10 November 2013

Luke 20:27-38

“he is God not of the dead, but of the living” (v. 38)


This is the third time that Jesus is questioned in Luke 20. His authority has been challenged (Luke 20:1-8), his attitude to the Roman occupation has been tested (Luke 20:20-27), and now a group of Sadducees attempt to trap him with a trick question.

Sadducees were the conservatives among the Jewish religious leaders. Drawn from the wealthier members of society, they only accepted as Scripture the Torah (the first five books of our Old Testament) which they believed were written by Moses. They did not believe anything that was not in the Torah. They had no belief in resurrection, or a life beyond this one. By their question (verses 28-33), they hope to ridicule and discredit Jesus.

Their exaggerated story is based on Deuteronomy 25:5-10, which made provision for a woman whose husband had died leaving no heir to marry his brother and thus ensure the continuation of the family name. Such things were important to the Sadducees.

Jesus answers them firstly by saying that marriage is not relevant for the children of God, who enter into a new kind of life after death. But then he goes on to answer them on their own terms, by quoting from their beloved Torah. In the call of Moses in Exodus 3:6 God identifies God's own self as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, speaking of them in the present tense. Their relationship with God had not been broken by death. Death may put an end to physical life, but not to a relationship with God that is eternal.

Jesus takes the Sadducees' trick question, and opens them up to a deeper understanding of God's gift of eternal life. Luke's Gospel does not record a reaction from them, or if their minds are changed by their encounter with Jesus. The scribes, however, are impressed by Jesus' deft handling of the sacred text (Luke 20:39).

To Ponder

  • If you were able to do so, what questions would you ask Jesus today?
  • How do you understand the resurrection of the dead?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.