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The resurrection question

Nov 24, 2014

On Monday of the Passion Week, Jesus cursed the fig tree and cast out the bankers from the temple. The next day (Tuesday) the disciples noticed that the fig tree had already withered (Mark 11:20). According to Mark’s account, it was on this day that the chief priests questioned Jesus’ authority (Mark 11:27-33). It appears also from Mark’s account that on the same day Jesus told the parable of the vineyard, answered the tax question, and the question about the resurrection (Mark 12).

Luke is less concerned with the dates than Mark. Luke 20:27 says,

27 Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection)…

This question of the resurrection was a major difference between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection from the dead, while the Sadducees did not. We are told in Acts 23:7, 8,

7 And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

The fact that the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead did not mean that they denied the immortality of the soul. This mistake is often made by commentators, who assume that the Sadducees taught that when a man dies, he remains dead. Instead, we read in The Jewish Encyclopedia in the section on Resurrection, “Immortality of the soul takes the place of bodily resurrection.”

In other words, the Sadducees believed that when a righteous man dies, his soul goes to heaven, where he remains without returning to a bodily existence in the future. The Pharisees disputed that belief, insisting upon a bodily resurrection from the dead. Beyond this, of course, there were many variations of belief, some saying that only Israelites would be raised from the dead, others saying that only those Israelites buried near Jerusalem would be raised, and others extending it beyond their borders to non-Israelites as well.

The Question

Luke 20:28-33 gives us the resurrection question posed by the Sadducees.

28 and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he is childless, his brother should take the wife and raise up offspring to his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; 30 and the second 31 and the third took her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally the woman died also. 33 In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.”

The Sadducees, to their credit, recognized the law as the authority but rejected the “oral traditions” that the Pharisees relied upon. Hence, this Sadducee question appealed to the law itself to support their rejection of the resurrection. No doubt this question had been debated many times already, with neither side being convinced of the other’s argument. The Sadducee argument said, in effect, that this provision in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 made resurrection absurd, because if all seven brothers took the same woman as his wife, whose wife would she be later, if there were a resurrection?

Jesus’ Answer, Part 1

Jesus’ first answer supported the Pharisees and showed the fallacy of denying the resurrection. Luke 20:34-36 begins by saying,

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; 36 for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

The term “sons of this age” was an idiom that referred to those living in the current state of mortal existence, where men grow old and die. In this current state, the law found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 was applicable, for if men retained perfect health and never died, that law would have been irrelevant.

By contrast, those who are raised from the dead “neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” The law in Deuteronomy 25 is no longer applicable in the same sense. No man will die childless, and hence, no man’s brother will need to take his dead brother’s wife to beget a son in the name of his dead brother.

In such a state of resurrected immortality, they are similar to angels in this way. They are also “sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” Here Jesus defines the sons of God in terms of resurrection, or that resurrected state. In other words, the sons of God are not those who are of some particular genealogy, but those who were “worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead.”

Jesus did not get into the question about whether or not non-Israelites could qualify for the resurrection, or if the place of their burial was a factor. He did affirm, however, that there would indeed be a resurrection, and in that sense, he agreed with this basic tenet of the Pharisees. This was obviously the view of both Luke and Paul, for we read in 1 Corinthians 15:12-18,

12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of Christ, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

Paul, the ex-Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), never forsook his earlier belief in resurrection, nor did he show any sign of altering that belief. He never argued against bodily resurrection, but instead proved it by the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection. In linking Christ’s resurrection to our own, he made it clear that immortality does not replace bodily resurrection, as the Sadducees claimed.

Paul clearly defined resurrection (by Christ’s example) as a bodily resurrection, although Luke’s description of Jesus’ post-resurrection body shows that the sons of God will no longer be bound by the limitations of the present mortal body. We will say more about this when we study Luke 24.

Having said this, the principle of imputation also shows that we may achieve a level of both death and resurrection life here and now, as depicted in baptism. Paul discusses this in Romans 6:3-11, concluding with verse 11,

11 Even so, consider [logizomai, “reckon”] yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

To reckon is to “call those things which be not as though they were” (Romans 4:17, KJV). Though we are not actually dead, we are to reckon it to be so. Though we are not actually raised from the dead, we are to reckon it to be already done. In both cases, we call what is NOT as though it were, because we have faith in a future actual event. Our faith becomes the motive for living NOW as if we were already manifested sons of God.

As long as we distinguish between the reckoning and the actual event, we will not go astray in regard to biblical teaching.

Jesus’ Answer, Part 2

In Luke 20:37, 38, after taking a strong stand in favor of the Pharisees, Jesus showed how His questioners from the Sadducee sect were also partially correct:

37 “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him.”

Jesus cited Exodus 3:6, where Moses heard the voice coming out of the burning bush,

6 He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Jesus concedes that the Sadducees were correct in believing that the dead are immortal, for although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead by the time Moses saw the burning bush, they were alive in the eyes of a timeless God. If we probe deeper into this question, we can see two possible interpretations of this: (1) God was reckoning them as alive, although they were actually dead, having no conscious existence, or (2) These patriarchs were actually alive, being immortal and having a conscious existence.

To resolve this question, I believe it is necessary to understand the difference between body, soul, and spirit. Each has its own mind or consciousness. The body’s consciousness is located in the brain. The soul’s consciousness is located in the soul (mind). The spirit’s consciousness is in the heart. At creation, God formed man of the dust of the ground, breathed a spirit into him, and the combination of the two produced a “living soul” (Genesis 2:7, KJV). Hence also, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:45, 46 says,

45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.

The natural man is a “living soul.” It is what Paul calls the old man. This is what we received from Adam. But when we were begotten by the Spirit (as was Jesus), that new man in us remained distinct from the old man. The new man is Christ in us, begotten of heaven but in an earthly mother. As with Jesus Christ, the Christ in us is “a life-giving spirit” and therefore cannot die.

The Greek word for “life-giving” is zoopoieo, whose first definition is “to produce alive, beget, or bear living young.” The natural man is born dead on account of Adam’s sin; the new man is born alive, for it has bypassed Adam, being begotten from above.


This new man that is begotten in us is also sinless, as we read in 1 John 3:9, quoted from The Emphatic Diaglott,

9 No one who has been begotten by God practices sin; because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been begotten by God.

For this reason, Jesus says that God “is not the God of the dead but of the living.” In effect, He says that God is not the God of Adam or the old man, but is the God of the living—a reference to the New Creation Man that has been begotten by God. All who are begotten of God are recognized as the sons of God. Even though at creation Adam was called a “son of God” at that time (Luke 3:38), Adam lost his position through sin and death. The only way to regain that position is to be begotten a second time, as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3-8.

This second conception is accomplished by the law found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, which is precisely the passage on which the Sadducee based his question. It is the law of Sonship, showing us how to regain the position as a son of God. Once Adam was condemned to death, there was no longer any way to save him from the divine sentence. Anyone who places their faith in their genealogy to Adam have misplaced their faith.

God has provided another way, however, and it is the way of adoption. Our elder Brother died childless when He went to the cross. By faith in Him, we have opportunity to raise up seed unto our elder Brother. In the law, the son produced by the dead man’s brother was legally the son of his elder brother. Therefore, we see that sonship is based not upon biology but upon a legal adoption. Paul tells us that “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14), and so this legal adoption process is actually accomplished by spiritual means.

God is the God of the living, not the dead. He is the God of His sons, for He has begotten them by His Spirit, and that which has been begotten by God has life and cannot sin.

Some were impressed with the answer, because Luke 20:39, 40 concludes,

39 And some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.” 40 And they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything.

This is the 111th part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones