Session #133 The End
Scripture Matthew 22:23-33
Summary In Matthew 22:23-33, the Sadducees attempt to show that the resurrection is a ridiculous idea. But is it? What happens when we die? Is the end really the end? What if we think it is the end but it is not the end? Is there life after death? If so, how should we live before we die?
The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: “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 also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” Jesus answered and said to them, “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. But 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
We are in the section where the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees take turns to test Jesus with tough and tricky questions, in hope of tripping and trapping Him. The first question about taxes, which is in the last teaching, is asked by the Pharisees (through their disciples) and the Herodians (Matthew 22:15-22). The second question about the resurrection, which is in this teaching, is asked by the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-33). The third question is about the Law and asked by the Pharisees (Matthew 22:34-40)
To better understand the context, we will study the passage first. Then we will move to implications, drawing from New Testament passages about resurrection, so we know how to live and prepare rightly.
Part One: Studying The Passage
The Sadducees were political liberals and religious conservatives. They were a small aristocratic and priestly sect that had made peace with the Roman government. They had considerable wealth and great political power and disappeared from history after 70 AD. They accepted only the Torah or the Law which is only the first five books of Moses, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.To them, the other books did not carry the same authority. They also did not hold to the oral law or other interpretations as did the Pharisees.
The first five books do not mention resurrection directly. It is mentioned in Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 26:19 and Psalm 16:10 in the Old Testament and the Sadducees did not consider them equal to the books in the Torah and so of no authority. They believed that there was no afterlife, that the soul perished at death. It was recorded by Josephus in Antiquities : “But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies.” In Acts 23:8, Luke recorded “For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.” Since angels are clearly mentioned in the Torah, the meaning of this phrase in Acts is that the Sadducees believed that, since the soul perished at death, the dead did not become angels or spirits at the point of death.
This question was a direct attack against Jesus. At the raising of Lazarus, Jesus had declared Himself as “the resurrection and the life”. Jesus also proclaimed that those who believed in Him would likewise be resurrected (John 11:25-26). If they could stump Jesus and convince everyone that resurrection was an absurd idea, that there is no resurrection, it would remove Jesus’ authority, reveal Jesus as a hoax and discredit Jesus once and for all. This was what they attempted to do by giving Jesus a difficult situation, with a question which cannot be answered or they thought could not be answered by Jesus.
So in Matthew 22:24, they began by asking Jesus: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.” They quote Deuteronomy 25:5-6 loosely: “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. This is referred to as the levirate marriage. The word levirate comes from the Latin word levir which means “a husband’s brother.” It has nothing to do with the tribe of Levi. The purpose of this custom was to preserve a man’s name should he die without a male heir. In Israel, family inheritance was a major thing. As such, a male heir was extremely important. If a man refused to raise up a family for his dead brother, that was considered a disgrace. A good example of this is found in the story of Boaz and Ruth. It was also to protect and provide for the widow in time to come.
They posed the following scenario hypothetically to Jesus in Matthew 22:25: “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 also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” They were using this scenario to show that resurrection was ridiculous as she would be married to seven men at the resurrection.
In Matthew 22:29, Jesus pointed out directly and clearly that they were wrong on two counts. Firstly, they did not know their bible. Next, they did not know their God. He addressed the power of God first. There are at least three things that we can see here about God’s power through this idea of resurrection.
First, God has the power to raise the dead. It was a traditional Jewish view that God expresses his power most visibly in the resurrection of the dead. In the Amidah (Eighteen Benedictions), they declare “Yes, You are faithful to revive the dead. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who revives the dead.” In the Old Testament, this was clearly demonstrated through prophets Elijah and Elisha. In the gospels, Jesus raised the dead because Jesus is God. In Acts, apostles raised the dead, demonstrating the power of God working through His people. All these are a foreshadow of the resurrection to come. When Jesus Himself was resurrected, He became the firstfruits of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20).This also becomes the hope for all who are in Christ.
In Matthew 22:30, Jesus went on to say: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” The second point about God’s power is that God has the power to glorify our bodies; not just raise us up from the dead but to transform or glorify our bodies. We are to be like angels, not become angels. Angels are eternal beings. They do not marry, nor have sexual intercourse nor procreate (1 Enoch 15:6-7). In the resurrection, we will become like the angels. We will have glorified bodies, incorruptible and immortal. We are told that we shall be changed in an instant (1 Corinthians 15:51-55). There will be no more aging, no more death and no more need for marriage or sexual union as there is no need for procreation to perpetuate the family line. God’s family will be perfect and complete. We will all live eternally with the Lord.
Thirdly, in and through the resurrection, God has the power to perfect all relationships. We will have the capacity to love everyone equally and perfectly, no jealousy or exclusivity. There will be the perfection of satisfaction of all interpersonal relationships without the need for marriage or sex. It is difficult to imagine this but look at this as the fulfilment of oneness with God and one another.
An important side note is that resurrection and eternity apply to all – both the righteous and the wicked; to believer and non-believers. The question is: “What kind of eternity?”
So here we see the power of God demonstrated through resurrection. However, all these would mean nothing to the Sadducees if not supported by Scriptures from the Law of Moses.
Jesus went on to address the second wrong point of the Sadducees that they do not know their scriptures. He quoted from Exodus 3:6 in Matthew 22:31-32: “But 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.” At the time when God was addressing Moses, the patriarchs had all died but God is the God of the living and not the dead. God would not claim to be the God of someone who no longer existed. In other words, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all alive; their souls did not simply vanish upon death. They were in fact waiting for God to fulfil His promises not just corporately through their descendants, but personally to them. Jesus was not speaking anything new. His teaching is consistent with contemporary Jewish thought. The patriarchs are not dead as recorded in the book of Maccabees – 4 Maccabees 7:19: “since they believe that they, like our patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, do not die to God, but live to God” and 4 Maccabees 16:25: “They knew also that those who die for the sake of God live to God, as do Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs.” Even the later rabbis teach that “the righteous are called living even in their death” – meaning that the righteous, though dead to their generation, remain the righteous; they live on as the righteous. Rabbis also read “living God” as “God of the living”. As surely as God is alive, then those who die shall also live. They will be resurrected to inherit the fullness of the promise of eternal life.
With just one verse from the Torah, Jesus stops His questioners. In Matthew 22:33 : “And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.” The crowds were literally knocked out, struck down by Jesus’ reply and the Sadducees were shut up, silenced (Matthew 22:34). They must be thinking to themselves: “What if Jesus is truly God and Messiah? What if the resurrection were true? Would they believe it? How would they live in light of the resurrection? How will they be judged?”
Part Two: Implications
Having studied the passage, we will look at how this teaching applies to us. We may be thinking that we are not like all these silly Sadducees as we believe in the resurrection. We need to be careful as believing in the resurrection has implications for us as believers of Jesus Christ. Four implications are shared here.
If we believe in the resurrection, we believe the Scriptures entirely, not part of it. Paul tells us that Jesus was resurrected according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This means that everything that God says is true. He will fulfil every promise. We can stand upon His every word. The question is: “Do we believe it?” Because faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of God. Why do we believe in the resurrection, and still doubt everything else in His word? That is inconsistent and a misalignment. If we believe in the resurrection, we can believe the Scriptures and we will live our life according to every word that God says!
If we believe in the resurrection, we believe in the power of God, that God is able. In Ephesians 1:19-20, Paul prayed that we may know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places”. Our God is able, more than able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or imagine, according to the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20). This power is the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead and that seated Him in heavenly places. If we believe in the resurrection, then we believe in the exceeding greatness of this same power. Nothing is impossible for God. He is very powerful. The question is: “Do we believe it?” Why do we believe in the resurrection, and still doubt God’s power? That is inconsistent and a misalignment. If we believe in the resurrection, we believe that God is able.
If we believe in the resurrection, we will live our life in light of the resurrection with kingdom purpose. If there is no resurrection, then we have no hope. When life ends, everything ends. If that is the case, then we have nothing to live for. We only live for ourselves. Paul says that “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If we believe in the resurrection, then there is great hope and purpose for us. If we believe in the resurrection, then we will prepare for the fullness of the kingdom. We have kingdom assignments to fulfil for the King and His everlasting kingdom. What we do now in this life, we are laying up heavenly treasures for the life to come. The question is: “Do we believe it?” Why do we believe in the resurrection, and live without purpose? That is inconsistent and a misalignment. If we believe in the resurrection, we will live our life with kingdom purpose.
If we believe in the resurrection, we can look to the rewards when we spend eternity with Jesus. In Revelations 20:12, it says: “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” If we believe in the resurrection, then we also believe that we will stand before Jesus to give account. If we say that we believe in Jesus, then we will live our life entirely for Him for we are no longer our own, we belong to Him. Salvation is free. But rewards are earned. How we live for Jesus today will determine the prize & rewards we will receive when we stand before Him. If we believe in the resurrection, we will be obedient to the Lord. We will be faithful to fulfil the kingdom assignments Jesus assigns to us. The question is: “Do we believe it?” Why do we believe in the resurrection, and not press towards the goal of the prize in Christ Jesus? That is inconsistent and a misalignment. If we believe in the resurrection, we will do our best and go for the gold!
These implications are important implications for believers to consider NOW. Do not wait until the end.
Here is another important note that connects with what was shared earlier. If you are not yet a believer of Jesus Christ, I have news for you. Resurrection and eternity apply to you too. When life ends, it will not be the end. Yes, you will also be resurrected to stand before Jesus. You will be judged according to everything you have done and said in this life. Without the blood of Jesus, without faith in Jesus, you will not stand a chance before a holy and righteous God. Eternity will not be good news for you; for Scriptures warn of eternal damnation and torment for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Do not wait until the end, until it is too late. Now is the time to believe in Jesus.
Congratulations. You made it to the end. Thanks for staying on until the end. The Sadducees were leaders of their day. Yet, they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. Truth is, they had a certain perspective of Scriptures and of God and both were inadequate. Both were wrong and they were mistaken. When Jesus said that they were ‘mistaken’, the word used ‘planao’ can also be translated as ‘deceived’ – to be led astray. In a parallel account in Mark 12:27, Jesus emphasises, “You are therefore greatly mistaken” or “greatly deceived.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Do not be mistaken. Do not be deceived. Know your Scriptures. Know your God. If you believe in the resurrection, then live accordingly and rightly.
If you are not yet a Christian. Do not be mistaken. Do not be deceived. Know Jesus. Believe in Jesus and be ready and prepared for the Resurrection.