Luke 20: 27 – 39 The resurrection and marriage
Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. ‘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. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’
Jesus replied, ‘The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 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, 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 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”. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.’
Some of the teachers of the law responded, ‘Well said, teacher!’ And no one dared ask him any more questions.
* * *
As a child of the mid-20th century, born into western culture, I tend to think of marriage as the fulfilment of romantic love. The prince marries Cinderella, and lives happily ever after. However, if I had been born into an Asian family, for example, my marriage might have been arranged by my family and, while my happiness would have been considered, other factors would have played a part.
I mention this because my view of marriage is different from that of a 1st century Jew, and will colour my understanding of this passage.
Marriage in 1st century Israel was largely to do with maintaining the extended family, and, in particular, the property rights of the family. The question posed by the Sadducees arises from a situation described in the Torah (the Hebrew scriptures, which form the first five books of the Old Testament). Exactly as the Sadducees describe, the brother of a man who dies without children is obliged to marry the widow. This is to try to ensure that the man’s property can pass to an heir within the extended family. (Deuteronomy 25: 5 – 10)
As the Sadducees pose the problem, during her earthly life the woman has been married to all seven brothers. To whom is she married at the resurrection? The motive for asking the question is to ridicule the idea of there being a resurrection.
Jesus’ answer is one of the rare occasions he speaks of the world to come. He says that it’s different. Those who are worthy are raised in bodies like angels. There is no need for inheritance laws, because nobody dies. There is no need for extended family because everyone is a child of God.
In other words, life after the resurrection will be very different, and centred on God. It is a spiritual realm, not a material one.
Jesus goes on to deal with the Sadducees’ motive in asking the question. He reminds his listeners that when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he described himself as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. Jesus adds, He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.’
Although Jesus has spoken of the world to come, it’s hard to imagine it – perhaps one reason why he doesn’t speak of it very often. The key insights he gives us are that it’s different; it’s spiritual, not material; we will all be God’s children; and we will not die.
Thank you for your love for us. Thank you for human love, which can point us to you.
In Jesus name, Amen