Matthew 22:23-33 Part 1


Since there are some here who weren’t here last Lord’s Day, I’ll just spend a minute of two in a recap of the most important issue from last week.

In their furious attempt to trap, or entangle, Jesus in His Own words, and then turn Him over to the Roman governor for execution, the Pharisees and the Herodians team up to get Jesus to deny the tax to the Roman emperor!

But Jesus calls for the head-tax coin, the denarius, and asks them “Whose ‘character’ is on the coin?”  The answer, of course, was “Caesar’s.”  Jesus then said, “Pay him the tax!  And give God what is His!”  And they went away stunned at His answer.

The primary issue here is that all authority is God’s authority.  No emperor of king or ruler has ultimate authority; for they all are raised up, or taken down, by God.  And since they all belong to God, you pay the taxes levied!

This requirement doesn’t come from the honor of the office.  And neither does it originate in the honor of the man!  We pay tribute and honor because the authority belongs to God!

It doesn’t matter whether the authority acknowledges that.  He still belongs to God, and God put him there!  That’s the reason for the tribute and the honor.

Because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, He was resurrected from death and taken up into the glory cloud to be seated at the Right; and He was given all power in heaven and in earth.  He was crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  And He is the ultimate Ruler of all authority in the world.  They all belong to Him.  And it’s even more evident now that honor and tribute be paid to all of His earthly authorities.

And, once again, as far as that honor and tribute is concerned, it doesn’t matter that those authorities don’t acknowledge His ultimate authority.  They belong to him anyway!

So, now, we begin this morning, with a short discussion of Sadduceeism – not because it is the most important thing here, but, for the most part, to get it out of the way.  It is a part of the context, and, therefore, we must understand it; but it’s not worth much more time than that.

Sadduceeism was certainly not an organized party in Israel (as we would think of political parties).  But it was, really, a not-too-formal class of people, the most distinguishing mark of which had to do with the Helenization of Jewish society!  (By Helenization, we mean the acceptance of Greek culture and philosophy.)

When that’s understood it will be evident that anti-resurrection sentiment was not necessarily a foundation-stone upon which Sadducean philosophy was built – but was simply an “out-working” of basic Helenic thinking, in response to common Jewish expectations (especially Pharisaical expectations!).

Those Pharisaical expectations, as we’ve seen several times before, had to do with Israel (not the whole world); and Israel, the Theocratic nation, would be restored to its former greatness – and more; and even its dead would be resurrected.  And thereby all Israel would be saved!  And God would rule the whole world, by His Messiah, from Mt. Zion!  (Orthodox, Pharisaical Jews still believe this will occur – supported by many fundamentalist, evangelical Christians!)

Now, if you think Helenistic culture and philosophy would be against Pharisaical, Zionist thought such as that, then you’re right!  And if there were a present-day analogy of the former Pharisee/Sadducee dispute, the libertarians would be the Sadducees.

The name flowed directly from an individual, it is thought, around 300 BC, an influential Jew named “Zadouc” who had a Greek, Aristotelian teacher.  Alexander the Great, you remember (Who was a student of Aristotle, by the way!) had conquered the world, both militarily and culturally, and Hellenism was settling over all the civilizations of the world.  Israel wasn’t immune to those great influences; and the Sadducees were willing adherents to that culturalization – to being incorporated into and included in – Greek philosophy, culture and society.

Where Phariseeism, because of its concentration on blood descendancy from Abraham, and because of Israel’s traditions and history and distinctiveness as a nation, wished to resist Helenization, the Sadducees were much more willing to live in deference to, and become a part of, the culture and society of their former rulers, and who had imposed Greek culture on the whole world.

Now, it has been said that Sadduceeism was more political than theological.  That’s probably true in its outworking – they were a very politically motivated people.  But since all systems of thought are foundationally religious, the matter, really, is always “which religion”!

The Sadducees were primarily deists – with the Pentateuch as the nation’s constitution.  There was no room in their thought for immanence or angels or life after death; to a Sadducee there was just “this life”, and living it situationally.  And, like the clouds, there was nothing… after life was gone.

They very harshly criticized the Pharisees for their hypocrisy with regard to the Law, since the Talmud and Midrashim became at least as important (if not more so) than the Pentateuch itself!  Phariseeism, by its interpretation and additions and deletions to the Law (much of the time for its own benefit), had turned it upside down and made it illegible.  And, for that, the Sadducees condemned the Pharisees; if they were accomplished legal scholars, they said, why have they so befouled the Law?

But, as usual, men see the hypocrisy of one group and ignore and cover up their own.  (That’s the nature of hypocrisy and the nature of fallen man, isn’t it?)  But the Pentateuch was not without its clear references to the immanence of God, and to actual Theophanies (appearance of God to man), and to resurrection and life after death (as we shall see shortly).  The Sadducees were then blind to the Words of God, and they were clearly a part of the degradation and hypocrisy and decay which was Israel’s state at the time of the appearance of Christ.

And there is little doubt that they had a full share of the evil which culminated in the crucifixion, death, and burial of Christ (note Matthew sixteen when they joined the Pharisees in an attempt to trap Jesus into proving His Divinity).  Sadducees are mentioned later in connection with their relationship to Annas the high priest of the temple; they play a role in the persecution of the Christian Church in its early days; and it was certainly the teaching of Sadducees that so disturbed the Church at Corinth, to which Paul wrote the great fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians concerning the resurrection.

And although there are remnants of Sadducean thought among sects of Jews in the history books, there is no mention of a party or a group calling themselves Sadducees after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD….  And that’s about all there is to say about the Sadducees that is relevant to the text.

Now, in verse twenty-three, as we begin the text, we see that there is a new interrogation/entrapment plot now to be executed!  (This is the same day, by the way.)  It is Tuesday before the crucifixion on Friday; and Jesus has already had a day filled with confrontation with the powers of Israel!

He has been teaching the crowds who had followed Him since early morning; and He had completely humiliated the elders and priests of Israel in public (that is the Sanhedrin and their representatives); and now comes a group that probably has secretly delighted in the intellectual defeat of Israel’s Pharisees.

But that delight didn’t extend so far as to join forces with Jesus in some political unity against the Pharisees.  Instead, they joined with those Pharisees (a distasteful unity) and the Herodians and the priests against Jesus.  It almost seems as if there’s a competitive jealousy here.  Like – since the Pharisees aren’t intellectually competent to handle this Man, we, being in the right, will now assert our superiority and get this job done!  Then this whole town will recognize our intellectual superiority and supremacy, and our authority will be accepted!

Now, since they were supposed “experts” in the Pentateuch (rejecting all other writings), and since Jesus had used Moses to humiliate the Pharisees and their writings in the Talmud and Midrashim, the Sadducees decided to use a Mosaic prescription to show the irrationality of a physical resurrection! (verses twenty-four through twenty-eight)  Jesus had already prophesied His Own resurrection a number of times, you remember; and it was a well-known fact (apparently) that He taught a resurrection.  So the Sadducees chose this subject to entrap Him – using against Him the words of Moses! (the Law)

Let’s read it again in order to get the argument against a resurrection:


“Teacher” (they’re feigning some respect for Jesus, although not much, calling Him by the same title that the Pharisees used), “Teacher, Moses said if one should die having no descendants, a brother should marry his wife and raise up seed to his brother.” (that’s a summary of the levirate law, which we’ll look at in a minute.)

They continue (verse twenty-five), “but there were among us seven brothers; and the first, having been married, did come to an end (it doesn’t say “died”) and, having no seed, he did leave behind his wife to his brother.  And likewise the second and the third until the seven!  And last of all the woman died.  In the resurrection then, of which of the seven shall be the wife?  For all did have her!”


Course-mannered skeptics they were, they don’t even flatter Jesus in their hypocrisy.  They address Him as “Teacher,” like the Pharisees did, but it’s obvious that their intent was to show what a wretched teacher He was!  They’re really very arrogant here.

In verse twenty-four, as I said, they summarize Moses’ statute on levirate marriage, from Deuteronomy twenty-five.  Levir simply means “affinity” (close relationship).  A brother will espouse his dead brother’s wife.  The word “to espouse” there, is fully translated “to espouse by law of affinity”.  The purpose for the law was for the next in line to give that dead brother a son so his line wouldn’t die out!  Any subsequent children wouldn’t be his dead brother’s, but the first son would.  Underlying the entire legislation (which was very important in Israel, since many men would die in battle during the conquering of Canaan – and beyond) but underlying the legislation was the hope and anticipation of the prophesied coming Messiah, Who would be born in Israel!

It’s good for us to note, here, that any other sexual relationship of affinity (i.e. close relatives) was condemned in God’s Law as incest.  God hates any illicit sexual contact; and incest is especially contemptible.

But we are not to look at the statute concerning levirate marriage as an “exception” to the Law against incest; it was not an exception, but a statute that stood on its own, the ground of which was anticipation of the birth of Messiah!  And since that was the case, needless to say, the levirate marriage legislation is no longer needed.  The Messiah was born … of the virgin Mary; and Joseph was His legal father.  (And, by the way, the later writings of the Jewish Talmud refer to Jesus as the “bastard” son of a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.  It just makes one wonder sometimes about evangelical fundamentalists and their attraction to Jews and Israel.  They just don’t seem to understand that Judaism is such an abomination to God that He cut them off from His covenant and destroyed the nation!

But anyway Evangelicals seem to seek brotherly relationships with them (affinity) as if we worship the same God… as if we have the same hopes and goals!  But since Judaism holds that Jesus Christ is simply a Jewish bastard born in Nazareth, they’re still Pharisees and Sadducees; and they’re still apostate covenant-breakers.  And there can be absolutely no brotherly relationship with them.)

But beyond that, the real issue (the resurrection) is presented to Jesus in a form that “suggests” a real dilemma (verse twenty-five).  They say “among us” there were seven brothers.  This is obviously hypothetical, but the presentation is as if it were a factual case.  In actuality the whole story is a reduction to the absurd (a logical tactic).

And what’s absurd about it is the near impossibility of the levirate statute ever being taken this far!  That seven brothers would die in succession without fathering a child for the first brother is an exaggeration to the extreme.  They offer an impossible, untenable, really preposterous and ludicrous situation – as if it were real!  Two brothers producing no descendants would have accomplished the same purpose, and it would make some sense.  But, of course, the Sadducees never made any sense.

They were the ones who were attempting to show the irrationality of the resurrection in the light of Mosaic legislation.  And they exposed their own hypocrisy by being irrational.  I suppose this is a good example of how men view the Scriptures, and use them, for their own ends.  Because no man is rational when he does that.

But deniers of a resurrection are still around.  They say that there’s nothing in the Bible that proves it – that Judaism developed the doctrine at a late date, and that it was little known after that.

But there are many very credible passages of Scripture where God has revealed His intent for a resurrection and life from the dead!  Jesus could have used Abraham’s hope for the resurrection of Isaac; or David’s hope in seeing his dead son again.  Or He could have expounded on Psalm seventeen, verse fifteen – David’s hope of seeing God when he awakened!  These men didn’t have hope in something so phenomenal as a bodily resurrection unless God had revealed it to them!

But Jesus did not go to one of those places in His answer; He went elsewhere and just “blistered” these hypocrites directly from Moses.  We’ll get to that later.

But these Sadducees are saying to Jesus that, in the light of practical reality the Law of Moses makes a resurrection ridiculous!  This is real life – not make-believe, “pretend-like” utopia in the sky!  Get real!  Then they come up with the story of seven successive dead brothers and no descendants!

So a “conundrum” is proposed to Jesus.  A conundrum is a perplexing thing – a situation with a double, secret meaning.  (It was really double and secret only to them, of course.)  And here it is, according to the Sadducees:  The woman was wife to all seven, equally, by Law!  And if Jesus proposes one of them as the “resurrection” husband – the question is why?  What’s the criteria for choosing one rather than any one of the other six?  All of them were equally her husband; and none of them produced a child.  In a “restored” and “resurrected” Israel, (which those stupid Pharisees believe in) will Messiah choose this woman’s husband by lottery?!  Hear the ridiculing, mockery, and skepticism?

But if Jesus says that all seven are her husband, then does a restored and resurrected Israel include polygamous marriage and “husband harems”?!

You see, in the minds of these “practical” hypocrites, “real life” situations (reduced to the absurd, of course), but real life situations occur which make theological absurdities (like a resurrection) come to light; but these real life situations are real, they say….  But Moses addressed reality!  And he proves that the idea of a resurrection is ludicrous.

So, if this man Jesus answers in either one of these ways, then He’s ludicrous; and he’s an imposter.  And it’s as we thought… there is no resurrection!  And we will then become the respected, intellectual powers in Israel!

Let’s finish this morning with this:  The Sadducees were “real life” situationists!  They held the Pentateuch as inspired, but they, themselves, were very lax with it.  That, too, is the nature of a hypocrite, isn’t it?  But they had probably used this same “reduction-to-the-absurd” question before with the Pharisees and priests and Herodians – to ridicule the idea and make them all laughing-stocks.

But it is monstrous, indeed, that an inkling of the doctrine of the resurrection had survived among the Pharisee ravening wolves of Israel – no matter how debased it was!  It’s still monstrous!

But, to them (the Pharisees) a perverted idea of resurrection was closely related to the restoration of Jerusalem and Israel under Messiah, in which all Israel would be restored to its former glory!  That is the eschatology of the Pharisees, which was so identified with resurrection.

So the resurrection idea, therefore, would include things being the same as it was before… with regard to marrying and giving in marriage; the same as before, when Israel was in its glory!

So the Sadducees were reacting with great skepticism toward resurrection; but the eschatology and the idea of the resurrection which they reacted so violently to was a perverted and debased one – having been held by the Pharisee theologians!

The one the apostle Paul writes about in First Corinthians chapter eleven holds no resemblance to the resurrection idea held by the Pharisees; nor does it hold resemblance to the one these Sadducees reacted to so skeptically and hypocritically.

And now, having said those things, next week we can truly understand how Jesus reacts to the Sadducees, and the Scripture He chooses to quote, and the words He says to them (so astonishing).

I want to say a lot more about the resurrection – next week there will be time for that when we celebrate the Lord’s Table.  And there is a Divine connection between the sign (bread and wine) and the resurrected body of Christ!  For it is His shed blood and His crucified body that are hereby signified.

And if you be dead to sin-and-the-curse (in Him), then you were crucified in Him; and if you be raised from death and hades in Him, then you were resurrected in Him; and if you stand guiltless before God in Him, then you ascended in Him!

The only way those things occur on behalf of men is if His blood was shed on your behalf; and if you are reborn and incorporated into His body – both things of which are signified in the Table.

Next Lord’s Day you come.  Come to the Table ready to signify the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And that all of that took place with you in Him.