A Riddle

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” (Luke 20:27–38)

The Sadducees believed that only the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy were scripture. Since they seemed silent about an afterlife, the Sadducees rejected the concept.

Why is it that those five books of Moses don’t talk about heaven, hell or the resurrection? The Egyptians were obsessed with the afterlife. They believed that the dead must be protected in order to have a good one. So they built pyramids and mummified their corpses in order to preserve them forever. They wrote a standard guidebook to the afterlife that was buried with every mummy.

The books of the Bible were originally written for particular individuals facing particular situations. Therefore, the books of Moses didn’t talk about the afterlife at all. God made a very clear distinction between himself and the gods of Egypt. God didn’t want his people obsessed with death like the Egyptians.

God knows what we need to know, when we need to know it, and the way we need to learn it. For the Israelites in Moses’ day, it was more important for them to understand how to live for God, than to think about what came next. Even for us, living for God is the emphasis in the Bible: the kingdom of God is not just after we die, or in the distant future. It is something we experience today.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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