By Chuck Griffin
Matthew 22:23-33 (NLT)
That same day Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name.’ Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children, so his brother married the widow. But the second brother also died, and the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”
Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.
“But now, as to whether there will be a resurrection of the dead—haven’t you ever read about this in the Scriptures? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead.”
When the crowds heard him, they were astounded at his teaching.
If you’re a cynic, you have to be careful when you’re near Christ. You may find yourself confronted with the grittiness of your world view.
Just ask the Sadducees, a party within the Jewish religious-political structure in Jesus’ day. What made the Sadducees unique was their belief that there was no afterlife, and that in particular God would never raise people from the dead.
The Sadducees enjoyed publicly making fun of Jesus’ teachings about resurrection and an afterlife with God. They did so in what sounds like a riddle, one designed to expose what they considered the silliness of the resurrection.
The riddle also opened the door to some off-color humor at Jesus’ expense. It relied on the image of a pitiful woman passing from the arms of one brother to another. The riddle was rooted in the Jewish tradition that if a man were to die childless, his brother was to marry the widow and impregnate her so the dead brother would have an heir.
All seven brothers tried, and all seven brothers died, the riddle went. Finally, the woman died, too. “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” the Pharisees asked Jesus. “For all seven were married to her.”
When I imagine this ribald theological challenge, I see the Sadducees snickering, or at least suppressing a smirk. Any Jews standing nearby may have laughed out loud.
In modern terms, Jesus’ response can be boiled down to two words: “Get real.” He ignored the intricacies of the Sadducees’ earthy riddle. Instead, he affirmed the resurrection and tried to help them see that their theology was as coarse as their humor.
Jesus wanted them to see the glory and hope God offers us through Jesus Christ. “For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven,” he said.
We are reminded that we are so much more than what day-to-day life reveals to us. Jesus went on to prove his assertions by dying on the cross for our sins and then rising from the dead transformed, demonstrating that the power of sin and death had been defeated.
God promises us the same resurrection experience if only we believe in the effectiveness of Jesus’ work on the cross to save us. In fact, all of creation will be reworked to fit God’s view of how things should be.
Such belief does more than give us a future. It gives us a present we can interpret with hope and optimism rather than cynicism.
Even where we see pain and death, we can say, “I know the ugliness of this world is temporary. I know God hates what I’m seeing even more than I do, and that he’s provided a way out.”
The world may remain gritty, but knowing the situation is temporary changes everything.
Lord, may today bring us a special experience of your very present, resurrection-rooted kingdom. Amen.