The Sadducees and Resurrection

Day three of the Passion week:


While walking along on Solomon’s porch His authority is questioned:


Matt 21:23-27


Question of tribute to Caesar: Was Jesus a nationalist?

Matt 22:15-22


Mark 12:13-17


The widow’s mite:


Luke 21:1-4


Mark 12:41-44


Greeks seek to speak to Jesus and Jesus’ last appeal to Israel:


John 12:20-36


Though His appeal would be finished with these Greeks and His report, though not believed, would be completed, however, the arguments and ignorant, childish, schemes of His enemies would not end.


This was a long day indeed for our Lord.


Still on the third day:


The Sadducees and the resurrection:


Matt 22:23-33

On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him and questioned Him, 24 saying, "Teacher, Moses said, 'If a man dies, having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up an offspring to his brother.' 25 "Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother; 26 so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. 27 "And last of all, the woman died. 28 "In the resurrection therefore whose wife of the seven shall she be? For they all had her." 29 But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. 30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 "But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living. "  33 And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.


We see the Sadducees approaching Christ once before with the Pharisees asking Him to perform a sign, Matt 16:1. To this the Lord replies, an evil and adulterous generation requests a sign. Why is it you cannot discern the sign of the times?


This question by the Sadducees is again another ignorant confusion of the spiritual and the earthly, of heaven and earth, and making God out to be just like a man.


The Sadducees hotly debated the Pharisees on the subject of the resurrection, which the Sadducees did not believe in. Their desire here is to in one fell swoop discredit the Lord and to bolster their argument for the falsehood of the resurrection.


This is often the same subject used by the “common sense” thinking masses who think such a notion is absurd because they’ve never seen a resurrected person (certainly the Sadducees hadn’t either) and it flies in the face of all accepted science.


As for the Sadducees they thought the Law gave no evidence of resurrection. There are three cases of resuscitation, the son of the Shunammite woman in 2Ki 4:35, the son of the widow in 1Ki 17:22; the dead Moabite that was thrown into Elisha’s grave, 2Ki 13:20.


But no one was resurrected in the OT, and no one would ever be until after Christ, and in the case of the OT saints, not until after the resurrection of the church.


In order to be thorough I think we should explore the reasons why these well educated Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection.


OT doctrine had two profound ethical foci: individual and corporate (or the nation). Individuals lived out their lives under the law, in faith, seeking the guidance and protection of Jehovah, conducting their households and rearing their children with the promise and the law of Jehovah closely in view Deu6:4-15. Promises that referred to the future were generally applied to the descendants of the righteous (threats were applied to the descendants of the wicked) or to the corporate destiny of the Israelite nation.


There was a failure amongst many of the people to understand the future fulfillment of the unconditional covenants through the scripture and the death of Christ that would make it all possible as taught through the Levitical offerings.  


As more revelation was given over the years to later and later prophets the doctrine of resurrection was more revealed, however, it was never revealed like it is in the NT.


Two OT figures experienced translation (i.e., assumption into heaven before death): Enoch (Gen 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:9-11). But the small number of statements and the lack of theological reflection indicate an absence of doctrine: translation from this life to another realm is an exception, not applicable to people in general, and revivification implies no more than a temporary release from the inevitable death to come again.


In addition, the repugnance of Israel to any connection with other Near Eastern religions made it hard for many of them to accept an afterlife, since Egyptian and Persian religions (Zoroastrianism – ancient dualism in which the creator will resurrect all in the end including the bad) also believed in resurrection to eternity.


The Israelites would have encountered the Persian belief when in captivity in Babylon. And in counteraction to that, Daniel would give the greatest prophecy concerning the resurrection of corporate Israel that is irrefutable.


Naturally, if Israel is to be raised to experience the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, which is eternal, then the individual Jews must be raised eternal. However, Jewish thought seemed to only focus on the earthly future of Israel and the rebuilding of the city and nation for the future, but not the eternal future.


So, after returning to build the city after 70 years of captivity, and not being allowed by the Persians to reestablish a monarchy, the Pharisees and Sadducees took power; one believing in the resurrection (possibly influenced by the Persian belief) and the other rejecting the doctrine completely.




But no matter, both groups would become so distant from the truth of the scripture while continuing to fight for power that by the time Christ arrived some 600 years later, the truth was nowhere to be found. The scriptures yes, but the true interpretation of them was long gone.


The OT nevertheless, does not teach an extinction of the human being at death but a passage from this life into a shadowy, underworld existence in Sheol, the place of the dead.


In Ecclesiastes the gloomy portrait of Sheol states the problem well: "For there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going" (9:10). Such a place is viewed with terror: it represents a severance not only from life but also from the praise of Jehovah (Ps 6:5; 115:17; Isa 38:18). Sheol is, then, virtually synonymous with the grave.


Although the OT affirms that the dead go down to Sheol, it has little discussion about the nature of existence there.


Against this fate, the psalmist protests to Jehovah:


Ps 55:15

Let death come deceitfully upon them;

Let them go down alive to Sheol,

For evil is in their dwelling, in their midst.



However, as applied to Jesus Christ:

Ps 16:10

For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol;[resurrection]

Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.


In Act 2:27 this verse applies to our Lord.


But also to the OT believer:


Ps 86:13

For Thy lovingkindness toward me is great,

And Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.


Therefore, Sheol is not eternity but simply the grave and therefore not a complete end, but definitely an end to their opportunity to believe in the Messiah for eternal life.


Sheol is not hidden from God and God has power over it.


Ps 139:8

If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there;

If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.


Prov 15:11

Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord,

How much more the hearts of men!


So although the deliverance from spiritual death was indicated the exact picture of resurrected men in heaven was not yet related, but what is so clear to us now that we have the NT, which is a key that opens up so much of the OT.


So did the OT people have less than us? You bet they did. However, we see salvation all over the OT through faith.


Gen 15:6

Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.


The faith of all OT heroes was passed down orally before it was recorded by Moses and then the prophets. The Levitical offerings, the Ark of the Covenant, the items in the temple all pointed to the person of Christ.


Though they didn’t know the details of heaven, which we do now (and which are inadequate to describe its infinite joy) they did know the way. Believe in the Messiah and His death on your behalf. That’s all it took.


The well known phrase, cited every day before worship in the temple or the synagogues was, “Adonai Elehenu, Adonai Echab” – The Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”


But as more time passed and more prophecy was revealed more insight into the eternal future of Israel was revealed. The Tribulation and Millennium are revealed more in the OT than they are in Revelation. But united with Revelation the OT eschatology become clearer.


The great prophecy concerning the Messiah.


Isa 53:10-12

But the Lord was pleased

To crush Him, putting Him to grief;

If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,

He will see His offspring, [resurrection of saints]

He will prolong His days, [resurrection of Christ]

And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,

He will see it and be satisfied;

By His knowledge the Righteous One,

My Servant, will justify the many,

As He will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,

And He will divide the booty with the strong;[eternal rewards]

Because He poured out Himself to death, [He died, so He must be resurrected]

And was numbered with the transgressors;

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,

And interceded for the transgressors. [salvation]



At a later stage of the development of OT prophecy, the hope of national renewal becomes a fully eschatological hope, associated with the "Last Day" or Day of the Lord, when the Lord will wreak vengeance upon the idolatrous world and vindicate His people.


Isa 26 is usually viewed as belonging to this category: here the prophet contrasts the shades of departed idolaters, who have passed out of memory (vv. 13f), with the dead of chastened Israel, who "shall live, their bodies shall rise" (v. 19). The life-giving power of Jehovah is like "the dew" which will fall "on the land of the departed spirits" (v. 19).


Isa 26:19

Your dead will live;

Their corpses will rise.

You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy,

For your dew is as the dew of the dawn,

And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.


The one undisputed reference to resurrection is in Dan 12:


Dan 12:1-4

"Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 3 "And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. 4 "But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase [this very well could be the mystery doctrine]."


And there are many, many others, which if taken properly by comparing scripture with scripture cannot be interpreted any other way.


Deut 33:27

The eternal God is a dwelling place,

And underneath are the everlasting arms;

And He drove out the enemy from before you,

And said, 'Destroy!'


Isa 45:17

Israelhas been saved by the Lord

With an everlasting salvation;

You will not be put to shame or humiliated

To all eternity.


Gen 13:15

for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.


Ex 32:13

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"


“Forever” is used hundreds of times in the OT. Most of them refer to God, but enough of them refer to Israel being with God forever.


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