Date: October 28, 2018
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Category: Biblical Exposition
Scripture: Matthew 22:23–22:33
People share a real concern about what happens when we die, but we do not share a consensus about what actually happens.
What do you believe happens when you die?
What is your basis for believing this? Why? How have you come to put your faith in it?
This morning we will see that the Bible is clear and unified in what it says about life after death. It provides an explanation of what happens.
And, we should note, the one who explains this, he himself rose from the dead. Jesus Christ died and then on the third day, he rose from the dead—just as he said he would.
The central argument that I want to make this morning, and to persuade you to believe is this, you can count on God to raise the dead because he always keeps his word.
Because God always keeps his Word, you can count on him to raise the dead.
To do this, we’ll consider three clarifying conclusions about this difficult topic. Death is dark, frightening, and filled with speculation. But Jesus speaks with clarity and certainty on the topic.
(1) Absurd objections to the Bible are nothing new
Who asks Jesus this question?
In our passage we find Jesus being asked questions. This is nothing new. Throughout the gospel accounts wherever Jesus goes he seems to get questions.
But it’s important to remember the timing here. It is Tuesday. On Sunday he rode into town on a donkey and was proclaimed king. On Monday he cleansed the temple and rendered judgment on the religious establishment. On Friday he will be crucified. On Sunday he will rise from the dead. It is a tense, pressure-packed time.
You should also remember that many of the people who are asking Jesus questions aren’t doing it with sincerity. They are trying to catch him in a trap. We have seen that with the Pharisees and the Herodians as they attempted to trap Jesus in his words.
And now we see wit with these Sadducees. The goal of the questions is to either get Jesus in trouble with Rome (so they would kill him) or to discredit him in front of people (so they would no longer follow him).
Those in authority are jealous of Jesus. He poses a threat to their manner of life. They know if he succeeds then they will fail. They hate him because he is a threat.
We see this with the question in the passage. Who asked the question? We read it was the Sadducees. Who is this?
These were very influential men in Jewish leadership. They existed in Judaism from the second century BC until the first century AD. Their name means “the righteous ones.” This is the group that the chief priests belong to. They were described as rude and argumentative by one historian. They had the ear and support of the wealthy but were not favored by the populace. At the time of this scene in Matthew, they would have made up the majority of the Sanhedrin (or the 71 member ruling Jewish council).
Theologically, they were ultra conservative and broke with the Pharisees over the traditions and teachings of the Rabbis. The viewed the Scriptures with a priority of Moses’ writings. In other words, they did not accept the doctrine that was not held in the first five books of the Bible—the Pentateuch. We are told in this passage that they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Acts 23:8 informs us that they also did not believe in angels.
This is who comes to ask Jesus questions.
What did they ask?
“The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”” (Matthew 22:23–28)
This seems like a pretty straightforward, if not a bit of a strange question!
Why did they ask him this?
Let’s think about this from a personal perspective. As I mentioned, they want Jesus out. Remember, Jesus is a threat to them. They are making a lot of money with his current arrangement. They can’t have him coming in and turning over the tables in the temple anymore. Their nice financial setup is in jeopardy as long as they are on the receiving end of Jesus’s stinging rebukes.
If they can trip Jesus up here with this question then they can achieve their objective. How will they do it? Well, they ask him an impossible question.
This brings us to the question itself. They are trying to show the foolishness of the popularly held view of the resurrection. They think it’s funny and they want to roll out their favorite argument. They think Jesus will “tap out” and concede. But as we’ll see, the Sadducees commit the common but deadly error: they overestimate themselves and underestimate their opponent. They are talking to whatever theological sparring partner they usually go up against. They are talking to the infinitely wise, supremely tactful, master of debate and Bible.
Here’s the gist of what they are asking. The Old Testament in passages like Deuteronomy 25, teach something called Levirate marriage. This comes into play in the case where one’s brother dies and he leaves a widow who does not have a son. In order to take care of her and to preserve his brother’s line, the remaining brother is to marry his brother’s widow and attempt to have children. The question envisions a tragic story—if it would ever be true—of one woman marrying through and burying seven brothers. The question has its punchline, when they all get to heaven—in the resurrection—whose wife will she be?
They think the foolishness of the scenario the created undermines the doctrine of the resurrection.
What can we learn from this?
Asking questions about the Bible is nothing new. We as Christians should both be asking questions and encouraging those around us who may be unfamiliar with the Bible to ask questions. There is nothing wrong with questions.
But, we should also note that this type of questioning is also not new. It’s a bit absurd, isn’t it? It’s a question with a false premise. In logic, this type of questioning is a reductio ad absurdum (a reduction to absurdity). It appeals to extremes and tries to show that it will lead to ridiculous conclusions. Instead of defeating an idea with facts, history, or reason, it gets defeated by creating a hypothetical scenario that shows a foolish outcome. This is basically what you get if you watch the Cable News interviews. There is very little exchange and debate over ideas and a great number of leaps to absurdity. “Jesus, the Bible doesn’t teach the resurrection because that would be absurd.”
What is missing with this type of questioning is the source of authority. With this argument, the authority is reason or more precisely what doesn’t seem to be silly to the one asking the question.
But, what if there’s more information? What if what we think, believe, and understand to make sense is not actually the arbiter of what is true?
The Sadducees do what many people do, they have a different starting point. They start from themselves and reason up to God. What makes sense to them is then projected onto God. What they believe, think, and do is agreeable to them (and of course God is okay with this because he also agrees with them). This is not the biblical pattern. In the Scriptures, we see that we don’t reason up to God but rather God reasons down to us. This is very important to understand. The Scriptures come to us from God. The Bible reveals God to us and reveals us to us.
The popular philosophy of today (as well as throughout most of human history) is that we find truth from the inside out. But the Bible teaches that truth comes outside in. It comes to us.
This absurd question—this reduction to absurdity—is even a question because they have set aside the Bible’s authority and replaced it with their own. The Sadducee's objection may be different than what many bring today, but their source of authority is not. It’s the same thing today.
This is why Jesus’s answer is so important. You’ll notice where he points his questioners. Look at verse 29, “But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)
(2) The Bible teaches the resurrection of the dead
Let’s look at Jesus’s answer to their question. In verse 23, we read, “You are wrong.”
This is pretty direct! You are wrong! Jesus doesn’t mince words.
What’s interesting is, the Sadducees didn’t make a statement, they asked a question.
But Jesus says they are wrong. What does he mean? This means he rejects the premise underneath the question. They are wrong in their theological beliefs as well as their moral appraisals. They are wrong.
In short, Jesus is saying, your doctrine that rejects the resurrection of the dead is incorrect. It’s false.
Said another way, the resurrection from the dead is true.
We don’t just cease to exist upon our death. No, the truth is, there is a resurrection.
This is groundbreaking.
Notice what else he says. Look with me at verse 29 again, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”
This is quite a statement. To tell a Sadducee they don’t know the Bible is like telling a Supreme Court Justice that they don’t know the US Constitution. It’s what they are known for having expertise in. This would have generated a collective gasp from the crowd.
What does he mean?
The Sadducees had created this ridiculous story, reasoning from their minds (what they think is rationale and acceptable) up to God. But Jesus says, you don’t understand the Word of God nor the power of God.
In short he is saying, the Bible teaches the resurrection and furthermore, it’s not an impossibility, because God is infinitely powerful!
God can do more than our puny brains can imagine.
How would they respond to this?
They would tell Jesus, “Prove it.”
Jesus would need to prove the resurrection from the dead to them. And, to do so, he would be best served by making his proof from one of the first five books of the Bible, from the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Because remember, the Sadducees gave priority to the writings of Moses.
How does Jesus answer them? Drop down to verse 31,
“And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘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.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” (Matthew 22:31–33)
Jesus’s proof text to show the Bible teaches the resurrection from the dead is perhaps a bit obscure to us. We might not be thinking of this passage when we are thinking about what happens after we die. And, I bet the Sadducees weren’t either.
Jesus picks a text that was from the Pentateuch (from Exodus). And was extremely familiar, not only to the priests but also to everyone. This is the scene where Moses comes to a burning bush. And there at the bush, God reveals himself to Moses and tells him his name and the mission. He tells him that his name is “I am”. This notion of being the “I am” carries with it the concept of self-self-existence and eternality. It means that God has existed forever—and will continue to. And, it means that God has life in himself.
What’s the particular importance to our discussion of the afterlife?
Remember that Moses is living about 1,000 years after Abraham and several hundred years after his three sons. These men have all died and were buried. Moses wrote this out for us in Genesis.
But God says to Moses there at the burning bush that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even after they have died God remains their God.
In other words, even after their death, they continue to exist.
What’s more, they continue to exist while God continues to be there God.
They lived under the banner of God’s promises and now after dying, they live on in the experience of God’s promised blessings. God did not abandon these men when they died. He continued to be their God and they continued to be his people, even centuries later.
The resurrection from the dead is true. Jesus makes his point profoundly.
I think it’s very clear from this passage, and others in the New Testament, that Jesus believed and taught that there is a resurrection from the dead. He believes in the afterlife. And that he expected his followers to do the same.
It may be helpful to talk for just a moment or two about this doctrine to ensure we have a basic handle on it.
I’m going to ask and attempt to answer three questions about the resurrection. And then in the third point, there will be more detail given to a couple of nuanced particulars of life after death.
First, what is a summary of what is meant by the resurrection?
The Bible teaches that after death the soul (our immaterial self) separates from our physical body. Those who are believers—who have repented of their sin and trust in Christ for salvation—go immediately into the presence of God while those who do not go immediately into a time of judgment. Then, at the end of the age, both believers and unbelievers will experience a resurrection, that we will all stand before God at the final judgment. Those who have rejected the gospel will go into eternal hell and those who have been saved by God’s grace will enter into eternal blessing, reunited with their physical bodies, now in a glorified or perfect state.
Is the resurrection taught elsewhere in the Bible?
Yes. Even in the Old Testament, we see this teaching. For example, passages like Isaiah 26:19-20, Psalm 16:10, and Daniel 12:2-3 strongly teach the resurrection of the dead. And, the Jews had this hope, especially at the time of Christ. Martha, for example (John 11:24; cf. also Matt 16:14; Mark 6:15; 9:10; Luke 9:8, 19; Matt 14:2; Mark 6:14, 16; Luke 9:7). But the most thorough treatment of this doctrine is found in 1 Corinthians 15.
What happens when we die?
Believers go immediately into the presence of God for blessing while unbelievers go into the presence of God for judgment (2 Corinthians 5). There are no second chances. What’s done in this life is settled for eternity.
The Bible teaches, from Genesis to Revelation, the hope of the resurrection of the dead. It is a precious promise that is tied to who God is.
The Sadducees were wrong. They did not understand the Scriptures nor the power of God.
(3) What we know about life after death comes from the Bible
Now I want you to think about something for a moment. Think about how people come to hold their beliefs about heaven, hell, and the afterlife.
Everyone has to admit that their knowledge and their experience is limited. We haven’t died and gone and checked out what it’s like. (I realize there is a whole publishing industry associated with “Heavenly Tourism” — people that allegedly die, go to heaven, and then come back. But this says more about our curiosity to buy the books rather than their expertise to tell us anything. I am more than skeptical about the claims made in these books. The people may be sincere but sincerely doesn’t mean truth. A lot of people are sincerely wrong).
So, we are limited.
And yet, so many put their trust in concepts and beliefs that are unsubstantiated. When you talk with people about what happens when they die there is a wide range of answers. But where does this come from? How can we know it’s true?
My point is we are limited. We might want something to be true. But wanting something to be true and it actually being true is two very different things.
On the other hand, we have the Bible. The Bible is an external word. God, our Creator, speaks to us. He reveals things in the Scriptures that we would not know by experience and he communicates it to us in a way that is understandable. The Bible presents us with answers to life’s most basic questions.
As the Scriptures say, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13) And, “In your light, we see light.” (Psalm 36.9).
What we can know about life after death comes from the Bible. This is what Jesus teaches us.
With this, let’s turn our attention back to the dialog between Jesus and the Sadducees.
“But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:” (Matthew 22:29–31)
Jesus here teaches a bit about life in heaven, life after the resurrection in our eternal state.
And, by doing so, he helps us understand a bit more about what it will be like.
Notice Jesus says we will be “like” angels in heaven. Notice, this does not say we will become angels. I know this is a popular concept held by many today. The Bible does not teach that people become angels. Deceased loved ones don’t become our guardian angels. While it’s certainly a nice thing to think about and perhaps provides some comfort, it’s simply not true, according to the Bible.
So what does he mean that we will be like angels?
It means that we will die nor will be engaged in sexual relationships.
At first, this might strike us as strange and if we are honest it might make you sad—especially if you are married. Does this mean that you won’t know your spouse in heaven? Does it mean we won’t know anyone from the earth in heaven?
No, I don’t think so.
The Bible teaches the temporary nature of marriage. It is for this life. It is purposeful—God uses marriage for a rich blessing to those who are married and for the world by the establishment of more and more children. It also portrays the gospel and the love of Christ to the church. But marriage is reserved for this life. It’s temporary.
This should be instructive to us this morning. The Bible is very clear about the importance of marriage. God is extremely pro-marriage. He created it. He loves it. But, it is not ultimate. It is relativized to God ultimate plan of marriage or union between Christ and his church—and the relationships we’ll enjoy throughout eternity.
This should help those of us who are married to ensure we are prioritizing the eternal realities of our relationship with our spouse. While paying the bills and taking the kids to activities, and fixing the house are all very important—there is something that binds the husband and wife together even more—the fact that they are brother and sister in Christ. Prioritize the spiritual relationship.
It also speaks to those who are single. Many of you who are single want to be married. And this is a good thing! God commends marriage and gives it to us as a rich blessing. But, it is not an ultimate thing. Make sure you have not hitched your identity to being married. Happiness does not come through being married to another human but by our union to Christ.
But what about knowing other people in heaven? Will we know each other? What about all of the time and experiences we have shared?
The answer to this question gets to what Jesus was saying with their lack of understanding of the power of God. The resurrected life is not subjected to the same limitations and conditions as life on earth.
In God’s plan and power he is able to remake us in such a way that we will enjoy full relationships with others.
One has said, The intimacy that a human being shares with one other person in marriage is universalized in the joy and love of heaven. (Michael Green).
“Jesus’ reference to “the power of God” suggests that God is able to establish relationships of even deeper friendship, joy, and love in the life to come. God has not revealed anything more about this, though Scripture indicates that the eternal glories awaiting the redeemed will be more splendid than anyone can begin to ask or think (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9; Eph. 3:20).” Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible
This might seem discouraging to married couples who are deeply in love with each other in this life, but surely people will know their loved ones in heaven (cf. 8:11; Luke 9:30, 33), and the joy and love of close relationships in heaven will be more rather than less than it is here on earth. (ESV SB)
This would also bring encouragement to those who have been married more than once, which is the heart of the question.
Jesus’ reply points them to a possibility of fulfilment of these relationships in the risen life which the exclusiveness of the marriage bond in earthly life would have rendered unthinkable. Jealousy and exclusion will have no place there. R. T. France,
Let’s wrap up with a brief look at 1 Corinthians 15.
In verse 20 we learn that Christ will raise our bodies when he returns. And that our physical bodies will be like his resurrection body (v.20, 23, 49)…so what will this be like?
Paul uses an illustration of a seed put in the ground that grows into something beautiful. Look at verses 42-44, and 49.
What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body … . Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:42–44, 49)
Imperishable means that our new bodies in the resurrected life will not grow old, get sick, break down, or war out. There will be no disease. We will live in them forever.
Notice also we will be raised in glory. This is contrasted with dishonor. Everything will be made new and beautiful, free from the effects of sin and its curse.
Instead of weakness that characterizes our lives now, we will be raised in power!
Then he contrasts a physical body from the spiritual. Remember, we are actually talking about a physical body here. Many commentators have noted that the term spiritual here seldom means “nonphysical” but rather “consistent with the character and activity of the Holy Spirit…Such a body is not at all “nonphysical,” but it is a physical body raised to the degree of perfection for which God originally intended it.
Remember again Jesus’s teaching, we may not know how this happens, but we do know that it happens. God has spoken to us of these things in his word!
How do we apply this?
First, is simply to answer the question, for yourself, what do you believe happens when you die? Do you believe what the Bible says?
Second, we must adopt Jesus’ view of the Bible.
Finally, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead must affect how you life.
Because God always keeps his Word, you can count on him to raise the dead.