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Two Questions

Two Questions

Preached by Jason Abbott

I was once invited—by a couple people from a different theological tradition than mine—to “hangout and talk.” One of them was a theologian and the other one was an apologist from that tradition. There was much our theologies agreed upon, but there were a number of other things which had caused a real divide between us, important ideas about the gospel which were in total opposition.

           Well, within a few minutes of my arrival, I realized I’d walked into ambush. They had come to ask me questions which would reveal that my theology was bad and that their theology was good—mine wrong and theirs right. And, friends, that’s what Jesus encountered throughout his ministry, and it’s what he encounters here, a theological ambush. (By the way, that’s precisely where any kind of comparison, between our situations, ends. Both of us walked directly into a theological ambush. And, while I struggled for answers, Jesus left his foes speechless.)

           Let’s read this encounter together.

Luke 20:27-47

27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

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 to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the 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 God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

           We have twenty-one verses here. And, they are governed by two questions. (1st) There is a question for Jesus. The Sadducees decide it’s their turn to test Jesus. They want their shot at the heavyweight belt in theology. (2nd) There is a question from Jesus. After answering them, Jesus throws a haymaker of a question at them and quickly ends the bout.

           Let’s look at the first question.

1. A question for Jesus (vv. 27-40)

We need to begin by establishing a bit about the Sadducees. Who were they? Who were these contenders? We don’t know much. And, most of what we know, we learn from their enemies, from those who opposed them.[1] They didn’t get along with the Pharisees; one of their chief disagreements concerned whether there was or wasn’t a resurrection. The Pharisees maintained there was, while the Sadducees maintained there wasn’t.

That very debate comes into play here, as they proffer an absurdist question to Jesus. (Maybe the Sadducees think they can win two heavyweight bouts at once, besting both Jesus and the Pharisees in one theological prizefight.) Thus, they ask about marriage after death. They are mocking the idea of a resurrection.

Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife (vv. 28-33).

This isn’t a sincere question. The Sadducees don’t believe in a resurrection. This is bait. They want Jesus to take the bait. They want him to begin working-out whose wife she’ll be in eternity, because the very process of ordering relationships in eternity will entangle Jesus in minutia and make him look foolish.

You may have encountered something like this. Maybe you want to witness to your friend at work—share the gospel with him or her. But, as soon as you do, your coworker suddenly changes the topic of conversation to the supposed conflict between Christianity and science. They’re hoping to get you tangled in the minutia of that conversation to justify their unbelief. It’s bait. (It’s certainly a conversation you can and should have with your friend at some point, but it mustn’t be allowed to derail the central conversation about the gospel.)

That’s exactly the kind of thing that the Sadducees are attempting to do here. But, Jesus doesn’t take their bait. Rather, Jesus exposes their lack of knowledge when it comes to the central conversation concerning resurrection. To their horror, Jesus stays on topic. He won’t be distracted.

Now, at first, Jesus appears to take the bait. He begins to talk about marriage and resurrection life. And, we must admit, he shares some rather interesting things about these future realities.

  • “…those who…attain to…the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (v. 35).
  • “…they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels” (v. 36).

We could easily get off on a tangent here. But, the point Jesus is making—by sharing these prophetic truths—is simply that the Sadducees have completely misunderstood the nature of resurrection life. Their thinking is pedestrian.

In the slightly modified words of one of my favorite authors:

…it would seem that [Jesus] finds [their conceptions of resurrection life] not too strong, but too weak. [They] are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with [thoughts of] drink and sex and ambition [and marriage after death] when infinite joy is [being] offered [to them], like…ignorant [children] who [can only imagine] making mud pies in a slum because [they] cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.[2]

           In short, friends, Jesus is telling them that they haven’t got a clue about this. The reality of resurrection life will be utterly different and infinitely more glorious than anything they now experience. You see, they’ve “failed to realize that the life to come will be essentially different than this life.”[3] The Sadducees can’t think past what they experience now; their imaginations are small. And, this kind of thinking, I believe, leads these men to reject the possibility of a resurrection.

           We tend to do the very same thing. It looks a bit different. But it’s the same. Let me share a story to show how we think myopically about the things of God—about the coming realities which are ours in Christ.

           When I was young, I would hear my Sunday school teachers and my pastors talk about eternity as an eternal worship service with millions singing and praising and dancing before the throne of God. And, all I could think about were a handful of the Christian concerts my parents had dragged me off to—Amy Grant or Petra or Michael W. Smith. To those of you who delight in these musicians, no offense. But, this vision of resurrection life didn’t excite me. I mean even the best concerts get old after a few hours. Needless to say, such an earthly conception of eternity was enough to make resurrection life seem dull to me.

           And, we all do this in various ways by importing our ideas about vacations and retirement or the dullness of work and our family relationships into our visions of our glorified physical life with God. Such things are only helpful as small signs which point to something altogether different and infinitely more glorious to come. Friends, a mere glimpse of what’s really ahead should cause us to thirst constantly for it—to even pray for it: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

           (If you’d like help expanding your imagination, when it comes to the future, I can recommend nothing better to you than The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis. Read it over and over and over again.)

           Well, in sharp contrast to the Sadducees’ hypothetical, problematic question about these seven brothers and their one wife, Jesus quickly gives a concrete proof from Scripture in support of the resurrection. Look at his answer.

…that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (vv. 37-38).

Following this answer, Luke tells us that some toady-scribes started cheering for Jesus—Good answer! I imagine that some of the Pharisees were simply happy that somebody, besides them, was getting theologically smacked-around by Jesus. (It’s like rooting for the team that beat your team to beat the next team even worse, so that everyone forgets how badly your team was beaten.)

Now, as far as his answer is concerned, he highlights that God is (not was!) the God of Israel’s patriarchs—even though they’d died long before the Lord God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus’ logic is this—“If God speaks of himself as” Abraham’s God, “then Abraham still exists. If he is the God of Isaac and Jacob, then they still exist.”[4] In short, to experience the promises of the Lord, which he made to them, they must and will be resurrected one day.

This is mic-drop Bible interpretation. It’s exactly the kind of answer I dream of making but fail to make when I’m ambushed. You may not see Jesus as amazing in this moment, but you’re supposed to. He’s worship worthy.

Well, let’s move briefly to the second question.

2. A question from Jesus (vv. 41-47)

While the Sadducees’ question deals with the nature of the resurrection, Jesus’ question deals with the nature of the Christ. He’s challenging the Sadducees to rethink their vision of the Messiah. Jesus quotes David in the Psalms.

“‘The Lord said to my Lord, / “Sit at my right hand, / until I make your enemies your footstool”’ (vv. 42-43).

This is a messianic passage. David was speaking of the Lord God speaking to the Messiah, but David calls the Messiah “my Lord.” Jesus wants to know why. More to the point, Jesus wants these religious teachers to consider the implications of this inspired word from David. Why would David—the greatest king of Israel—refer to one of his descendants—even his greatest messianic descendent—as Lord? Now that’s a question!

This would even be strange for our culture and time. My kids could achieve at the highest levels. They could become heroes and presidents—win Nobel prizes in every single field. My children could form an elite Seal team (Seal Team Five!) and save the world from certain destruction. But, they would still simply be sons and daughters to me. I’ll never call them Lord.

Friends, Jesus is asking these religious teachers to expand both their thinking and their vision when it comes to the Messiah. He’s not just a king like David was. He’s not simply the greatest human conqueror. He is Lord; he is God in the flesh! That’s the implication of this verse, and that’s who Jesus claims to be.

           Then, Jesus does something that seems strange to us. He rebukes the scribes, the religious leaders, in earshot of all the people.

Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (vv. 46-47).

Why does Jesus do this? Why does Jesus seemingly shift gears so quickly? Well, I don’t believe he does. I think Jesus stays on topic. If you want to see how, simply ask: What’s the nature of true greatness?

Is it having the best clothes, long robes here? Is it being popular and honored in public or at parties? Is it having lots of things or being a showman? No! It’s not! Such selfish greatness will be harshly judged, says Jesus. But, recall the context. Jesus just asked them that provocative question about the nature of the Messiah—the greatest of the greats. What’s the nature of his greatness?

…[he] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (1 Corinthians 8:9).

…though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself…taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:6-8).

There are countless verses in Scripture which outline the greatness of Jesus. None of those verses are selfish in nature. None of them smacks of greed or of ego. This is the character of divine greatness! What a contrast!


[1] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke, 290.

[2] Adapted from C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory. You can read his entire sermon here.

[3] Morris, ibid., 291.

[4] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1625.

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