Thus far in Luke 20 we have seen the scribes, chief priests, and elders of the people come against Jesus in opposition. Thus far Jesus has silenced them with his answers. In this round, a different group of men come to Jesus in order to question him further: the Sadducees. In Luke 20.27, we are given a brief description of these men concerning their doctrine – they did not believe in the resurrection. In fact, they flat out deny it. Their name is believed to have been either derived from the Hebrew word for “righteous” (saddiq) or from Zadok, the high priest during the days of David. Nevertheless, they were one of the factions among the Jewish religious leaders. They viewed the Law of Moses and the laws therein as binding and ascribed to the other books of the Old Testament (prophets and the rest) a subordinate position. These men have relatively little contact with Jesus; in fact, this is the only mention of them in Luke’s gospel. However, in this episode they come with a question.
The Sadducees’ Silly Example
It is quite intriguing the way the question is asked of Jesus. The Sadducees, it would seem, did not so much hate Jesus as they looked upon him with contempt. He was a worm to them, a person who held ridiculous beliefs. The Sadducees had a nasty of making fun of people’s beliefs, appealing to the Law and showing how a person’s “ridiculous” belief led to “ridiculous” conclusions. So when they begin (v.28) to question Jesus, it is no surprise they appeal first to the law of Moses (Deut 25.5ff). This practice is called a “levirate marriage” and was desgined to ensure the man’s name and family continued.
Well, the Sadducees apply this with great rhetoric: suppose a man has seven brothers and each of them takes this woman as his and then dies, leaving no heir – who’s shall she be? And key in on the way the question is worded (v.33): “In the resurrection…” who will be the husband of this woman? All seven had her as their wife. They appeal to the resurrection not because they believe in it (for they deny it), but because it is what Jesus has been teaching (John 11.25) and even performing! Now what Jesus? I picture mental high-fives. I picture smug faces with slight smiles. We have him, they think, what a fool! Surely Jesus is trapped.
The Sadducees Serious Errors
It is interesting to note that Matthew and Mark both record a heavy rebuke from Jesus. Matthew’s, perhaps, is the most severe: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt 22.29, ESV). They are in gross and serious error when it comes to the Scriptures. It is obvious from Jesus’ response.
First, they are in error concerning marriage in heaven. Jesus points out that they are wrong to even suggest that earthly relationships (i.e. marriage) will continue in the afterlife. There is no more death nor marriage. After all, marriage is a temporary expedient to continue the human just as this life is a temporary expedient to get us to the afterlife. In addition, Jesus makes mention to angels. Why? Not only did the Sadducees deny the resurrection, they deny even supernatural beings like angels. How could they do that? Don’t they read the Old Testament which is rife with angelic vistations? See Acts 23.8, but somehow they got around this, too.
Jesus goes on to explain that they also err when it comes to the resurrection. He points them to Moses. Again, this is important because the Sadducees only accepted as authoritative the Pentatuch. It could be trusted, all the other writings were subordinate somehow. And so Jesus argues from the very authority they use, even citing a very specific passage they would be familiar with (the passage about the bush, Exodus 3.1-6), to make his case that God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Hence, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob “live to him.” Though these men died long before Moses’ time, if they were not still “alive” God would not call Himself their God. Hence, it is wrong to deny life after death and the resurrection from the dead. And if they still needed more convincing, they could look up a guy named Lazarus who was a waking testimony to the resurrection.
When the dust settles, who’s face is really red? The Sadducees. And perhaps it is red with embarrassment. Maybe, like the Pharisees, they are red with anger. However, one group of men, in response to this excellent answer from Jesus, acknowledge the goodness of His instruction. Perhaps their joy is over Jesus pointing them toward a passage that definitively answered a lingering question they had about the resurrection. At any rate, the Sadducees “no longer dared ask him any question.” Their courage has vanished and this will be evident in the next round where Jesus must initiate the conversation.
Herein is hope: the resurrection is real. Jesus has shown from Moses that it is real and this life is not all there is. Indeed, during his earthly ministry he showed that by the power of God dead bodies do come back to life. Even Jesus will be raised from the dead follwing his death guaranteeing our resurrection. Let us rejoice and be glad that should we prove faithful, God will grant us eternal life with him.