A study of Luke 20:27-40
A widowed acquaintance asked me recently, “If I get remarried, who will I be with after the resurrection?” She meant, was she to join her first husband, or the newer husband in the ‘afterlife’. Unlike Jesus, I could not come up with a fast, simple, and concise answer, but began to put my thoughts into a proper order to answer, when she slung another question to me. “Besides, I was told the Bible says we will be angels in heaven. Is the resurrection just like going to heaven and becoming an angel?”
This was not the first time I have been asked to explain this quandary and I can understand why. Many modern Churches do not teach about the resurrection, but imply that death is a swift transition to a better life in heaven. Hence, you so often hear, “he’s in a better place, now,” or “she was called home to heaven,” when someone dies.
The epitaph “rest in peace” is more descriptive for explaining death, since the Bible refers to death as a sleep, rather than a change of nature. Our spirit resting for a time in an unconscious condition, before being raised in a new body and to a new life, would be a better statement — however, I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Okay,” I said, “lets discuss this situation.” And we did. Using the Bible and reading Luke 20:27-40, we covered a similar sort of question that some ancient religious leaders brought up to Jesus and how he answered them.
Our study concerns only one aspect of the resurrection and we will discuss the event as described in the book of Luke. It is also mentioned in Matthew 22:23-33 and Mark 12:18-27, so also read those Gospel accounts, if possible.
“Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees — religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: ‘Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, who died without children. Finally, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her!’
“Jesus replied, ‘Marriage is for people here on earth. But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels. They are children of God and children of the resurrection.
“‘But now, as to whether the dead will be raised — even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.
“‘Well said, Teacher!’ remarked some of the teachers of religious law who were standing there. And then no one dared to ask him any more questions,” (Luke 20:27-40, NLT).1
It Is Confusing
Judaism, like most religions, had different divisions or groups. Jesus was approached by some religious leaders, called Sadducees, and they asked a question. Who were these Sadducees? To answer this, we must learn a bit of background information concerning the factions of Judaism during Jesus’ life on earth.
The Sadducees, although somewhat unpopular with the masses,2 were the group which included the high priests who performed the Temple rituals and animal sacrifices, and who strictly interpreted the Torah.3 They were the faction of “aristocratic families, and merchants — the wealthier elements of the population.” Unlike the other sects, the Sadducees denied bodily resurrection, future immortality, and the existence of angelic spirits. This group was in constant conflict with the others,4 and it was from this group that came the question to Jesus about the resurrection.
Another group, the Pharisees, followed a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple, applying Jewish law to routine activities in order to sanctify the everyday world. They thought all the Jewish rituals should not be monopolized by an inherited priesthood, but rather could be performed by any adult Jew.5 Worship, to them, was not in sacrifices like those performed by the Temple priests, but in prayer and the study of God’s law. To them, the synagogue6 was their institution, which they began and presented as a central place in Jewish religious life.7 To them, the Torah should be interpreted liberally and other Jewish oral traditions should be part of the Law.
What about the Scribes? Once, long before Jesus’ time, the Temple priests were the respected scholars and guardians of the law, but in the course of time, this changed. By the first century A.D., Scribes had become the enthusiastic “defenders of the Law, and hence were the true teachers of the people.”8
They were not a coherent social group, but basically bureaucrats — experts on Jewish life and law — making contracts, documents, and serving as government officials.9 They would often work for clients from all religious factions. “The extraordinary honors bestowed on these scholars . . . are expressed in their honorary titles,” the most common being ‘rabbi’ (origin: my lord or my master). This Hebrew word of polite address gradually became their title, meaning ‘teacher’.10
“A Rabbi was a religious teacher who operated, not out of the Temple, but out of the local synagogue and was not required to belong to any particular family or tribe in order to hold his position.”11 They were the jurists that had great influence over the Jewish population.12 They had political power in New Testament times, and sat on the Sanhedrin (Jewish courts).13 Besides teachers, they were also referred to as lawyers and most opposed Jesus Christ, who condemned their hypocrisy.14
Before we go on, there were two other Jewish sects, at this time in history, that should be mentioned, the Essenes and the Zealots. The Essene faction “emerged out of disgust with the other two and believed the others had corrupted the city and the Temple. They moved out of Jerusalem and lived a monastic life in the desert, adopting strict dietary laws and a commitment to celibacy.”15 This group became well known, in our modern times, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered during the 1940s in the Qumran Caves where they had once lived.16 The Zealots were a violent party and the smallest group. They wanted to incite a revolution against the Romans. Some scholars say that Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was a Zealot (an interesting idea for a future article).
Back to the Story
So these Sadducees that approached Jesus had an agenda; they didn’t believe in the resurrection and their only interest was to win a debate using an improbable scenario of multiple remarriages under levirate law (the Latin word levir meaning ‘husband’s brother’). Levirate law stated “if a married man died without children, it was the duty of a brother or other near relative to marry the widow, and the son of the union would be reckoned to be the son of the first husband.” (See Deuteronomy 25: 5–10).17 Basically, these Sadducees wanted to make a fool of Jesus by demonstrating the lack of knowledge and logic of what he was teaching.
Jesus did not hesitate in explaining that they were confusing the future with the present. He explains that in view of eternal life, marriage is not relevant. This current earthly life is only temporary and therefore requires procreation of further life, through marriage, for its continuance. But after the resurrection, life is eternal and there is no place in it for procreation.18 Marriage and reproduction belong only to this current earthly realm.
“Angels, as eternal beings, have no need to reproduce. And in such a context, the exclusiveness and jealousy which belong to marriage are no longer appropriate. Something like that seems to be the logic of Jesus’ very compressed argument. It is based on a theology of angels and of heaven which is for us a matter of faith rather than experience, and as such may leave many readers less than satisfied.” But its purpose was to challenge the wrong assumption of the Sadducees — that any afterlife must be just like the current one and should be evaluated in terms of life on earth at that current time.19
Jesus speaks of marriage as a social institution, appropriate to the current earthly life, but not to the life to come. “The argument does not require that angels be sexless beings, but merely that they have no need to reproduce and therefore to marry.”20 That is how it will be in the resurrection of humans, not that we will become angels. And when Jesus said, “those worthy of being raised from the dead,” he was stating the fact that resurrection is not automatic.21
It is important to note two important points that Jesus made. First, the “Sadducees fail to see the discontinuity between this age and the age to come. Marriage and procreation are a vital part of earthly life [now] to preserve the human race, but in the coming kingdom there will be no institution of marriage. People will be like angels. This does not necessarily mean that sexual differences will be obliterated, nor does it mean that human beings and angels will be exactly alike. It means that human beings will be like angels in at least one way — neither group will marry.”22 Many people use this information to say we will all become angels after death, but that is not what it says.
And second, what Jesus said weakened the Sadducean objection. In explaining that although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, they can still be referred to as ‘alive to God’, because there is a guarantee of the future resurrection into the new age or dispensation.23 To put it plainly, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive to God by way of the future resurrection, though to us they are now dead.24 It is possible that Jesus was referring to 4 Maccabees, when he stated the above. “They knew also that those who die for the sake of God live to God, as do Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs,” (4 Maccabees 16:25, [apocryphal book]).25
One more thing. There has been some confusion and debate about the last two verses of our study and an explanation is in order. “‘Well said, Teacher!’ remarked some of the teachers of religious law who were standing there. And then no one dared to ask him any more questions,” (Luke 20:39-40).26
The comment, “Well said, Teacher,” was not spoken by the Sadducees, but by the Scribes that were in attendance. You can tell by their job description: ‘some teachers of religious law’. These Scribes, being Pharisees, were happy for the defense of the resurrection and of angelic spirits, in which they believed, but that the other group did not.27 The Sadducees would not have admitted they were Jesus’ equal by giving praise or suggesting that they had lost the debate. But the next verse does relate to the Sadducees, when it is said, “And then no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
A Real Resurrection is Coming
What Jesus spoke about, concerning the promised resurrection, was only one aspect and in a rather condensed presentation. Throughout his ministry he taught and gave much more information, as did his disciples, but they didn’t teach the rapture and they didn’t teach about becoming angels after death. What they did teach was that upon death our spirit will return to God for safekeeping until the day of resurrection. Then, for those of us found worthy, we will be released from our grave to a better human life on this earth, under the rule of our king, Jesus.
Just because we will not marry or be given in marriage during that glorious time to come, nor continue procreating our species, does not mean we will not be with the one we love. It does mean we will not die and will have a thousand years to help restore this earth to the paradise condition in which it was created. There are many questions, I’m sure, but some are already answered in the New Testament. Those that aren’t will be handled by God in a loving and righteous manner.
Right now there is a battle between life and death, good and evil, right and wrong, but that struggle will disappear after the resurrection. The sinful conditions we all live under will dissolve when that new age arrives — there will be a true liberation. No matter what sins currently plaque you in this temporary earthly existence and follow you into the prison-like grave at death, be they shame, fear, regret, violence, or something else, the battle with them will be won through the love of Jesus Christ. Love is the power of all that Jesus teaches and all that he touches. Jesus can help you now, too. And if he understands that you did the best you could to live according to his teaching, when the resurrection arrives, there isn’t any grave that will hold your body down.
That is the similar thought behind the song ‘Ain’t No Grave’, sung by Molly Skaggs. This is an interpolation of an old Gospel song into a new one with a definite rock beat and is Ms Skaggs’ personal testimony of Jesus’ help in overcoming her earthly prison of fear and shame, which she relates to the coming resurrection.28 One can say, in a way, the old song was ‘resurrected’ into a new song. Selected lyrics are listed here; if you like rock music, check out this video. (See the listing in References & Notes at the end of this article).29
There was a battle, a war between death and life
There on a tree the Lamb of God was crucified
He went on down to hell, He took back every key
He rose up as a lion and He’s setting all the captives free
There ain’t no grave could hold His body down
When He heard the trumpet sound, He rose up out of the ground
If You walked out of the grave, I’m walkin’ too
There ain’t no grave could hold my body down
Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation (NLT), ©2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- Bond, John, The Gospel according to St. Luke, Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament, (London: Macmillan, 1890), p. 143.
- Torah (Pentateuch): the first five of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible.
- “Sadducee: Jewish Sect,” Encyclopædia Britannica, (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 6 February 2016), https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sadducee
- “Pharisees,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 21 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharisees
- synagogue – Greek: συναγωγή, synagogē; Hebrew: בית. A house, place, or assembly hall for prayer; sometimes it will include rooms for study, social meetings, and offices.
- “Pharisee: Jewish Sect,” Encyclopædia Britannica, ( Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 May 2014), https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pharisee
- Hirsch, Frank E., “Scribes,” (Eds.) James Orr, et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopædia, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), vol. 4, p. 2704.
- Ross, Allen, “The Scribes,” (Bible.org, 21 April 2006), https://bible.org/seriespage/7-scribes
- Hirsch, Frank E., The International Standard Bible Encyclopædia, (see above), vol. 4, p. 2704.
- “What is the Difference Between a Rabbi and a Jewish Priest?” (Catholic Answers, retrieved 2 January 2020), https://www.catholic.com/qa/what-is-the-difference-between-a-rabbi-and-a-jewish-priest
- Eaton, David, “SCRIBES,” in A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology, (Eds.) James Hastings, et al., (New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner’s Sons; T. & T. Clark, 1911–1912), vol. 4, p. 420.
- Sanhedrin – any official Jewish council or court under Roman rule, to which various political, religious, and judicial functions have been assigned.
“Sanhedrin,” Encyclopædia Britannica, (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 30 September 2008), https://www.britannica.com/topic/sanhedrin
- Manser, Martin H., Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies, (London: Martin Manser, 2009).
- “Ancient Jewish History: Pharisees, Sadducees & Essenes,” (Jewish Virtual Library, retrieved 1 January 2020), https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/pharisees-sadducees-and-essenes
- Qumran Caves are a series of caves found around the archaeological site of Qumran in the Judaean Desert of the West Bank. In late 1946 or early 1947, a Bedouin boy found a cave while searching for a lost animal. He stumbled onto the first cave containing scrolls from two thousand years ago.
“Qumran Caves,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 31 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qumran_Caves
- “Levirate law,” 1n A Dictionary of the Bible, (Ed.) W. R. F. Browning, (Oxford Biblical Studies Online, retrieved 1 January 2020), http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t94/e1118
- France, R. T., The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), pp. 472-473.
- Ibid., p. 474.
- Ibid., p. 475.
- Schreiner, Thomas R., “Luke,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, pp. 833-834.
- Ibid., p. 834.
- Bond, John, The Gospel according to St. Luke, Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament, (London: Macmillan, 1890), p. 144.
- Easton, Burton Scott, “Resurrection,” (Eds.) James Orr, et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), vol. 4, p. 2464.
- Some Bible versions imply the Scribes were the ones posing the questions to Jesus. Some versions imply the Sadducees admitting defeat.
- The NET Bible First Edition Notes, (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Luke 20:39.
- “Ain’t No Grave (Bethel Music song),” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 17 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ain%27t_No_Grave_(Bethel_Music_song)
- “Ain’t No Grave,” Artist: Molly Skaggs & Bethel Music; Album: Victory; Authors: Molly Skaggs, Jonathan David Helser, and Melissa Helser, (Bethel Music Publishing, January 2020), VIDEO – https://youtu.be/nGncW_ueyHA