Jesus, the Sadducees, and the Resurrection

As we look at the events of “Passion Tuesday,” the Tuesday before Christ’s crucifixion, we come now to the “question” of the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead.  It wasn’t really a question — these men considered themselves the elites, and with their sense of superiority they merely intended to mock, to win a victory over not only Jesus, but also over their other religious rivals.

They chose the wrong target.

The Sadducees

Their Origin

Some three centuries before Christ, Antigonus Sochaeus taught his disciples, “be not as servants who serve their master for the sake of reward; but be ye as servants that serve their master not for the sake of reward, and let the fear of God be upon you.”

One of his disciples, a man named Saduk, interpreted this to mean there is no future state of reward or punishment — and thus, the sect of the Sadducees was born.  They denied any resurrection from the dead, and the existence of angels or spirits.

Their Authority

The Sadducees rejected Jewish religious traditions.  In fact, they accepted only doctrines which could be proved from the five books of Moses, denying full authority to other Scripture.  The Talmud (Sanhedrin 90b) apparently refers to this belief (though some Jews now claim this refers to Samaritans rather than Sadducees):

In this matter I refuted the books of the sectarians, who maintained that resurrection is not deducible from the Torah.

Their Heretical Doctrines

One well-known preacher said that “the Sadducees were sad, you see, because they didn’t believe in the Resurrection.” 🙂 The Scriptures tell us:

Matthew 22:23

The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection….

The Sadducees looked down on others who believed in angels and the resurrection.  Not for them any “pie-in-the-sky” spiritual world, they would say their feet were solidly on the ground.  They also completely denied the sovereignty of God and the reality of a sin nature, holding that man’s will is completely free and unhindered by sin.

Note:  History repeats.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Some modern religious “liberals” cloak their unbelief by claiming only the direct words of Jesus Himself are authoritative, just like the Sadducees’ “Moses-only” policy.  They also usually deny the resurrection.  If you encounter these ideas, just remember:  the Sadducees may not have believed in the resurrection, but their false doctrines certainly came back to life :).  

Their views on sin nature and free will were precursors to the Pelagian heresy, the only difference being that theirs wore the garb of alleged Old Testament faith while Pelagius and his followers presented themselves as Christians.

Their Position in Society

Those who care about this life more than the life to come are more likely to go along with the authorities to protect their current status.  Thus, it is hardly surprising that the Romans tended to appoint Sadducees as high priests.  Caiaphas was a Sadducee, and we see this “position-protecting” attitude expressed in the council he led:

John 11:47-48

47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.
48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.

Acts 5:17

Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,)….

The “Question”

The Sadducees based their “question” on Moses’ teaching of Levirate marriage.

Deuteronomy 25:5-6

5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.
6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.

If a married man died childless, his brother or near kinsman was to marry the widow.  Their firstborn would be the legal heir of the man who had died, while any further sons would be legally the sons of their biological father, their mother’s second husband.

The Sadducees loved ridicule, saying the Pharisees would try to purify the sun. 🙂 Alfred Edersheim (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 3.2) adds an interesting note that they apparently rejected Levirate marriage unless the childless couple had been only betrothed, not married.  If he is correct, there is a dual mockery here — they were using the Levirate marriage that they rejected to ridicule belief in the resurrection.

Their mocking argument runs thus:  YOU would say these brothers were obviously just obeying Moses.  We wouldn’t say that, but you would, so you have to deal with it.  YOUR belief creates an impossible situation if there is a resurrection.  Obviously (they are saying) there must not be a resurrection:

Matthew 22:24-28

24 Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
Mat 22:25 Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:
Mat 22:26 Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.
Mat 22:27 And last of all the woman died also.
Mat 22:28 Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.

The question was based on a false assumption — that the resurrection would leave everything unchanged.  They hadn’t invented this assumption — the Talmud contains silly discussions between the rabbis over such things as what a person will be wearing when resurrected.  The Sadducees thought, by refuting some of these strange teachings on the resurrection, that they were refuting the fact of the resurrection itself.

Surely, they would think, we are showing how ridiculous this resurrection thing must be!  In fact, the Pharisees are wrong on Levirate marriage, too, and this proves that as well!  The Pharisees can’t answer it, and neither will this upstart, this Jesus, this Nazarene!  Once we understand their beliefs, we can see how their “question” drips with sarcasm.

Jesus’ Answer

Though the Sadducees weren’t expecting or really wanting an answer, our Lord gave a straight and compelling one.  He ignored their error on Levirate marriage, because the heart of the matter was the resurrection.

Matthew 22:29-30

29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
30 For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

Jesus told them their error came because they knew neither 1) the Scriptures nor 2) the power of God.

The Power of God

Having identified their two areas of ignorance and error, He began by describing their error on the second.  They didn’t know God’s power.

God will not raise people to dying bodies, but to immortal ones.  In this life, procreation is necessary, or the human race would have perished.  In the next life, we’ll have immortal, incorruptible bodies.  They didn’t know God’s power.  His resurrection is far beyond their silly ideas.  As wonderful as marriage is, it is merely a shadow of the joys of that life — and when you possess the real thing, you don’t need the shadow anymore.

Thus, Jesus struck at their heart problem (just as He had done on every interaction on this day, just as He did with the question of tribute to Caesar).  For the Sadducees, the heart problem was a low view of God.  They had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof, which reminds us of Paul’s words in II Timothy 3.  Earthbound in outlook, they had an earthbound view of the resurrection.  But if this life is all there is, if even a resurrection would be just this life starting over anew, God must be small and weak.

This answer alone would have been enough.  Jesus didn’t cite a Scripture for this, because the entire Old Testament bore it out.  God is supreme, and His works are not bound to this earth and this life.  Anyone who knew the power of God would see that — and they must have known He was speaking truth.  But Jesus wasn’t done with them, not yet….

The Scriptures

Not only were these Sadducees ignorant of God’s power, they knew not the Scriptures.  They were, no doubt, ready to answer the usual Scriptures that the Pharisees and other rabbis cited.  Sure, Daniel (12:2) speaks of a resurrection, so does Job (19:26), and perhaps some other verses.  But (they would say) can you prove it in the Law of Moses?

Matthew 22:31-32

31 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Jesus knew their heart — and He knew the heart of the Scriptures, for He was their Author.  This God whose power would raise the dead to immortality knew from all eternity what these men would ask.  He spoke, 1500 years earlier, the words that would refute them, and He inscripturated them, using the pen of no other scribe than Moses.

A simple statement destroyed their doctrine and shredded their arguments.  God did not say “I was the God of Abraham…” but “I am….”  He left no wiggle room, no escape — this “was spoken to you!”  Nor was it spoken by Moses or any other agent, but “by God.”

He destroyed their quibbles about which Scriptures were authoritative, affirming the truth that the words were not Moses’, but God’s.  You can’t pick and choose based on the human scribe, the words are God’s.  These words are spoken to you, as much as they were spoken to Moses.  And this God and His Word are absolutely timeless.  He spoke, 1500 ears before, to you.  This is not an earth-bound, time-bound God.  He is eternal and enters into everlasting relationships with His living people.  He is the God of the living!


Matthew 22:33

33 And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.
34 But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.

There was no answer.  Our translation gives the meaning clearly, but the Greek text here is even more picturesque than the English — He muzzled the Sadducees (the same word Paul used in I Corinthians 9:9 and I Timothy 5:18). 🙂 They were so thoroughly silenced that it was as if Jesus had clamped a muzzle over their mouths.  For He had not only answered their question, He had challenged their unbelief, putting it on display for all the world to see.

The Sadducees were a broken force.  Kept in the priesthood by Roman decree, they held their position only until Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed less than 40 years later.  There was no reason for anyone to follow their teachings once there was no external force to keep them in power.  They knew not the power of God, nor the Scriptures, and everyone knew it.  The rabbis went on teaching in Judaism, but the Sadducees simply disappeared.  They had chosen the wrong target — and they were finished.

Series Summary with links to further articles: “Passion Tuesday” / Crucifixion Tuesday

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Rightly Dividing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Jesus, the Sadducees, and the Resurrection

  1. UK Fred says:

    Jesus words are still relevant today. Too many so-called Christians know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God

  2. Robert Landbeck says:

    “and with their sense of superiority they merely intended to mock, to win a victory over not only Jesus” and history may be repeating itself all over again. And we’ll see who has the last ‘mock’?

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ has been published. Radically different from anything else we know of from theology or history, this new teaching is predicated upon the ‘promise’ of a precise, predefined, predictable and repeatable experience of transcendent omnipotence and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to reveal Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine Will and ultimate proof!

    Thus ‘faith’ becomes an act of trust in action, the search along a defined path of strict self discipline, [a test of the human heart] to discover His ‘Word’ of a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our mortal moral compass with the Divine, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” Thus is a man ‘created’ in the image and likeness of his Creator.

    So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at (link removed)

    • Jon Gleason says:

      If the interpretation is wholly new, then either the Holy Spirit has neglected to enlighten any of God’s children for 2000 years, or the interpretation is not of the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 2 as well as I John 4 make wholly new interpretations automatically wholly suspect.

      Nor will the true faith of God submit to Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof. Hebrews 11 speaks to that, telling us that faith is the only conclusive proof. Hope that is seen is not hope. I’ve allowed your comment to stand, but not a link to what is manifestly, by the way you’ve described it, inconsistent with Scripture.

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