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The resurrection and marriage
Luke chapter 20, verses 27-40
Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘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, for to him all are alive.”
Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
After dealing with a political question, Jesus is confronted with a question meant to show that the idea of a resurrection from the dead is ridiculous. The Sadducees appear here for the first time in Luke’s gospel. This Jewish party took its name from the priest Zadok (2nd Samuel chapter 8, verse 17). The Sadducees were generally supportive of Roman rule and no doubt were pleased with the previous answer of Jesus. The prominent men of Jerusalem, including many priests, belonged to this sect.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that the Sadducees do away with “the persistence of the soul, penalties in death’s abode and rewards” in the afterlife. They believed that “the souls perish along with the bodies.” Some of the Sadducees now pose a rather ludicrous chain of events to support their denial of the resurrection from the dead.
Moses had given Israel the law of the levirate marriage.
Levir is the Latin word for “husband’s brother, brother-in-law.” If a woman should become a widow, her dead husband’s brother was required to take her in marriage and seek to father children who would bear the dead man’s name (Deuteronomy chapter 25, verses 5 and 6). The hypothetical example cited by the Sadducees has a woman marrying seven brothers before she herself dies childless. Now the question: “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?”
Jesus solves the dilemma by distinguishing between two ages: the present age and the age to come. One of the purposes of marriage is to bring children into the world. But in the age to come, there will be neither birth nor death. And there will be no marriage. People will be like the angels (whose existence the Sadducees also denied). Those who by God’s gracious judgment are privileged to live in that age are called by Jesus simply “God’s children.” Earthly family relationships will have become unimportant.
But Jesus is not content with simply answering the question posed by the Sadducees. He goes on to attack their unbelief. He recalls God’s statement to Moses at the burning bush: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus chapter 3, verse 6). At the time of Moses all three of these patriarchs had been long dead physically. But the living God continued to speak of his relationship to them as being present. This means that they still live. Human relationships end with death, but the relationship a person has with God goes on eternally.
Jesus is commended for his answer by some of the teachers of the law. They may have been Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the dead (see Acts chapter 23, verse 6). The answers that Jesus had given to a variety of questions demonstrated his authority and wisdom. The next time he is asked questions by his enemies will be at his trial.
Whose son is the Christ?
Luke chapter 20, verses 41-47
Then Jesus said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’
David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”
One of the titles given by Jewish teachers to the Messiah was “Son of David.” The blind beggar had addressed Jesus in this way (chapter 18, verse 38). The angel Gabriel had told Mary that her son would be given “the throne of his father David” (chapter 1, verse 32). To speak of Jesus as “Son of David” is proper (see Romans chapter 1, verse 3). But the title is inadequate and fails to fully convey the nature of the Messiah.
To prove this, Jesus quotes Psalm 110, verse 1. In this psalm King David does not speak of the Messiah as his son but as his Lord. In the quotation the first use of “Lord” refers to God the Father. The second time the word occurs, the reference is to God’s Son. He is given a seat at the right hand of the Father with the assurance that his enemies will ultimately serve as his footstool. Jesus does not answer his own question but implies that the Messiah is more than simply a son of David: he is David’s Lord, who will rule at God’s right hand.
Having demonstrated that the teachers of the law were faulty interpreters of the Scriptures, Jesus goes on to warn against some of their antics. Similar words of condemnation are found in chapter 11, verses 45-52. Matthew includes an entire chapter of woes against the Pharisees and scribes at this point in his gospel (chapter 23).
Jesus denounces the teachers of the law on various counts: vainly wearing showy robes, coveting people’s praises, covering their financial pillaging of widows with pious prayers. Just how the lawyers were “devour[ing] widows’ houses” is not spelled out. The following story may furnish an illustration of one method. Their fate will contrast sharply with that of the “children of the resurrection” (chapter 20, verse 36).
The widow’s offering
Luke chapter 21, verses 1-4
As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
This poor widow who put “all she had to live on” into the temple treasury is often held up for praise. Jesus points out that her offering of the two smallest coins in circulation was really more than what the rich were putting into the treasury. As so often happens in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is critical of the actions of the rich.
But this story might also be understood in a different way, especially in view of the context. At the end of the previous chapter, Jesus had warned against the teachers of the law who “devour widows’ houses.” One way this might be done is for religious leaders to so bind the conscience of a poor person that he gives an offering which God himself does not expect. Did God really want this poor widow to give all her money to support a temple that had become “a den of robbers” (chapter 19, verse 46)?
In Mark chapter 7, verses 10-13 Jesus teaches that there are times when human need takes precedence over what might be offered to the Lord. If the story of the widow’s offering is understood in this way, then Jesus is grieved by what he saw: another example of how the poor were being abused by the rich. The rich gave what they could easily afford; this poor widow gave what she could not afford.
Signs of the end of the age
Luke chapter 21, verses 5-38
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.
The temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jesus’ activities in the week before his crucifixion. After his triumphal entry into the city, Jesus went to the temple and drove out those who were using its courtyard for business purposes. Jesus uses that same courtyard for the purpose of teaching people the Word of God. The temple is the scene of the confrontations between Jesus and his opponents described in chapter 20. While in the temple, Jesus observes both rich and poor putting money into the treasury. This money was used to maintain the temple and support the daily routine of religious activities.
The temple was a beautiful building, as some of the disciples of Jesus note. The first temple, built by King Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
The second temple was completed about 515 B.C. King Herod the Great had decided to refurbish the aging temple, and this project continued even after his death. Josephus writes that “the exterior of the structure lacked nothing that could astound either mind or eye.” Some of the stones of the temple were over 60 feet in length and 7 feet high. Yet this splendid building was doomed. Jesus says, “Not one stone will be left on another.” He had said the same thing about the city of Jerusalem (chapter 19, verse 44).
The fall of the city of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple are for Jesus vivid reminders of the end of the present age. He had spoken earlier to the disciples of this event. In chapter 12, verses 35-48 he urges them to be watchful for that day. In chapter 17, verses 20-37 he stresses the suddenness and certainty of the coming of the day of the Son of Man.
As Jesus now sits on the Mount of Olives looking over the temple area (Mark chapter 13, verse 3), he speaks again to his disciples of the coming end of Jerusalem and of the world. This long discourse of Jesus is prompted by the disciples’ double question: (1) When will these things happen? (2) What will be the sign that they are about to take place?
The first thing Jesus says in answer is “Watch out that you are not deceived.” He had issued the same warning previously (chapter 17, verse 23). There will be much talk about the coming end of this age, and some people will claim to be Christ returned to earth. “Do not follow them,” warns Jesus. There will be wars and revolutions, but the disciples are not to be frightened. Jesus makes it plain that the end is not coming as quickly as many people thought. The Lord is patient (2nd Peter chapter 3, verses 8 and 9).
Jesus adds others signs of the coming end besides war: earthquakes, famines, pestilences, fearful events, unusual signs in the heavens. Yet all of these are only general reminders of what is fully going to happen. These are signs that we continue to witness in our generation, sermons telling that the end is coming. But none answers the specific question of when.
Beginning with verse 12, Jesus turns away from the subject of signs of the end to focus on what the disciples will themselves experience in their own lifetimes. They must prepare for persecution as they carry the message of the gospel into the world. Being brought before kings and governors has a blessed result: the opportunity to be a witness for Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to worry about what they will say when they are put on trial. They should not practice or memorize a speech ahead of time. Jesus assures his disciples that he will give them the right words to speak in the presence of their adversaries. Previously, he had promised that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say (chapter 12, verse 12). The work of the Spirit and the ascended Jesus are closely related.
The disciples will not only be opposed by worldly authorities. They will also find that family members and friends become enemies because of their allegiance to Christ. They will be surrounded by hatred. And some will be put to death. But even death will not separate the disciples from God’s loving care. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered” (chapter 12, verse 7). By standing firm the disciples will gain life (chapter 9, verse 24).
The salvation that the disciples of Jesus will gain by firm witness to him is in striking contrast to the fate that awaits the sacred city of Jerusalem. Twice previously, Jesus had spoken of the sad consequences of that city’s refusal to accept him and the peace he offered (chapter 13, verses 34 and 35; chapter 19, verses 41-44). He tells his disciples that when they see the city surrounded by enemy armies, they will know that the threatened desolation (chapter 13, verse 35) is at hand.
What Jesus describes here came to pass when the city of Jerusalem was put under siege by the Romans in the year A.D. 70. Great mounds of earth, or ramps, were set up, and the entire city was surrounded by a wall more than five miles long. Josephus reports that 1,100,000 Jews of Jerusalem and Judea were put to the sword and another 97,000 were taken to Rome as part of the triumphal procession into the capital. To illustrate the woe uttered by Jesus regarding women with children, one can point to the story recorded by Josephus about Mary, a woman from Perea, who was among the Jews starving in Jerusalem and who seized her child, an infant at her breast, slew it, and roasted it for food for herself. No wonder Jesus urges flight from the doomed city!
Jesus says that the desolation which Jerusalem will experience is punishment for her sins, in fulfillment of what was written in the Old Testament. One could point to passages such as Micah chapter 3, verse 12 and Jeremiah chapter 6, verses 1-8, and chapter 26, verses 1-6 as examples of such prophecies. This Jewish city will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the time of punishment is complete.
Jesus moves from talk about the end of Jerusalem to an even more devastating event: the end of the world. This end will be marked by spectacular signs causing people to faint with terror. The heavenly bodies will be shaken, and the sea will toss and roar. It will seem as if creation is falling apart. And then the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory. His coming will not be in secret but like “the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other” (chapter 17, verse 24).
The events Jesus describes here are terrifying. Yet for the believer they have a comforting significance. The end means final redemption, final deliverance from all the evil of this world: sin, death, and the power of the devil. For good reason Jesus urges his disciples to lift their heads in hope when these end-time signs begin to unfold. The parable of the fig tree illustrates the truth that such signs mean that the kingdom of God is near.
Jesus’ discourse on the end of the age was in response to the disciples’ double question about the destruction of the temple: when and what signs? Jesus does not give them a precise answer as to when this will happen. However, he does assert in verse 32 that “all these things” will come to pass within the lifetime of his contemporaries. By “all these things” he is not speaking about the coming of the Son of Man and the catastrophic events of the end time. Even Jesus, according to his human nature while on earth, did not know when that day would be (Matthew chapter 24, verse 36; Mark chapter 13, verse 32). His statement here must be understood within the context of the disciples’ double question. People living when Jesus spoke these words did witness the destruction of Jerusalem and the general signs which foreshadowed the end of the world.
The end of Jerusalem was a foretaste, a prelude, to the end of the age. Jesus gives the solemn assurance that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Nothing in this world, neither the temple nor the city of Jerusalem nor anything else, is abiding. Only the words of Jesus are eternal. His words were fulfilled about the destruction of Jerusalem; they will be fulfilled about the end of the world.
This thought leads Jesus to his concluding exhortation that his disciples “be always on the watch.” The very fact that no precise date is given as to when the world will end is all the more reason always to be ready. Jesus warns against various activities that weigh people down and keep them from being alert. The expression “weighed down” means about the same as “depressed.” “Dissipation” refers to a life of wasteful self-indulgence. This kind of life is often the result of depression, a symptom of lack of faith.
Watchfulness dictates a life of prayer. Jesus had provided for his disciples a living example of a person devoted to prayer. He urges them to pray that they might be able to escape the dreadful destruction coming upon Jerusalem and finally “be able to stand before the Son of Man” as faithful confessors of his name.
The last two verses in chapter 21 are a brief summary of the temple ministry of Jesus. They correspond to the report at the beginning of this teaching section, found in chapter 19, verses 47 and 48. Matthew and Mark report that Jesus stayed overnight in the village of Bethany, which is located on the Mount of Olives. Jesus continues to be very popular with the people. This fact creates a problem for the leaders who want to do away with Jesus.