Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”
A smidgen of background information will help. The Sadducees, who are the religious leaders in charge of the Temple, count as authoritative only the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Because there is no explicit teaching about resurrection in the Torah, they do not believe in it. In order to embarrass Jesus, they take an ancient Jewish custom – where the brother of a dead man marries his childless wife to preserve the family name – and take it to an extreme. They hope to show how foolish the idea of resurrection is and, at the same time, how foolish are those who hold it.
Truth be told, however, most of us don’t care much about ancient marriage rites or the religious differences between first-century Jewish sects. What we do care about is resurrection – our own, certainly, but often far more that of our loved ones. And while Jesus doesn’t go into any great detail about resurrection life, we may still glean two important things.
First, resurrection life is not simply “more of the same.” Resurrection, that is, is not merely a heavenly extension of the mortal life we enjoy but something qualitatively different. The normal activities that mark our life on this earth – marriage, graduation, accomplishments, etc. – will not characterize resurrection life.
Second, this does not mean we will not recognize and know those dear to us. By referencing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jesus seems to imply that the significant relationships we share in this life will persist, even as the way we live out, mark, and enjoy those relationships differs.
Having said all this, however, it’s important to note that given that none of us has first hand experience with resurrection and that Jesus is not in any way trying to paint a picture of our eternal home, any statements we make about heaven should be accompanied by a generous helping of humility. What is central to this exchange is Jesus’ promise: the God who cared for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and who raised Jesus from the grave will also take care of us. This God is, after all, the “God not of the dead but of the living.”
Prayer: Dear God, create in us a hope born of confidence in the resurrection that eases our fears and grants us the courage to face the challenges of this life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.