Verses 23–33

We have here Christ’s dispute with the Sadducees concerning the resurrection; it was the same day on which he was attacked by the Pharisees about paying tribute. Satan was now more busy than ever to ruffle and disturb him; it was an hour of temptation, Rev. 3:10. The truth as it is in Jesus will still meet with contradiction, in some branch or other of it. Observe here,

I. The opposition which the Sadducees made to a very great truth of religion; they say, There is no resurrection, as there are some fools who say, There is no God. These heretics were called Sadducees from one Sadoc, a disciple of Antigonus Sochaeus, who flourished about two hundred and eighty-four years before our Saviour’s birth. They lie under heavy censures among the writers of their own nation, as men of base and debauched conversations, which their principles led them to. They were the fewest in number of all the sects among the Jews, but generally persons of some rank. As the Pharisees and Essenes seemed to follow Plato and Pythagoras, so the Sadducees were much of the genius of the Epicureans; they denied the resurrection, they said, There is no future state, no life after this; that, when the body dies, the soul is annihilated, and dies with it; that there is no state of rewards or punishments in the other world; no judgment to come in heaven or hell. They maintained, that, except God, there is not spirit (Acts 23:8), nothing but matter and motion. They would not own the divine inspiration of the prophets, nor any revelation from heaven, but what God himself spoke upon mount Sinai. Now the doctrine of Christ carried that great truth of the resurrection and a future state much further than it had yet been revealed, and therefore the Sadducees in a particular manner set themselves against it. The Pharisees and Sadducees were contrary to each other, and yet confederates against Christ. Christ’s gospel hath always suffered between superstitious ceremonious hypocrites and bigots on the one hand, and profane deists and infidels on the other. The former abusing, the latter despising, the form of godliness, but both denying the power of it.

II. The objection they made against the truth, which was taken from a supposed case of a woman that had seven husbands successively; now they take it for granted, that, if there be a resurrection, it must be a return to such a state as this we are now in, and to the same circumstances, like the imaginary Platonic year; and if so, it is an invincible absurdity for this woman in the future state to have seven husbands, or else an insuperable difficulty which of them should have her, he whom she had first, or he whom she had last, or he whom she loved best, or he whom she lived longest with.

1. They suggest the law of Moses in this matter (Matt. 22:24), that the next of kin should marry the widow of him that died childless (Deut. 25:5); we have it practised Ruth 4:5. It was a political law, founded in the particular constitution of the Jewish commonwealth, to preserve the distinction of families and inheritances, of both which there was special care taken in that government.

2. They put a case upon this statute, which, whether it were a case in fact or only a moot case, is not at all material; if it had not really occurred, yet possibly it might. It was of seven brothers, who married the same woman, Matt. 22:25-27. Now this case supposes,

(1.) The desolations that death sometimes makes in families when it comes with commission; how it often sweeps away a whole fraternity in a little time;: seldom (as the case is put) according to seniority (the land of darkness is without any order,) but heaps upon heaps; it diminishes families that had multiplied greatly, Ps. 107:38, 39. When there were seven brothers grown up to man’s estate, there was a family very likely to be built up; and yet this numerous family leaves neither son nor nephew, nor any remaining in their dwellings, Job 18:19. Well may we say then, Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Let none be sure of the advancement and perpetuity of their names and families, unless they could make a covenant of peace with death, or be at an agreement with the grave.

(2.) The obedience of these seven brothers to the law, though they had a power of refusal under the penalty of a reproach, Deut. 25:7. Note, Discouraging providences should not keep us from doing our duty because we must be governed by the rule, not by the event. The seventh, who ventured last to marry the widow (many a one would say) was abold man. I would say, if he did it purely in obedience to God, he was a good man, and one that made conscience of his duty.

But, last of all, the woman died also. Note, Survivorship is but a reprieve; they that live long, and bury their relations and neighbours one after another, do not thereby acquire an immortality; no, their day will come to fall. Death’s bitter cup goes round, and, sooner or later, we must all pledge in it, Jer. 25:26.

3. They propose a doubt upon this case (Matt. 22:28); “In the resurrection, whose wife shall she be of the seven? You cannot tell whose; and therefore we must conclude there is no resurrection.” The Pharisees, who professed to believe a resurrection, had very gross and carnal notions concerning it, and concerning the future state; expecting to find there, as the Turks in their paradise, the delights and pleasures of the animal life, which perhaps drove the Sadducees to deny the thing itself; for nothing gives greater advantage to atheism and infidelity than the carnality of those that make religion, either in its professions or in its prospects, a servant to their sensual appetites and secular interests; while those that are erroneous deny the truth, those that are superstitious betray it to them. Now they, in this objection, went upon the Pharisees’ hypothesis. Note, It is not strange that carnal minds have very false notions of spiritual and eternal things. The natural man receiveth not these things, for they are foolishness to him. 1 Cor. 2:14. Let truth be set in a clear light, and then it appears in its full strength.

III. Christ’s answer to this objection; by reproving their ignorance, and rectifying their mistake, he shows the objection to be fallacious and unconcluding.

1. He reproves their ignorance (Matt. 22:29); Ye do err. Note, Those do greatly err, in the judgment of Christ, who deny the resurrection and a future state. Here Christ reproves with the meekness of wisdom, and is not so sharp upon them (whatever was the reason) as sometimes he was upon the chief priests and elders; Ye do err, not knowing. Note, Ignorance is the cause of error; those that are in the dark, miss their way. The patrons of error do therefore resist the light, and do what they can to take away the key of knowledge; Ye do err in this matter, not knowing. Note, Ignorance is the cause of error about the resurrection and the future state. What it is in its particular instances, the wisest and best know not; it doth not yet appear what we shall be, it is a glory that is to be revealed: when we speak of the state of separate souls, the resurrection of the body, and of eternal happiness and misery, we are soon at a loss; we cannot order our speech, by reason of darkness, but that it is a thing about which we are not left in the dark; blessed be God, we are not; and those who deny it are guilty of a willing and affected ignorance. It seems, there were some Sadducees, some such monsters, among professing Christians, some among you, that say, There is no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12) and some that did in effect deny it, by turning it into an allegory, saying, The resurrection is past already. Now observe,

(1.) They know not the power of God; which would lead men to infer that there may be a resurrection and a future state. Note, The ignorance, disbelief, or weak belief, of God’s power, is at the bottom of many errors, particularly theirs who deny the resurrection. When we are told of the soul’s existence and agency in a state of separation from the body, and especially that a dead body, which had lain many ages in the grave, and is turned into common and indistinguished dust, that this shall be raised the same body that it was, and live, move, and act, again; we are ready to say, How can these things be? Nature allows it for a maxim, A privatione ad habitum non datur regressus—The habits attaching to a state of existence vanish irrecoverably with the state itself. If a man die, shall he live again? And vain men, because they cannot comprehend the way of it, question the truth of it; whereas, if we firmly believe in God the Father Almighty, that nothing is impossible with God, all these difficulties vanish. This therefore we must fasten upon, in the first place, that God is omnipotent, and can do what he will; and then no room is left for doubting but that he will do what he has promised; and, if so, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead? Acts 26:8. His power far exceeds the power of nature.

(2.) They know not the scriptures, which decidedly affirm that there shall be a resurrection and a future state. The power of God, determined and engaged by his promise, is the foundation for faith to build upon. Now the scriptures speak plainly, that the soul is immortal, and there is another life after this; it is the scope both of the law and of the prophets, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust, Acts 24:14, 15. Job knew it (Job 19:26), Ezekiel foresaw it (Ezek. 37:1-28), and Daniel plainly foretold it, Dan. 12:2. Christ rose again according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3); and so shall we. Those therefore who deny it, either have not conversed with the Scriptures, or do not believe them, or do not take the true sense and meaning of them. Note, Ignorance of the scripture is the rise of abundance of mischief.

2. He rectifies their mistake, and (Matt. 22:30) corrects those gross ideas which they had of the resurrection and a future state, and fixes these doctrines upon a true and lasting basis. Concerning that state, observe,

(1.) It is not like the state we are now in upon earth; They neither marry, nor are given in marriage. In our present state marriage is necessary; it was instituted in innocency; whatever intermission or neglect there has been of other institutions, this was never laid aside, nor will be till the end of time. In the old world, they were marrying, and giving in marriage; the Jews in Babylon, when cut off from other ordinances, yet were bid to take them wives, Jer. 29:6. All civilized nations have had a sense of the obligation of the marriage covenant; and it is requisite for the gratifying of the desires, and recruiting the deficiencies, of the human nature. But, in the resurrection, there is no occasion for marriage; whether in glorified bodies there will be any distinction of sexes some too curiously dispute (the ancients are divided in their opinions about it); but, whether there will be a distinction or not, it is certain that there will be no conjunction; where God will be all in all, there needs no other meet-help; the body will be spiritual, and there will be in it no carnal desires to be gratified: when the mystical body is completed, there will be no further occasion to seek a godly seed, which was one end of the institution of marriage, Mal. 2:15. In heaven there will be no decay of the individuals, and therefore no eating and drinking; no decay of the species, and therefore no marrying; where there shall be no more deaths (Rev. 21:4), there need be no more births. The married state is a composition of joys and cares; those that enter upon it are taught to look upon it as subject to changes, richer and poorer, sickness and health; and therefore it is fit for this mixed, changing world; but as in hell, where there is no joy, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride shall be heard no more at all, so in heaven, where there is all joy, and no care or pain or trouble, there will be no marrying. The joys of that state are pure and spiritual, and arise from the marriage of all of them to the Lamb, not of any of them to one another.

(2.) It is like the state angels are now in in heaven; They are as the angels of God in heaven; they are so, that is, undoubtedly they shall be so. They are so already in Christ their Head, who has made them sit with him in heavenly places, Eph. 2:6. The spirits of just men already made perfect are of the same corporation with the innumerable company of angels, Heb. 12:22, 23. Man in his creation was made a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5); but in his complete redemption and renovation will be as the angels; pure and spiritual as the angels, knowing and loving as those blessed seraphim, ever praising God like them and with them. The bodies of the saints shall be raised incorruptible and glorious, like the uncompounded vehicles of those pure and holy spirits (1 Cor. 15:42), swift and strong, like them. We should therefore desire and endeavour to do the will of God now as the angels do it in heaven, because we hope shortly to be like the angels who always behold our Father’s face. He saith nothing of the state of the wicked in the resurrection; but, by consequence, they shall be like the devils, whose lusts they have done.

IV. Christ’s argument to confirm this great truth of the resurrection and a future state; the matters being of great concern, he did not think it enough (as in some other disputes) to discover the fallacy and sophistry of the objection, but backed the truth with a solid argument; for Christ brings forth judgment to truth as well as victory, and enables his followers to give a reason of the hope that is in them. Now observe,

1. Whence he fetched his argument—from the scripture; that is the great magazine or armoury whence we may be furnished with spiritual weapons, offensive and defensive. It is written is Goliath’s sword. Have ye not read that which was spoken to you by God? Note, (1.) What the scripture speaks God speaks. (2.) What was spoken to Moses was spoken to us; it was spoken and written for our learning. (3.) It concerns us to read and hear what God hath spoken, because it is spoken to us. It was spoken to you Jews in the first place, for to them were committed the oracles of God. The argument is fetched from the books of Moses, because the Sadducees received them only, as some think, or, at least, them chiefly, for canonical scriptures; Christ therefore fetched his proof from the most indisputable fountain. The latter prophets have more express proofs of a future state than the law of Moses has; for though the law of Moses supposes the immortality of the soul and a future state, as principles of what is called natural religion, yet no express revelation of it is made by the law of Moses; because so much of that law was peculiar to that people, and was therefore guarded as municipal laws used to be with temporal promises and threatenings, and the more express revelation of a future state was reserved for the latter days; but our Saviour finds a very solid argument for the resurrection even in the writings of Moses. Much scripture lies under ground, that must be digged for.

2. What his argument was (Matt. 22:32); I am the God of Abraham. This was not an express proof, totidem verbis—in so many words; and yet it was really a conclusive argument. Consequences from scripture, if rightly deduced, must be received as scripture; for it was written for those that have the use of reason.

Now the drift of the argument is to prove,

(1.) That there is a future state, another life after this, in which the righteous shall be truly and constantly happy. This is proved from what God said; I am the God of Abraham.

[1.] For God to be any one’s God supposes some very extraordinary privilege and happiness; unless we know fully what God is, we could not comprehend the riches of that word, I will be to thee a God, that is, a Benefactor like myself. The God of Israel is a God to Israel (1 Chron. 17:24), a spiritual Benefactor; for he is the Father of spirits, and blesseth with spiritual blessings: it is to be an all-sufficient Benefactor, a God that is enough, a complete Good, and an eternal Benefactor; for he is himself an everlasting God, and will be to those that are in covenant with him an everlasting Good. This great word God had often said to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and it was intended as a recompence for their singular faith and obedience, in quitting the country at God’s call. The Jews had a profound veneration for those three patriarchs, and would extend the promise God made them to the uttermost.

[2.] It is manifest that these good men had no such extraordinary happiness, in this life, as might look any thing like the accomplishment of so great a word as that. They were strangers in the land of promise, wandering, pinched with famine; they had not a foot of ground of their own but a burying-place, which directed them to look for something beyond this life. In present enjoyments they came far short of their neighbours that were strangers to this covenant. What was there in this world to distinguish them and the heirs of their faith from other people, any whit proportionable to the dignity and distinction of this covenant? If no happiness had been reserved for these great and good men on the other side of death, that melancholy word of poor Jacob’s, when he was old (Gen. 47:9), Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, would have been an eternal reproach to the wisdom, goodness, and faithfulness, of that God who had so often called himself the God of Jacob.

[3.] Therefore there must certainly be a future state, in which, as God will ever live to be eternally rewarding, so Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, will ever live to be eternally rewarded. That of the apostle (Heb. 11:16), is a key to this argument, where, when he had been speaking of the faith and obedience of the patriarchs in the land of their pilgrimage, he adds, Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; because he has provided for them a city, a heavenly city; implying, that if he had not provided so well for them in the other world, considering how they sped in this, he would have been ashamed to have called himself their God; but now he is not, having done that for them which answers it in its true intent and full extent.

(2.) That the soul is immortal, and the body shall rise again, to be united; if the former point be gained, these will follow; but they are likewise proved by considering the time when God spoke this; it was to Moses at the bush, long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were dead and buried; and yet God saith, not, “I was,” or “have been,” but I am the God of Abraham. Now God is not God of the dead, but of the living. He is a living God, and communicates vital influences to those to whom he is a God. If, when Abraham died, there had been an end of him, there had been an end likewise of God’s relation to him as his God; but at that time, when God spoke to Moses, he was the God of Abraham, and therefore Abraham must be then alive; which proves the immortality of the soul in a state of bliss; and that, by consequence, infers the resurrection of the body; for there is such an inclination in the human soul to its body, as would make a final and eternal separation inconsistent with the bliss of those that have God for their God. The Sadducees’ notion was, that the union between body and soul is so close, that, when the body dies, the soul dies with it. Now, upon the same hypothesis, if the soul lives, as it certainly does, the body must some time or other live with it. And besides, the Lord is for the body, it is an essential part of the man; there is a covenant with the dust, which will be remembered, otherwise the man would not be happy. The charge which the dying patriarchs gave concerning their bones, and that in faith, was an evidence that they had some expectation of the resurrection of their bodies. But this doctrine was reserved for a more full revelation after the resurrection of Christ, who was the first-fruits of them that slept.

Lastly, We have the issue of this dispute. The Sadducees were put to silence (Matt. 22:34), and so put to shame. They thought by their subtlety to put Christ to shame, when they were preparing shame for themselves. But the multitude were astonished at this doctrine, Matt. 22:33. 1. Because it was new to them. See to what a sad pass the exposition of scripture was come among them, when people were astonished at it as a miracle to hear the fundamental promise applied to this great truth; they had sorry scribes, or this had been no news to them. 2. Because it had something in it very good and great. Truth often shows the brighter, and is the more admired, for its being opposed. Observe, Many gainsayers are silenced, and many hearers astonished, without being savingly converted; yet even in the silence and astonishment of unsanctified souls God magnifies his law, magnifies his gospel, and makes both honourable.