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The sacred scriptures are about loving God and caring for each other. Like the Sadducees, we err when we remember what we should forget and forget what we should remember.
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.
"Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her."
Jesus answered, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.
"Concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.
Matthew 22:23-33 NKJV, condensed
Life and Death
Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes, high priests--all the elders of the faith in Jerusalem were ganging up on Jesus. It was a high level meeting of the minds. One common goal united them. They wanted to get rid of this miracle-working teacher who undermined their authority and attracted such huge crowds. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and with this question, mocked everyone else who did. Jesus of Nazareth, have we got one for you!
It was an old law from ancient times. Probably not much practiced anymore in the days of Jesus. But it suited the purposes of the Sadducees perfectly. If a man died before fathering a child, his blood line would die out and his name be lost forever from the land of the living. But Moses offered a remedy. The man's brother could marry his widow and raise up children in his name.
So the spokesman for the Sadducees began in all seriousness and got right to the point. But as his tale continues, it evokes a smile. There were seven brothers. One by one they died childless, leaving the job of procreation to their next surviving brother. When all was said and done, only one person remained, the widow of them all. So, Teacher, in the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since they all had married her!!! There was a beam in the eyes of the questioners. They were feeling very clever.
But not for long. Jesus told them they erred in their thinking. They did not understand the command of Moses, neither what he said nor what he meant. And they underestimated the power of God! They were focusing on the noodle and missing the dinner.
In a day when it's fairly common for people to have several different spouses throughout their lifetime, this may be a more relevant question for us than it was for those Sadducees. We, too, may question who will be married to whom in heaven? The answer Jesus gave makes us stand up and take notice.
In the resurrection, people do not marry but will live like God's angels in heaven! Whether this is good news or bad news depends on the joys and grief you have experienced with your spouse. Divorced, single, happily or unhappily married in this life?--that won't matter in heaven. Our existence will no longer be defined in such a limited and restricted way.
On the other shore, all relationships will be completely fulfilled because we will be loved and cared for, not just by one special person, but by everyone. There will be no need to figure out who belongs to whom; we will all be united in love for our Maker, Redeemer and Constant Companion. Better than anything that we can now imagine, we will be enthralled by God.
But Jesus didn't end it there. It's not about marriage; it's about the resurrection. Jesus continued on to answer the question they did not ask. Yes, there is life after death. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--they are alive. God is not the God of dead people, but of the living. The resurrection was one of the favorite topics Jesus discussed with his disciples, telling them many times that he would die and then rise again. The Gospel makes little sense and is incomplete without the resurrection.
The Sadducees' question was dead in the water because it harkened back to an archaic tradition while ignoring the broad strokes of the ever-living Covenant of God with his people. God's faithfulness remained alive and so did the faith of father Abraham that was passed on from one generation to the next. The heart of Jesus' response is that our loving heavenly Father is the God of the living, in this life and the next. When we think only in terms of this life, we are thinking much too small and do not even begin to comprehend God's limitless capabilities.
This encounter between the Sadducees and Jesus moved from quibbling with each other over specific doctrines, to standing on holy ground in God's eternal presence. Upon hearing this exchange the crowd was much impressed. But the hearts of the Sadducees remained far removed from the living God.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Questions! Do you have a favorite one? Is so, what is it? Or what question do you ask most often?
When people ask questions, is it always in order to learn something more? List some other motives for asking questions? Give some examples of questions asked for these other reasons.
The question from this text has a 'got you' tone. What are some other 'got you' questions people ask about the Bible? How do you react to queries such as, "Where did Cain get his wife"?
The Sadducees thought the concept of heaven was an extension of life on earth and they could not conceive of something beyond what they could envision. Are you like them? Or is it easy for you to believe in what you cannot see? They didn't believe in angels, either. Do you? Why or why not?A common expression is that the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection and that's why they were sad, you see. What difference would it make if there were no resurrection of the dead? What would you like to say to someone who doesn't believe in life after death?
When grieving, we often comfort each other with the hope that we will be reunited with family and friends in heaven. How do we reconcile that idea with the words of Jesus in this text? Describe what you expect relationships to be like in heaven. What do you think it means to live like God's angels?
Are you OK with the thought that in heaven, our eyes will not be on each other so much as they will be on Jesus?
Jesus quoted from Exodus 3:6, wherein the Lord told Moses that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not was, but is. Does this assure you that the patriarchs, who died thousands of years ago, are still alive in God? Is there anything else in the Old Testament that convinces you to believe in eternal life?
Discuss some of the implications of believing in a living God for living people.
Is it true that everything Jesus taught, such as the beatitudes, makes sense only in light of the resurrection? Review some of the teachings of Jesus to see if that statement is valid.