Elizabeth Howard was a fiery young student at Wheaton college when she met her future husband Jim Elliot. The two married and entered the foreign mission filed, where Jim died after three years of marriage. Thirteen years later Elizabeth married a Theology professor named Addison Leitch. After four years of marriage, Leitch passed away. Several years later, Elizabeth married a boarder living in her home named Lars Gren. In the end, Elizabeth had three different husbands.
In heaven, who will be her husband?
We are going to look at marriage, death and the afterlife. Some of you are thinking right now what my wife vocalized when I told her the topic – “Why!?” I’ll tell you what I told her, because that’s what is in our text. Around here the text determines the topic.
Our text is Matthew 22:23-33. First some explanation, then three points that are relevant to us today.
The Sadducees were one of 4 prominent branches of Judaism. A few significant features of the Sadducees – in terms of class they were the ruling or elite party at the time of Jesus, they were the party of the wealthy aristocrats. They were a small portion of Judaism, but they had power. They lived in the well to do neighborhood surrounding the temple and had comfortable lives.
In terms of doctrine – they believed in total freedom of the will and denied the notion of fate; they denied the existence of a spiritual realm, believing that there were no angelic or demonic spirits.
In terms of the Scriptures, the Sadducees primarily accepted the first 5 books of the Old Testament, The Torah, as their authority and minimized the other Scriptures. Josephus the major historian of the ancient Jewish people wrote that the Sadducees were able to persuade no one but the rich.
In seeking to stump Jesus, the Sadducees reference an ancient custom which we call Levirate marriage. (Levir means ‘brother-in-law’ in Latin.)
This comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10. In the ancient world the law of Levirate marriage was essential to safeguard both the security of the widow and the memory of the departed.
Using the law of levirate marriage, the Sadducees have created a scenario which they believe has made a mockery of the doctrine of the resurrection. A woman who has married 7 different brothers has died and been resurrected. Now we find 7 men eager to be reunited with their wife, yet there is only one woman to go around. Whose wife will she be? With that question, the Sadducees drop their mic and wait for Jesus’ admission of defeat.
At that point Jesus responds with a direct attack on the competency of the Sadducees and an explanation of a Biblical text which will undercut their argument.
“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
Jesus delivers a mic-drop of his own and the crowd is astonished. What can we learn from this conversation?
1. Bad reading leads to bad theology.
Up to this point, the Sadducees had no interest in Jesus. His work for the poor and the oppressed, his miraculous healings, his revolutionary teaching about the coming kingdom of God – none of this mattered to the Sadducees. It was only when Jesus came to Jerusalem and drew great crowds that they began to take notice of this new threat to their comfort and security. When they came to Jesus, it was not with open minds, but with predetermined motives and priorities.
We can do the same, can’t we? How do we know whether we are coming to Jesus on our terms or his? One way we can tell is to look at the way we read the Bible.
How much of the Bible is authoritative in your life? Some Christians major on the New Testament and all but ignore the Old Testament. Some zero in on the gospels and push Paul and his epistles to the side. If you tend to get your knowledge of God and your direction in life from one small portion of Scripture, you may have your own agenda when it comes to your relationship with God.
That’s why a reading plan like the One Year Bible is so valuable – it forces you to work through the whole. It forces you to deal with the passages that you might skip over or the ones that challenge you.
For the Sadducees neglecting the whole led to wrong theology.
2. Marriage: this too shall pass.
One way the error of the Sadducees showed up was their understanding of marriage. In his response, Jesus reveals something extraordinary about marriage. It’s momentary.
You may have heard the old legend of King Solomon. He once asked for an item that would make a happy person sad and a sad person happy. One creative response was a ring inscribed with the words “This too shall pass.”
Some of us experience the best marriage has to offer, some have charmed relationships and can’t imagine life without our spouse. Some of us can’t imagine heaven without marriage.
There are several purposes the Scriptures reveal in marriage. It’s designed to fill a void of loneliness. It’s designed to ensure the future of humanity and populate the world with new souls. It’s designed to provide a picture of the gracious, unconditional covenant of faith between Christ and His church. And it’s designed to provide growth and sanctification.
In heaven, in the resurrected state, we won’t have need for any of those things.
In verse 30, Jesus tells us we will be like the angels in heaven. What does that mean? How will we be like the angels? We don’t know much about that, but here’s one thing we can say. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus tells us that angels “in heaven [they] always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
In heaven, the glorious realities will replace the symbol. You and I will always see the face of God. We will never again experience loneliness. We will never again face death. We will never again deal with the failings of a sinful nature. We will exist in perfect communion with God.
Some of us may experience the death of a spouse. Matthew 22 teaches us that there is life after marriage. The end of your marriage is not the end of your life.
It also has something to say to singles. If you are single, you are currently experiencing something of your heavenly condition. You are not incomplete.
Some of us experience more of the trials of marriage. The Bible is a realistic book. According to the Proverbs, some people will experience a marriage relationship that is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof in a rain storm. We will feel like it would be better to live on the corner of our roofs than in the house with our spouses.
Sometimes marriage feels unbearable and we will be tempted to jump ship and take an easy way out. Matthew 22 calls out to us – this too shall pass. Your marriage is a work God has called you to finish. And it is a momentary one. The temporary continuation of your marriage is not the end of your life.
1 Corinthians 15 teaches us how the Resurrection provides endurance for difficult times:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15: 51-58
The hope of the Resurrection changes everything.
3. In Christ we have an unbreakable hope.
In verse 32, Jesus quotes God’s Word from Exodus: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. He then shows us how to read God’s Word with an emphasis on one word in this verse: am. In that one word, an ocean of meaning is unveiled. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Today He is the God of Abraham. Today Abraham belongs to God and God belongs to Abraham. You can substitute the name of any saint who has died in Christ. God is the God of the living.
We look forward to a day when Jesus himself will once again participate in the supper. In Revelation 19, a scene of overwhelming joy is described:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
Revelation 19: 6-9
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown