The UK Bible Students Website
By A. Prentice
Scripture citations are to the King James Version
(KJV) unless stated otherwise.
Question: Explain Luke 20: 34-36:
Answer: These words of Jesus constitute His response to a hypothetical problem posed by the Sadducees (Luke 20: 27-33):
29 There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children.
30 And the second took her to wife, and he died childless.
31 And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died.
32 Last of all the woman died also.
33 Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife.
From the riddle-like phrasing of the ‘question’, and the fact that those posing it – the Sadducees – did not believe in resurrection (v. 27), it is apparent that the enquiry was concocted to trip up our Lord in whatever answer He would give. From a similar motive of entrapment, some of the priests and scribes had earlier sent out spies to thrust a provocative question at Jesus on the matter of paying tribute to Caesar (vs. 21-26). In His customary fashion, Jesus thwarted their design to ‘tempt’ (test) Him (v. 23; compare Matthew 16: 6).
In this Luke 20: 34-36 passage, the craftiness of the Sadducees is evident in the synthetic nature of the case they presented: that of one woman married to seven successive husbands, all brothers, each of whom pre-deceased her – an unlikely scenario.
Under levirate law (Latin, ‘levir’, husband’s brother) a brother (married or not) was expected to wed his deceased brother’s widow and produce an heir for his brother’s name and estate. In the proposition set forth by the Sadducees to Jesus, the rule was exaggerated to seven brothers; they added the condition that each marriage produced no children, a proviso intended to deny Jesus the possibility of a simple answer according to law.
Our Lord’s Tack
Jesus saw through this fabricated case masquerading as honest enquiry. His response was typical in such situations. He did not answer within the narrow scope of their formulated question, but responded with a higher logic, talking, not to them, but to the open-minded people standing near.
Accounts of this exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees also appear in Matthew 22: 23-34 and Mark 12: 18-27. The details of the question posed by the Sadducees are essentially the same in all three instances, but the narrative in Luke 20 gives our Lord’s response in greater detail.
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children [SONS] of this world [age] marry, and [give women to men] in marriage:
35 But they [a different group from ‘the children of this world’] which shall be accounted worthy [through faithfulness unto death] to obtain THAT world [age] and THAT resurrection of the dead neither marry, nor [give away] in marriage.
36 Neither can [will] they die any more [they will be death-proof]: for they [will be] equal unto the angels [like the angels – spirit beings and therefore sexually neutral]; and [will be] the children [Sons] of God, being the children of THE resurrection [the pre-eminent inheritors of the pre-eminent resurrection – the ‘First Resurrection’].
The expression in verse 35, to be ‘accounted worthy’, is used also in Luke 21: 36 and 2 Thessalonians 1: 5 with reference to the Church (the ‘Little Flock’ or Very Elect). According to Galatians 3: 28 the corporate Church in the flesh was regarded by God as sexually neutral: ‘. . . there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’. Their resurrection to the Divine, spirit nature would be the extension and completion of their earthly status. The use of the word ‘sons’ (huios) in verse 36 suggests that this text does not directly refer to the initial general resurrection of mankind at the beginning of the Millennial Age. For in that period, Christ will function as Mediator. Sonship will not be awarded to mankind until after the end of the Millennial Age, when the testings and judgements on mankind are finished (1 Corinthians 15: 27, 28).
Prof. Paul S.L. Johnson, writing on Luke 20: 36 in The Present Truth, 1945, p. 4, as regards the general resurrection of the world, observes that
here Jesus shows that worthiness is required to gain that Age, i.e., the blessing of life, and of resurrection that the Millennial Age will bring, that it makes one sinless and perfect and sexless like the angels and makes them sons of God, but the bulk of the dead, the wicked dead, while all resuscitated will be unworthy of obtaining the blessings of life and of the resurrection, will not be sinless, perfect and sexless like the angels, and certainly will not be sons of God.
In his commentary on Luke 20: 36, Matthew Henry writes:
They are the children of the resurrection, that is, they are made capable of the employments and enjoyments of the future state; they are born to that world, belong to that family, had their education for it here, and shall there have their inheritance in it.
As to Jesus’ response to the Sadducees, it appears that He did not give a direct answer to their trick question, refuting their paradox with a revelation on the nature of the spiritual resurrection. Details on the earthly resurrection would wait until another time. That the Sadducees recognised they had been routed is apparent from vs. 39, 40:
39 Then certain of the scribes answering said, Master, thou hast well said.
40 And after that they durst not ask him any question at all.
Compare these two verses with Matthew 22: 34 – ‘But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence . . .’; and Mark 12: 28 – ‘And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well . . . ’.The Sadducees did not believe in an earthly resurrection, and so were not seeking clarification on that score. Nor did they believe in a spirit resurrection. On a later occasion, the Apostle Paul used the theological tension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees to his own advantage, according to Acts 23: 6-8. (See Appendix on the Sadducees.)
Like the Angels
It is important to note the contrast between marriage – sexual union – amongst the human family (‘children of this age’) and the state of being ‘like the angels’ – sexless. At his creation Man was made a ‘little lower’ than the angels. The bifurcation of Man into male and female introduced the possibility of sexual reproduction. Thus it was to Man – not to the angels – that God gave the mandate to ‘fill the earth’.
The special Elect class (the true ‘Church’) who inherit the next Age, by virtue of the First Resurrection, would be ‘like the angels’ in that they would be (1) of the spirit nature, not the human nature; and, therefore (2) sexless. But they would be ‘higher’ than the angels and immortal in their Divine nature (2 Peter 1: 4). The angels are not immortal in the strict sense of having ‘life in themselves’, but only in the sense of ‘functional immortality’ – that is, there is no threat of death or decay hovering over them, as there is with fallen mankind (such as the brother referred to in the Sadducee’s question). In this sense, a Christian, under God’s care and protection, might say, ‘I am immortal until I die’; the meaning is self-evident.
For comparison, following are four translations of Luke 20: 34-36:
Interlinear from Benjamin Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott (distributed by the Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement); the most emphatic markings are in block capitals, with lesser emphasis indicated by initial upper-case letters:
34 And JESUS said to them, “The CHILDREN of this AGE marry, and are given in marriage; 35 but THOSE DEEMED WORTHY to obtain that AGE, and THAT RESURRECTION from the Dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; 36 for they can die no more; because they are like angels; and are Sons [of God – omit], being Sons of the RESURRECTION.”
Syriac (Aramaic), by George M. Lamsa, 1940:
34 Jesus said to them, The sons of this world marry women, and women are given to men in marriage. 35 But those who are worthy of the other world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither take women in marriage nor are women given in marriage to men. 36 For they cannot die again, because they are like angels; and they are sons of God, because they are sons of the resurrection.
American Standard Version:
34 And Jesus said unto them, The sons of this world marry, and are given in marriage: 35 but they that are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: 36 for neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
34 And Jesus said to them, The people of this world and present age marry and are given in marriage; 35 But those who are considered worthy to gain that other world and that future age and to attain to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 For they cannot die again, but they are angel-like and equal to angels; and being sons of [that is, sharers in] the resurrection, they are sons of God.
‘For the [Sadducees] religion was primarily the Temple cult without a basis of abstract faith. They differed from the Pharisees in the nature of their religious outlook and way of life. According to their viewpoint, individuals and groups must aspire to well-being in this world without expecting recompense in the world to come. The Sadducees had no belief in a future world, resurrection, or the immortality of the soul and also rejected the existence of angels and spirits.’ (The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (1977; Doubleday & Company, Inc.; Garden City, New York), 1667.)
Copyright January 2011 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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