This story in Luke concerning the Sadducees questioning Jesus about the resurrection, using marriage as an example, provides us with extraordinary possibilities and insights into the resurrected life.
A woman’s status and survival in the world depended on her being attached to a man. We know in the Torah the purpose of marriage was seen as primarily for procreation, to keep the lineage of the tribe and of the man’s family intact.
It is worth noting in Jesus’ time this rule of passing the woman along as a piece of property to the next brother after the first had died, was not practiced, so the Sadducees were posing a hypothetical example to highlight the absurdity of the proposition about resurrection because the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection.
For this group of people, all the goodness life has to offer, love, justice, peace, abundance and happiness is experienced within our lifetimes. Life was to be lived as fully as possible within the boundaries of a human’s lifetime. We know this understanding of life today shapes our capacity to make meaning of our lives and purpose.
This is the only story in Luke’s Gospel where the Sadducees approach Jesus. They call Jesus ‘Teacher’, (v.28a) and start the discussion with an example from Moses, as the Sadducees only used the written Torah; saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us…” (Deut. 25:5; Gen.38:8; Ruth 4:1-12)
In contrast the Pharisees did believe in the resurrection and used both the written and oral Torah to make sense of their faith. The doctrine of resurrection is more clearly laid out in the oral Torah than in the written.
The Sadducees give this example of marriage because the traditional and secular view of death is the place of no return, no life, no presence, no existence. In this example, the woman cannot be married to seven men at the same time, and given there is no resurrection, their question is clearly constructed to highlight the absurdity of resurrection belief.
In Jesus’ response, there are several things upon which we can reflect. Firstly, Jesus does not reject marriage. He refers to the practice of being married and being given in marriage ‘in this age’.
Then he refers to the ‘new age’ of the resurrection where marriage no longer matters. In the resurrection, people do not die. They need not marry because they need not procreate. What seems a puzzle, is really not a puzzle at all.
There is good news here too, about the status of women. Jesus reminds us in the resurrection, there will be no more giving women away as if they are property. In the resurrection, women will be individuals just as are men.
Paul picks up on this when he says: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
It was also good news for slaves, for those oppressed by race, class, creed or any other box in which people have been confined; too young, too old, too poor, too disabled, too black, too disturbing”. Whatever the box, it will not exist in the resurrection. And when Jesus said: “It will not be like this in the resurrection,” he was not just declaring the end of all forms of oppression; he was declaring the end of death itself.
And what about marriage in heaven? What about lifelong loving relationships? What we do know is whenever Jesus raised someone from the dead, it was to restore a broken relationship. In Christ, the old ways will pass away and all will be made new. Hearts broken by sadness and grief will be mended in resurrection joy. As Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him, these things God has revealed to us.” (1 Cor. 2:9)
There is nothing wrong either, in our making sense of death and resurrection within the confines of our own life experience, when we think of the ways we hope people we love will be living after death. But Jesus is pointing to the limitations of human perspective and understanding.
We stand as human beings alongside Jesus Christ, as we see God standing with us, and God empowers us to respond to God from our standpoint, as broken, messy and complex as it is. However, the mistake is to assume and insist all life in the resurrection can be contained within our own experience.
In this story, Jesus explodes the human horizon and thinking. There is more to life than just the human experience of it, even if it means we don’t understand it. Death is not the ultimate condition and it does not permanently bind the experience of life and its meaning. Jesus directly states there is a resurrection. We need be in no doubt.
Jesus indicates our identity is reconstituted in the resurrection. In the resurrected life, Abraham is still Abraham and the same is true of Isaac and Jacob. He explains resurrection faith takes seriously the radical separation death causes.
Jesus highlights the flaw in the Sadducees’ story in v. 29-33 which refers to their understanding of marriage, which is only for “those who belong to this age” (v.34).
The Sadducees only understand marriage as ensuring the continuation of the generations through tribe and family in life. In contrast, ‘those who are found worthy’ will experience ‘that age’ through the resurrection (v.35) and will not die. (v.36a).
There are two ages. There is the former age, the age of waiting for the Messiah; and, there is now the new age, inaugurated by the Messiah, by Christ. In this new age, the reality of the resurrection will be revealed.
This reality of the two ages, the two realms, coexisting, shows us the kingdom of God in the life of Jesus Christ, and it means God is living and active in this world today, and also that God will be in the world to be the fulfillment God intends for it.
To live in Christian faith is to live in two worlds simultaneously. Christ reveals God is with us. Christ reveals in the end, God’s realm will triumph. So, we are free to live in the varied possibilities and pressures of the world with hope, with patience and with courage.
In the age to come, we will become new beings, like angels who do not die. We are invited to see a life which continues after death, in a new age, not bounded by our own beliefs and limited understanding of what this might encompass.
Jesus says: in the resurrection we are “like angels”. We do not become angels. We become like them. Angels live close to God. Angels have different bodies. Angels are genderless. Angels live forever. This is what makes this image so helpful given the questions from the Sadducees.
Jesus indicates our identity is reconstituted in the resurrection. The promise our identity, our uniqueness and our self-awareness will reappear in the next life is profoundly reassuring.
And how does resurrection happen? Jesus tells us it is by God’s power and grace.
In the text, Jesus affirms God is the God of the living and all those who have died and all who are living, are alive in God. In short, the resurrection occurs because God gives life. God gives life to the living and gives life to those who have died. The resurrection is truly and simply, the result of God’s loving power and grace.
The Lord be with You.