The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.
Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection
23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”
29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
Matthew 22 records the continuation of theological tests from the Jewish hierarchy and Jesus’s lessons to them.
These took place on Wednesday of His last Passover, which we commemorate during Holy Week.
Matthew 22:1-14 is the Parable of the Wedding Feast. This is an allegory for God’s invitation to share eternal life with Him. The king in Jesus’s parable prepared a wedding feast but those he invited turned the celebration down because they were otherwise occupied. Some even killed his servants, the king’s messengers. The king then instructed his servants to invite all and sundry, both ‘bad and good’ (verse 10). One man was not wearing a wedding garment, not because he could not afford one but because he did not care, a reference to the state of our hearts. The king threw him out. Jesus concluded the parable:
13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Jesus meant that, through Him, God extended an invitation to the Jews to eternal life through belief in His Son the Messiah. The Jews rejected Him, so God invited the Gentiles instead. However, those who do not honour God, like the man not wearing a wedding garment, face His condemnation to eternal death.
It is useful to add that this parable refers to God’s condemnation of them and their people in 70 AD with the destruction of the temple.
Matthew Henry gives us the takeaways of the Parable of the Wedding Feast (emphases mine):
… this feast, a heaven upon earth now, and a heaven in heaven shortly. God has prepared it in his counsel, in his covenant.
Gospel calls and offers are represented by an invitation to this feast. Those that make a feast will have guests to grace the feast with. God’s guests are the children of men.
… none are excluded but those that exclude themselves … They are bidden to the wedding, that they may go forth to meet the bridegroom for it is the Father’s will that all men should honour the Son.
Note, Making light of Christ, and of the great salvation wrought out by him, is the damning sin of the world. Amelesantes—They were careless. Note, Multitudes perish eternally through mere carelessness, who have not any direct aversion, but a prevailing indifference, to the matters of their souls, and an unconcernedness about them.
Observe, Both the city and the country have their temptations, the merchandise in the one, and the farms in the other so that, whatever we have of the world in our hands, our care must be to keep it out of our hearts, lest it come between us and Christ.
The prophets and John the Baptist had been thus abused already, and the apostles and ministers of Christ must count upon the same.
Such were some of you or, some that after their conversion proved bad, that turned not to the Lord with all their heart, but feignedly others that were upright and sincere, and proved of the right class. Ministers, in casting the net of the gospel, enclose both good fish and bad but the Lord knows them that are his.
Observe, This hypocrite was never discovered to be without a wedding garment, till the king himself came in to see the guests. Note, It is God’s prerogative to know who are sound at heart in their profession, and who are not. We may be deceived in men, either one way or other but He cannot. The day of judgment will be the great discovering day, when all the guests will be presented to the King …
Those, and those only, who put on the Lord Jesus, that have a Christian temper of mind, and are adorned with Christian graces, who live by faith in Christ, and to whom he is all in all, have the wedding garment.
They who never heard a word of this wedding feast will have more to say for themselves their sin will be more excusable, and their condemnation more tolerable, than theirs who came to the feast without the wedding garment, and so sin against the clearest light and dearest love.
… they are few, very few, that are chosen many called to the wedding feast, but few chosen to the wedding garment, that is, to salvation, by sanctification of the Spirit. This is the strait gate, and narrow way, which few find.
The Pharisees then asked Jesus paying tax to Caesar (verses 15-22). They wanted to trap Him into taking one theological side or the other. The Pharisees despised Roman rule and opposed paying tax to their oppressors. Their theological opponents, the Herodians, supported Roman rule. They did well out of it as a result. The people, in turn, loathed the Herodians.
Here they mocked Jesus by calling Him ‘Master’ insincerely. Jesus called them out:
18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?
He asked them to produce a coin, which they did. He asked them whose it was, and they replied, ‘Caesar’s’. He answered them (verse 21):
“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
They marvelled at His response and went away.
However, Henry makes this distinction:
Note, There are many in whose eyes Christ is marvellous, and yet not precious. They admire his wisdom, but will not be guided by it, his power, but will not submit to it. They went their way, as persons ashamed, and made an inglorious retreat. The stratagem being defeated, they quitted the field. Note, There is nothing got by contending with Christ.
Then it was the turn of the Sadducees to approach Him, which brings us to today’s verses.
There were four groups of Jews in Jesus’s time. John MacArthur explains:
Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes. Essenes were sort of hermits down in the desert who spent all their time copying scrolls and most likely copies the Dead Sea Scrolls, which we have found. Then there were the Zealots who were political activists, who were very nationalistic, who were sort of the terrorists, who were giving trouble to Rome. And then there were the Pharisees who were the religionists. And then there were the Sadducees.
And I’ll give you a little bit of information about them so you’ll understand what’s going on here. They were not many in number. They were a very small group. They were extremely wealthy and very influential. They were the aristocratic ruling class in Judaism. They were the highest echelon. In fact, the chief priests, the high priest, the noblest of the priests were Sadducees … The majority of the members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Israel were also Sadducees. So they had great power, they had great influence, they had great prestige, and they also were wealthy because it was they who ran the temple concessions, the money changing, the buying and selling of all sorts of things that went on there were under their power.
They were not popular with the people. First of all rich people who tend to do things for the expediency of their own personal gain don’t tend to be very popular. Secondly, their theology was not the theology of the people, for it denied the resurrection. The Pharisees were more popular with the people, and so the conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees even added to their unpopularity. They had structural power, they had money power, they gouged the people with the money changing, they gouged the people with the selling and the buying of the animals for the sacrifices, they were not a popular group.
Now politically they were pro Rome, which even added to their unpopularity. They were pro Rome for this reason: they were fat cats …
MacArthur says they were also very literal in their interpretation of Scripture, which helps us make more sense of the hypothetical situation they put forward to Jesus.
Now MacArthur says we do not know how the Sadducees got their name, but Henry did. He tells us:
These heretics were called Sadducees from one Sadoc, a disciple of Antigonus Sochæus, who flourished about two hundred and eighty-four years before our Saviour’s birth. They lie under heavy censures among the writers of their own nation, as men of base and debauched conversations, which their principles led them to. As the Pharisees and Essenes seemed to follow Plato and Pythagoras, so the Sadducees were much of the genius of the Epicureans[;] they denied the resurrection, they said, There is no future state, no life after this that, when the body dies, the soul is annihilated, and dies with it that there is no state of rewards or punishments in the other world no judgment to come in heaven or hell. They maintained, that, except God, there is not spirit (Acts 23:8), nothing but matter and motion. They would not own the divine inspiration of the prophets, nor any revelation from heaven, but what God himself spoke upon mount Sinai.
The Sadducees held that only the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible, those credited to Moses — were the only valid Scripture. Everything else — Psalms, prophecies and others — held no validity for them. They also rejected the whole body of Jewish traditions from generations before.
In verse 23, we are told they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They presented a scenario to Jesus involving the Mosaic Law which said that a widow must remarry a single brother of her late husband’s so that the family lineage — and God’s chosen — could continue and multiply (verse 24).
They suggest the law of Moses in this matter (Matthew 22:24), that the next of kin should marry the widow of him that died childless (Deuteronomy 25:5) we have it practised Ruth 4:5. It was a political law, founded in the particular constitution of the Jewish commonwealth, to preserve the distinction of families and inheritances, of both which there was special care taken in that government.
MacArthur tells us of Ruth:
You remember Elimelech had two sons and Ruth had married one of the sons and that son had died. You remember his name was Obed and there was no child. And along came Boaz into her life and Boaz took her as his wife and raised up a child and we’re very interested in that because you must remember that the line of Elimelech was the line of whom, of Messiah. And so that very idea of a near kinsman coming into the line to take up the place of a dead husband to raise up seed fits right into the line of Messiah Himself.
God blessed Boaz and Ruth for their obedience.
On the other hand, God killed Onan for not marrying his widowed sister-in-law. That was before God instituted this law via Moses. Even so, there was a God-given expectation to Jacob’s sons — the twelve tribes — that everyone would play a role in their continuance:
You go back into the time before the law in the 38thchapter of Genesis in the time of the household of Judah, the son of Jacob, and you will remember that there was a situation where Onan, you remember the name Onan, Onan refused to comply and to raise up a child to his dead brother’s wife, and the Bible said Onan spilled his seed on the ground. He refused to give a child to his brother’s wife, to go in and become her husband, and take that role. And it says that God killed him, Genesis 38:8-10. God took his life, because in those early years in the formation of that people and keeping that identification pure that Messiah might come to His people, God maintained these kind of laws so that names and families could be passed on.
MacArthur says it was not clear how strictly this law was applied in Jesus’s time, however, it would have been important to the Sadducees. They asked Jesus a mocking question about the afterlife (verses 25-28). What would happen if a woman married all the brothers of one family in succession with no children: whose wife would she be after the resurrection?
Jesus point blank told them they were wrong in their thinking and their question (verse 29), because they knew neither Scripture nor the power of God the Father. MacArthur says:
He really discredits them. You are mistaken and He uses the word planeo. We got our word planet from it. It means to cause to wander, to lead astray and it’s in the middle voice reflective. It means you are causing yourself to wander. You are leading yourself astray from the truth. You are mentally cut loose from reality. That’s really what He’s saying. To put it in the vernacular, you are spaced out.
Had you known the Scriptures you would have known God promises resurrection. Had you known the power of God you would have known that God can raise people in a state where that’s not going to be an issue. If you knew the power of God you would know that He wouldn’t recreate people with the same problems here. He’s not limited to that, as if God has spent all His creative power on the way we are and can’t improve on it? If you knew the power of God and if you knew the Scripture you wouldn’t be so spaced out in your thinking.
Jesus then went on to say that when we are resurrected, marriage will be finished; we will be ‘like angels in heaven’ (verse 30). MacArthur explains:
There will be no two people who have an exclusive relationship. There will be no intimacy in that sense, and I mean that in the sense of marriage. It could even extend from there to friendships. Nobody will be closer to anybody else because we’ll all be perfectly close to each other and all perfectly intimate with the living God Himself.
We’re not going to be the angels, but be like them. And they were glorious eternal heavenly creatures whose number was fixed who never died and never reproduced. Marriage is necessary in this life for reproduction, preservation, propagation for the race. In [heaven] it will be as unnecessary for us as it is for angels. That’s why Luke in his parallel passage says, “We will be equal to the angels.” Equally deathless, equally spiritual, equally glorified, equally eternal, who have no longer any need to reproduce.
More importantly, Jesus took the Sadducees apart over their unbelief regarding the resurrection. These men who held the Pentateuch so dearly really didn’t know it, because Jesus cited Exodus 3:6 (verses 31, 32).
MacArthur unpacks this for us:
You say, well wait a minute. Is that supposed to be a statement about resurrection? It is. Is indeed a statement about resurrection. He quotes Moses because that’s what they demanded and the statement is an emphatic statement. In the Greek it’s egome I am, present tense, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And the argument here is an argument of the verb tense. He doesn’t say I was he God of Abraham, I was the God of Isaac, and I was the God of Jacob. You see in Exodus 3:6, Abraham was dead, Isaac was dead, and Jacob was dead already. How then can He say I am the God of Abraham, I am the God of Isaac, I am the God of Jacob, which is exactly what the Hebrew of 3:6 implies?
Well you can see it also in Genesis 26:24, Genesis 28:13, God says I am the God of Abraham and in both of those passages Abraham is already dead. And in Exodus 3:6, Exodus 3;15, Exodus 3:16, Exodus 4:15, God says I’m the God of Abraham, I’m the God of Isaac, I’m the God of Jacob, and they’re already dead. And His point then, at the end of the verse, is God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, so if God says I am the God of these people they must be, what, alive, alive. God is not worshipped by corpses. He’s not the God of people who don’t exist. Who wants to be the God of people who don’t exist?
Now note that each is individually singled out there, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and He’s talking about personal intimate relationship of each of them. Now the genitive here of the God of, the God of, the God of, can be seen two ways. It could mean this: the God to whom Abraham belongs, the God to whom Isaac belongs, the God to whom Jacob belongs. Or it could mean the God who belongs to Abraham, the God who belongs to Isaac, the God who belongs to Jacob, and I like to see both. I am the God to whom Abraham belongs and who belongs to Abraham. I am the God to whom Isaac belongs and who belongs to Isaac. I am the God to whom Jacob belongs and who belongs to Jacob. In other words, I am the God who continues to have an intimate relationship of life and worship with these who are dead, which means they still must be, what, alive.
When the crowd heard that, they were ‘astonished’ (verse 33). This is because Jesus was able to answer His enemies perfectly. Remember, most of those people did not recognise Him as their Messiah.
MacArthur says this passage should leave us with three messages about Jesus:
… one, I see here the majestic deity of Jesus.
Second thing I see is His commitment to Scripture.
And thirdly I see his affirmation of resurrection. Whenever I might be prone to doubt the resurrection I’m reminded that Jesus never doubted it for a moment, never for a moment, and affirms here that those who are dead are still alive because God is the God of the living. And so I’m encouraged with another view of Jesus as God, with another view of His dependence on Scripture, with another view of the hope of everlasting life. Instead of them discrediting Him, He discredited them and exposed Himself in all His majesty one more time.
After two more unsuccessful religious tests, Matthew 22 ends with this:
46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Matthew 23 recounts what Jesus did next. He condemned the hierarchy with seven woes.
In closing, there are two parallel accounts of this exchange. Mark 12:18-27, about which I wrote in 2013, is not in the Lectionary. However, Luke’s — Luke 20:27-38 — is included.
Next time: Matthew 23:13-15