READ : Luke 20:37-38
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. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.
Luke 20:37-38 rsv
Do you ever wonder what happens to people after they die? It’s a question that seems to keep coming up in every age. The Pharaohs of Egypt, 50 centuries ago, made elaborate provisions in their tombs of what they felt they would need in some future life. The Pyramids of Gaza are the monuments to that hope. Job’s agonizing question, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” comes to everyone sooner or later.
Some people, of course, scoff at the whole question. They think it’s a foolish exercise in wishful thinking. They’re persuaded that the grave ends everything. “When you’re dead, you’re dead, and that’s all there is to it.” Even among the people of Israel in Jesus’ time, there were skeptics about that. They, imagine this, were very religious people. The Sadducees, they were, in charge of the worship of the temple. They accepted as their supreme authority in religious questions only the five books of Moses. There, they insisted, could nothing be found about a future life, no mention of a resurrection.
Another group in Israel, the Pharisees, took a different view. They embraced the entire Old Testament as the Word of God and found many evidences there of a future life. The apostle Paul once exploited this division of belief when he was about to be condemned by the Jewish authorities. When he noticed that some in the Sanhedrin were Sadducees and others Pharisees, he called out, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial” (Acts 23:6). At that an uproar broke out, because this was a very controversial issue.
It became known early in Jesus’ ministry that on this point of doctrine, He agreed with the Pharisees. That brought Him under attack from the priestly class. One day a group of these, hoping to spoof the whole idea of a future life, came to Him with a hypothetical case. I’m reading from Luke 20:28, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married and died childless, then the second, then the third married her, and so in the same way, all seven died childless. Finally, the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife shall the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
“Now,” they thought to themselves, “what will Jesus say to that? Surely this provision in the law of Moses makes the whole idea of a resurrection ridiculous.”
The Sadducees have their successors today. They cannot bring themselves to believe in any life beyond death. Remember Bertrand Russell’s gloomy words about the human race? “His origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms . . . No fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave.” And that’s not only the view of a few intellectuals. It’s the despairing conviction of many who say good-by to their loved ones.
A woman had just been told that her little son had leukemia. “When he dies,” she said, “I’ll just have to cover him up with dirt and forget I ever had him.” Then speaking to someone nearby, “You look like a rational person. How can you possibly believe that the death of a man or a little boy is any different from the death of an animal?” The thought of any life beyond death has its questioners and its mockers today.
Here was Jesus’ response to the Sadducees. Listen for His perspective on the future, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed, they cannot die any more because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised, Moses himself showed in the story about the bush where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead but of the living. For to him all of them are alive” (Luke 20:34-38, nrsv).
The evident conviction, the clear teaching of Jesus, is this: There is a resurrection from the dead and there is a coming age. He doesn’t describe this in detail but He does give us some fascinating hints about it. The first is that people who have a place in that age do not marry and are not given in marriage. Jesus doesn’t say that persons married on earth will no longer know each other, that the ties of family here will be forgotten there. But marriages will no longer occur in the coming age. Persons will not be known as “her husband” or “his wife.” Marriage, if not forgotten, will at least be transcended in the life to come.
That may be disappointing to some, especially to those whose lifelong marriages have been a source of great joy and fulfillment. “Marriages like ours were made in heaven originally,” they say. “Surely they will continue there.” They and we can be sure of this, at least: all the genuine love we have known in our relationships here will forever endure. Along with faith and hope, love will abide when everything else has passed away. To me, it seems inconceivable that we will love our family members less in God’s coming kingdom. Surely love then will be deeper and grander. Perhaps the greater difference will be in how much we then love all our brothers and sisters.
Here’s another remarkable thought: In the age to come, Jesus says, people cannot die. Death, imagine it, won’t even be a possibility. Jesus says people there will be like the angels. They, apparently, are not mortal like ourselves. More, those who experience the coming age will be “children of the resurrection.” You know that kind of an expression, “children of something” – that means the most characteristic feature of their existence: these people have new and abundant life because they are children of the living God. That sounds like a marvelous future. It sounds like what Jesus called “eternal life.”
“But that’s the coming age,” someone says. “That’s the life of the resurrection. All that is somewhere out in the future. What about the situation of people who die in the interim? What has become of them?” Jesus has an answer for that, too. It comes right out of the Pentateuch, the part of the Bible to which the Sadducees especially appealed. It’s the account of Moses at the burning bush, where a revelation came to him from God: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod. 3:6).
Jesus raises the question, “What does it mean that God calls Himself the God of these patriarchs?” Does that simply mean the One whom they knew and worshiped while they were living in this world or does it mean something more? Jesus says definitely the latter. God doesn’t speak in the past tense. It’s not “I was the God of Abraham, but I am.” In other words, God is still the God of the patriarchs even after their death. And since He is the living God, they must still be alive in some way. How otherwise could He be “their God” at all? Only living people can have a God. Thus God’s promise to them that He will be their God commits Him to maintain them in life and to raise them from death.
That’s why Old Testament believers, even when they had little revelation about the future, could not bring themselves to believe that they could be separated from God, even by death. Listen to the psalmist, “You will guide me by your counsel and afterward receive me to glory . . . My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever . . . Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever . . . I shall be satisfied when I awake with beholding your face” (Ps. 73:24,26; 23:6; 17:15).
Be sure of this, friends, if you belong to God in this life, if you have come to know Him as your Father, your Savior, your friend, if you have believed His promises and numbered yourself among His people, there will never be a time in all the coming ages when you do not belong to Him, when you do not share His deathless life. Listen again to the word of Jesus, “He is God not of the dead but of the living, for to him all of them are alive.”
Now the weight you give to statements of Jesus like this will depend, obviously, on what you believe about Him. Is He what He claimed to be, the Son of God? When He said, “I and the Father are one . . . he that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 10:30;14:9) was He speaking the truth or was He deluded? Or worse, was He deliberately deceiving others? He claimed to speak the very words of God. He assumed a sure knowledge of invisible realities. He placed Himself at the very center of all human destiny. Was He justified in doing all that? Is He a reliable guide in the questions that matter most? That’s the deeper question all of us have to decide for ourselves. What do you say about Jesus? What will you do with Him who is called Christ?
And remember, as you consider that issue, that these words to the Sadducees were not His final message about the life to come. His most powerful, conclusive witness to what lies ahead for us came in His own resurrection.
Someone said to me cynically once, “A lot of people talk about what happens after death, but nobody has come back to tell us.” I had to take issue with him on that. Somebody did. Jesus did. After He had given His life as our Savior, bearing our sins and sorrows, suffering the stroke we deserved, God raised Him from death to endless life and exalted Him. The Christian faith centers in the Easter gospel. Jesus did come back to tell us.
So what can we say about people who have died believing in Jesus? What assurances can we have about them and their state right now? The apostle Paul was convinced that the answer to that question hinges upon the resurrection of Jesus. If Christ be not risen, he says, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. That is, if the tomb wasn’t really empty on Easter morning, if Jesus never conquered death, then those who have died trusting in Him have vanished without hope. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to affirm the great truth, “Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20). He’s like the first green shoots that give assurance of a great harvest on the way. Jesus said it would be so, “Because I live, you shall live also.” Christ, the risen One, gives us resurrection life.
That’s the most important thing to remember about all this. The coming age, the resurrection, the hope of eternal life, are all gathered up in the person of Jesus, crucified, risen, reigning, coming again. Paul speaks of his death as a departing “to be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). For him, it will be “absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Listen to Jesus’ words, spoken at the grave of Lazarus just before He raised the dead man to life again, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
After Jesus said that, He asked Martha, the sister of the deceased, “Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God” (John 11:27).
And I ask you, as you think about these things, do you believe what Jesus said? Do you believe in what He did? Do you trust in Him as your Savior and Lord? If you can say yes to those questions, then for you the future is radiant with hope. Together with all God’s people, you will be for all eternity, very much alive!
Prayer: Father, may everyone sharing this program today enter into living hope through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.