WHAT DID JESUS REALLY SAY

001-jesus-teaching

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Part VIII

Verse 30: “After the resurrection takes place, there will be no marriage or men and women. Instead, everyone will be like the angels in heaven.”

This was not a new theology. Jewish Rabbis taught the same thing. One of their most respected Rabbis repeated a tradition that was already extant in Jesus’ day and made it one of his favorite sayings. It went: “[The future world is not like this world.] In the future world there is no eating nor drinking nor procreation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence, as it says, And they beheld God and did eat and drink.12

This Jewish concept extended into the Middle Ages, as we can see from this commentary: In the world to come, there is no body or physical form, only the souls of the righteous alone, without a body, like the ministering angels. Since there is no physical form, there is neither eating, drinking, nor any of the other bodily functions of this world like sitting, standing, sleeping, death, sadness, laughter, and the like. Thus, the Sages of the previous ages declared: ‘In the world to come, there is neither eating, drinking, nor sexual relations. Rather, the righteous will sit with their crowns on their heads and delight in the radiance of the Divine Presence.’ From that statement, it is clear that there is no body, for there is no eating or drinking. [Consequently,] the statement, ‘the righteous sit,’ must be interpreted metaphorically, i.e., the righteous exist there without work or labor.”3 So it is possible that not only did Jesus quote from their Torah but also from their Mishnah to prove their question as baseless.

And in his perusal of all the sayings of the Jewish fathers, Rabbi Nathan made note of this: “What is recited on the seventh day [of the week]? A Psalm, a Song. For the Sabbath day:4 For a day which is wholly Sabbath, in which there is neither eating nor drinking nor commerce, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and are nourished by the splendor of the Shekinah; as it is said, ‘And they beheld God and did eat and drink5 – like the ministering angels.”6

Not only that, but in one of their most coveted books we read: For in the heights of that world shall they dwell, and they shall be made like unto the angels, and be made equal to the stars, and they shall be changed into every form they desire, from beauty into loveliness, and from light into the splendor of glory.”7 Also, in their much read apocalyptic work they say: “There my eyes saw their dwelling with the Angels, and their resting places with the Holy Ones.”8

In other words, just like Jesus said, the resurrected saints will exist like the angels. So this was not some heretical doctrine our Lord was teaching, but something already part of the Jewish canon. Not only did Jesus debunk the Sadducees’ concept of no resurrection, but He also struck back at their disbelief in angels. This was always a part of Jewish theology, as one well-known Jewish Philosopher stated: “God, therefore, having added the good doctrine, that is Abel, to the soul, took away from it evil doctrine, that is Cain: for Abraham also, leaving mortal things, ‘is added to the people of God,’ having received immortality, and having become equal to the angels; for the angels are the host of God, being incorporeal and happy souls.”9

However, at the same time other Rabbis taught: “Observe when the Holy One shall raise the dead He will form bodies for them similar to what they were incarnated in during their earthly existence, whether they lived in a foreign country or in the Holy Land; for in every body there exists a mysterious bone, like unto a seed hidden in the earth, and by it the body will be formed anew at the day of resurrection.”10 This concept is certainly reflected in the teachings of the apostle Paul.11

In fact, there is a legend in the Jewish commentary on Hebrew scriptures that the Roman Emperor Hadrian asked how humans would be revived in the world to come, and Rabbi Joshua Ben Hananiah replied that it would be “From Luz, in the back-bone.” “Prove this to me,” said Hadrian. Then the Rabbi took Luz, a small bone of the spine, and immersed it in water, but it was not softened; he put it into the fire, but it was not consumed; he put it into a mill, but it could not be crushed; he placed it upon an anvil and struck it with a hammer, but the anvil split and the hammer was broken.12 So it is starting with this bone called “luz” that the new body will be formed, he exclaimed.

This brings us to the point of Christian thinking about the new body we will receive on the day of resurrection. Since there will be no eating or drinking, and procreation, it would be completely unnecessary then to think in terms of a corporeal existence. Therefore, the body made for the new world existence should be understood as something far superior to what we have in this world.

Verses 31-32a: “Surely you have read what God said to you about people rising from death. God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’”

Here our Lord repeats the words of God His father to Moses at the burning bush: “I am the God of your father,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”13 The Sadducees thought they had come to argue with Jesus, but now He’s telling them they are arguing with God, Moses, and God’s Word.

But Jesus was not the only one who found the Sadducees’ exegesis of Scripture to be faulty, the Jews noted that: “It has been taught: Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Jose, said: In this matter I refuted the books of the sectarians, who maintained that resurrection is not deducible from the Torah. I said to them: You have falsified your Torah, yet it has availed you nothing. For you maintain that resurrection is not a Biblical doctrine, but it is written, ‘[Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken his commandment], that soul will utterly be cut off; his iniquity will be upon him.’14 Now, [seeing that] he will utterly be cut off in this world, when will his iniquity be upon him? surely in the next world.”15

Chrysostom gives us his impression of our Lord’s wise and ingenious answer to these Sadducees: It is again by Moses that He stops their mouths. It is they who had brought forward Moses. Jesus says He is not the God of those who are not, who are utterly blotted out and rise no more. He did not say ‘I was’ but ‘I am.’ I am the God of those that are, those who live. Adam lived on the day he ate of the tree, then died in the sentence. Even though the progeny of Adam died, they live in the promise of the resurrection. How then does he say elsewhere, ‘That he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living?’16 But this is not contrary to that. For here he speaks of the dead, who are also themselves to live. Furthermore, ‘I am the God of Abraham’ is another thing from ‘That he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.’ He knew of another death too, concerning which he says, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’17 And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at his teaching. Yet not even here did He persuade the Sadducees. They go away defeated, while the crowd, with less vested interests, reaps the benefit.”18

The Jews had other scriptures that emphasized the eternal nature of God’s relationship with the patriarchs. For instance, we read: And I fell prone and bowed down to the Lord, and the Lord with His lips said to me: Have courage, Enoch, do not fear, arise and stand before my face into eternity. And the archangel Michael lifted me up and led me to before the Lord’s face. And the Lord said to His servants tempting them: Let Enoch stand before my face into eternity, and the glorious ones bowed down to the Lord and said: Let Enoch go according to Your word. And the Lord said to Michael: Go and take Enoch from out of his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, and put him into the garments of My glory.”19 If God did this for Enoch, certainly He would maintain the same relationship with Abraham. The point is, had God said: “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” then that would show the relationship was over. By saying: “I am,” it means their relationship is still alive, even though their bodies were put away long ago in the tomb. This leads Jesus then to say:

Verse 32b: “Therefore, He is not the God of dead people but of living people.”

Here our Lord builds on what was already part of Jewish thinking. There is a story about Rabbi Hiyya the Elder and Rabbi Jonathan who were visiting a cemetery, and Rabbi Jonathan walked by some of the graves to get to the coffin of Rabbi Simeon bar Yose bar Leqonia. His friend Rabbi Hiyaa said, somewhat satirically, “Because of what you are doing the dead will say, ‘Tomorrow they will join us in the grave. But now they trample upon us.He said to him, ‘Do the dead know anything about what the living do? Is it not so written, “The dead know nothing.”20 Hiyya said to him, ‘You know how to recite Scripture but you do not know how to interpret the verse:’ ‘For the living know that they will die’21 refers to the righteous who are called “the living” even when they are dead; and ‘the dead know nothing’22 refers to the wicked who are called ‘the dead’ even when they are alive.’”23

So clearly, many Jews believed that even after a righteous person’s body dies, as far as God is concerned their souls are still alive. In fact, one Rabbi of the first century presented the same Scripture24 that Christ cites to prove the immortality of the soul in refuting the Sadducean belief. “…for God is not the God of the dead for the dead are not; but of the living, for the living exist; therefore also the Patriarchs in respect of the soul, may rightly be inferred from hence to live.”25 No doubt this is a clear reference to what Jesus called: “eternal life.” It doesn’t start at the resurrection, but as soon as a believer is born again. So then, it is the body that dies, not the spirit. That’s why Paul and the Apostles preached that those who depart their body on this earth, await in their spirit the day of resurrection. Once their spirits are awakened they will then receive a new form fit for eternity.26

1 Exodus 24:11

2 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit. Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Berachoth, folio 17a

3 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, op. cit. Sefer Madda, Tractate Teshuvah, Ch. 8, Halacha 2

4 Psalm 92:1

5 Exodus 24:11

6 The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, op. cit. Ch. 1, p. 12

7 2 Baruch Ch. 51:10

8 1 Enoch, 39:5

9 Philo of Alexandria, On the Birth of Abel and the Sacrifices Offered by Him and by His Brother Cain, Ch. II:5

10 Nurho de Manhar, The Zohar: Bereshith to Lekh Lekha, 1914, Kindle Edition, loc. 5445-5447

11 2 Corinthians 5:1ff

12 Ecclesiastes Rabbah xii / Genesis Rabbah xviii

13 Exodus 3:6

14 Numbers 15:31

15 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 90b

16 Romans 14:9

17 Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:60

18 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 70.3

19 2 Enoch, Ch. 22:4-8

20 Ecclesiastes 9:5

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Jerusalem Talmud, op. cit. First Division: Tractate Berakhot, Ch. 2:2-3 [II:8 E]

24 Exodus 3:6

25 Manasseh ben Israel, De Resurrectione Mortuorum, Vol. 1, Bk. 1, Ch. 10:6

26 2 Corinthians 5:3-4

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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