Luke 20:27-40 “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. ‘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. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’ Jesus replied, ‘The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 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, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 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. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.’ Some of the teachers of the law responded, ‘Well said, teacher!’ And no-one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Aren’t we all interested in the future, in what is going to happen to us? Don’t you want to know what the Bible says about the future of your body and soul? That is what I am going to tell you today. I am going to explain to you what this passage of Scripture teaches. These verses contain the only discussion about the resurrection of the dead in the gospels. Why should you find this teaching relevant to your life? Firstly, because of the one speaking; consider the profound words he said, the Sermon on the Mount, his great discourses and prayers in John’s gospel. Consider the extraordinary things he did. There is very strong evidence that our Lord Jesus Christ raised several people from the dead. He had the power and authority to do something as extraordinary as that. Isn’t that reason enough to pay attention? Secondly, because he claims that he is going to raise you from the dead, and that means he is either the incarnate God or he is a very mixed up and pitiable human being. He is saying that the coffin and the crematorium or the grave are not the end of your existence. Jesus Christ is called the Alpha and the Omega. The last word about the destiny of your life is his word, not yours.
We pay attention to what he says because he was raised from the dead on the third day. Then he proceeded to transform the lives of his scared disciples. He was seen by them and talked with them for almost six weeks, eating and drinking with them. He was not a spook. His appearances were not at twilight time, in semi-darkness. Some meetings were early in the morning as the wind blew off the lake. Others were while he was walking down a road for a few miles with a couple of them; another was when he challenged a disciple who’d said scornfully, “Come off it! The dead don’t rise. Give me proof. Let me see him and touch him for myself and then I’ll believe.” Then doubts soon vanished from the entire Christian community, and on the day of Pentecost they were replaced with overwhelming joyful certainty. They were all convinced that he was mightier than death. On one occasion 500 of them had spent hours with the risen Jesus, and they lived for decades afterwards telling people who, I can imagine, became weary of the often heard reminiscence of the living Saviour who had walked among them and talked to them that unforgettable Galilee afternoon. That is why it is important to listen in on this discussion about the resurrection of your body. What about you as you face the pain and fear of your physical dissolution. Our faith is saying to you that you face non-existence, being snuffed out, oblivion, and annihilation. That is your actual belief and even hope? But if Jesus Christ is correct, your future is going to consist first of all in an encounter with him, the one who lives who was raised from the dead.
We know of just three people whom Jesus personally raised; no more. I think we would have been told if there had been any more. So cemeteries and graveyards weren’t relieved of the dead when Jesus walked through them. Grave-diggers and funeral directors weren’t put out of business. The song of the wailing mourners wasn’t silenced in Israel. Family members wept at the death of those who trusted in our Lord when Jesus was alive on the earth. The reason for that is that that wasn’t the time for the resurrection of the dead. It is the same reason why dead people are not raised today with their death certificates being torn up. This is not the time. The resurrections of Jesus’ day were foretastes of the day of resurrection which will take place at the end of the world.
Let’s look at the dialogue that took place at the time of the death of Lazarus between the dead man’s sister Martha and Jesus. Martha, one of the very first Christians, speaks first; “‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world’” (Jn.11:21-27).
There obviously existed a widespread belief in the resurrection of the dead amongst the Jews which our Lord could build on. He did not have to defend that in the way Paul does writing to the Corinthians in his first letter and in the fifteenth chapter. Greece had a culture which believed in the immortality of the soul, not in the resurrection of the body. They did not have the Scriptures. They had not heard of Elijah and Elisha both raising boys from the dead. The Greeks had not heard the words of Job affirming, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that he shall stand in the latter days on the earth, and though worms shall destroy my body yet in my flesh I shall see God.” They had not heard read in any of their philosophies what Daniel wrote in his; “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Socrates and Plato and Aristotle never said anything as wonderful as that. They didn’t know what Peter knew on the Day of Pentecost; he preached to the people the resurrection of Christ and told them that David in the psalms had prophesied that God had power to prevent his Holy One’s body rotting in corruption, and that that God who had said those words had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. Those convictions had so permeated the lives of the people of his day that that young woman in Bethany called Martha (who was very good in giving hospitality and in cooking) could say to Jesus when she had lost her brother, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” The vast majority of the people of Galilee and Jerusalem believed this. How much more do we believe it who have the New Testament and have known the impact of the living Jesus Christ on our lives! That is our only explanation for the change that’s come over us, for some of us it’s been sustained for over fifty years.
You object, “Well they were gullible. They believed that the earth was flat, and the sun went around the earth.” They probably did, but I don’t see the Greeks and Romans and Jews as being particularly gullible about people. They weren’t a soft touch to any trickster who came to take away their money. There were plenty of those frauds about, wandering teachers and story tellers, conjurers, diviners and snake-oil salesmen. There were people who had many objections to Jesus, and in our passage today we meet a group of men called Sadducees who strongly opposed the belief in the resurrection of the dead – as strongly as anyone in Aberystwyth might today.
WHO WERE THE SADDUCEES?
The Sadducees were the party of privilege; they were the ruling elite. Their priests held the majority in the seventy-one-member Sanhedrin, and by tradition one of their members held the office of high priest. Most of the Sadducees were wealthy members of the upper class. Here is Christ encountering Israel’s rationalist priestly aristocracy. He is obvious making an impact on Jewry for them to stoop to argue with an itinerant healer from Nazareth. In our text Jesus is being confronted with the top dogs in the land, a gang of insular, patrician, heartless, philosophical materialists.
So Jewish society was sharply divided between Sadducees and Pharisees on most political issues and religious issues. The Pharisees wanted to overthrow their Roman oppressors, so they bring the coin to Jesus and ask him if men should pay taxes to Caesar. The Sadducees cooperated with the Romans to preserve their political clout and ruling class status. In theology, the Pharisees followed the rabbinic traditions with all their moral and legalistic regulations. But if there was one doctrine that defined the Sadducees it was their rejection of the resurrection though most Jews believed it. They seemed to go beyond that and denied the immortality of the soul, and judgments and rewards. No heaven; no hell; no human immortality. “The soul,” they said, “perishes along with the body.”
There is that fascinating incident that is recorded by Luke in Acts 23, where Paul was on trial before the Sanhedrin. When the apostle realized that many of the members were Sadducees he shouted out, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 23:6). Paul threw a theological hand grenade into the courtroom, and it had exactly the result he was hoping for: “And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all” (Acts 23:7-8). They all forgot about Paul and shouted at one another like the noisiest Prime Minister’s question time you can imagine.
The Sadducees denied the resurrection because they were influenced by the latest thinking coming from Greece. They were modernists and liberals. They mocked the concept of bodies being resurrected. They had little thought of the after life because they were wealthiest people in the land enjoying their vineyards and slaves and stallions and carriages and fine clothes and vacations by the sea and either tender lamb or beef each day accompanied by aged wine. Servants ran their baths and ran their errands. They slept under silk sheets and their homes were warmed in Israel’s winters. They denied eternal life because they thought all there was to live for they had each day. Who needed eternal life if you could get everything you wanted right now? When the moneychangers in the Temple made their millions most of the proceeds went to the Sadducees. Most people who have a lot of money live just for the moment. ‘Let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.’ It is the philosophy of despair. I read an interview with a London millionaire. She has fame and beauty; she was briefly a film star and dated one of the Beatles. She has had a long marriage, but she is always overwhelmed with waves of dark feelings because all that she faces is eternal separation from all that she loves. She is a serious minded business woman to whom nothingness is coming nearer and nearer with the passing of each day and she does not believe in the Christian religion. All the Sadducees had was their wealth. They denied the doctrine of the resurrection also because they could see its revolutionary nature. It says, “There is more than this life; there is a day of vindication coming, of rewards and of punishments also, and so even be prepared to lay down your lives for a glorious, future, resurrection life.” Of course we have seen the abuse of this attitude motivating Muslim, murdering, suicide bombers with the promise of sensual delights in the world to come. Horrible! The Sadducees hated such thinking and we can understand that, but they wanted the status quo to be maintained at all costs. Men must be sacrificed to maintain it. They scorned thoughts of the after-life.
Then along came Jesus of Nazareth opposing most of the things they stood for. Their early scornful dismissal of his teaching had long disappeared. He had to be taken seriously and now he seemed to be walking all over their patch. In the previous day he had driven their money-changers right out of the temple arming himself with a whip that he had made. He was in their face. They could survive their ideas being challenged, but not their pockets being emptied; that man had to be dealt with. Like the rest of the men who were trying to “trap him in what he had said” (v. 26), the Sadducees were hoping to find some way of discrediting him, and maybe even getting rid of him once and for all. So this passage tells us that the aristocrats of Israel came to the carpenter’s son with a question.
THE TALL TALE THEY TOLD.
“‘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. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’” (vv. 28-33). The law of Moses advocated what we call ‘levirate’ marriage. That word comes from the Latin word for a brother-in-law. The law required the brother of a man who had died without having begotten children to marry his widow in the hope that that union would produce a son and so an heir to his late brother. In this extreme case that they cited seven brothers had died, one by one, and this wife had been handed over to the next, and to the next, and so on. Their question was, in the resurrection to whom will she be married? The story was intended to reduce belief in a resurrection to ridicule. How stupid the doctrine of the resurrection seemed. There were other puzzles like this in Jewish writings of the time. How could the dead be raised, the Sadducees asked, if we are not able to tell who is married to whom? “She is my wife!” “No, she is mine!” “No, she isn’t, she is mine!” “Mine!” “Mine!” This poor woman, so unlucky in her marriages, having buried seven husbands, whom will she be married to in the resurrection?
This incident is also recorded for us in Matthew’s gospel chapter 22 and there it is recorded that Jesus said to the Sadducees, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures, not the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). People take an incident, some miracle or for example, the Bible’s teaching about heaven, and they start to ask funny questions about it because they don’t know the Scriptures. A wise teacher would encourage someone in his class by saying, “That’s a good question.” It showed that the boy or girl had thought about something. However this question of the Sadducees could not be described as ‘good.’ It is ridiculous. In fact it is evidence of the posture of human rebellion against his Creator. Paul teaches us in Romans chapter one that the human race is engaged in a desperate and futile campaign to do away with God. It is trying to “suppress the truth” about God which is known to all of us from our consciences and from his glory and power seen in creation. When you realise that then it explains how these priests serving constantly in the Temple could come and mock the power of God in resurrecting us from the dead. After all, it is much easier to get heaven and God out of your thinking if heavenly life is pictured as foolishness, so foreign to any reasonable man. Then God seems to be ridiculous too, and then so does Christianity as a whole and all who embrace it, and by then you have armed yourself with apparently good reason to keep defying the person and words and works of the Lord Jesus Christ. Caricature can serve the purpose of evasion and denial. They do not know the power of God. The scientist can clone an animal from a single cell, but God cannot raise the dead? They don’t know God’s power. So Jesus responds with two great and unusual answers. The prospect of eternal life with God is for him the most wonderful of realities – because he had been there with the Father from the beginning. He knows heaven. Jesus is also always the Son of Man who is in heaven. His words appeal our deepest human desire that the coffin is not what life is all about, and the grave is not our eternal annihilation. Christ gives two great and unusual answers.
RESURRECTION LIFE IS NOT EXACTLY THE SAME AS THIS LIFE.
You see how Jesus responds; he treats their silly story solemnly. He gives a serious answer. His is not one of those foolish replies of the mystics, “Ah the sound of heaven is like the sound of the clapping of a one-handed man,” and we all are baffled as the meditating mystic will say no more and we are left looking at his enigmatic smile. Come on! Get real! Don’t patronize us with your folly. We want plain answers. Jesus spoke to the Sadducees with gravity. He first tells them this speaking with a divine authority; “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 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, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection” (vv.34-36).
You see how he sees a great event to divide the future for all of us. The world is not going to fizzle out and end as a vast lump of rock endlessly moving through the vacuum of space. No. In the future is the end of this age in which our Lord is always with us as he has promised – until the end of the age. One day he will make his appearance and set up his judgment throne, and then there will begin the age to come. The age we know is one that groans through the presence of sin, and death, and the activities of the god of this age, Satan. There will be none of that in that age. The blood of Christ will have cleansed everything in that age; there will be a new heavens and a new earth. In this age our most precious and loving relationships have this great proviso written across them– “until death us do part.” But in that age we will no more die than the angels.
Jesus seizes on the Jewish and Sadducee obsession with maintaining your inheritance and land and name. That need to continue a family line, he is saying, will have disappeared. Many mansions will be ours. Our place has been prepared for us by the Lord. The entire new creation will be ours. When all the ransomed seed of Adam and Eve from the fall until the day are raised up there will be no more need for them to reproduce. Although we will know one another in glory and particularly love our families and congregations and friends in glory we won’t be getting married there and having children and raising them – not in glory.
The great challenge facing you is this; Christ tells us that it is only “for those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead” (v.35). It is not for all. It is not for the cynic who hates the Son of God and longs for him to be silenced so that he can live his life just as he pleases. No, it is only for those whom God considers worthy, whom he welcomes into that age. “Well done good and faithful servant. Come you blessed of my Father and receive this glorious inheritance.” He says that to some only, just to those considered worthy by him. Do you think you are worthy? When God measures you by his law, whether you have loved him with all your heart, and whether you have loved your neighbour as yourself? If that is the standard of measurement for your entering heaven then are you worthy? If the city of God is bright and filled with the presence of the Holy One, if its doors are closed to sin, then are your worthy to enter it? Have you seen how unworthy you are? Have you felt these words . . .
“O how shall I whose native sphere is dark, whose mind is dim
Before the ineffable appear and on my naked spirit bear the uncreated beam?”
We are unworthy of the sight and enjoyment of God. The publican in the Temple thought he was unworthy. He looked down and beat his breast as he prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Then who is worthy to enter the presence of God? “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” If we are to take part in that age and in that glorious resurrection then we must bring worthiness with us. Where can we find it? Who will clothe us in a divine righteousness that we may be found worthy?
One only was worthy and he is the one asking us this question and showing us our need of him. All is provided for us in the Saviour Jesus. The worthiness needed by us, and presented to us, is his obedience. He does for us what we could never have done. In him we become what we never could have been without him. By his blameless life the man Christ Jesus has worked out an infinite worthiness. He only could unlock the door to heaven and let us in. His name is, “The Lord our Righteousness.”
Let us be refreshed again by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is one born of a woman, who has passed through human life without once straying from the path of God. The earth has seen a man as pure as God is pure, as holy as God is holy, as perfect as God is perfect, as sinless as God is sinless. He went round the circumference of the law without one deviating step. He soared to its utmost heights, and neither paused nor fell. The searching eye of God always on him, but his own Father could not once find the absence of heavenly love in any thought, or word, or deed. He had many trials, but no faults. He met many temptations, but no sin. The ground was often slippery, but he never slipped. He was attacked by Pharisees and Sadducees, Gentiles and Romans, on all sides, but he never fell. So he stood before God, holding in his hands a full unbroken obedience, accomplished, completed to the minutest letter. What worthiness in Jesus our Saviour because it was all for us. He wrought this worthiness not in order to keep it but that he might give it away; and he gives it to everyone who knows their own unworthiness, who in faith flees to be sheltered by him.
Are my words confirmed to you by the mouth of the Lord? They are. They are indeed. Listen to his words: “The righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe,” (Rom. 3: 22). Fully trust this saying, and heaven is yours. It is “unto all that believe.” Imagine you could check your deposit in the cash dispenser screen when you printed out your pin number and it told you that you have a millions of pounds credit. You could take whatever sum you wish. So when you go to God as a believer in Christ and ask him what is your credit, what God reckons is your standing with him, there appears on your behalf, deposited by the hand of Christ an obedience extensive with God’s uttermost demands. God neither desires nor can receive more. That is your worthiness. So, too, it is “upon all.” When the believer stands at heaven’s gate, he appears in robes as bright as any of those who have always lived in God’s glorious heaven. The worthiness of Christ is upon us who trust in him. What more can be required? It is as bright and glorious as God himself.
I long that every Christian would be satisfied on this point. To know the resurrection of the righteous and enter the new heaven and earth you need a worthiness equal to the Son of God. This God has provided for you to receive. We admire Adam’s robe of innocence. It was pure and lovely, but it was human. Not so this robe. It is divine. The God-man, Jesus, is its Author. Adam’s robe was soon soiled and lost. Satan touched it, and it was as strong as a cobweb crumbling into nothingness. Don’t you desire to enter heaven? Ask for the righteousness of Christ and you will be worthy of the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness alone dwells. Become today the returning prodigal and hear the father saying, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him.” What can you desire more than this? Here is Christ’s worthiness, for our unworthiness. His sinlessness, for our sinfulness. His purity, for our impurity. His beauty, for our deformity. His sincerity, for our guile. His truth, for our lies. His meekness, for our pride. His constancy, for our backsliding. His love, for our hate. In a word, his fulness, for our emptiness.His glory, for our shame. His one righteousness, for our manifold unrighteousness.
Happy are those here today, who say, I will find my worthiness in Christ. I hide myself in Thee, O blessed Jesus! I receive you, as of God made unto me Righteousness. “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation. He hath covered me with the robe of Righteousness,” (Isaiah 61:10). Paul humbly says, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me, at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4: 8).
4. OUR LOVED ONES WHO HAVE DIED IN CHRIST ARE WITH HIM NOW.
Christ has not finished with these cynical doubters, for the Sadducees claimed there was no resurrection taught in the first five books of Moses, and so he looks at them and says, “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. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (vv.37&38). Imagine a God who said, “I am the god of Superman and Spiderman and Batman.” How we would mock such a god because those names are creatures of fantasy. They are totally fictional beings, and so their god would also be unreal. He would be of no help to us, but Abraham lived. Isaac lived. Jacob lived. Real men who knew God and did his will. He loved them and made promises to them and fulfilled them. He was unashamed to say, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He did not say that once, when they were alive he was then their God. Today he is their living God and they live too. Is he the God of the annihilated, the snuffed out ones, of mere dead dust and scattered atoms? Which god would be desperate enough make his boast of that? How would that even identify god, let alone enhance him? But our Lord is still their God today, for they live with him and are alive before him. When Lazarus the beggar died he was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. Abraham is there yet.
How could God call himself the God of the patriarchs if all his words to them were hollow and when they died they were snuffed out? Then he would have failed to keep his promises to them. Jehovah met them and told them that he was their God, and every last one of his promises to them will come true for these men in the resurrection of the coming age. Abraham will see his seed as innumerable more than the sands on the seashore. All of the resurrected ones will reach the Promised Land of God’s glory. They will worship with their children in the eternal city. They will know the Seed of the Woman, the son of Abraham, the Son of David, the son of Mary and the Son of God, the crucified and risen Christ. This is all because their God is the covenant God of the resurrection. If death was more powerful than him, he wouldn’t be much of a God for them would he? How could he keep his everlasting covenant? But he is the God of the living, not the dead. He is the God who raises the dead. Therefore Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living for him right now, and they will keep on living for him forever.
And your dear parents who died in Jesus, and your dear believing husband or wife, or that child whom you loved so much – all of them are now with him. He was their God and he is their God still, and nothing shall separate them from his love. What a resurrection day lies before us all. What blessed reunions with one another and what joy in our mighty God. The Father of Jesus Christ who said, “Because I live you shall live also.”
13th May 2012 GEOFF THOMAS