A Future without Marriage: Luke 20:27-40

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During the week leading up to the cross, it appeared as though every religious group decided that now would be the time to challenge Jesus. While we often look at challenges from the Pharisees, a group that was not as well represented, or at least called out by name, was the Sadducees. The Sadducees probably stood back and watched as Jesus kept succeeding against the Pharisees, and they probably enjoyed these challenges, but eventually, as Jesus began teaching more and more, they began to notice that He wasn’t like them either.

The two key distinctions of the Sadducees that set them apart from others were this. First, the Sadducees only believed the books of Moses were of spiritual significance. While the other Old Testament books had good things to say about history, the Sadducees minimized the spiritual significance of the rest of the Old Testament writings. This contrasts the Sadducees with the Pharisees and other religious groups who took the Old Testament scriptures more holistically.

The other key distinction was that the Sadducees did not believe in a future resurrection. This teaching, while it sounded great on the surface, was not easily supported by Moses’ writings, and because of this, the Sadducees rejected it.

For our passage in this episode, we discover what happens when some of the Sadducees challenge Jesus with a question. Depending on the gospel we read from and the translation we use, the question they ask sounds either hypothetical, or like something that had happened at some point in the past. Either way, the question is fascinating, and it sheds light on why they rejected the idea of resurrection.

While we could read this passage from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, Luke’s version of this includes one additional phrase at the end of Jesus’ response that makes it a little more profound. Because of this reason, let’s use Luke’s version of this event for our time together. We can find this event in Luke, chapter 20, and let’s read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 27, Luke tells us that:

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Let’s pause reading here for a moment. This dilemma is the perfect setup for disproving the resurrection, because in the writings of Moses, the setup for marriage was one man to one woman, and while all seven were married to her, she technically wouldn’t be married to them all in heaven, because it violated the structure of marriage that God gave in Moses’ writings. If she had given a child through the seventh union, it changes the equation, but not significantly, because there still would be the issue of who was married to who because while the child would be the oldest brother’s child, the woman was still had been married to and united to all seven of the brothers.

However, Jesus takes an interesting and unexpected approach with His answer. Jesus doesn’t discount the trickiness of the situation, but He instead makes it irrelevant. While the Sadducees had placed marriage on a pedestal, and then filtered their beliefs against a resurrection through this lens, Jesus counters this argument, starting in verse 34:

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.

Let’s pause briefly again, because Jesus has said something profound both to the Sadducees, and to us today. In Jesus’ response, “this age” includes marriage, but the age to come does not. The age to come follows the resurrection of the dead. When marriage is not an issue and the dead have been raised, the children of this resurrection are called God’s children, and at this point, they can no longer die.

These three short verses challenge one of the deepest held beliefs in the broad Christian church. Eternal life follows the resurrection, the resurrection of God’s children happens at the start of the age to come, and the age to come is marked by the absence of marriage. These three verses challenge the idea of an eternal soul because the emphasis is on resurrection, and eternal live only being given to God’s children after they have been resurrected from the dead.

Let’s reread the first part of Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees before moving forward:

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.

But Jesus isn’t finished responding and challenging the Sadducees. Jesus has just shifted the focus away from marriage and onto the resurrection. But what about the Sadducees who don’t believe in a resurrection because it isn’t in the books of Moses. Picking back up in verse 37, Jesus continues by saying:

37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

In this last portion of Jesus’ reply, Jesus takes the Sadducees foundation against the resurrection, and he challenges it. Not only that, Jesus challenges us in this response. Luke’s gospel includes the final phrase: “for to him all are alive”. This phrase is significant, because with it, Jesus appears to contradict His earlier challenge while also validating the tradition view of an immortal soul.  

Is Jesus contradicting Himself here? No. Instead, in the second half of Jesus response, He shifts perspective, and if we don’t shift perspective with Him, we are left looking at a pretty significant contradiction in Jesus’ teaching.

This perspective shift is easy to miss, but it is in the first three words of Luke’s extra phrase: “For to Him”. This perspective shift makes the last idea focus us onto God’s perspective. While it might easy to jump to the conclusion that everyone is immortal because God sees everyone as alive, that conclusion is a bad one to take because it assumes that our perspective is God’s perspective. This is impossible for many reasons, but the one significant reason for this discussion is that God is outside of time and we are trapped within it.

To help us understand God’s perspective, imagine watching an old movie. Every time you press play, the characters come alive on the screen. This movie has captured a secondary timeline from the one we are living in. In our timeline, called history, at least one of the actors in this movie has probably died, but when we watch what was captured on film, the actors come alive again.

If a character dies part way through the movie, all it takes is rewinding or jumping back in the movie’s timeline to see them as alive again.

This is the perspective Jesus shares about God in this last portion of His reply. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they are alive to God because He simply can look back to their time in history and see them as alive. When God holds the remote control on history, He can fast forward, rewind, pause, and focus on any part of this world that He wants.

God has the perspective that everyone is alive, but that is because He can see all points of history. This doesn’t mean that everyone is conscious at all points in history. Instead, our perspective mirrors the first part of Jesus’ reply: We look forward to the resurrection, when God the Creator and Re-Creator, pull everyone from their respective endpoints in history’s timeline into a brand new timeline called the New Heaven and New Earth.

In the new age without sin, Jesus tells us that there won’t be marriage, but I’m sure that is because it will have been replaced with something even better. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the resurrection, and the start of the new age without sin.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and trust Him with your life and your future. If death scares you, don’t be worried. Jesus faced death and He conquered it! Death is no match for the life Jesus has promised us when He returns.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to discover God’s truth for your life. While a pastor or podcaster can give you things to think about, study out everything you hear from God’s Word to validate it yourself. While what we focused on in this episode is a hot topic in Christianity, it’s my goal to get you thinking and studying this for yourself, rather than simply prompt you to believe the same way I do. I want you to believe what God teaches you through the Bible as a whole – not just some single texts that have been assembled together.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 10: Discover what we can learn from the Sadducees challenge to Jesus, and how Jesus’ response teaches us about what we can look forward to in Heaven.

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