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While their question deals with a unique problem as far as the Sadducees were concerned, the topic it treats is a fundamental one: Will people be raised from the dead? The resurrection is not optional to the Christian faith because on it hangs three core issues: accountability before God, judgement and eternal life. Without the resurrection, death would be the end, our accountability to God would be limited only to this life – judgement and eternal life would be meaningless. While death may be the great equalizer, since we must all die – the resurrection is the great, no, the greatest opportunity, since we all have the opportunity to enter into eternal life.
As we work our way through this passage, let me suggest several Principles within this account that are essential for our spiritual and eternal health.
1. Our family responsibilities are very important on this side of heaven.
A minister was speaking to a Sunday school class about the things money can’t buy. “It can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love” he told them. Driving his point home he said, “What would you do if I offered you $1000 not to love your mother and father?” Stunned silence ensued. Finally a small voice queried, “How much would you give me not to love my big sister?”
The Sadducees, though deniers of the resurrection, produced a question, which, they believed reduced the doctrine of the resurrection to an absurdity. They did this through using an injunction from the Old Covenant, a command from the Mosaic Law. Because Israel’s promises from Yahweh are interrelated to the land, not losing the land, family name or the inheritance – particularly by a family dying out – was critical. The Law contained a provision called Levirate Marriage. We don’t know how often it was practiced. Both Genesis 38 and the book of Ruth evidence that it was practiced to some extent, while there is no indication that it was still being practiced at the time of Christ. Levirate Marriage stipulated that if a man died childless, because the perpetuity of the family name and inheritance were crucial, his brother was under obligation to marry his widow and have children in his brother’s name. These children would be legally regarded as his brother’s. If the man though refused to marry the widow, they must go to the elders. The woman would take off the man’s shoe, spit in his face and curse him. This brother would be under a stigma for his refusal.
The Sadducees then cited a case of Levirate Marriage. They may have borrowed the idea from the apocryphal book of Tobit, which tells the bizarre story of a woman who married seven times only to have each husband strangled by a demon in the bed chamber on the wedding might (a kind of intertestamental Stephen King tale). But according to their story, there were seven brothers, each dying childless, who one after another married the same woman, finally the woman died (she was probably worn out). Then they asked “At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” after all, there were seven candidates? Their story even has a touch of humor, since one gets the feeling that it is a sentence of death to marry this woman! Can you just imagine this poor woman finding seven former husbands waiting for her on the other side of
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