The God of the Living: Past & Present – Matthew 22:23-33

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Faith Bible Church, NY

October 23, 1994

The God of the Living: Past & Present

Matthew 22:23-33


This morning we continue our study of Matthew 22 and come to the second of three questions posed to Jesus in His confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders. The Chief Priests and Elders began the day by challenging Jesus’ authority to do all the things He has done, including cleansing the temple from the merchants and money changers as well as teach with such authority and perform so many miracles. Jesus’ responded with three scathing parables that demonstrated the wicked hearts of these men. They feigned to be followers after God and the teachers of righteousness, but in fact were followers only of themselves and the teachers of self-righteousness. They were not only the blind leading the blind, but rebellious too in killing the prophets of God throughout the ages past and currently plotting how they might destroy God’s Son.

Previously we saw the Pharisees attempt to discredit Jesus by sending their disciples, along with the Herodians, (See: The Secular and the Sacred) to pose a question that was sure to get Jesus in trouble with either the people or the Romans. “Is it lawful to pay the poll-Tax?” If Jesus says, “yes,” the people will reject Him for they despised the poll-tax. If Jesus says, “no,” the Herodians would accuse Him of insurrection against Rome. They thought they could entrap Jesus, but you can not trap God. Jesus answer not only astounded them, but clarified for all of us the relationship we have with human government and God.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” To Caesar belongs submission, civil honor and taxes for that is His due. It is God that sets up human governments for the restraint of evil and so it is only fitting that the people pay for the benefits received and follow the laws set up. The power of God is seen in that He can even use wicked people and systems of government for His own purposes. However, we are not to give to human governments that which does not belong to it. Our obedience is not necessary when it commands us to do or not do things contrary to God’s commands. We can not submit to laws that command us to do evil or prohibit us from walking in righteousness. We submit to human government, but our allegiance is only to God Himself. Jesus’ response was a double edged sword to the Pharisees because they did not want to submit to the government nor was their allegiance to God.

We must be mindful ourselves to make sure we understand the Scripture’s command in this area. Christians should be the best citizens of any country having the greatest patriotism and love for their nation and be even willing to lay down their lives for its preservation. They should be among the greatest supporters of the government by obeying its laws and defending its right to exist and rule since they understand that those rights and authority come from God Himself. At the same time, Christians should be the most independent force within any nation because their allegiance is not to man, but God. Their true citizenship is in heaven and they are more than willing to suffer whatever may come in order to promote godliness within that nation.

How does such a thing work out in our own country? We pay our taxes without grumbling, we obey the laws that have been set forth, but at the same time we work hard to promote laws that reflect Godliness and repeal laws that do not. We give to those holding government offices the proper honor and respect do them as those in authority, while at the same time we boldly speak out for righteousness and will even rebuke those in authority as needed, but always speaking the truth in love (And remember, love can be bold as was Nathan to David). Obviously President Clinton is not popular with Christians because he has so openly promoted that which the Bible calls evil. We know were the policies he is promoting will lead us and our children and that causes fear and anger to well up inside us. But how do we react? If we descend into name calling and vilification of the man we are not following the Scriptures commands and so are no better than he. Do we pray for his soul and the salvation of those in his administration? Do we focus on the issues and show to people how and why Biblical principles should be applied, or do we regress into accusations. Do we promote godliness in what we do, and how we present our views or do we become simply another demonstration of the degenerate nature of man. Fulfill your duty to pay Caesar what belongs to him, but even more importantly, fulfill your responsibility to obey God first and foremost in everything.

The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians had come trying to trap Jesus, and they fell into their own trap. We meet the next group to challenge Jesus in verse 23.


(Mt. 22:23) On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him and questioned Him,

In order to understand the question they posed and what they were trying to do with it, we must first gain some understanding of who the Sadducees were and what they believed.

There were many religious sects in Israel at that time. The Sadducees were the smallest in number, but in many ways the most powerful. They were the aristocrats of the society, and were the ones largely in control of the Temple and its operation. The high and chief priests were almost invariably Sadducees. The Roman government gave them a certain amount of freedom in the operation of the Temple, and they gained great wealth from the lucrative Temple concessions (they same ones Jesus had kicked out the day before). Rome also gave them a certain amount of power including having their own Temple guard. For these reason they were pro-Rome, and so were despised by the other sects.

Theologically, they were almost the opposite of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the culturally conservative and the Sadducees were the culturally liberal. The Pharisees held fast to external customs and practices and were legalistic to the core, so much so that for all practical purposes they held their rabbinical traditions to be more authoritative than Scripture. The Sadducees rejected the rabbinical writings and customs and held to only the Scriptures with a strange sort of fundamentalism that emphasized the five books of Moses and the Pentateuch to such a point they nearly excluded the rest of the Scriptures. They interpreted the Bible with a great literalism with the result that in some areas they were even more rigid than the Pharisees. They held to the Levitical purity code and prided themselves as being the preservers of the true faith. At the same time they, like the Pharisees, would freely interpret or ignore what was in the Scriptures if it suited their purpose, which isn’t really any different that many people today.

There are many groups that claim to hold to the Bible, but do so only in so far as they can make it say what they want it to say. They freely interpret and/or ignore in order to justify what they want to do rather than striving to truly understand the Bible and changing their practice to match it. We make no claim here to understand everything here, but we do claim that as we continue to strive to understand the Bible, we want our practice to change to match it, not the other way around.

Among the great theological differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees was their difference in understanding of the supernatural realm. Despite the many Old Testament references, the Sadducees did not believe in the existence of angels or a spirit or the resurrection from the dead, as is pointed out in our text (vs 23) and as one writer pointed out was why they were so “sad you see.” The subject of the resurrection was a matter of great debate between the Sadducees and the Pharisees with the former liking to poke fun at the latter for believing something they could not see and that Moses said very little about. Usually the Pharisees would try to demonstrate the resurrection using the few obscure texts there were in the Pentateuch. Numbers 18:28 implies it when it refers to giving “the Lord’s offering to Aaron the priest” even though Aaron had already died. Another passage was Deuteronomy 32:9 in which the Lord says, “…I kill, I make alive, I wound, I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.” Of course this passages emphasis is on the Lord’s sovereignty over life, not necessarily are reference to the resurrection.

The Sadducees and Pharisees were usually antagonistic to each other, but now there was one goal they had in common: they both wanted to destroy Jesus. The Sadducees had pretty much ignored Jesus to this point, but when Jesus had cleaned out a major source of their income when He had chased the merchants and money changers out, He had caught their attention, and now they wanted to destroy Him. This is the setting where we now come to our text and the Sadducees present to Jesus a question with the hope to humiliate Him, as they had the Pharisees so many times.


Verse 23, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies, having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up an offspring to His brother.”

This is often referred to as a Levirate marriage meaning, “marriage to the husband’s brother.” It could occur in the case when a wife’s husband would die before there were any male children were born. It was included in the Law of Moses in order to keep his line from dying out. She could marry her husband’s brother or next of kin who would then raise up a child in her dead husband’s name. It was viewed as a righteous practice and Genesis 38 records a case were a two brothers were punished for their refusal to fulfill this obligation, and in Ruth it is presented as very positive since this is exactly what Boaz does for Ruth.

The Sadducees had probably used the scenario concerning levirate marriage many times before to humiliate the Pharisees, now they are going to present the dilemma to Jesus in an effort to humiliate Him.

“Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. And last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection therefore whose wife of the seven shall she be? For they all had her.”

Two brothers in the story would have been sufficient to prove their point, but the repetition is given to highlight what they believe is an absurdity, life after death in the resurrection. In all probability the story is fictional for one reason: if you or I were one of the brothers toward the end of the line and noticed our brothers dying off one by one and the only common factor was marriage to this girl, I don’t know about you, but I would find someone else to marry first and in a hurry!

You can imagine these Sadducees finishing this story and then with a smirk on their faces ask Jesus their question. “Whose wife would she be in the resurrection?” After using this scenario so many times on the Pharisees they thought it was a sure way to humiliate Jesus too. Many others throughout history and even today think they can do the same thing to God. They present some dilemma that to them proves that God is not who he claims to be or that He does not even exist. Such people are being foolish as were the Sadducees were. Man’s pride makes him think He can somehow out smart God, but you can’t. All you ever do is prove your own ignorance and blindness to the truth that is right in front of you. Jesus brings this out in his reproof of these men.


Verse 29, But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.”

What a shock to these men who were gloating about the dilemma they had just presented, but Jesus does not shy from the question for even the least moment. He calmly and firmly affirms that they are the ones that have strayed from the truth. They are the ones who have been deceived and are showing their ignorance before everyone. They had boasted of their superior ability to interpret the Scriptures and Jesus directly tells them that they do not understand the Scriptures or God. In short, Jesus tells them that they have no idea what they are talking about because they do not know the Bible or God. That is a shocking rebuke to these men.


Jesus corrects their ignorance and explains both the power of God and the Scriptures to them.

Verse 30, “For in the resurrection they neighbor marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” The Sadducees (and the Pharisees for that matter) had erred because they had assumed that life after the resurrection would be the same as it was currently including marriage. That false belief is still commonly held. We need to understand that while there will be many things that will similar to what they are now, there is much more that will be different because God is going to change us! Do not limit the power of God in changing us.

What are some of the things that will be different? Jesus points out in direct response to the Sadducees story that marriage will not be part of it. Some of you may think that is not good while others of you may be secretly rejoicing. Personally, I find this a difficult thing to rejoice in because I just can not imagine being in heaven without also having my current relationship with Diane continuing. In this current life marriage is one of the great blessings that God has given to us. Remember that it was God that said it was not good for Adam to be alone. God was in the Garden, yet there was a need for intimacy that Adam did not have met with God. By God’s design Adam had a need for a partner that was like him, yet different. A compliment to him. God then made Eve to be that compliment and the two of them would meet each others needs for intimacy. God also commanded them to be fruitful, multiply and fill the Earth.

In heaven there will be no need for reproduction because there is no death there and no new life born there as there is on Earth. There will also not be the need for the exclusive intimate relationships we have on earth. Marriage is a great blessing here and I have a hard time imagining life without it, but I do not want to limit the power of God in changing me and all of you into people who will have perfect relationships with everyone else including God Himself. We will be, as Jesus says here, be like the Angels. Note He does not say we will be Angels, but like Angels. Jesus contradicts the Sadducees denial of the existence of Angels too. We will still be people, but changed people who are equal with Angels in spiritual nature, equal with them in being deathless, glorified, and eternal.

The parallel account in Luke 20:34 records in more detail what Jesus said. Luke records that Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

We get a sense the dramatic change that will take place in the resurrection 1 Cor. 15:39f where Paul tries give a sense of how radical a change will take place. “…all flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown i weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

The Sadducees did not understand the power of God who will make a radical transformation in our nature in the resurrection. Let’s be careful not to limit God’s power either. I may enjoy my marriage here greatly, but I look forward to being in heaven with Diane where we will not be married, but where our changed natures will allow us to have a better, deeper relationship than we could ever have here on earth.


The Sadducees also failed in understanding the Scriptures. Jesus explains that to them in verse 31 & 32. “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

The Sadducees had used Moses as their authority, Jesus what Moses himself record that God Himself had said. This particular phrase that Jesus quotes here or some form of it appears several places in the writings of Moses. But Luke’s greater detail puts this particular quote in Exodus 3:6. Luke records Jesus as saying, “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him.”

Jesus whole argument is based on the tense of the verb used. It speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the present tense though they had been long dead by the time this was said to Moses at Horeb. Yet, God was still their God as much as when they were walking around on the earth. They may have been, in a sense, even more alive since they were now with God and their intimacy with Him was even more than it had been before they went to the grave.

When you add to this argument the Hebrew concept of man, which sees him as a whole and does not make a dichotomy between soul and body as Greek thought does, Jesus’ argument becomes even stronger. If God is still presently the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and He is) then they are still alive and are with Him in some other realm.

In verse 33 we find that the once again when the multitudes heard Jesus they were astonished at His teaching. Jesus did what no one else had ever done. He had proven the resurrection from the writings of Moses. Luke tells us that a few of the scribes commented that Jesus had “spoken well,” but the Sadducees were put to silence not daring to ask Him any more questions (vs. 34, 40). Tragically, they had heard an answer to the unanswerable that could have only come from the omniscient mind of God Himself, and they could not be turned. They were not truth seekers. If they had been, they would have humbly accepted the correction and began asking questions of Jesus to learn from Him. Instead, their only interest was destroying Him. They failed, so they left in shame, but still stubborn in their pride and continuing to plot how they could destroy Jesus. They had been offered hope, but they rejected it.


My prayer is that you would understand this hope. Jesus had presented to them the answer to man’s greatest dilemma. What will happen after I die? Jesus’ answer was not speculation, a wish, or the philosophical pronouncements of man, but clear statement of the facts. There is life after death, there will be a resurrection, and that resurrection is not just a continuation of this life but an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe. There is no “happy hunting ground,” reincarnation is a detestable lie, and it all does not end in the grave. It is instead as Jesus said in Luke 20:35, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead…are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

You do not become worthy or attain to that age in your own power, your own goodness, your own righteousness. Instead it comes as a gift of grace from God to those who come believing in Jesus and in humility asking for forgiveness. God is pleased to justify you through the redemption which is in Jesus and reckon your faith as righteousness.

For those that know and love the Lord Jesus Christ and are trusting Him alone for salvation, heaven is a wonderful promise and we have confident assurance that what Jesus spoke to the Sadducees is true and will take place in our own lives today. There is much to rejoice about and praise the Lord for.

If Jesus is not your Lord and savior, then be warned. If you not repent and come to Christ you will be resurrected, but as Matthew 24 puts it, it will be to eternal damnation. The good news is that you can come to Jesus today for salvation.

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