Riddle Me This, Jesus!
When you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ public ministry, one thing is made abundantly clear. The Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees and their cohorts did not care for the Savior at all. They were threatened by His presence because He taught against their pernicious ways and doctrines (Cf. Matthew 23:15 & Mark 7:6-8). Jesus could not travel one mile without them pestering Him with hypothetical scenarios and loaded questions. The Sadducees and the Pharisees had the same father (John 8:44) hence their common hatred for Jesus. However, their doctrinal views on the resurrection were polar opposites. The Sadducees did not believe in life after death while the Pharisees held to the truth. In Paul’s defense of the Gospel before the Sanhedrin, he used their opposing views to promote the cause of Christ and in so doing giving a Divine definition of the Sadducees’ doctrine (Cf. Acts 23:6-8). At one point, the Sadducees attempted to trap Jesus with a well-crafted conundrum.
The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” Matthew 22:23-28
In the Lord’s defense of an afterlife, He made a very interesting argument.
Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘i am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Matthew 22:29-32
The Sadducees were convinced that there was no afterlife, no spiritual realm or spirit beings. The riddle outlined in Matthew 22 was an attempt to affirm this doctrine by way of contradiction. Much like the cynics today, the Sadducees wanted to show how the Law of Moses contradicted itself concerning marriage and the afterlife. In His response, The Lord quoted Exodus 3:6. This is the account of Moses’ commission to represent God in the emancipation of the Hebrew nation. On the surface, one might wonder why that specific passage, that is until one looks closer at the grammar of that Old Testament verse. When God spoke those words to Moses, He was using the Present Tense to describe His Lordship over Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Robinson’s Morphological Analysis Codes). God said, He IS, not He WAS the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The necessary inference being that these men did not cease to exist after death but were still living in a different form in the Hadean realm. Jesus masterfully decimated the doctrine of annihilation by using the auxiliary present tense verb “Am.” There are several things that the believer can take away from the Lord’s response to the Sadducees.
#1 The Word of God Is All Inspired, right down to the grammar in which it was written. When the Holy Spirit inspired men to write the scriptures, He did not give them an idea and carte blanche to develop that idea. In a magnificent display of God’s surgical miraculous precision, He used the writers’ vocabulary and provided for them the exact words to write including immaculate grammatical accuracy. This fact is brought out by Paul and Peter in their respective writings.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, 1 Corinthians 2:12-13.
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, 2 Peter 1:20-21.
When God said that all scripture is given by inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16-17) He was not using hyperbole. He meant the entire collection of sixty-six books are His Words. Thus, it behooves us to respect His Word, obey His Word (2 Thessalonians 3:14) and earnestly contend with those who attempt to change His Word (Galatians 1:6-10).
#2 There is an Afterlife. This doctrine of the Sadducees is a miserable concoction of man’s wisdom. This melancholy doctrine makes me marvel at the morbid mindset of those who came up with it, even more so at those who believed it and still believe it today. Nowadays this farce is widely held by atheists and other skeptics; they believe that death is the end of our existence. This is the foundation for their views that say, “live it up,” “eat, drink and be merry,” or “YOLO” you only live once. Every honest individual knows that these views do not comport with real life. In the real world, there are sorrows, pain, heartache, and misery. Living it up all the time is not realistic. At some point, life will hand you lemons and then what? During these moments what provides relief, what light is there at the end of the tunnel for someone with a terminal disease? What about someone who is disfigured by an accident and can no longer “live it up”? What words of consolation does this doctrine provide to the parents who lost a child? With regards to his deceased son David said, I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me, 2 Samuel 12:23. No such sentiment can be expressed with this doctrine. It is a despairing and deplorable specimen of man’s finite wisdom. Thanks be to God for assuring us in so few words of better things to come. We enjoy this life and we make the best of our blessings as God has decreed (Cf.1 Timothy 6:17). Yet our joy is not confined to this life, we look for another place whose builder and maker is God. We can face life’s trials and sorrows because we know the dead in Christ shall rise to life everlasting. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:20-21. In Jesus our hope is found, He is our anchor that keeps us sure as the billows roll. Jesus did not only refute this false doctrine He is the refutation of this false doctrine. … “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 (Emphasis MS).
#3 Knowing the Scriptures is important. Jesus told the Sadducees, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. Matthew 22:29. To wholly appreciate this statement, one must fully grasp who the Sadducees were. These were not gentiles, heathens separated from God by idolatry and paganism. The Sadducees were a sect of the Jews; they formed part of God’s chosen nation through whom He brought Christ. They were the people of God; the same with whom God communicated through His prophets (Luke 13:34). They had the Word of God in scroll form, handed down from generation to generation, preserved by God. They had commandments from God to know His word and teach it diligently. Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up, Deuteronomy 11:18-19. Yet, there they stood in front of the multitudes silenced by Jesus and publicly humiliated by way of ignorance. If only they kept the command to study and know God’s Word, they could have avoided the embarrassment and more importantly their damnable doctrine. The Christian would do well to pay attention to the Sadducees’ folly. If we fail to study the Word of God, we too will wander from the path of righteousness into all sorts of strange doctrines (Cf.2 Timothy 2:15 & Hebrews 5:12-14). May our ignorance of certain parts of the Scriptures be temporal and may our unfamiliarity with certain passages be circumstantial, but may it never be said of any of us that We don’t know the Scriptures.
#4 Finally, Knowing God’s Power is Critical. Most scholars suppose that the Sadducees doubted the mechanics of man being raised again. They simply could not fathom how such a thing could be accomplished. This guess seems to be in line with the Lord’s rebuke about their lack of understanding of God’s Power. Their complete failure in knowing the scriptures no doubt contributed to their abject ignorance about God’s omnipotence. Had they known and believed the scriptures, the resurrection of mankind to eternal life would have been a non-matter. God’s magnificent power is on full display in every chapter of the Bible. Once again, as Christians, we ought to familiarize ourselves with these facts to bolster our faith. The Lord spoke, spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1-2). He formed man out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7) and created from that man’s rib another human being (Genesis 2:27). He covered the entire world with water so that not even Mount Everest was showing (Genesis 7:20). He subdued entire armies on multiple occasions (Cf. Exodus 14:23-28). He caused fire to come down from heaven and destroy entire cities (Genesis 19). He gave water from a rock (Exodus 17:5-7) made a donkey speak (Numbers 22:23-30) and caused the sun to stand still (Joshua 10:12-14). Allow me to re-word a well-known hymn. Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade; To write the Omnipotence of God above Would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky. Truly, is anything too hard for the Lord? No, not at all and this is the confidence that we have in His power: in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed, 1 Corinthians 15:52. AMEN!