. That principle was indeed absolutely necessary to their very existence.

Because they were the priests who oversaw the Temple, the Sadducees were more aloof and did not interact much at all with the common Jewish people. They too were very observant Jews, but with a different focus. Whereas the Pharisees were out in the synagogue community and on the streets, the Sadducees held their lofty position as the aristocrats of first-century Judaism. They belonged chiefly to the rich, luxurious and aristocratic party, including the wealthy families of priests like Annas and Caiaphas. While one could choose to join the Pharisees, it was only by priestly birthright from the tribe of Levi that one was included within the exclusive society of the Sadducees. Their given name meant the righteous ones, which was an assumption based upon their high calling, but the name and the reality seldom met each other.1288

That same day, on Tuesday, the twelfth of Nisan, the main day of examination (see Ix – The Examination of the Lamb), the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a theological question in the Court of the Gentiles. This was one of their main theological distinctions. The Sadducees were considered more conservative than the Pharisees. The reason for this was because they only believed in the five books of Moses alone, and did not view the Prophets and the Writings as inspired from God. So they claimed that they found no evidence concerning the doctrine of the resurrection (Acts 23:8). So they denied the existence of angels or spirits (Acts 23:8). For them there was no afterlife for the soul beyond death and no resurrection of the body later. They believed each person created their own destiny and therefore deserved their lot in life, whatever it was.

Several representatives from this group approached Yeshua with a theological question. Sure enough, they asked about a teaching from the Torah. Rabbi, 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 (Mt 22:23-24; Mk 12:18-19; Lk 20:27-28). This was the important commandment of the levirate marriage that was a vital protection to women in the ancient Near East. In many societies, if a woman was widowed and childless, she was in danger for her life with no outward means of support. The Torah required that a man’s family was then responsible to care for the widow through his brother (Deut 25:5-10). The Mishnah would eventually devote an entire tractate to it (Yebamoth) when it was eventually compiled about 200 to 220 BC. The practice was considered to be connected with the territorial possession of Palestine, and ceased with the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth (Bechar. 1.7). So far so good. But then came a distinctive twist in their hypothetical story.1289

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. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be since all seven of them were married to her: (Matthew 22:25-28; Mark 12:20-23; Luke 20:29-33)? Maybe the question should have been why are all these guys dying after marrying this woman!

The purpose of this hypothetical question was to make Jesus look stupid or silly. Again, along with the previous dialogue with the Herodians (see Iz – Is It Right For Us to Pay Taxes to Caesar or Not?), the question was clearly a calculated one. The Sadducees like to ask the Pharisees tricky questions to make them look stupid, and often succeeded. Now they tried the same tactic with Yeshua. This was the examination of the Lamb to see if He was an acceptable sacrifice. But it was really strange that they even mentioned the resurrection in their question because everyone knew that they didn’t believe in it anyway!

Jesus replied in a general way at first: You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures (like many people today). Thus, they did not give authority to some of the most important aspects of the TaNaKh, but that wasn’t their only problem. They also minimized the power of God. These were supposedly the most educated holy men of YHVH serving in the Temple. In spite of that, they had a theological blind spot with regard to the resurrection. Continuing to speak in generalities, Messiah continued: The people of this age marry and are given in marriage (Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24; Luke 20:34).

That said, Yeshua elaborates why they were wrong in their conclusion. But at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage and can no longer die for they will be like the angels in heaven. Angels were originally created. There are the same number of angels today as when they were created. They do not reproduce their kind. Human beings in the next life will not be angels, however, they will be like angels in that they also will not reproduce their kind. There will be an entirely new dimension with glorified bodies when the resurrection comes (First Corinthians 15:52), and the old marriage covenant will be a thing of the past. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection (Mt 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35-36). The believer’s relationship with Christ will be completed by the resurrection, just as Messiah’s sonship was (Acts 2:32-36, 13:33; Romans 1:4). So Jesus teaches them plainly that there will be a resurrection.

It is important to understand that later on, Judaism upheld the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. It was a critical doctrine within Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of The Jewish Faith, and still found in most daily prayer books today. The Talmud, reflecting on the pharisaic doctrinal stand, is short and to the point: All Isra’el have a share in the world to come . . . and these have no share in the world to come: Those who say, “There is no resurrection of the dead from the Torah and the Torah is not from heaven” (Tractate Sanhedrin 10:1-3).

Then the Lord got specific. The Pharisees believed that you could derive doctrine from the entire TaNaKh, plus the rabbinic interpretation found in the Oral Law (see Ei – The Oral Law). But the Sadducees believed that while doctrine could be derived from the five books of Moses alone, they viewed the Prophets and the Writings as mere commentary and could only be used to illustrate doctrine. Jesus could have quoted verses like Job 19:25-26, Psalm 16:10; Daniel 12:1-2, Isaiah 26:19, and so on, but He knew the Sadducees would not have accepted it as authoritative, so He challenged them from a source He knew they would surely believe and respect - the book of Exodus.

The real issue with the example that the Sadducees used was neither the woman, nor her seven husbands. So Yeshua focused on the central issue of the resurrection itself. In the spirit of the true rabbinic pilpul reasoning, He asked them: But about the resurrection of the dead - have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God showed that the dead rise when He said to him, “I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6-7; Matthew 22:31; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37). The present tense of the verb I AM highlights the fact of the resurrection. Jesus taught them why the resurrection would take place. The principle was that if ADONAI makes a promise to an individual and that person dies before that promise is fulfilled, the LORD is obligated to bring that person back to life (Hebrews 11:17-19).

The Sadducees knew that in Genesis, HaShem appeared to Abraham and said to him: To your offspring I will give this Land (see my commentary on Genesis Du – Abram Left Haran, He Took His Wife Sari and His Nephew Lot). This was also promised personally to both Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5) and Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22). But they had never realized it. All they owned was a little parcel of land and the cave of Machpelah in which to bury their dead (see my commentary on Genesis Fu – Abraham said: I am an Alien Among You, Sell Me some Property So I Can Bury My Dead), and a few wells. However, they would indeed inherit the entire Land promised to them at the resurrection, because the Good Shepherd is the Promise Keeper.

Jesus concluded His argument by saying: He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for to Him all three patriarchs are alive. God has a living relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Therefore, He cannot leave them dead. In the last analysis, He declared: You are badly mistaken (Mattityahu 22:32: Mark 12:27; Luke 20:38)!

Once again, Yeshua’s critics were humiliated in front of the crowd that had gathered. Trying to make Christ look stupid with their religious riddle proved futile. The resurrection of the dead was taught in the Torah, and the Sadducees had erred. Even the Pharisees were impressed. Some of them responded, “Well said, rabbi.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions. When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at how He responded to such tests (Mattityahu 22:33; Luke 20:39-40).

What about us? Do we believe in the resurrection? Is that the goal for which we are striving? In order for the resurrection to be a living truth giving us hope, we, too, must know the Scriptures and the power of God. This is what affirms in our hearts and minds the truth of the resurrection. If we favor the “truth” of this world and ignore the truth of Scripture and the testimony of the power of ADONAI we will not open up to the Ruach HaKodesh to teaching us the ways of HaShem. Therefore, our ministry and testimony will be diminished or eliminated.

Rabbi Sha’ul wrote: And if the Spirit of the One who raised Yeshua from the dead is living in you, then the One who raised the Messiah Yeshua from the dead will also give your mortal bodies through His Spirit living in you (Romans 8:11). We will only know the fullness of the resurrection after we join Jesus in heaven, but we can – through faith, enlightened by the Holy Spirit – live with a growing expectation while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

Let us pray with Rabbi Sha'ul: I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11).1290


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