Dead Wrong About the Resurrection

The Gospel of Luke 2  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:14
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INTRO: In this section of confrontation with the religious leaders and their attempts to trap Jesus in his words (to bring him down in the eyes of the people and to get him in legal trouble with Jewish law or Roman law), the result continues to be that Jesus’ answers (the responses Jesus gives) both silence his opposition and demonstrate his control over these events.
Their challenge against his authority fell flat, and then their attempt to politically entangle him failed miserably. Now a new group emerges with the goal of ensnaring Jesus theologically. The Sadducees pose a theological riddle to stump Jesus. Let’s see where that leads.
Luke 20:27–40 ESV
There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
The issue at the heart of this theological riddle really is whether or not there will be a final resurrection for those who have gone before in death. Is there life after death?
So Luke gives an opening remark about this group posing the question, because it speaks to the goal and motivation of the question.

What did the Sadducees believe about the resurrection?

Luke states directly, they “deny that there is a resurrection.” (meaning at the end of time for this present earth, a resurrection of all who have died before to go on living forever, either with God or punished apart from him… not Jesus’ resurrection, for there was nothing to deny yet)
What we know of the Sadducees is largely dependent on the little bit they are mentioned directly in the NT. Additional historical record is sparse because they seem to have lost the struggle for control of Judaism (after 70AD), whereas the writings and record of the Pharisees is comparatively great because the legal scribes were mostly from this group.
Luke mentions them only here in his gospel, but several times in Acts. Most places in Luke’s writings and elsewhere they are described simply as one of the religious groups. But we can glean that they were a sect of priests that prioritized the Torah (Pentateuch - first five books) over other scripture, denying the resurrection and even the existence of angels. The current high priest of Jesus’ day may well have been from this theological sect, and there definitely seems to have been a competition for leadership in Judaism, particularly with the Pharisees.
So why would the Sadducees ask a question about something they don’t believe is even a possibility? Exactly. It’s a kind of mocking question. They hope the question will help bolster their view that the resurrection is unscriptural and impractical.
One Bride For Seven Brothers?!
- The Sadducees here are having a little fun with their theological trap (considering themselves cunning, no doubt).
We sometimes think it’s not a bad thing if you should be married for a little while before having children, but under their law and custom, if you didn’t want to be stuck marrying seven brothers, you better bear the first husband an heir pretty quick (just in case he dies).
But seriously, the Sadducees think that Jesus will look stupid trying to answer this question since he believes in the doctrine of the resurrection, and they believe there is another command that would conflict and prove problematic for the afterlife.
The question presupposes then, which Jesus does not deny or correct, the practice of...
Levirate Marriage
- A law and custom in ancient Israel that if a man died without sons his brother would take the widow for a wife in order to provide male offspring for his dead brother. The children [especially the firstborn son] would then be the heir of his dead father's land and possessions and the family line would not be broken. (Lexham Cultural Ontology Glossary)
And this law and practice would have had a second practical purpose for God’s people:
It provided economic and social protection for widows, which is still practiced in some cultures today where women cannot earn wages. (Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Lk 20:28.)
So what was already a custom became codified as law under the leadership of Moses.
Deuteronomy 25:5–6 ESV
“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
It seems this custom was honored by God, because when one of Judah’s sons refused to do this for his brother, God put him to death also. The Lord killed Tamar’s first husband Er (Judah’s firstborn son) because of his wickedness. Then when Onan, the second son, refused to bear an heir for Er, God put him to death as well. The third son was still too young to be wed and a father, so things just even messier for that family.
Anyway, under the law, following through on this for your dead brother was considered so important that if a brother refused, according to Deut 25, the widow could get help from the town elders, who would call the second brother before them and question him and prompt him to fulfill his duty. If he yet refused, the woman was to take off one of his sandals and spit in his face. His family would thenceforth be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled. (Deut 25:5-10)
Apparently this law and custom was later adapted such that by the time of Ruth and Boaz (latter part of the Judges era), if a family member would not fulfill his obligation, he could give a sandal (as a legal transaction) to the next kinsman in line so that he might fulfill the role (Ruth 4:7).
We shouldn’t look down our noses at this practice, for it was important in Israel to perpetuate families and tribes. What’s more, Bob Deffinbaugh astutely points out, “One can especially see the importance of this legislation when you recall the fact that Messiah would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15), from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9-10), of the line of David (2 Samuel 7:8-16). How crucial it was for the tribes of Israel to perpetuate, for from such the Messiah would be born.”
Now all of this comes around to the fact that this ludicrously exaggerated example from the Sadducees ultimately ends with the question, ‘If she was married to all seven brothers, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?’ (here the term meaning life after death) We might say the question is, who will she be married to in the afterlife (when all the dead are raised to live forever)?
What does Jesus have to say in response? (In particular…)

What does Jesus have to say about the resurrection?

As Jesus answers the question, notice that he 1. corrects their misconceptions about the afterlife and 2. corrects their lack of proper scriptural interpretation.
-Luke leaves out the first line of Jesus’ response (that parallels have), which is basically, “You couldn’t be more wrong!” (in Mt and Mk) And the reason is “because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Mt 22:29)
Again, in vv. 34-36, Jesus corrects their wrong view of the afterlife, showing that…
Post-resurrection reality will not be like this life.
People get married in this age, but they will not do so in the next age. —> Jesus’ argument is that this makes perfect sense because people will then be eternal beings who cannot die and who do not procreate (like angels—immortal and not procreating). - One of the primary purposes of marriage, especially in the argument being made in the initial question, is to procreate and to continue family lines because people die. But when nobody dies, this need goes away.
Marriages are intended to be permanent in this life, but not permanent in God’s eternal purpose.
By saying “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age,” Jesus means the number whom God has accepted as righteous by faith (as the NT teaches) and thereby attain to “the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:14 - In context, it is then we will receive repayment from God for kindnesses shown to “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” v. 13.)
Jesus transitions from this explanation of the difference between this life and the next to giving a reference from the Torah (in vv. 37-38) which demonstrates…
Scripture teaches the future resurrection of the dead.
Rather than use the most obvious scriptural text, which comes in Daniel 12 about the end times…
Daniel 12:1–2 ESV
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Instead, Jesus uses the Torah to prove his point. Even though they wrongly revere only that portion of Scripture, Jesus shows them that there too the resurrection is taught.
Moses recorded his interaction with God at the burning bush, and there the Lord God spoke of himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6)
Why would God describe himself as being their God in the present tense if they are now dead and have ceased completely to exist? Logically, if they still exist, then they either have been raised or will be raised. [V. 38 again] Craig Keener explains, “[Jesus] argues that God would not claim to be the God of those who no longer exist; indeed, his faithfulness to his covenant demands that if he is their God after death, death is not the final word for them.” -Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Lk 20:37–38.
The conclusion to this line of questioning, Luke shows, is that…
Jesus’ answer pleases the scribes and silences opposition.
The scribes, who side with the Pharisees and believe in the resurrection, respond with, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” We see that in this temporary and fragile alliance (of opponents to Jesus), there is still rivalry.
But even more important to what Luke has been demonstrating in this section, they no longer dared to ask him any question. “They” is intentionally broad to catch all these varied groups and attempts.
Although Mt and Mk include still another question from a scribe about the greatest commandment (again, these are likely samples of even more efforts), the conclusion is the same. All attempts to stump and trap Jesus have failed. Darrell Bock explains, “Every possible group has taken a shot at Jesus and failed: Pharisees, nationalists, scribes, Sadducees, leaders of the people. On the topics of ministry, politics, and theology, Jesus has prevailed. […] Each encounter has left Jesus in the position of knowledge and authority.” (Bock, p. 1626)
This approach of embarrassing Jesus into submission clearly has not and will not work. A different tack must be taken:
Luke will go on to explain at the end of chapter 21 that each day Jesus continues coming to teach in the temple, and each day crowds gather there to hear him (21:37-38).
Luke 22:2 ESV
And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.
Little did they know that their murderous plots, in which they succeed during this week, would not only condemn them but serve God’s purposes: (Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost, recorded by Luke in Acts…)
Acts 2:23–24 ESV
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
Acts 2:36 ESV
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Even as they sought to diminish and destroy Jesus, what they should have seen was that Jesus is in control… because he is Lord. Instead of asking him questions to stump him, they should have asked sincerely to learn from him. Instead of tearing him down, they should have been submitting to his authority and teaching.
In the long run, then, I’m convinced that Luke would have the reader sincerely asking…

What should I believe about Jesus, and the resurrection?

The Sadducees were dead wrong about the resurrection, and the whole group of leaders was dead wrong about Jesus.
The right response to Jesus is not to be silenced by his authority but then refuse to submit to him.
Jesus is the true authority to whom I must submit my life.
Jesus told his followers that he would die and rise again, and he did just that. Finish reading Luke’s Gospel!
And because of his authority over life and death, Jesus would explain to Martha, who was the sister of Mary and Lazarus (whom Jesus is about to raise from the dead! in the context),
John 11:25–26 ESV
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
And if the answer is, “Yes, I do. I have repented of sin and self and I trust only in Jesus to save me from the just penalty of my sin and the wrath of God’s against sin. I trust in the righteousness of Jesus on my behalf that restores me to God.” Then remember that who you are in Christ is both your identity and purpose.
Submission to Christ identifies you as a child of God. You belong to God. You love him because he has loved you.
Submission to Christ is also therefore how you ought to live. The command of Jesus is your mission. Jesus commands that you love one another (Jn 13:34-35); you love and serve the people of God. You band together with the local church, the local expression of God’s people. Jesus commands that you work together to make disciples—to call people to know Christ and grow in him. And Jesus commands that you abide in him to accomplish these things (Jn 15:4-8).
Secondly, …
The doctrine of a future resurrection and afterlife is as sure as the resurrection of Christ himself.
There are so many NT passages that speak about the foundational importance of the resurrection of Jesus that we can’t possibly cram them into a final point of application, nor would we want to. They describe Jesus’ resurrection as both our assurance of future hope and our confirmation of the spiritual transformation God has already wrought in us.
Here’s an example from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, which apparently had some people doubting the resurrection. I encourage you to read that whole chapter because the entire thing is about confirmation of Jesus resurrection and its central importance to our faith.
1 Corinthians 15:3–8 ESV
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
It is accurate to say, as the Lexham Survey of Theology does, that “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is that central moment in human history that serves as the foundational doctrine of Christianity.”
Now again, it is the assurance of Christ’s resurrection which confirms the certainty of a future resurrection to glory for us who believe:
1 Peter 1:3–5 ESV
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Believer in Christ, do not be discouraged. Jesus has overcome death and conquered Satan. His promises are sure. The purposes of God will not be thwarted. God himself, by the Holy Spirit he has given us, is our strength to follow Christ. And God will bring us home.
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