Before Abraham Was I Am

Matthew 22:23-33

The Sadducees were cocky and confident as they approached Jesus on that momentous day. They had engineered a question based on the unimpeachable footing of Mosaic law and a superstructure of irrefutable logic. They were, they were certain, in an “all-systems go”, “can’t-lose” position.

From a human perspective, the Sadducees were not “sad you see”. Many of their number were wealthy, influential aristocrats. More a political force than a religious cult, they found themselves in a conflict with their more religious kinsmen, the Pharisees. For the Sadducees, Moses, the law giver and prophet, was history’s stellar personality and his writings their final authority. Because the five books of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy) did not, in their view, teach resurrection from the dead, no such hope of life beyond the grave could be tolerated. And so it was, on a spring day in Israel more than nineteen hundred years ago, that the Sadducees put the issue of resurrection to the Son of God. Clearly, their question was not genuine. They were not seekers of the truth. The inquiry was not posed so much to solicit an answer as to demonstrate the folly of belief in resurrection.

The Set Up…

In twentieth-century America, for a great number of men and women progeny is not an important issue. Many choose not to have children because of the “society into which their child will be born”, or because of the responsibility and restrictions that parenthood automatically presents. Others have little concern as to whether the child is male or female — “as long as the child is healthy” goes the familiar cliche.

Such was not the case in ancient Israel. A male heir was considered critical so that a man’s name and inheritance were perpetuated. This concept was derived from the God-given Mosaic law which commanded that if a man die without an heir, his brother was to marry his wife and raise up seed (Dt. 25:5), that his name perish not from the earth (Dt. 25:6).

It is this very theme upon which the biblical book of Ruth is based. Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died. And in swift succession the two sons of Elimelech also died. There was no male seed, no heir apparent. To meet this need and satisfy the Mosaic law, Boaz, a godlykinsman of Eiimelech, married Ruth and raised up an heir (Ruth 4:13-14). It was through this act of obedience to the law of Moses that the messianic line was preserved, for through the lineage of Boaz and Ruth the Son of God was born onto the stage of human history (Mt. 1:5).

The Sadducees took this biblical injunction and expanded it. In essence they said, suppose a woman is married and her husband dies without an heir. And in succession six brothers marry her and each dies (Mt. 22:25-26).

And last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her (Mt. 22:27-28).

They were sure they had set up this Rabbi this popular Teacher from Nazareth.

Surely there could be no satisfactory answer to their question — no equitable and logical solution to their hypothetical case — no exit from this dilemma — none, that is, except to concur with the view of the Sadducees that there is no resurrection from the dead.

The Let Down…

The Sadducees had gravely miscalculated they had made a major error in judgment. This was not merely a rabbi to whom they had posed their well-thought-out question — but the eternal Son of God.

With thirty-three words, the Lord Jesus Christ demolishes their argument, and their carefully-worded question with its “impregnable” Mosaic foundation and logical superstructure lay dashed beyond repair.

The One who is the source of all truth simply said, . , . Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven (Mt. 22:29-30).

The problem of the Sadducees was threefold. First, Jesus said, “. .. Ye do err. . . . That is, they had allowed themselves to be led astray — to follow an erroneous, unregenerate philosophy. Second, “. .. Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures. …” That is, they quoted Moses but did not fully understand what he said. Further, they neglected the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures.

And third, “. .. Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. Resurrection was not an everyday occurrence — it required power — the power of God. The Sadducees were naturalists, they had not experienced the power of God in their own lives. Therefore, they could not comprehend the power of God which could raise the dead.

They had tried to set Him up with a humanly-impossible-to-answer question, and He, in turn, let them down with a response from Heaven. The Sadducees wanted to know (confident, in their view, that there is no resurrection) which of the seven brothers would, in Heaven, be married to the woman they each were married to in life.

They had erred ~ they didn’t know the Scriptures — they didn’t know the power of God.

For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven (Mt. 22:30).

The Lord Jesus does not here, nor does the Bible elsewhere clearly say that angels are sexless. What He does say is that marriage is not the norm for angelic beings, nor will it be for glorified mankind in the eternal state. The question of the Sadducees was, therefore, totally irrelevant.

The Fall Out…

The Sadducees, by asking Jesus their question, had placed Him on the defensive. But now, having satisfactorily dealt with their question. He moved to the attack. The issue at hand was resurrection, and the Son of Man gets right back to it. He said, and as touching the dead, that they rise, have ye not read in the book of Moses how, in the bush, God spoke unto Him, saying, I am the God of Abraham/ and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Mk. 12:26).

It must be remembered that Moses was the champion of the Sadducees and his writings their final authority. They had said in effect, we don’t believe in resurrection because Moses did not write of resurrection.

So, where does Jesus go to demonstrate resurrection? To the account of Moses at the burning bush and Scripture which Moses had himself penned. Exodus 3:1-4:17, when God appeared to Moses He said, I AM the God of Abraham, I AM the God of Isaac, I AM the God of Jacob. God was speaking of the patriarchs in the present tense, although they had been dead for centuries. And then Jesus made this comment: “. . . God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mt. 22:32).

In essence Jesus was saying, take another took, gentlemen — you missed something; Moses clearly wrote concerning resurrection, If you truly believe him, you should believe Me.

The Lord’s commentary on the Mosaic text with its amazing logic leaves the child of God standing in breathless wonder, amazement and awe, and the unredeemed in baffled bewilderment. One could have reasonably hoped that the Sadducees would have responded favorably to their confrontation with the One who alone is “the way, the truth, and the fife” (Jn, 14:6). Regrettably, there is no indication that they did. They were “astonished” (Mt. 22:33), silenced (Mt. 22:34), but unrepentant, Things have not changed in the more than nineteen hundred years since Jesus confronted the Sadducees of His day. There are still the scoffers on every hand. They ridicule and scorn those who, in their view, are so “naive” and “unscientific” as to believe in resurrection from the dead, The problem is still of their own doing. They err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.

. . . For the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice. And shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (Jn. 5:28-29).

There is no such thing as total annihilation, cessation of existence, or soul sleep. Every human being who has ever lived will one day be raised from the grave. For those who have rejected Christ, it will be a resurrection unto eternal condemnation. For those who, by faith, have placed their trust in Him, it will be a glorious resurrection unto life eternal.

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