First Mennonite Church
July 5, 2020
Life in the Resurrection
Luke 20: 27-40
According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is always arguing and discussing Torah teachings with the scribes or Pharisees. Once again, this is obvious here by the introductory phrase: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us . . . .”
This time, Jesus is being tested by the Sadducees. In this passage, the Sadducees are not identified by what they do nor by what they believe in. They are identified for what they do not believe. They deny the possibility of a resurrection.
Today, denial of a resurrection would be considered the result mere intellectualism or agnosticism. However, the Sadducees were considered a very conservative branch within the Jewish religious groups. They considered the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT) as the only authoritative and inspired sacred books, dismissing the all the rest of the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand, mainstream Judaism believed in a resurrection, as implied in the Writings and Prophets.
What was ancient Israel’s belief about the afterlife?
The Hebrew Bible/OT does not directly teach about the afterlife. When Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died, it was said of each to have breathed his last and was “gathered to his people.” (Gen. 25:8; 35:29; 49:29, 33). The implication about being gathered to his people means that there is a people somewhere to which the deceased joins after death.
Some 500 years after Abraham, in the book of Kings, when David and the other kings died, the writer says, “Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David.” (1Kings 2:10). David’s and the other kings’ passing away are described as falling asleep. The implication of this idea is that death is considered a period of sleeping, which gives sense of hope that time will come when those sleeping will wake up again. It also takes away the idea that death is final.
In the book of Job there is something that can be interpreted an early reference to a resurrection. In Job 19, verses 25 to 27, we find:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
By the time of Daniel, around the sixth century BC, we find the most unambiguous affirmation of a resurrection. Daniel 12:2 and 3 reads, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
But all of these scripture references in the Hebrew Bible did not matter to the Sadducees, because the books in which they are found are not considered inspired by them.
In Luke, the Sadducees wanted to confuse or even ridicule Jesus with what they saw as a moral conundrum if there were a resurrection: how would the levirate marriage law affect human relationship in the resurrection? Levirite comes from the Latin levir: brother-in-law. This Mosaic Law was established to give security to a widow whose husband died not leaving children to keep his legacy alive. The brother of the deceased husband should take the widow as his wife and bear children by her in his brother’s name. According to this law, essential within a patriarchal culture, a man’s name is perpetuated through his children. This was especially important to the Sadducees because if there were no resurrection, the only hope for someone to have a lasting legacy would be to have children. The law of levirate marriage is found in Deuteronomy 25. The Sadducees thought that, if there were a resurrection, it would be a continuation of this earthly life. Therefore, if a woman has had various husbands in this life, the Sadducees wanted to know whose legitimate wife she would be in the resurrection.
There are various lessons we can glean from Jesus’ description of the resurrection life. First, that life in resurrection will not be an extension of life as we know it today. Resurrection life will not be an endless “more of the same things” as we know them. There will be no childbirth, marriage, graduation, retirement, things we know mark our journey through this mortal life. Life after the resurrection, according to Jesus, will be qualitatively different than the one we live today. Qualitative in the sense that those people and things that give us joy or a sense of satisfaction or wholeness will no longer be the primary attention of our lives. What Jesus is saying here is both a relief to some and a disappointment to others. To those who have suffered disappointment in their human relationships or who have had a difficult life, will find comfort in knowing that the things they missed here will be of no value in the resurrected life. But for those who have experienced the joy of love and lasting relationship with someone in this life, will find this a difficult idea to live without those things. This is only a natural human reaction. It is like the difference there is between how a young child and an adult couple define the meaning of joy. A child would not understand what joy and beauty there are when a couple sits down together to watch a beautiful sunset than his chasing after fireflies at dusk. This might explain what Paul meant when he writes: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1Corinthians 13:11).
Jesus’ portrait of life in the aeon of the resurrection is one in which God and Christ Jesus will be our all-consuming love and devotion. We will find wholeness and complete life-fulfilling satisfaction at just being in the presence of the Lord God. The beautiful song, “O That Will Be Glory” captures that sense of full satisfaction and joy we will find at being in the presence of God when it says, “Yet, just a smile from my Savior, I know, will thru the ages be glory for me . . . . When by his grace I shall look at his face, that will be glory for me!”
Another lesson we can glean from Jesus’ description of the resurrected life is that it will be the time when God will judge the world. Denial of a resurrection does not thwart God from carrying out his final justice. The Sadducees were allies of the Romans whom the Pharisees and the scribes saw as the oppressors of the Jews. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection in which every oppressor, everyone who acted unjustly, every worker of evil, will have to come under God’s ultimate judgment. It is no wonder why a scribe came to express his approval of Jesus’ words after he finished refuting the Sadducees claim. Jesus agreed on this with the Pharisees, scribes and other Jewish religious groups.
There will be a resurrection as Daniel announced: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
In John 5: 28 and 29, Jesus says:
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.
In the aeon of the resurrection evil will be brought to light and given its deserved punishment. But there is a life beyond our comprehension awaiting those who have died in the Lord. It will be a life that’s completely different, yet the most fulfilling and glorious. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will be our all-consuming passion, love and devotion. The earthly will pass away and even the best of whatever we have known today will be pale experience in comparison. Only let us love and follow him who said, I am the Resurrection and the Life. Amen!
 Charles H. Gabriel. O That Will Be Glory. Praise: Our Songs and Hymns. Grand Rapids: SingSpiration, 1979 P.473