Sadducees and Scripture; Angels and After-life

Matthew 22:23-40

On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him and questioned Him, saying, “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.’ “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.” But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. “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.” And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

It has been a while since we’ve seen the Saudducees on the scene, at least within the context of Matthew. I think the last time was in chapter 16, but don’t quote me on that.

As the Pharisees plot and scheme

so also the Sadducees seem

to want to be a part of the team,

scribes and priests with minds less keen 

to trap the Master’s but a dream

not knowing what “I AM” means

“On that day…” Have you ever had a day like Jesus is having in this context? Matthew and Mark agree that this “same day” was the day after the Triumphal Entry To Typically Tragic Times. Luke writes, “And it came about on one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him.” We have more reason to believe that this was the same day, than we do less. Whether or not this all happened in the span of two days is less relevant than it is for us to understand that the context is intertwined with the sublime string and that it did happen in extremely rapid succession, mere days before the death of Jesus.

“Some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him and questioned Him, saying, ‘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.”‘”  There is no need to consider our Old Testament tutor because that’s not in question. Nevertheless, to get the full picture, it is helpful to take our Vitamin E.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10, “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the first-born whom she bears shall aassume the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel. But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And in Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’”

There you have it, I hope that helps. I am sure that something is lost in translation. It’s ok to laugh at ourselves for not understanding certain aspects of the Law of Moses. I know one thing, I am going to pay much closer attention to those wearing only one sandal in the future. But we should notice the provision of the Lord for widows and for the dead. We see the reasons for the arrangement, it is so that the man’s name may not be blotted out and the widow may have a son with her late husband’s name, with his lineage. I know, it still sounds strange. Moving on.

Immediately preceding the Old Testament quote, we notice a very helpful parenthetical phrase concerning the Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) about their unbelief in resurrection. Parenthetical phrases are parenthetical because they don’t change the meaning of, or modify the sentence. Rather they are additional information added–a supplemental statement, that while possibly very important, is not necessary to complete the sentence. In this instance, it certainly is not necessary to the form of the sentence but it is of high value. The reason is, now it’s in our minds that the Sadducees don’t believe in resurrection. And here we are, hearing them ask about resurrection. I don’t know how Jesus put up with all of this, being days from death.

“‘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.”

Thank you Matthew for the parenthetical phrase–it helps, doesn’t it? We see same stuff, same scene, same day. The scribes succumbed, the priests’ presuppositions perished, the Pharisees flaunting failed, the elders’ exclamations expelled and now we see the Sadducees silenced. 

“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.’ But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 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.’ And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together.”

Misery loves company, I guess. It’s as if the people whose​ beliefs have been slaughtered by the King of kings, form a posse. Probably because they do. After the Pharisees heard that the Sadducees had been silenced, they decided to team up and take on Jesus together. This is a fairly unlikely alliance. It’s not nearly as unlikely as the alliance of the Pharisees and the Herodians but it is odd. The Pharisees and Sadducees held some very different beliefs. We have a great example given in the book of Acts. Let’s look, taking our Vitamin E and let Scripture interpret Scripture.

Acts chapter 23, “Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!’ And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”

Historically we also find that the Sadducees were the elite of the elite, unlike the middle-class, Pharisees. The Sadducees believed in a strict, literal interpretation of the Levitical Law but the Pharisees believed in oral law and traditions, which we have witnessed in the context of Matthew. The Pharisees believed in a reward in the afterlife but the Sadducees were more like mega-church pastors, they believed in reward on this earth. Like Mr. Spock, they believed to live long and prosper were the rewards for being good. Good health, much wealth and happiness of the heart were God’s blessings to the faithful.

Forming an unlikely alliance (the enemy of my enemy is my friend) we notice; “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’”

Here, we find one of the greatest passages in the Bible, the easiest to understand and the most difficult to achieve. Jesus sums up the entire Law and the prophets to this expert of the law, with a few short sentences. It’s one of only two or three times in which Jesus answers them directly. He didn’t ask them a question or propose a parable but succinctly​ sums up the Old Testament Law.

I skipped some context, hoping that we would run out of time. We have either an unhealthy obsession with angels or an unhealthy ignorance of angels. “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” This passage is not about angels, yet it acknowledges angels and resurection and that there is no marriage in heaven. Notice; “but are like angels,” not that we become angels. It’s a shot at the Sadducees. Jesus is presenting both angels and resurection to the Sadducees, niether of which, they believe. The importance of this passage is not about marriage, angels or even the resurection of the dead; these are things in which we, and the Pharisees, believe. The part that we must grasp is the following: “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.”

These were absolute experts of the Law. They took the Law as literal as possible. They didn’t believe in traditions of oral law but adhered to a strict interpretation ​of the written Scripture. How could they be so wrong that they didn’t believe in angels, afterlife or spirits?

Answer: They kept the Scriptures caged because they didn’t use the CAGED method. I can use a cheap plug–I’m not selling anything! It’s 100% free. To fully understand the Scriptures one needs the Spirit, and if one doesn’t believe in spirits, I’d say, that’s a problem.

 

 

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