Entrapment of the King: Sad Theology | Matthew 22:23-33
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 22:23–22:33
Good Morning! We are in our series on the book of Matthew; the Gospel account of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, as the Christ, the Savior – King of God’s people. This series covering Chapters 21-25 has been titled the Rejection of the King. We saw Jesus triumphant entry into the city with crowds cheering with great expectations for radical transformation and restoration in the holy city of Jerusalem. However, as Jesus reveals more of his authority opposition to Jesus grows from those currently in power. Different parties each take successive turns attempting to entrap Jesus with questions they believe will unsettle him and undercut his influence with the crowds. Last week we saw a bipartisan effort to entrap Jesus by dragging him into a current political issue and in response Jesus gives both clear and robust teaching on the nature of civil governments and God’s ultimate authority. When you get too concerned about minutia, you miss the big picture concepts and truths of God which influence all things. Even more than broad political parties there are great divisions among various theological and doctrinal camps as we’ll see.
Matthew 22:23-33 23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
Verse 23 | Sad Theology
We are all theologians. We all have certain beliefs about God and how we are to interact with God. What we believe about God determines greatly how we live. If we don’t think God is that big then what he asks us to do will not seem very important or urgent. Most of us have a practical theology (how what we believe translates into what we do) that is both vague and harmlessly accommodating to our desires. What we believe typically doesn’t challenge us or motivate us to be any different then we already are. Ours is a theology that promises us we will not be convicted of any sin and will deliver no transformation.
Who are the Sadducees? They were aristocratic, politically connected with Rome, and academically elite. They did not believe in or use the whole bible as the Jews would have known in then (Old Testament - Law AND Prophets). No psalms (create in me a clean heart!) to cry out with and no promises of prophesy (I will replace your heart of stone with a heart of flesh) to hope for. Just the first five books of Moses. The reason the Sadducees are “Sad you see” is because they had no belief in the resurrection. They believed all we see is all we get and the “Soul perishes along with the body” That is hopeless and frustrating in the face of the harsh realities of our lives. But it also means there are no consequences except earthly ones. This is similar to “annihilationism” where there is no eternal punishment for sin and unbelief only destruction.
They also rejected belief in anything super natural like angels. They had religion, they were Jewish, but they didn’t believe in a God that could do anything particularly amazing. So they didn’t have great amount of hope or faith beyond what they could achieve by themselves in the present. The Pharisees called them heretics and their tribe of faith didn’t last. Earlier Jesus (16:6) tells the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” The “leaven” is their doctrinal teaching.
Being elites they didn’t like ministries like John the Baptist’s or Jesus because of the “common people” they engaged with, and what they taught. Sadducees are shopping at Nordstrom and Jesus followers are at Walmart. Jesus taught about judgement and eternal consequences; he also promised eternal rewards. Their big issue with Jesus’ Gospel is not that it promises too little, but that it promises too much, to too many. Real resurrection is the defining point of Christianity, the opposition to Jesus and this doctrine is opposition to God. Nicene Creed “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Opposition to the great things of God is not a new phenomenon. Sadducees are the secularists of the era and not unlike mainline denominations here in the US who a few generations ago stopped believing a God who could do miraculous things (virgin birth, or raise a man from the dead) and can’t conceive of a God who is capable of creating all things. This is sad because if your God can’t create then he can’t recreate, restore, renew, and he certainly cannot resurrect. If He can’t resurrect himself, he cannot resurrect you.
Verse 24 | Levirate Marriage
They approach Jesus with a question about the Law regarding marriage to protect women in situations where they could not earn a living and men’s legacies where they were not assured. For the Sadducees this would likely be an important doctrine as it would be the only way a man’s name would live beyond this life. Legacy mattered. It was the only hope in life after death. Teacher you agree “Moses said”: Deuteronomy 25:5-6 5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
Verse 25-28 | Entrapment Question
At first glance it looks like they are going to bring up a legitimate scriptural question about the Law, but instead we see the actual purpose is to entrap Jesus with a theological controversy through a hypothetical situation. “A women who has been married to seven brothers is resurrected whose wife will she be then?” It’s a snarky question given seeking to completely discredit Jesus and show his follower how absurd their faith in him is. The resurrection can’t be real because if a women who had been married seven times was raised from the dead there would be seven men who have claim to be her husband. “See, we’ve got you! Resurrection doesn’t make any logical sense! It’s foolish!” They have a view of God who is very small, not particularly wise or capable, certainly not capable of sorting out an issue like the one raised. They are using one text which doesn’t speak to an issue at all and use it to prop up or tear down a theological truth. “I’ve got one obscure verse and one section of scripture with a very limited application and I’m going to use it as a hammer to try to knock down a major plank in your worldview or theology.” This is mocking question that is typical of those who are hostile of faith in God. Never mind this whole story is foolish, let’s be clear after the first two brothers die after marrying this black widow women the third is tapping out! We see this today with questions like “why do you eat shellfish or have a cotton blend shirt which OT law forbids, but still call some sexual activity a sin.” Or “Could God make a rock so big he can’t lift it.” Do you want answers to your questions? Are you on a journey or are you justifying your destination? Journeys are ok, asking questions are ok, but you better want an answer! On some things God is clear.
Verse 29 | You are Wrong
Jesus responds with “You are wrong.” He doesn’t say “That is a really interesting point we should explore further. Maybe I should consider changing/updating some of my core teachings and mission.” He doesn’t even ask why they believe that way. He tells them plainly “You have gone astray, or you deceive yourself.” He puts it back on them, they are in error, what they believe is wrong or absurd. Jesus can judge their hearts perfectly to know their motives for asking are to directly oppose him. We don’t have perfect discernment so we should be a little more careful about being as blunt as Jesus. The Sadducees are about to learn the number one less about debating theology. Don’t argue with Jesus, you’re going to lose. Jesus quickly says “Here is why you’re wrong. You don’t know the Scriptures”” Not, you don’t know a scripture, but you do not have a robust knowledge of the scriptures. Your assumptions are wrong because you don’t know God’s word. You’re so smart, so learned, you do not think you need to listen to what God has to say or look at God’s word comprehensively. By relying on their intelligence they suffer from simple ignorance.
John 5:39-40 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
You can be completely “biblical” and also be completely wrong. The Sadducees have taken a position that includes scripture but isn’t “scriptural”. You can take your preconceived notions and then read them into nearly any scripture and use it as a tool to show the power of your position. Or you can submit to the teaching of scripture and be exposed to the power of God. The question is one of authority do you have authority over God’s word or does God’s word have authority over you? How you start will impact where you end up, the Sadducees started with a weak view of God so when they searched the scriptures they found one. Jesus says doctrinally and theologically they have ended up in a place that is wrong. There are things about God and about us that are true and thus there are things that are wrong. Because of this there different Doctrines and positions that can divide individuals and churches but not all divisions or distinctions are bad. God is big and eternal and it’s perfectly ok to have aspects of his character or of “correct” doctrine remain mysterious miss understood or misapplied, but there are key aspects that lead to destructive error. Jesus wants the Sadducees to be clear how far off they are, not a little, but a lot. This seems harsh but it is the most loving thing Jesus can do. He is exposing their ignorance, illuminating their distance from God and His power. That is what scripture reveals; the power of God! It is not easy to show the resurrection from the Old Testament but belief in it is not as much an issue of scholarship but of recognizing God is both able and willing do so. He is powerful! Why would and/or why do you study the Bible? What is your motivation? Is it to know more about God or to know God more?
In the face of the POWER of GOD any faithful study of theology should always lead us to places of humility, compassion, gentleness, and meekness. We respond to theology with greater awe for God, His character/nature, and greater love for our fellow man. This was the opposite for me, as I started studying and landing theological immediately started arguing with my Mom who holds some different positions! 1 Cor 13:1-2 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Verse 30 | Answers Their Question
The first time this text stood out to me was after I first got married. I told Tara, we’re not going to be married in Heaven and the thought made me sad. I imagined being in heaven and trying to connect with her and Tara letting me know “we’ll I’m with Jesus now.” The truth is my bride and I will have a deeper closer relationship in heaven then we ever will in this life. As much as we love each other now, in the resurrection there will not be any sin that separates. Your best day of marriage will never be as good as any day in Heaven. God is capable of creating an eternal existence that is exponentially better, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling then the fallen world we are in now. He can do miracles He formed the world by His word alone. So the life to come will be fundamentally different then this current life. There is no marriage in heaven, sorry Mormons, your temple sealing ceremonies, do not reflect the truth of God. Jesus starts with the negative and then moves to the positive. Instead we will be “like angels” (not precious moments babies or faceless willow tree figures) We will not “be angels” we will be like them. This means we will live in both perfect service and perfect communion with God. That’s a good thing! There will not be individual distinct families because we will all be part of one great family! There will not be marriage, but there will not be suffering, or pain, or sickness, hunger, or wasting away in old age either.
Verse 31-32 | Answers THE Question
Jesus then transitions to the question they didn’t ask because they did not consider the possibility they are wrong. Jesus raises THE question that ultimately matters in the terms of their eternal destiny. When it came to their bigger world view challenge “not believing in resurrection” Jesus could have simply told them to wait a day and he’d call up his buddy Lazarus, or Jarius’ daughter, or the son of the widow in Luke 7. But instead he answers them specifically with something they already see as authoritative. He goes right to Exodus 3 on a verse they would have been incredibly familiar with. He even attacks their academic prowess “have you not read?” But in doing so again I believe he is lovingly engaging them in a language they understand. “Don’t you know what was written to you? You have specific questions! He has a personal specific message for you!” Jesus says what was written, what was said is “for you” It’s now on the Sadducees to either receive or reject what Jesus is about to show them.
Exodus 3:6 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus adds, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
This was the “John 3:16” of the Old Testament, a verse so seminal and comprehensiv is was incredibly familiar. Jesus isn’t going with something obscure he is lifting up the familiar. Jesus points out something both simple and powerful, the tense God uses to describe himself. God is THE God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob NOT God WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The clear implication is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive and with God! God is precise in describing himself; God is still in active faithful covenant keeping relationship with His people. Death is not the end, there is more. God IS. Not God WAS. This means He IS right now. He always WAS, He always WILL be. You want life? Follow and submit to the power of the God who IS.
Verse 33 | Be Astonished
As with last week Jesus, the King will not be entrapped by the schemes of men. He lifts up God’s authority and power in how he responds to his opposition; but they did not repent and convert. The crowds, who they hoped would see Jesus as ignorant and unworthy, were instead “astonished at his teaching”. Don’t just be astonished in his teaching be astonished in HIM. Be astonished God would send his Son to die for you.
John 3:16-18 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Be astonished and Trust Jesus!
More in Rejection of the King | Matthew Part IV
June 14, 2015The Woes from the King Part 3: Forsaken City | Empty Temple - Matthew 23:37 - 24:2
June 7, 2015The Woes from the King Part 2: Seven Charges - One Verdict | Matthew 23:13-36
May 31, 2015The Woes from the King Part 1: Unbearable Preachers | Matthew 23:1-12