27 Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), 28 and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he is childless, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; 30 and the second 31 and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally the woman died also. 33 In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.”
We’ve seen this passage before back in our discussions of Matthew. The Sadducees were the other prominent Judaic sect portrayed in the gospels, and they were the sect that controlled the priesthood. Annas and Caiaphus, who were essentially co-high priests, were Sadducees. The Sadducees rejected oral law, accepting only the Torah (the books of Moses) as binding. They were biblical literalists. They were also more liberal about allowing elements of Hellenistic culture into Jewish society.
Because they did not see the doctrine of resurrection laid out within the Torah, they rejected the notion of an afterlife, which is good to know approaching this section of Luke. The Sadducees were trying to humiliate Jesus by pointing out a logical flaw within the idea of a resurrection.
The dilemma they pitch involves the ancient custom (first introduced in the story of Judah and Tamar back in Genesis) that was later codified into the Mosaic Law whereby if a married man died without producing offspring, his younger brother would be obligated to marry his brother’s widow and produce an heir for his brother who would carry on his brother’s name and inherit his brother’s property. It’s archaic to us, but it was the law of the day. The younger brother could opt out of doing this if he chose to do so, but he’d have to endure a bit of public shaming in front of his home town and town elders.
So the story starts with a family of seven brothers. The elder gets married, but dies before he produces children, so the woman is married off to the next one. This repeats itself until all the brothers are dead and then the woman dies. The Sadducees ask Jesus who will be married to her in the afterlife.
34 Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
Jesus’ answer is basically none of them. There is no marriage in the afterlife. Marriage is a union that exists only here on Earth. We will be timeless, ageless, and deathless, similar to the angels, but sons of God.
It’s a good answer to their question, but I find it a bit sad. I’m going to miss having that unique relationship with my wife. I suppose the flip side is that we’re all going to have a perfect communion with one another. There won’t be walls that we put up between ourselves, we’ll have genuine deep relationships with all of the saints and with God. Still, I’m not sure I totally like the idea that my marriage will end forever one day with our deaths.
37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.” 39 Some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.” 40 For they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything.
His next statement is pretty masterful. He addresses them on the topic of the resurrection using the Torah, specifically how God refers to Himself in those books. Let’s look at Exodus 3:6:
He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
The verbs are present tense. The implication is that God’s relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is one that is ongoing and not a relationship that solely existed in the distant past. And Jesus draws attention to that. God is not a god of the dead, but a God of the living. He is life and all who trust in Him share in that wellspring and source of life.
The Sadducees are silenced. Their dilemma has been answered and Jesus has challenged them using the Torah to assert the doctrine of a resurrection and an afterlife. They had sought to humiliate Him and in turn were humiliated. Not having the courage to continue questioning the Lord, a few scribes praise His answers, while the rest sort of fade back into the crowd.