27 Some Saducccees who say there is no resurrection, came to Yeshua 28 and put to him a case: “Rabbi, Moshe wrote for us that if a man dies leaving a wife but no children, his brother must take the wife and have children to preserve the man’s family line. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife and died childless, 30 then the second 31 and third took her, and likewise all seven, but they all died without leaving children. 32 Lastly, the woman also died. 33 In the Resurrection, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven were married to her.”
34 Yeshua said to them, “In this age, men and women marry; 35 but those judged worthy of the age to come, and of resurrection from the dead, do not get married. 36 For they can no longer die but as children of the Resurrection, they are like angels; indeed, they are children of God.
37 “But even Moshe showed that the dead are raised; for in the passage about the bush, he calls Adonai ‘the God of Avraham, the God of Yitz’chak and the God of Ya‘akov.’ 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living — to him all are alive.”
39 Some of the Torah-teachers answered, “Well spoken, Rabbi.” 40 For they no longer dared put to him a case.
This is the famous, “One Bride for Seven Brothers,” story, which is good knockabout comedy, and is directed against much the same sentimental view of resurrection as is popular in the UK today, where public mourning often includes the expectation of a family reunion in the afterlife. Incidentally the marriage custom referred to here shows how alien biblical marriage law is to modern norms. Here the strong woman who sees them all into their graves is viewed simply as a womb that might bear a child to keep her husband’s name alive in Israel.
Luke is following his main source, the gospel of Mark, at this point, as does Matthew. All three writers found the story appropriate to Jesus’ last session of public teaching before his death. The hope of resurrection is not easily found in the Jewish scripture, but had grown especially in the teaching of the Pharisees, who viewed it as a future event, in the “age to come” when faithful people would be raised to life. St. Paul, an ex-Pharisee, described this new life as a “spiritual body”. Jesus says something similar, but is concerned to emphasise the difference between mortal beings and those who have become immortal children of God.
In effect he teaches that immortal life cannot be imagined by mortal people, but we should certainly not think of it as a replay of this life, only in better circumstances. It is life with God, which means an utter transformation. Jesus supports this view from scripture by noting that the biblical description of God as the God of Avraham, Itzaac and Yaacob, means that they are alive, for “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” This saying contradicts much of what is said in the scripture, for example, that the “dead do not praise God” and that the goodness of God should be seen in the “land of the living.” The Jewish Bible “Sheol” is not a place of life but of the shadows of worn-out lives. Jesus, like the Pharisees, looked forward to the Age to Come, when God would complete his creation of the world and give “new life to those who are worthy of it.” It is an eschatological ( belonging to the end time) hope
Belief in the resurrection of Jesus, therefore, is also belief that the New Age has arrived in the midst of the old. St. Paul calls Jesus, the “first-fruit of the harvest of the dead.” Luke doubtless believed that the transformation had begun but was not yet complete. In much modern faith in resurrection the eschatology, the coming of the end time and the judgement of God, has been ditched, so that resurrection becomes “pie in the sky when you die,” for all and sundry. This was not the faith of Jesus nor of the New Testament.
I should admit that the genuine faith in resurrection is quite difficult to communicate to people who assume that any proper minister will instantly assure them that their loved one is alive with God, and will be waiting for them, in their turn. In fact Jesus says that those who welcome into heaven will be those, especially the poor, whom we have helped in this life. But when we have spoken of the biblical hope, we should nevertheless also be sure to say that no true love will be discarded. In the words of Dylan Thomas, “Though lovers be lost, love shall not/ and death shall have no dominion.”
Jesus’ teaching quietly points us beyond what we know or can expect, to the miracle of God’s creative love.