The Test Question
They stood in front of Him with haughty smirks on their faces. Dressed in the most expensive robes, the Sadducees — with their neatly-trimmed beards and fingers flashing with jewelry — were the epitome of religious affluence. What a contrast they made with Jesus! His cloak was frayed at the hem …. a broken strap on his sandal trailed in the dust.
Unlike the Pharisees, whom they patronized mercilessly, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection. And the test question they had just put to Jesus had been used many times to silence the Pharisees.
It was that old reliable one about the woman who, through the Levirate marriage law (
Summers says that “the Pharisees believed in a resurrection which was so physical that they anticipated the begetting of children in the resurrection life. The Sadducees denied the doctrine of the resurrection and any survival after death. They believed that death brought an end to being.”
Now the Sadducees waited for His answer. The looked at each other knowingly. They were pictures of patience …. and pride. They assumed that Jesus believed in the resurrection the same way the Pharisees did.
Jesus was silent. His eyes burned into them. He scowled in anger and disappointment. The disciples got nervous …. they looked at Jesus; they looked at each other; they looked at the ground.
They shifted their weight …. They shuffled their feet …. Was He stumped this time?
The silence was deafening!
Finally, Jesus did two things at once: He started talking and walking away at the same time! It was as if He thought He’d won the fight without landing a blow. It was over …. and He was leaving.
As he took the first step, He said in disgust and exasperation:
“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage ….”
(They hurried to catch up to Him, afraid they’d miss His answer. The Sadducees and the disciples scampered along, anxious to catch His words.)
“But those,” He continued, “who are accounted 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. Don’t you see, marriage and family lines won’t be important if there’s no death?”
(“What did he say?” one Sadducee asked another. “What?” But he didn’t get an answer because Jesus was continuing to talk, hardly hesitating to let His point sink in.)
“They cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels … they are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
Then Jesus stopped and looked the Sadducees in the face. “Look,” He said, “you say you can’t believe in a resurrection because it’s not taught in the only books of scripture that you accept: the Torah, the five books of Moses.” (Their ears perked up at the name “Moses.”)
“Don’t you realize that Moses referred to a resurrection in that passage about the bush?” (
Jesus paused to let His words find their mark. The Sadducees looked puzzled. They rubbed their hairy chins, they frowned. Jesus smiled slyly at them in bemusement.
Then the Lord drove home his point: “God is not the God of dead people; He is the God of the living! All people who live in Him continue to live on even after death!”
And with that, He walked off, leaving them to sort out what was left of their logic and their ideas. Jesus’ disciples scurried around Him like sheep trying to stay up with the shepherd …. pausing only to look back over their shoulders with mischievous grins on their faces.
Apparently, it had never occurred to the Sadducees or the Pharisees that family lines and marriage relationships would not go on as they had on earth. That heaven could be so different from earth was a totally revolutionary idea!
As they mulled over what Jesus said — even as the church has for twenty long centuries — they began to realize the implications of His revelation about the resurrection.
No More Death
The resurrection age was not to be another era framed by minutes, hours, days, and years.
“No more dying!” was what Jesus said. Therefore, no need to perpetuate a dead brother’s name in a Levirate marriage.
As “sons of the resurrection,” these “sons of God” would be “equal to angels.” Luke is the only gospel writer to use this unique word. It’s the only time it’s used in scripture. In Greek, it sounds like this: “Isangaloy.” Summers says it is “a compound word made by joining together the noun ‘angels’ and an adjective meaning ‘equal to’ or ‘like unto.'”
In heaven, we won’t have physical bodies as we have here, bodies subject to death and vulnerable to so many threatening diseases. The emphasis in the resurrection age will be on a higher level of life, a life more real than we can possibly know here. To distinguish it from normal, metabolic life, the Greeks gave it a special name: Zoa. It was a “life-with-a-plus.” We call it “abundant life.”
Jesus called it “Zoan Aionian” — abundant life that never ends; that goes on forever! In short, it’s the kind of life that God has. In heaven, we’ll truly be His children.
There, nothing can threaten one’s existence. With God’s life transfused into our resurrection bodies, we are invulnerable to death. No more dying! Death is truly swallowed up in victory!
Life with more in it than we’ve ever known will energize us forever. Man’s worst enemy — man’s most intimidating threat — is defeated and destroyed.
As sons and daughters of the resurrection — as children of God — we are heirs with Christ of all things. We shall see Him as He is, because we shall be like Him.
The Appeal to Moses
The Pharisees believed in a resurrection because they accepted the wisdom literature in the Old Testament — books like Psalms and Job. Old Job had cried out from the pit of his earthly suffering and despair: “I know that my Redeemer lives … and after my skin has been thus destroyed then from my flesh I shall see God!”
To his own poignant and plaintive question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (
But the Sadducees didn’t believe these poetical books were inspired of God. They clung to the Pentateuch — the five books attributed to Moses’ authorship — as the only trustworthy message from God. How shocked they were when Jesus calmly chose an utterly familiar passage from the Pentateuch with which to prove the reality of the resurrection; with unerring accuracy, a cogent coup de grace that left them breathless with gaping mouths!
That God was Abraham’s God, and Isaac’s, and Jacob’s, was a truism. They’d always known and believed that. But they thought He was the God Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had served only while they were alive! They were now enshrined in the “Temple of the Past Tense.”
How right Jesus was about this high-powered religious establishment! They knew neither the scriptures nor the power of God. Of course, this “living God” was not the God of the dead, but they’d never related the fact that he was a living God to the idea that he was the God of the living.
It was all right there in the Old Testament, both in the Pentateuch and the wisdom books. It took Jesus to tell us and to back it up with his own personal, dramatic and triumphant resurrection on Easter Sunday morning!
You see, he could have pontificated on and on about life after death, but that by itself wouldn’t have made it true.
Good Friday Afternoon
In fact, all had looked lost that dark Friday afternoon when the sun hid its face while we did the worst thing sin ever tempted us to do. Jesus hung like a Passover lamb on a Roman cross. Thunder rattled the heavens. The earth trembled with quakes. The howling wind spat dust and grit in everyone’s face.
Jesus was dying. The “Light of the World” was going out on the middle cross-candle. The disciples saw Him taken down. Those brave women wrapped His bruised and broken body. They packed it with myrrh and frankincense. He was shoved into a rich man’s tomb just under the six o’clock Sabbath curfew of sundown.
Everyone went home.
The Pharisees returned to finish Passover. The Sadducees trotted along to the Temple, their leather purses packed and jingling with the shekels swindled from the Passover pilgrims in the Temple bazaar that had so recently been wrecked! They’d barely had time to straighten everything up after that rude display of populist power and the intrusion of the rabble-rousing rabbi from Galilee. But everything was well back in place before Friday’s rush hour sale of sacrificial livestock.
Now it was Friday evening. The Sabbath was beginning, and Sunday was coming!
The sun rose on the sad faces of Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome. They’d gotten up before dawn and dressed silently in the dark. Quietly they left their houses. By prearrangement they met at a crossroad and, without a word, they made their way in the semidarkness to the garden of Joseph of Arimathea.
Their eyes were swollen and puffy from crying. Their faces drawn with grief. But, somehow, a nightingale, which seemed to know a secret, was throwing his song at the sunrise.
They whispered to each other as they walked along through the dewy stillness of early morning. Pink and fuschia lines of light reached up from the golden shores of dawn.
The women had Galilean accents. They carried armloads of spices, linen cloth in bandage-like strips with which to bind the limbs of the dead man in the tomb.
One asked in a soft voice, just as they stepped through the garden gate, “Who will roll away the stone for us so early in the morning?” They stopped short, wide-eyed and questioning.
“I hadn’t even thought of that,” Mary said. “Maybe one of the soldiers will do it for us.”
“Look!” Salome blurted out. “The stone has already been rolled back!”
Sure enough, the huge, gray wheel of limestone was back in its trench, exposing the dark, gaping mouth of the tomb. They stepped over the bodies of the soldiers who were snoring loudly. The women were almost afraid to peer in; had someone stolen the body? Would they be thwarted again in their quest to execute the last expression of love and Jewish orthodoxy? Could they not even give Jesus a proper burial?
Suddenly, two men in glistening apparel appeared and spoke to them in deep and unearthly tones: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen! He’s gone before you to Galilee. Go quickly and tell His disciples!”
They ran two miles to Bethany, slowing only to gasp and catch their breath as they labored up Olivet’s hill. Bursting into the house where Jesus had been a welcomed guest so many times before, they babble their incredible tale — haltingly — jerkily — trying to get a breath in between staccato sentences.
The disciples, startled, astonished, are pale with fear. No one believes. They throw their hands up, gesturing in disbelief. They question each other. It can’t be! They saw His dead body excised from that bloody cross.
Sure, they remembered that Jesus raised Jairus’ little girl …. and they recalled the funeral procession outside of Nain …. but, even then, there were rumors that those two weren’t really dead — just fainted, unconscious, in a coma.
Then it hit them. They turned as one person and looked at the man sitting quietly by the window, the man gazing out through the lattice … a man who was hearing their conversation but who wasn’t a part of it. They were all looking at Lazarus and realized he’d been dead four days; wrapped and smelly in the tomb before Jesus commanded him to come forth!
Lazarus turned to meet their ashen faces. He smiled knowingly. Peter and John pushed their way past the women and the other disciples and began their long run to the garden tomb.
Is There Really a Resurrection?
But can we trust this story?
Is there really a resurrection? Jesus taught that there was, and He was raised from the cold grip of death Himself!
You must run like Peter and John did to see about news this good. If true, nothing is ever the same again.
They saw the empty tomb; they saw Jesus in Galilee, and at Emmaus, and in Jerusalem, and on Mt. Olivet; and lifted off the earth in a cloud. John put it this way in his biography of Jesus:
“When therefore he was raised from the dead, his
disciples remembered that he had said this
and they believed the scripture and the word
which Jesus had spoken.” (
The devil cannot win, cannot have the last word! Paul’s words are:
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (
God is the God of the living: the living patriarchs, the living apostles, and all living people who trust Him. God will seek out and bring back all those who have been driven away by death. Man is not a “throw-away thing.” He will save, even from the grave, those who have believed in Him.
As Jesus taught us, “He that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (