Matthew 22:23-33

THE LIVING GOD OF LIVING MEN

Matt. 22:23-33

On that day the Sadducees, who deny that there is any resurrection, came to him, and questioned him. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses said, `If anyone dies without children, his brother shall marry his wife, and shall raise up a family for his brother.’ Amongst us there were seven brothers. The first married and died, and, since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened with the second and the third, right to the end of the seven of them. Last of all the woman died. Of which of the seven will she be the wife in the resurrection? For they all had her.” Jesus answered: “You are in error, because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. In the resurrection they neither marry nor are married, but they are as the angels in heaven.
Now, in regard to the resurrection of the dead, have you never read what God said, `I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ God is not the God of dead men, but of those who live.” When the crowds heard this answer, they were amazed at his teaching.

When the Pharisees had made their counter-attack on Jesus and been routed, the Sadducees took up the battle.

The Sadducees were not many in number; but they were the wealthy, the aristocratic, and the governing class. The chief priests, for instance, were Sadducees. In politics they were collaborationist; quite ready to cooperate with the Roman government, if cooperation was the price of the retention of their own privileges. In thought they were quite ready to open their minds to Greek ideas. In their Jewish belief they were traditionalists. They refused to accept the oral and scribal law, which to the Pharisees was of such paramount importance. They went even further; the only part of scripture which they regarded as binding was the Pentateuch, the Law par excellence, the first five books of the Old Testament. They did not accept the prophets or the poetical books as scripture at all. In particular they were at variance with the Pharisees in that they completely denied any life after death, a belief on which the Pharisees insisted.
The Pharisees indeed laid it down that any man who denied the resurrection of the dead was shut out from God.

The Sadducees insisted that the doctrine of life after death could not be proved from the Pentateuch. The Pharisees said that it could and it is interesting to look at the proofs which they adduced. They cited Num.18:28 which says, “You shall give the Lord’s offering to Aaron the priest.” That is permanent regulation; the verb is in the present tense; therefore Aaron is still alive! They cited Deut.31:16: “This people will rise,” a peculiarly unconvincing citation, for the second half of the verse goes on, “and play the harlot after the strange gods of the land”! They cited Deut.32:39: “I kill and I make alive.” Outside the Pentateuch they cited Isa.26:19: “Thy dead shall live.” It cannot be said that any of the citations of the Pharisees were really convincing; and no real argument for the resurrection of the dead had ever been produced from the Pentateuch.

The Pharisees were very definite about the resurrection of the body. They discussed recondite points–Would a man rise clothed or unclothed? If clothed, would he rise with the clothes in which he died, or other clothes? They used 1Sam.28:14 (the witch of Endor’s raising of the spirit of Samuel at the request of Saul) to prove that after death men retain the appearance they had in this world. They even argued that men rose with the physical defects with which, and from which they died–otherwise they would not be the same persons! All Jews would be resurrected in the Holy Land, so they said that under the earth there were cavities and, when a Jew was buried in a foreign land, his body rolled through these cavities until it reached the homeland. The Pharisees held as a primary doctrine the bodily resurrection of the dead; the Sadducees completely denied it.

The Sadducees produced a question which, they believed, reduced the doctrine of the resurrection of the body to an absurdity. There was a Jewish custom called Levirate Marriage. How far it was ever carried out in practice is very doubtful. If a man died childless, his brother was under obligation to marry the widow, and to beget children for his brother; such children were legally regarded as the brother’s children. If the man refused to marry the widow, they must both go to the elders. The woman must loosen the man’s shoe, spit in his face, and curse him; and the man was thereafter under a stigma of refusal (Deut.25:5-10). The Sadducees cited a case of Levirate Marriage in which seven brothers, each dying childless, one after another married the same woman; and then asked, “When the resurrection takes place, whose wife will this much-married woman be?” Here indeed was a catch question.

Jesus began by laying down one principle–the whole question starts from a basic error, the error of thinking of heaven in terms of earth, and of thinking of eternity in terms of time. Jesus’ answer was that anyone who reads scripture must see that the question is irrelevant, for heaven is not going to be simply a continuation or an extension of this world. There will be new and greater relationships which will far transcend the physical relationships of time.

Then Jesus went on to demolish the whole Sadducean position. They had always held that there was no text in the Pentateuch which could be used to prove the resurrection of the dead. Now, what was one of the commonest titles of God in the Pentateuch? “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.” God cannot be the God of dead men and of mouldering corpses. The living God must be the God of living men. The Sadducean case was shattered. Jesus had done what the wisest Rabbis had never been able to do. Out of Scripture itself he had confuted the Sadducees, and had shown them that there is a life after death which must not be thought of in earthly terms. The crowds were amazed at a man who was a master of argument like this, and even the Pharisees can hardly have forborne to cheer.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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