How does the Lord’s answer to the challenge of the Sadducees in Matt. 22: 29–33, Mark 12: 24–27 and Luke 20: 34–38 prove resurrection?
When the Lord Jesus was here, the sole theme of the future for the Jew was the world (or age) to come, as virtually nothing was revealed about eternity in the OT. The Jew knew just the present age of law and that of the coming one when the Messiah would reign (see Matt. 12: 32; Mark 10: 30; Luke 18: 30). Those who had died in faith would have to be raised in order to live in the world to come. Now the Sadducees were a Jewish sect that did not believe in resurrection or angels (see Acts 23: 8), claiming that the soul perished with the body at death. Historians tell us that they believed that only the Pentateuch was divinely authoritative, refusing the other OT books as sources of law. These Sadducees pose a situation to the Lord of a woman being married to seven different men in turn, each of whom died, and then ask “In the resurrection therefore of which of the seven shall she be wife, for all had her?” (Matt. 22: 28).
In His reply to the Sadducees, the Lord begins by stating the two fundamental flaws in all human reasoning, theirs included: “Ye err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22: 29). He then identifies marriage with this world (or age) and not of that to come, speaking of a selective resurrection “from among [the] dead” and linking those raised with the very angels the Sadducees denied (see Luke 20: 34–36). He next quotes from the Pentateuch, taking them up on the only Scriptures that they accepted as carrying authority from God. Now if God had said to Moses, ‘I was the God of thy father …’ thus referring only to the time that the patriarchs were alive on earth there would have been no thought of resurrection. But Ex. 3: 6 says “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (my emphasis). So far so good. But what is the force of such words and why did that quotation put the Sadducees to silence?
Many use the Lord’s words “but he is not God of [the] dead but of [the] living; for all live for him” (Luke 20: 38) that follow His quotation from Exodus to show that the patriarchs are alive now in heaven, and will thus one day be raised. But the OT Scriptures say no such thing and they were all that the Jews had when the Lord spoke, and all that would carry authority with them. Throughout the OT any future life was always associated with resurrection (see Job 19: 25, 26; Ps. 17: 15 etc.). We have no right to inject the teachings of the NT epistles into this passage. The state of those dead in the OT is set out in a number of Scriptures (Ps. 6: 5; 88: 10; 115: 17; 146: 4 etc.) and is never associated with life. Again, such an interpretation makes the Lord contradict His own teaching in Mark 9: 43–48 where He identifies entering into life with entering into the future kingdom, not with the state of a person in death. The point at issue was not the state of death but resurrection itself. Accordingly, the Lord’s quotation from Ex. 3: 6 is prefaced by “But that the dead rise …” (Luke 20: 37). So what made Ex. 3: 6 so powerful a Scripture regarding resurrection?
Just prior to this verse we read “God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Ex. 2: 24). God had only used the expression “I am the God of…thy father” twice previously: Firstly, to Isaac saying “I am the God of Abraham thy father …”(Gen. 26: 24) and then to Jacob saying “I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac …” (Gen 28: 13). In both cases the expression is used in relation to the unconditional covenant that God Himself had sworn to Abraham (see Gen 24: 7). In Gen. 13: 15 God promised Abraham “all the land that thou seest will I give to thee, and to thy seed for ever”. This covenant was established in Gen. 15: 8–21 and its terms repeated again in Gen. 17: 8: “And I give to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession”. Note the word thee in each of the above quotations. Abraham personally was to possess the land, as well as his seed after him. This selfsame promise regarding the land was also made to Isaac and to Jacob (see Gen. 26: 3; 35: 12). All three patriarchs were thus promised that they, personally, would possess the land. In their lifetime all that was possessed was a cave that Abraham had purchased and in which all three were buried (see Gen. 49: 29–32). To possess the land each had to be alive and on the earth. When the Lord spoke, all three were dead, although this made no difference to God “for all live for him” (Luke 20: 38). There was only one way in which God could fulfil His promise. All three must rise from the dead and stand on the earth to possess the land. This is what is embodied in the Lord’s use of Ex. 3: 6. The Sadducees knew it and were silenced.