God is God of the living, not of the dead.
Through this lesson, students should:
Understand many were trying to discredit Jesus.
Understand that the resurrection is an important belief for followers of Jesus.
Understand that death is not the end but that we will live with Jesus forever.
Catching Up on the Story
In the passages between last week’s story (Luke 19:1-10), and this week’s reading, Jesus and his entourage have finally made it to Jerusalem. They have triumphantly entered the city shouting “Hosanna.” There is an air of expectancy hanging about; something big is about to happen.
The feelings of expectancy are different for the different groups of people surrounding Jesus. The Pharisees, and now the Sadducees, expect an ultimate end to the annoying Jesus.
As Jesus enters the city, the conflict between the religious leaders of the day and Jesus escalates. Issues of authority mark one of the main themes leading up to this week’s passage. The people and religious leaders of Jerusalem either deny that Jesus has any authority or view his power as a threat to the current order of things, despite how Jesus has taught and acted.
As the tension builds, the religious leaders work hard to try and find a legitimate way to rid themselves of Jesus. Their attempts come from questions meant to make Jesus say things that could later be used against him. To be sure, the tension is thick as we make our way toward the crucifixion of Jesus.
In this scene, those out to discredit Jesus are not the Pharisees but the Sadducees. Some background information is essential before we look further at the passage. Who are the Sadducees?
The Sadducees were a group of priests who likely could trace their lineage back to Zadok, who served as King David’s High priest. As a group, they were based in Jerusalem and included most of the leading priestly families. They had their own traditions and attempted to resist the pressure of the Pharisees to conform to theirs. They claimed to rely only on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), and they denied any doctrine of a future life, particularly of the Resurrection and other ideas associated with it, presumably because of the encouragement such beliefs gave to revolutionary movements.
Since the Sadducees didn’t believe in the Resurrection or angels, they were asking this question not because they were serious about finding out the answer but because they wished to show the absurdity of holding to the belief in the Resurrection.
Their question is quite absurd, too. Suppose, they said, there was a man who was one of seven sons. This man had a wife, but the man died before he could produce a male heir. Upon the man's death, his brother married his widowed wife to produce a male heir. Well, the brother died, so the widow married the next brother in line. Still, there was no male heir born. The situation continued fruitlessly until all the brothers were dead. Likewise, the widow died too. The question was posed to Jesus, Whose wife will the woman be in the Resurrection because she married all seven brothers?
Understanding the nature of this absurd inquiry requires knowledge of Levirate Marriage. The term itself comes from the Latin for brother-in-law. The mandate went something like this: If a woman’s husband died without first providing an heir, it was the responsibility of the nearest of kin, usually a brother, to marry the woman and produce an heir for the dead man. The first child born to the widow would be considered the child of her deceased husband.
The idea behind Levirate Marriage was that a man might not have his line die out. It also served to protect the widow from becoming a vulnerable person in society. With this arraignment, the dead man gets an heir, his line continues, and the wife gets the protection and support of a family. The guidelines for this tradition are located in Deuteronomy 25. The most famous example of this comes from the book of Ruth. Ruth, a widow, marries Boaz, who is her “kinsman-redeemer.”
Obviously, this is an extreme scenario put forth by the Sadducees. Jesus’ response tackles the question from two different angles.
The first comes from Jesus’ understanding that a new age has dawned, the age of the Kingdom of God. You’ll remember that we have said that Luke’s been writing from an apocalyptic perspective, where this new kingdom is being revealed. Jesus states that in this current and old age, men and women marry and are given in marriage. Of course, Jesus understands that there are two reasons for marriage. The first is for companionship, and the second is for procreation. Humanity has to reproduce because death is a reality.
But, this current age marked by death will not always persist. Instead, in the new age, the age that comes with Jesus Christ, death will be no more. Therefore, marriage will not be necessary. At least, that is, for those who are “considered worthy of a place in the age to come.”
Who are those who will be considered worthy of the age to come, the kingdom of God? Considering the flow of Luke’s gospel so far, those who will be worthy of a place in the kingdom of God will be those who live lives of self-sacrifice for the sake of others, living with generosity, compassion, and hospitality. Those who will be worthy are those who or the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. In short, those who will be found worthy will be those who live and love like Jesus. These are the children of God.
Jesus’ second approach to answering the question comes from the Torah, the only portion of the Hebrew Scriptures that the Sadducees found authoritative. Jesus uses Moses to make a case for Resurrection quoting Exodus 3:6. In this passage, God proclaims for Moses that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus states that, in some way, these three men are not dead to God. God is not the God of the dead but the living. It should be noted here that neither Jesus nor Luke makes an argument for how it is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive to God, only that they are.
The Resurrection is of great importance for us as Christians. It is because Christ has been raised from the dead, physically raised from the dead, that we, too, will one day be bodily raised from the dead. This new life and the perfected body that we will have will not be like the one life or body we experience now. We will be physically alive. This is part of Jesus’ point. When Jesus returns and makes all things right and new again, it does not mean an end to physical existence. Instead, it means the beginning of a new and better physical life lived with the God of the living, Jesus Christ.
But that doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ entire point. The point is that the age to come does not operate with the same rules as this age. And with Jesus, the age to come has already come here and now.
The things that have mattered to us for so long, posterity, the protection of women in marriage, honor, and shame, no longer matter. The more we live by the rules of the age to come, in selfless love toward God and others, the more we live into our nature as children of God. And it matters not that if we begin to live according to the way of the new order, the kingdom of God, that we might end up dead like Jesus because we too will ultimately end up like Jesus, resurrected, never to die again. God is the God of the living, not the dead.
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Who are the main characters in the story? What are they doing?
What doesn’t make sense to you in this story?
Respond to this statement from Tom Wright, “In most biblical thought, human bodies matter and are not merely disposable prisons for the soul.” Does this differ from what you’ve come to believe about the afterlife? How does the Christian idea that the body is important to have an impact on the way we minister to human beings?
Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-28. According to the apostle Paul, why is it crucial to believe that there is a resurrection of the dead?
Why is Christ’s resurrection the basis of salvation?
Why is it important for Jesus to argue that God is the God of the living, not the God of the dead? (v. 38)
Resurrection isn’t just for bodies after we die. In a very real way, resurrection can be had here and now. We are all broken and dead in various kinds of ways. The God who raised the body of Jesus from the dead and the God who will raise our bodies in the age to come can bring renewal and new life to our brokenness here and now.
Where are you seeing renewal and new life in our church? In what ways do you need the power of God’s resurrection today?
How might we be agents of God’s resurrection power in our community and the world today?