Summary: Jesus had to answer some very complicated questions designed to trap Him. But being the master chess player, Jesus turned the traps into times of teaching and revealing much about His true identity.
Jesus is in the middle of debating the religious leaders who have come to challenge Him after He cleared the Temple. Last time they demanded that He prove His authority (He wouldn’t because they wouldn’t admit where John the Baptist got his authority) and then they tried to trap Him about whether to pay taxes or not. Now they bring some thorny theological questions to Him as the tag team approach becomes almost desperate to land any punch on Jesus.
The Sadducees were rationalists, where the Pharisees were moralists. These are the two main groups that still exist today. A moralist might admit that there is a God, but reaching Him is up to our efforts and our measures. A rationalist needs proof they can see and doesn’t have any room in their philosophy for the supernatural. The Sadducees were enemies with the Pharisees and we see several places in the New Testament where people like Peter and Paul were able to leverage their theological differences to their advantage.
The Sadducees believed only in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Because they could not find anything there that gave them the idea of a resurrection from the dead, they rejected the idea altogether. They also rejected anything supernatural including angels. The Pharisees expected there to be a cataclysmic restoration by the Messiah. The Sadducees favored working with the Romans to achieve earthly wealth.
The Law they quote is from Deuteronomy 25:5-6 which states basically that if a man dies before having a son, his brother or the nearest male relative is to marry the widow and the first son is technically the heir of the dead man—making sure that Israelites didn’t lose their property. We see this, called the levirate law (for “brother-in-law”), working in the book of Ruth, for instance. It was designed to protect the widow, who in that culture had no rights.
It seems that perhaps this argument was a stock one the Sadducees had used to great affect against the Pharisees in debates. So they pull it out here trying to embarrass Jesus. It’s odd, of course that they mention the resurrection at all, but it was to show the ridiculousness of believing in the afterlife. It is the question that was ridiculous and unfair. I find that people will often ask these kinds of questions like: could God make a rock so big even He couldn’t move it? What this tells me is that they are trying to side step the main issue, which is whether or not you are willing to put your faith trust and reliance in Jesus. As we talk about the things of God, it is important to stick to the main thing before moving on to the finer points of theology.
The problem of the Sadducees was that, being rationalists, they figured if there was a resurrection, it would only be a continuation of what they could see here on earth: that suddenly there would be seven husbands and one wife. The Sadducees had made God in man’s image—there was no room in their minds that God could both resurrect people and give them a new, different life.
The Holman quotes Jesus as saying they Sadducees were “deceived” whereas other translations use the word “wrong.” The Greek word means “to wander”. It can mean to “go astray, err, or deceive.” What created the problem for them and why they came to the wrong conclusion was that they placed their own values on top of the Scriptures instead of letting the Scriptures dictate their values. They erred in two ways: a misinterpretation of the Scriptures and a devaluing of the power of God. God did speak about resurrection in the Old Testament (and even in the Pentateuch). They misunderstood the very nature and power of God as being a life-giving spirit, capable of resurrecting and recreating the world.
Notice Jesus says “when” – resurrection is a fact, and the Sadducees were simply wrong about that. Further, Jesus says there will be no new marriages in heaven (“they neither will marry nor are given in marriage”). We will be like the angels in that they do not marry or propagate and live eternally. This doesn’t really tell us much about marriage in heaven; Jesus is sticking to focusing on the wrong theology of the Sadducees. The truth is we don’t know that much about life in heaven. The Sadducees didn’t believe in angels either so Jesus gets that point in as well!
26 – 27
The Sadducees didn’t see resurrection in the books of Moses so Jesus takes them to the only Scriptures they recognized and showed them that God IS the God of men long dead—from an earthly perspective. The reference is from Exodus 3. I like how at the end Jesus tells them they are “badly deceived.” Whenever Jesus comes into a life He clears away deception, if we are listening!