Matthew 22:23-33 English Standard Version (ESV)
Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection
23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”
29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
As Matthew is pointing us to the cross, we see that Jesus is confronting and being confronted by the leaders and rulers of his day. He upsets the priests, the Herodians, the ruling class, and for the next two weeks he will upset the leading religious sects in Jerusalem. Tonight the Sadducees and next week the Pharisees. A side point here to start is that accepting the message of Jesus will usually put you are odds with your culture and the status quo.
So tonight we see a group of Sadducees come to Jesus and try to trap Him by telling a story of the resurrection. Now, some background here.
The Sadducees were an incredible rich, but small religious sect in Jesus day, and they were essentially Materialist. The Law – to them – was a tool to get the good life, because this life was it. Life is about how you live and what you make of it. Because of this they had incredible political connections and were unusually rich for the age. They come to Jesus with this, let’s be real, very entertaining story about the resurrection.
Their point, was to show Jesus that the resurrection is absurd. Jesus’ message is absurd. Jesus, turns it around and shows them that they are the ridiculous ones.
He does this by first showing them that;
1.The whole of Scripture points to Resurrection
“You do not know the scriptures” He says. This is Jesus’ “sick burn” as the kids say. These were people who prided themselves on their knowledge of the scriptures. But as they read it they did not perceive or understand the very hope of Scripture. Now, I need to say this, we today also do not understand the hope of Scripture. Because, when I ask Christians where they are going when they die they almost universally answer to heaven.
Now, they are not completely wrong, but that is not the ultimate hope of Christianity. The hope of Christianity is that Heaven is coming to earth. That God will remake the world and that we will all live in his presence in a recreated universe. The hope of Scripture is not heaven ,it is resurrection.
This is what Jesus is saying, He is pointing out that if you read scripture and see any other hope than that of a recreated universe with resurrected people, you are reading it wrong. Jesus shows the Sadducees from the Law that God is the God of a living Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The destiny of man is not the grave it is eternal and real life.
This means, church, that our hope, where we are destined for eternity is a bodily reality. This is so important and so unique in world religions. I mean, let’s look at some “expectations” of the life to come:
Secularism states that there is no life to come, you only have the here and now, so live for today and make the most of every opportunity. The problem here is that even the best opportunities don’t really satisfy. We always want more, we always want greater. In this life we are never satisfied. And can never be.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that “God has set eternity within the human heart.” In other words, our heart is programmed only to be satisfied with infinity.
What about Islam, the hope of Islam is essentially a purely sensual hope, if you die right you will be blessed with your harem of virgins in paradise. The question here is the same as secularism, if we are not satisfied in this life with sensuality, why would we be in the next.
Buddhism, you never stop being reborn, you contently ascend and descend their 26 heavens and 4 hells purifying yourself and then coming back. But here mind, or your state of mind is all that matters. The ultimate is complete detachment, which goes against the reality of man which is we are the sum total of our relationships.
The reality is that no matter what we look at, all these hopes do not address what we know of the world, it is good but something has gone wrong. Christianity states that the world, matter and the body are good things. In fact they will endure for eternity. But for now they are corrupted and so need to be remade.
Which leads us to the second point;
2.The whole of Creation must be reborn
Jesus states that we must become like the angels. Now this statement has been misunderstood in the church.
Firstly, Jesus is not saying we will become angels, rather we will become like them! No one is getting wings, no one is becoming an angel.
Secondly, What Jesus is pointing to is not an eradication of the sexes/genders. Rather it is purification of humanity to a point that what confuse us now we become perfect there. What do I mean by this?
Well, in the resurrection you will be alike and unlike what you are now. You will still be you, but you will be perfected. And this side of eternity that is very difficult for us to grasp.
Many have used this passage to affirm that what Jesus is saying is that in heaven we will be androgynous, we will be neither male or female. The problem with this is that it rejects Scripture and what God made. God made both male and female He is the one who blessed the first marriage in Eden and honours it. in fact Christ’s own teaching honours marriage. In Matthew 19 Jesus says;
“Have you not read that He Who made them in the first place made them man and woman? 5 It says, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will live with his wife. The two will become one.’ 6 So they are no longer two but one. Let no man divide what God has put together.”
There is a covenantal oneness that Jesus is aiming at that has two opposites (male and female) coming together in covenantal love to produce the gift of life. This is why in the resurrection, Jesus states that there will be no need for marriage. This is because we will be fully in covenant with both God and each other. The only way I can point to this without our minds perverting it is. Our families are the closes point of pure love and acceptance (if they are a good family). This is what we have been made for, personal love and acceptance. Well imagine for a second a recreated human race where everyone is loved purely and accepted fully in themselves by everyone.
This is what Jesus is pointing towards. The crisis of this world is that sin has crept in and corrupted everything so that God cannot simply tweak it. It will have to be remade, resurrected. The old must pass and the new must come! The question is what does this mean for us today? Which leads me to our third point;
3. The first steps towards a reborn world
Jesus says that you do not know the power of God. This is such an important point in this passage. Because God is at work in the world redeeming his creation back to Himself through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The power of God is to heal what is corrupt in us and place within us a new heart, a heart that longs to do as He commands, God’s power is seen in the fact that even now (although not completely) God has made us new creations (2 Cor 5:17).
What fascinates me about this is that how the gospel works is painted in the entire teaching of Scripture. Let’s ask a question tonight; why did everything go wrong in God’s world? What went wrong? The simple answer is that we sinned. Adam and Eve ate from the tree.
The longer answer and what is fundamentally wrong with humanity, the human heart and the world at large, is that we want to be our own saviours and our own god. God in his love made a good world, superbly abundant in what it could provide for the needs of man. But man did not want to honour God rather we wanted our own way, and so God gave him over to that desire and man reaped the consequences of a world outside of the will of God.
Sin itself is the working out of our desperations of not being satisfied in God. Think about it. Greed is looking to money to provide the safety, acceptance and security that only God can. Lust is looking to the other sex to provide the acceptance that only God can provide. In fact all our fears are the desperations that come because we have replaced God with something lose-able. Eg. A fear of failure is because what we love and what is ultimate in our life is our own ability and pride. A fear of rejection is because we actually worship and love the acceptance of others.
We do all this because we know that we have rejected the only one who can satisfy us. And the only way back is to be like him; perfect. This is why almost every religion in the world plays on this need to come back, by putting essentially purification steps back to the divine. But they all fail. Because we all fail to live up to all demands of righteousness.
The Gospel speaks beautifully into this mess that we find ourselves in, but saying someone has done it all for you. The price has been paid, the way has been restored. Stop trying to earn your love, your satisfaction and hope. It is here if you accept it. And it is here, and only here in received righteousness that creation is restored. It is here that we start to look to the other as an other and not a means to my satisfaction. We start to accept each other, because Christ accepted us.
It is in the gospel that small communities of mankind are filled with the power of the life to come (the power of the Spirit of God) and we start to live out (somewhat imperfectly) a community that starts to look like and feel like the life to come.
We accept each other as Christ accepts us, on His merit. We treat each other as we would like to be treated. We love each other with the same love that Christ love us. Will we ever reach perfection in this? Well no, not in this life, only in the resurrection, because church the world and everything in needs to be remade. That is the lesson.
But the joy, the hope is that here, now, in the church, in the community of grace, we start to taste and experience in part the life to come. But this only happens, it is only possible, when we live out the gospel reality in us.
So, what is your hope? A good life, happiness, all your dreams coming true, you are aiming infinitely too low.
As C.S. Lewis says in his book the weight of Glory;
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
You are made for eternity and infinity, find yourself in Him! The amazing thing is that it is offered to us as gift, all we have to do is accept it!