Some questions are not asked in a quest for knowledge or truth. Some questions are asked in debate in order to trip up one’s opponent. Such is the question rendered by the Sadducees in our gospel text today. As our text points out, the Sadducees were the Jewish sect that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Therefore, the question they asked is an attempt to make those who do believe in the resurrection look foolish.
They ask about a question about a woman who had been legally married seven times, pretending to want to know whose wife she will be in the resurrection to come. The Sadducees did not just pull this story out of the air. In Jewish apocalyptic literature (found in the Apocrypha) there is a book called “Tobit.” In this book Sarah has been married seven times, yet each husband died on their wedding night at the hand of the demon Asmodeus, leaving her a widowed virgin. In response to her plight God sends the Archangel Raphael, who cast out Asmodeus, and paves the way for Sarah to marry Tobias. So, in the resurrection to eternal life, whose wife will she be?
Jesus realizes right away that their question is neither about marriage nor the resurrection to come. He therefore chooses an answer that will show that their question is invalid, as is their supposition that led them to ask it. Jesus says that “…those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” That age (the resurrection) will be different from this age and marriage will not part of it. No one is really sure what that will mean for us; suffice it to say that “that age” will be different from “this age,” and that cannot be bad news. If nothing else it will mean that in the age of the resurrection, reality television shows like “Bridezilla,” “Say Yes to the Dress” and “My Fair Wedding” will no longer be necessary! (Yeah!)
The debate between Jesus and the Sadducees has absolutely nothing to do with marriage, and everything to do with the reality of the promised resurrection. Jesus, being the consummate teacher, uses this opportunity to teach us about the reality of the resurrection to eternal life. The beliefs of the Sadducees are based on the fact that they only accept the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as scripture. As resurrection is not mentioned in those books, it is not part of their belief system. Jesus’ uses a story from the book of Exodus to show that the teachings of the resurrection are true.
In Moses encounter with the burning bush, God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. (Exodus 3:6) In pointing this out to the Sadducees, Jesus says, “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Pause for just one moment and reread that last sentence, for it is powerful and extremely comforting. Jesus says that to God, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive! Literally, Jesus says, “all of them are alive.” Forget who is married to whom in whatever age. This is one of the most comforting sayings of Jesus recorded in the gospels, “to him (God the Father) all of them are alive.”
I personally think of all of the families and individuals I have known in ministry, who have lost loved ones to death. I want to say to those people, “all of them are alive!” I think of my own heartaches and grief over the loss of family and friends in light of Jesus saying, “all of them are alive.” There is a resurrection from the dead. We will not be given in marriage, but we will all be alive and in the presence of God! If there was ever a reason to shout, “Alleluia!” this is it. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen!
The print is titled “Tobias and Sarah with the Archangel Raphael” by Jan Havicksz Steen (1625-79) In is exhibited in Museum Dredius, The Hague, Netherlands. It depicts Sarah and Tobias with the Archangel Raphael who is exorcising the demon Asmodeus.