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Gospel according to Luke 20: 27-40 (NIV)
27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Other than the Sadducees, most pious Jews of the first century believed in the resurrection of the dead. Martha indicated the nature of that belief when talking with Jesus about the death of her brother Lazarus: “Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day’” (John 11: 24).
In Luke 20: 35, Jesus spoke of the resurrection from the dead. One could infer that this differs from the general resurrection “at the last day”, the resurrection of the Sadducees’ hypothetical question (verse 33). “Resurrection from the dead” appears to be for those “considered worthy” – considered worthy, we may suppose, not by fellow human beings but in the eyes of God. One might surmise for example that, in Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee would not be considered worthy because the tax collector, “rather than the other, went home justified before God” (Luke 18: 9-17).
Jesus has provided insights into what awaits “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come”, insights which may be informative rather than definitive. We may deduce that the “worthy” will not be identical to angels: they will not become angels but will be like the angels. Whether this similarity is in appearance, in role or function or in their relationships with one another (they “will neither marry nor be given in marriage”) is not revealed.
What Jesus has revealed is the high regard he has for Scripture. His reference to the burning bush incident (Exodus 3: 6) is detailed and specific. In Mark’s account of Jesus’ response to the Sadducees, Jesus concluded by saying, “You are badly mistaken” (Mark 12: 27). Matthew recorded Jesus’ rebuke as, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22: 29).
In this, Jesus is challenging all of us to “know the Scriptures” and correctly to draw from the Scriptures lessons that truly reflect God’s intentions for all of his creation.