Today we read the account of when the Sadducees, who did not accept the idea of the resurrection of the body, try to test Jesus with a question that is designed to produce a ridiculous result. In this manner they hope to trap Jesus in a logical problem and discredit him. It should be noted that the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament (aka the Pentateuch).
The question they bring to Jesus is one about marriage. It was customary in time that if a man died childless his brother would marry his widow in order make sure that the brother’s line continued. What happens at the resurrection of the body if the widow married seven brothers all of whom predeceased her? When you look at it closely Jesus’ answer is groundbreaking!
But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
Notice how Jesus answers. He says that they do not understand the Scriptures. These are men who spent everyday of their lives in study of just the first five books of the bible and Jesus says that they have missed an essential teaching! Woe to us who have to try to glean the essential teaching out of all 73 books of the Old and New Testament. Jesus then quotes from the book Exodus, where God says, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’”. Notice how Jesus interprets it. The verse does not say anything directly about resurrection but Jesus shows them the logic that underlies the verse. God is the God of the living. God is the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob who have died. However, since God is the God of the living it must be the Abraham, Issac and Jacob are in some way still alive and will be fully alive again.
In this passage Jesus is not just teaching us that there will be a resurrection, He is instructing us how to interpret scripture. We do not always need an explicit verse. We are to go deep into scripture and draw out the logical inferences. This is how we come to understand things like the divinity of Jesus and the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the nature of the Trinity, the perpetual virginity of Mary, purgatory and prayer to the Saints.
Jesus does this again in the next passage. When He asks the Pharisees about the son ship of the messiah, He states:
He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”‘?
45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
This is another lesson from Jesus on how to interpret scripture. If one takes the verse from the psalm of David to literally then one will miss the Messiah! To correctly interpret the verse one must find a way to reconcile to apparently contradictory ideas – that the messiah will be a son of David and that He will be greater than David. It is similar with many other teachings like: Jesus is fully God and fully man, that “all men have sinned” yet Jesus and Mary remain sinless, that Jesus is the “one mediator” yet we can pray for each other and ask the Saints to pray for us. Often someone might hear a teaching and say, “that is unbiblical” because it is not found expressly in scripture or there is a verse that they think contradicts it. But Jesus’ way of interpreting scripture calls us to look for the deeper meanings.
Finally, just a quick note, this passage we read today is where we get the idea that we become angels when we die. However, that is not what it says. It actually says we become LIKE angels when we die. In other words we will have some of the attributes of angels. For example, we will be in constant direct communication with God, our will be fixed on doing the will of God. After the resurrection we see that Jesus’ glorified body can pass through walls and appear and disappear at will. We will likely have similar attributes.