The Sadducees were sold on first five books of Scripture and found no resurrection there. What they did find was the levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). In Matthew 22:23-33 their argument to Jesus pits potential circumstances created through application of this law with the resurrection (as they understood it). Their conclusion was that the resurrection was not possible—God had created a set of circumstances (via the levirate law), which made it unworkable!
People telling God what He can and cannot do—doesn’t sound like a particularly good idea, does it? And while it’s incredibly easy in hindsight for us to point a finger at the arrogance and ignorance of the Sadducees, it’s also dangerous. That’s because the truth is that most of us have, at one time or another, ventured into “God won’t/can’t do this” territory. We imagine scenarios and tell ourselves they will never happen because “God won’t do/allow that” and then sit back and watch Him do just that!
We’re not the only ones though. Abraham didn’t think God would protect him and Sarah, so he lied about her being his sister (Genesis 12 & 20). Nebuchadnezzar didn’t believe God was serious about showing His sovereignty (Daniel 4:28ff). And Peter was stone cold sure the Messiah would never allow Himself to be put to death (Matthew 16:22ff).
Jesus was not pleased with Sadducees’ approach. For starters, it reflected an impoverished view of God and an erroneous understanding of the Scriptures (in other words, they couldn’t have been more wrong). Perhaps more to the point, I think Jesus took personal offense at their ignorance and arrogance. He knew the time of His death was approaching so their denial of the resurrection was something close to His heart. This wasn’t an armchair debate on some theological abstraction–it was about what was going to happen to Him.
“You do not know the power of God,” (v. 29). And it was true; their “God” wasn’t big enough to overcome the difficulties humans could create. In some ways, the Sadducees missed the whole point of all Scripture because the great theme of the Bible is that God’s love overcomes man’s rebellion. Furthermore, Jesus showed that the continuum they assumed (that heaven would be just like earth in terms of people being married and given in marriage), was mistaken. Instead of trusting God and believing in something He said, they trusted their own woefully unimaginative intellects (this is Enlightenment thinking at its worst). Ephesians 3:20-21 has something important to say to us in this regard.
“You do not know the Scriptures,” (v. 29). That had to hurt! They had been in Bible class but they had missed God. How could that happen? Again, most of us know because we’ve been there. We’ve opened our Bible dutifully rather than joyfully, we’ve opened it to affirm what we know rather than to discover something new, we’ve been satisfied to parrot what we already know rather than push ourselves to searching deeper. And there it was, in the story of Moses and the burning bush, God proclaiming that He is the God of the long dead Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So what’s the walk away for us?
The answer for us is the same as it was for the Sadducees. We must understand that God’s greatness is not something we can adjudicate, calibrate, or even fathom at its deeper levels. The best we can do is hold to an astonished understanding that we cannot completely comprehend (something like Job had when his trials were over). And then if we could carry this attitude over every time we opened our Bibles, I imagine we would see more than we had ever thought was there in the first place and our faith in Him would swell and soar.
That’s what Bible study should be!