Monday, September 2, 2013

Two Riddles - Matthew 22:23-40

Scripture #1
23 On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Jesus and questioned Him,
25 "Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother;
16 so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh.
27 "Last of all, the woman died.
28 "In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be?  For they all had married her."
29 But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.
30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
31 "But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God:
32 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB'?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.
The Sadducees Join In
The Sadducees' question to Jesus was presented in a different way than the Pharisees challenged Him: Rather than trying to trap Him into angering some group or another with a controversial answer, they wanted to completely baffle Him - thereby not only demonstrating Him to be a fool (thus eliminating the "Jesus problem" that plagued all the Jewish religious elite), but also providing a significant victory for their side of the doctrinal argument they waged with the Pharisees by showing that belief in a resurrection is illogical.  It was a chance to take out two types of enemies at once.  But, once again, Jesus simply could be defeated.
Now, to us, the aspect of the Mosaic Law where a man was to marry his late brother's wife so their first child would count as his brother's descendant is not exactly commonplace.  But in terms of the Sadducees' challenge, it's no different that a situation we see as normal: A widow or widower marrying again after the death of the original spouse.  With the "weirdness" of marrying your brother's wife out of the way, it's easy to see why this scenario was an applicable objection to the concept of life after death.
But Jesus explained that after we die, we become like the angels.  Note the word like - we do not become angels when we die, no matter what the media and art portray.  Angels are separate created beings with distinctive appearances (see Ezekiel 1:1-28 and 10:20, and Isaiah 6:1-8), whereas our eternal, glorified bodies will be like Christ's (1 John 3:2); additionally, 1 Peter 1:10-12 reveals that God distinguishes between humans and angels in that he allows us to understand salvation on a deeper level (so, becoming an angel would be regressing).  However, we will be like angels in the sense that we will be outside of a social construct involving marriage and romance.  Our relationships with each other will change in eternity.

Jesus expanded into defending the very principle of life after death, not just refuting their example.  You see, God proclaimed Himself to be the God in the present tense of those 3 patriarchs long after they were all dead in Exodus 3 when He's speaking to Moses through the burning bush.  He did not say, "I WAS the God of..." He said "I AM the God of..."  Since "I AM" is an extremely common name of God used in the Old Testament (it's translated "Lord," so we don't see it spelled out a lot), Jesus used something that even the most uneducated Jew would have been familiar with to refute the Sadducees' lofty theological stance with one blow.
Some people claim that life after death was a new concept introduced in the New Testament, but this simply is not true.  For example, the Pharisees believed in a spiritual resurrection of the dead - that's why they fought with the Sadducees!  Here are just a couple of Old Testament examples pointing to life after death:
Psalm 23:6 "Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Genesis 37:35: "... Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son..."
Would you like eternal life?  Click here to learn how to have it in English, or click here to learn in a different language.
Scripture #2
34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together.
35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
38 "This is the great and foremost commandment.
39 "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'
40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
Last Ditch Effort
At least in Matthew's account, this is the last question the religious elite try to baffle Christ with.  This question wasn't one with a yes-or-no answer that would alienate some people either way; it was a very open-ended challenge that could mean it opened many people up to offense...or it could mean an epic fail for the Pharisees if Jesus's answer was wise.  The outcome, of course, was the latter.
Although it seems like an incredibly simple answer to us who have heard it dozens if not hundreds (if not thousands!) of times, the fact that literally every single command and every single prophetic message can be boiled down to Loving God and Loving Our Neighbors (which is, in itself, a mere manifestation of Loving God) is critical to our theology.  Here I share two particularly major ways it does:
  • We Christians believe that we are under the "New Covenant," meaning we don't have a long list of rules to keep, but rather, as a response to God's grace, try to live our lives in a way that pleases Him (Hebrews 9:15, Romans 6).  Since God never changes and His Law is eternally holy (Hebrews 13:8, Matthew 5:17-18), the Old and New Covenants have to "mesh" somehow - and they do by the fact that Old Testament rules demonstrated an itemized way to live out the New Covenant principle during a specific time period God chose.
  • We also believe that even those who have never heard the Gospel have the opportunity to recognize in their hearts that they are imperfect and cannot become perfect people on their own (Romans 1:20, Revelation 5:9 and 7:9).  In order for them to be able to try to follow God's standards (just as we do), it has to be able to be boiled down to such simple principles that anyone could think of, not seemingly-random manifestations given only to the Jews like don't eat lobster.
So, how can we live out:
  • Loving God with all our heart?
  • Loving God with all our soul?
  • Loving God with all our mind?
  • Loving our neighbors as ourselves?
Let's each mull over those questions today, and if you come up with an idea worth sharing, leave a comment. :-)  Or if you have something else to add to our discussion, feel free to speak up!
Image Credit: "The queen bee in a hive" by Bienenkoenigin_43a.jpg and B kimmel.  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.

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