In Matthew 22:23-33, the Sadducees question Jesus about the future resurrection. Jesus explains that they did not understand scripture and the power of God. In their day, the Sadducees did not believe there was to be a resurrection of the dead. However, Jesus had been preaching about the resurrection to come. So the Sadducees question Jesus using a strategy they had used successfully for a long time.
The question regards the resurrection as it pertains to the Jewish concept of levirate marriage. Levirate marriage comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Basically, it states that if a man dies before bearing an heir, his brother is to marry his widow and their first son is then appointed as the son of the first brother who had died. This continued the dead brother’s name. This son would now have all the rights and inheritance from the deceased brother and would carry on his name.
The question asked by the Sadducees is seemingly an enigma to those who believe in the resurrection of the dead. In essence, if there are seven brothers and all of them die before having a son, then when the wife dies, whose wife would she be?
That question had successfully silenced their resurrecting-believing opponents in the past. The Sadducees were certain it would quiet Jesus as well.
Then, Jesus answered them.
And his answer is salient for us today. Jesus explains, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures and the power of God” (v29).
Jesus goes on to explain how the Sadducees misunderstood scripture and the power of God. He quotes the scriptures in verse 32 (Exodus 3:6). He is teaching them that thousands of years after the death of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Yahweh IS their God; not WAS their God. Jesus points out that if God still is their God, they must still be alive. Hence, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
So how is Jesus’ response to the Sadducees still pertinent to us today? We need to recognize the two areas where the Sadducees stumbled. They misunderstood scripture and the power of God.
George Barna is a researcher and statistician, working with Christians and churches. Barna’s research has led him to state, “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate,” and “the Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy.” This results in ignorance among Christians.
These statements should concern every serious Christian.
And they reveal why Jesus’ statement to the Sadducees is so relevant today. In essence, the church has become modern-day Sadducees.
Christians today do not understand scripture or the power of God. How can anyone understand the power of God if they are biblically illiterate? Certainly, we have General Revelation about God when we see the glory of His creation. However, the One and Only True God is only fully revealed in scripture.
Without reading scripture, it is impossible to understand scripture. Without understanding scripture, it is impossible to understand God, and thus, the power of God.
What is the result of this biblical illiteracy? First, many Christians do not have a biblical worldview. They don’t believe that God can give us His word in the scriptures (even though they think He is all-powerful. They believe a person can write a book but He cannot!). When Christians begin to believe that the Bible is simply man-made literature, then the Bible loses all authority and secular beliefs can then replace biblical beliefs: The universe wasn’t created in seven days, Adam and Eve did not really exist, the worldwide flood didn’t actually occur and no boat could hold all the animals anyway, donkeys can’t speak, the sun can’t stand still, and a man dead for three days cannot come back from the dead.
Second, we err like the Sadducees when we do not understand scripture and the power of God. We think we know something, when in truth we are terribly mistaken. Matthew Henry explains, “All errors arise from not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God.” All of the Jewish leaders misunderstood Jesus because they did not know the scriptures. Jesus was fulfilling the scriptures right before their eyes and they thought he was a fraud.
Finally, it affects our relationship with God. God has revealed Himself in the scriptures. When we are biblically illiterate, we cannot know who and what God really is. A real problem that results from this is misunderstanding God’s will. If you do not know what God is like, how can you know what He desires of you? Another real problem is that we do not know how to pray. We pray powerless prayers because we don’t understand the power of God and hence, the power of prayer.
It is my great hope that we all will become biblically literate, become people who can quote and understand the Bible, and thereby become knowledgeable of God’s will and His Person. As we spend more time in the word, we will begin to understand the scriptures more and understand the power of God more. We will stop thinking we know it all and begin to humbly look to God and His word for the answers. We need to be people who understand scripture and the power of God.
Then we will stop being Sadducees and start becoming disciples.