He is not God of the Dead
but of the Living
Message by Pastor Eric Chang
Let us continue today in studying the Word of the Lord in Mt. 22:23-33. Here we have the Sadducees asking the Lord Jesus a question about the Resurrection, and the reason is that the Sadducees did not believe in the Resurrection. They were a Jewish party which became a significant political power in Israel, but unlike the Pharisees who believed in the Resurrection, the Sadducees were mostly aristocrats of the Jewish society, as well as their government officials. They did not believe in the Resurrection.
The Sadducees, Not Believing in the Resurrection, Test Jesus
Now the Sadducees had one peculiarity; they based their faith basically on the first five books of the Old Testament called the Pentateuch - the first five books - from Genesis to Deuteronomy. For them this was the supreme authority in matters of faith and they maintained that in the Pentateuch they could find no teaching on the Resurrection. Because their faith was based essentially in the Pentateuch, that that was the supreme document of authority for them, they therefore maintained that since they could not find any explicit teaching on the Resurrection in those first five books, therefore they did not believe in it.
Here they put the question in a kind of trick manner: that if the Resurrection were true, then impossible situations will arise, such as the one that they are about to describe to the Lord Jesus. They hope that by this kind of a trick question, they will catch the Lord Jesus and be able to get Him into a sort of checkmate position, to which He cannot produce a counter-argument.
So here then is the background to this passage when we read from v23 of Matthew Chapter 22.
The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies, having no children, his brother must marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, to which of the seven will she be wife? For they all had her.”
“Oh,” they thought, “this is a knockdown question. This one really will silence all opposition.” [We continue to read:]
But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
Here you find the answer, to the Lord Jesus, was twofold. First, to talk about whose wife this woman would be, you see, the picture would be then that in heaven, when they got to heaven, all seven brothers would be claiming this woman as their wife. Maybe they will have a real fistfight in heaven and cause a great embarrassment in the heavenly courts, where seven people, arguing over which one has the right to have her as his wife now that they all have at some stage or other been married to her. This was part of the Law of Moses, of course, because if the eldest brother died leaving no heir, it would create several things. The first is that that line of descent would be halted, but also there would be no heir to his property, to his lands that he inherited. Thus, this was regarded by the Jews as unacceptable. Therefore, the brother would marry the wife of the brother who died and the children of the wife would actually then be accounted to his brother, not to himself. Those children would be heirs to his brother. He would raise up children for his brother. It was a duty for the brother to do something to continue the line of his brother. This being the case, they reason hypothetically, what happened if the second one also died without leaving any children to the brother who died before him, and so on to the seventh. This creates a great embarrassing situation in heaven, when you have seven men arguing about whose wife she might be.
The Lord Jesus said, “You obviously don’t know the state of affairs in heaven. The state of affairs in heaven is simply that nobody gets married to nobody in heaven, that death terminates the marriage. Marriage ends with death. In heaven you are not somebody else’s wife anymore, in any kind of a legal sense. Therefore, this question simply does not arise. But secondly, have you not read in the Pentateuch? You say that the Pentateuch is the final authority to you. Therefore, let Me show you something from the Pentateuch. In Ex. 3:6 God spoke to Moses at the time when He appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and said to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” That is what He said.
Knowing the Scripture Means Understanding the Spirit of It
Notice several things. The Lord Jesus says that, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” [v29] This is a startling statement because they certainly considered themselves as knowing the Scriptures very well. When the Scriptures speak about knowing the Scriptures, when the Lord Jesus speaks about knowing the Scriptures, He does not mean how many years you spent in Bible school. You can spend an awful long time in Bible school and not know the Scriptures. You can, in fact, have studied theology and not know the Scriptures. That is hardly surprising, of course. When I was in the Bible Institute, we had somebody from Oxford - a graduate from Oxford - studying at the Bible Institute. We all asked him, “Since you graduated in theology at Oxford, what are you doing here in the Bible Institute?” He said, “I came to study the Bible, that’s what I came for. When I was at Oxford, I studied theology. I didn’t know the Bible. Now I want to know the Bible.” But let me tell you that you can spend all your time in the Bible Institute and simply not know the Scriptures either. It is [one thing] to know about the Scriptures, to know quite a lot of things what the Bible says; it is a different thing to understand what it means. Now knowing the Scripture, in the sense the Lord Jesus is saying, is speaking about understanding the spirit of it, to understand what it says, not simply to have a lot of knowledge about it.
A professor of theology - a professor! - may know a lot about the Bible. He can tell you facts and figures about this and the background of that and the background of this. It does not mean that he knows the Bible. To know the Bible is to know the mind of God. Well, you can study the Bible as literature. In fact, you find in many bookshops a book that is actually entitled The Bible as Literature. You can know the Bible as literature very well. That does not mean that you know the Scriptures, that is, it does not mean that you understand the spirit of what is being said.
Knowing the Power of God Means Experiencing His Power
The second thing is immediately related to it: “nor the power of God.” You do not know the Scriptures; you do not know the power of God. Now one important thing in knowing the Scriptures is to know the power of God, and to know the power of God has to do with experiencing His power. That is why a professor of theology may not really know the Scriptures at all because he does not know the power of God. If he does not know the power of God, then his knowledge of Scripture is basically knowing Scripture as literature, knowing Scripture as some sort of philosophy, knowing Scripture as history. The Bible does contain history and it does also contain literature and it does contain, if you like to call it, a religious philosophy or a philosophy of religion. It contains all of these things. You can also study it from the view of archeology. You can study it from the point of view of linguistics. You can study it from the point of view of philology. And all these experts in philology, of archeology, of history and all can all claim to know the Bible quite well from their point of view. That is not knowing Scripture. Knowing Scripture is based upon knowing, and is inseparable from, knowing God’s power. Knowing God’s power, however, has to do with a living relationship to God. And when you do not have this living relationship to God, how can you know His power? And if you do not know His power, neither will you know the Scriptures. This means that the best way to study the Scriptures is not in a theological seminary, but in the everyday life of day-to-day circumstances, putting God’s Word into practice.
Now there is nothing wrong with going to study in a seminary something about history and something about archeology and something about this. Many of us have done all this kind of thing and we came out deeply realizing how ignorant we were of the Scriptures. When I came out, I realized myself to be so ignorant of the Word of God. I had studied the linguistics; I had studied the archeology; I studied the history; I studied the philosophy; and I still did not know the Word of God. If you asked me where such and such a passage is I could probable tell you where it is. I knew the Scriptures externally pretty well. I did not understand what was inside it. It was this thing that caused me agony. And I began to search how to enter into the Scripture, how to understand its meaning by understanding the spirit. Then I realized that the way to do it is to live it. The way to do it is to live in a living relationship with God, to know His power.
For example, in a passage of Acts, it says that God said to Philip this and that, go to such and such a place. How can you understand this academically or linguistically? You cannot understand the spirit of it at all because unless God has spoken to you, this business about God speaking to the prophets, of God telling Philip to go here, there, and to meet somebody in the wilderness, I mean it does not make sense. You understand what it means. You know what the words mean, linguistically. You can study the Greek grammar of it; you can study the history of it; you can study about what eunuchs are like; you can study what happened with the church in Samaria, and so on. This you can do, but you still do not understand what it means when God said to Philip, “Go and meet this eunuch.” You have no idea, because you have not experienced it. You do not understand what this means.
The Spirit of God came down at Pentecost - what does that mean? You cannot understand the meaning of this by studying the history of it or by studying the Greek linguistics of it. You do not understand what it means. What does it mean that God’s Spirit came into somebody’s life? You see, there is no way to understand this unless you have experienced it, you have experienced God’s power coming into your life.
We Understand Resurrection When We Experience It
But what does the Resurrection mean? Well, what does it mean? How are you going to expound this from the point of view of history, of linguistics, and so on and so forth? You can argue about the historicity of the Resurrection, that is fine, and there are many people who do this. But even when you have agreed that the Resurrection is historically true, you still do not understand it, do you? You have not yet entered into the spirit of it. You still do not understand. But when God’s power comes into your life and raises you up, then you know what Resurrection is because now you have experienced it. Now we are talking! Now we understand what it is all about.
When God takes you, a spiritually dead person, and raises you up to spiritual life, and transforms you into a new creature, you are on the way to understanding what Resurrection is about because now you have experienced Resurrection. You have experienced what it is to become a new person by God’s power. When you experience that, you understand Resurrection better than any professor of theology who has not experienced the power of God to make a new person out of you, isn’t it? It is easy to see. He does not understand Resurrection. He knows Greek better than you do. He knows the Bible in terms of externals better than you do, but because he has never experienced God’s power to change him, to raise him up out of spiritual death and into spiritual life, he does not understand Resurrection. For him, Resurrection is something that one can argue about on a philosophical level. He can only do that because he does not know what it means; he has not experienced that. Resurrection, then, is something that you have to experience - within us - in order to appreciate what its power is like, and then you can go on to see what it means to be raised physically.
I had a medical doctor once who told me how God raised up a dead person, physically dead, through him, through his prayers. Through his pleading and intercession, this dead person rose again. Now that person understands Resurrection. That brother, that doctor can tell you what Resurrection is. He saw it with his own eyes. I mean he is a doctor; he knows when a person is dead. Maybe you do not know whether a person is really dead or not, maybe others do not know, but he knows. At least if he does not know anything else, he knows what a dead person is like. But through praying, pleading with God, weeping - he knelt besides this dead person and wept and pleaded with God - lo and behold, that person rose from the dead having been dead for something like an hour. Now this is something. People like that who experience God’s power know what Resurrection is about. That doctor understands Resurrection far better than any professor of theology because that professor of theology, who is sitting in his ivory tower up there in some academic tower, has not experienced it yet.
The Scriptures and the Power of God Are Bound Inseparably Together
Now, this is what the Lord is saying, You know neither the Scriptures because you do not understand, because you do not know the power of God. These two - the Scriptures and the power of God - are bound inseparably together. You cannot just study the one and hope to understand it like that. The Word of God has to do with life, and to experience God’s power in our daily life is the path to knowing the Scriptures. The more you walk with God, the better you will know the Scriptures. This is the reason why there are many humble people who have never been to these academic institutions who know the Word of God better than many a preacher, than many a professor, because they have walked with God. That is very important! Now I am not saying that it is unimportant to understand archeology and history and so forth; there is a place for all that. But these things do not lead you into the full depth of the Word of Life, until you walk with God.
The other thing we notice when it comes to the Resurrection is the Lord Jesus’ profound insight into the Word of God. So profound is His insight into the Word of God that the exegete has great problems often expounding the words of the Lord Jesus. The teaching of the Lord Jesus is not easy to expound, until you can enter into His mind, enter into His Spirit, enter by walking with Him into ever-deeper insight into the way the Lord Jesus’ mind works, the way He thinks, to understand God’s mind. This is why I find that I understand the Word of God better as time goes on, as I learn to walk more close to the Lord. That is the way to understand God’s Word better.
To Prove the Resurrection, Jesus Quotes: “I Am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”
This particular passage, we will concentrate on today in v32. The Lord Jesus says to the Sadducees that in the very book of authority to them, the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses, “The Lord God said to you.” Notice these words: “have you not read what was said to you by God...”. The words, in fact, were actually addressed to Moses, but the Word of life remains true for every person. And He says these words are addressed as much to you as to Moses. In the burning bush, God appeared to Moses and said to him, “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” That is what he said. There is the Resurrection, in those very words. In those words? Where? Hmm? You read it again and again and you still do not see any Resurrection. How does that prove the Resurrection? I am sure many times you have looked at this, and wondered, “How does that prove the Resurrection?” He simply said, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. Where is the Resurrection in that? You can see that sometimes there is a depth in Scripture that we simply fail to see. We look at it and we look at it back and forth and we simply do not see any Resurrection in there. And yet, the Lord simply, even without explaining Himself, says to the Sadducees, “That’s what God said. Don’t you see? There is the Resurrection.” And you scratch your head, and say, “Resurrection? Where? I don’t see it.” I wonder whether the Sadducees saw it?
Now, how are we going to understand this statement? This has often challenged my heart, and it is one of the more difficult passages of the Lord’s teaching, I would say, to understand and to expound. And simply, because of our spiritual blindness, we have great difficulty in seeing this. What exactly then is being expounded here? Already way back in the Early Church, it was explained in this way: “I am the God of Abraham.” Thus, the stress then is in the words “I am,” not “I was the God of Abraham”, but “I am the God of Abraham.” Seeing that the statement is in the present tense, it would indicate then that because God says, “I am their God,” that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive because if they were dead, one would presume that God would have said, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” since they do not exist anymore. They have died. They have gone. Therefore, “I am” indicates that they too are still alive. This exegesis was already used in the Early Church, but this exegesis is really not satisfactory, for two reasons.
One is that the Hebrew does not have the word ‘am’: “I the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” That is what you have in the Hebrew. The Septuagint, of course, being rather like English, you have to put a verb in somewhere. You cannot have a sentence without a verb. You can have that in Hebrew; you cannot have that in Greek. The Septuagint does translate “I am” - present tense. But, of course, that is a translation. The Hebrew, which is the original, does not have it. Now clearly you have to translate some kind of a verb in there and the Septuagint may be justified in translating it with the present tense.
But secondly, the reasoning itself is faulty, if you argue in this way. To say that “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” proves thereby that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive really does not follow, does it? Now it follows if you use the word like this, “I am the teacher of x, y and z,” would imply that x, y and z might be still alive because I said I am their teacher. But if they are dead, you would expect me to say, “I was their teacher” seeing that they are no longer alive. It does not work too well actually. You can still be their teacher. Even if you are not actually teaching them, but the fact remains true that you are their teacher, even if they are not alive. This is even more obvious like that. I could say, “I am the father of x, y and z.” The sentence would not be wrong even if x, y and z are not alive. I am their father, they are dead, but I do not have to say, “I was their father.” What have you become in the meantime? I mean, have you stopped being their father in the meantime. You are still: “I am the father of x, y and z.” It only proves that I am alive. It does not prove that they are alive. So the statement that “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” would prove that God is alive; it does not logically prove that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive, does it? It does not follow. So the argument does not work that way. It does not work. Too many exegesis are simply rather faulty because of faulty reasoning. We think we have proved a point when we have not really proved anything at all. If we cannot go in this way and base our argument in this way, then where is the Resurrection to be seen? If we cannot work with this “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” then how do we approach this? This is precisely where the problem is. This passage has, of course, given the commentators no end of headaches, seeing that they cannot come up really with much explanation of it. But let us approach it in another way.
Supposing we approach it like this: supposing we simply read the statement, “I was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” What would that leave us with? Supposing we read it like this for a moment, and so God says, i.e., the sentence would then mean, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when once they were alive. When they were alive, I am the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob once knew.” That is more or less then the sentence we would have. All right? Now that kind of statement would bring a stinging rejoinder like this: “If that is the case, what good did it do Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to know God? What good did it do them? “You are telling me that You are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and they are all dead and buried, so what good is it to have had You as God?” - if we can put it like this. [We are] reasoning rather irreverently, but nevertheless pursuing the truth of the matter. If believing in God ends up in death anyway, just as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did, then tell me what is the essential difference between believing in God and not believing in God? What is the essential difference of knowing God or not knowing God? Is there any difference in it? What difference does it make? What does it matter whether you believe in God or not? That is the crucial question that we are coming to now. If there is no essential difference, if the godly perish just as the ungodly do, then there is no point in believing in God, is there? Would it mean that believing in God simply makes life a little bit more easy? Well, it does not. Does it? I do not think being a Christian is an easier life than being a non-Christian. Is it? And in the Old Testament, too, that has never been an argument that being a Christian means that life is easier than being a non-Christian. That is because you need only read the Psalms to point out, to see that the godly are constantly persecuted by the ungodly, that the righteous are constantly under affliction and distress in this life. The righteous do not have it any easier in this life than the unrighteous. In fact, too often, and also seen in the Psalms, the ungodly seem to have a better existence. They seem to get away with everything, while the godly are constantly made to suffer. So what point is there in believing in God?
[The unbeliever can experience] exactly the same sort of life as the believer in terms of well being. What advantage is there in believing in God? And so the point comes back to this: when God says to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” what exactly is He saying? All that He has said simply is: “I am the God of several dead men.” And what is that point of my knowing that? Or you can say He was the God of several righteous men, but they are all dead and buried anyway, so what is the good of knowing that? That brings us exactly to the question that I said, that believing in God really makes no difference, that whether you believe in Him or not becomes optional, and therefore, the statement is left hanging in the air with no particular meaning.
What is more is this: that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in fact, did not inherit the promises that God gave to them. So they end up precisely with nothing. [You ask,] “What do you mean?” Well, that is exactly what the book of Hebrews says. Let me read to you in Hebrews Chapter 11. In Hebrews Chapter 11, we read this very thing. Heb. 11:13 reads like this: “These” - these referring to Abraham, in particular, and also to Isaac and Jacob in v9. “These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” They died without getting their promises. Why? It is because they were seeking promises beyond this life. Look again. Let us read back a little further. We read this concerning Abraham, who is mentioned in v8, “By faith Abraham obeyed”, and Isaac and Jacob are mentioned in v9, “heirs with him” - that Isaac and Jacob are heirs with Abraham, of the same promise. In v10, “For he” - Abraham - “looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And then we read on in v14, “For people who speak thus” - that is, that they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on earth, in v13 - “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out,” that is, the earthly inheritance that they had left behind, “they would have had opportunity to return.” They could return to that old life there that they had. But v16 reads, “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city”, namely, the new Jerusalem.
You see, they looked for a heavenly country. They looked for their promises in that heavenly country. They were pilgrims and sojourners on earth. They did not look for earthly promises. They looked for God to give them their promises in the heavenly country. On this earth they were pilgrims and sojourners, foreigners. Abraham had no inheritance in this world. He did not own any piece of land in the Land of Promise, as it was so-called later to the Israelites. He inherited none of it. He did not get the Promised Land. He owned nothing but one piece of ground where Sarah was buried. That is all he had. He bought one small piece of land because he had nowhere to bury his wife, Sarah, and so he asked if he could just buy one small plot of land to bury his wife in. More than that he did not want. He had no land that he could call his own. And therefore, what did he have out of following God. He left his home country; he went as a sojourner somewhere else; he received no promised land. But he looked for a city, the heavenly city.
If, then, God is the God of Abraham, and Abraham is not going to get his promises, and if Abraham has not got any kind of inheritance, then what is the point of saying that Abraham’s God is revealing himself to Moses? What is the advantage that Abraham had of having God as his God? What did Abraham get out of being in covenant with God? You can say all he got was death, like everybody else died. He died, too, and that was the end of it. Therefore, for God, some considerable time later, to stand in front of Moses did not say, “I am the God of Abraham,” when Abraham is no more, according to the Sadducees, because the statement has no meaning whatsoever. It is a pointless statement. Do you see any point in it? It is a meaningless statement. All there is is disappointment in it altogether.
What did God proclaim to Moses and to Israel as a whole?
You see, the whole understanding of the Lord’s words turn on one important understanding. The important understanding is simply this: What did God proclaim to Moses and to Israel as a whole through Moses? What did God proclaim when He said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”? The reasoning is very easy to see, once you see it. It is simply this: either Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive or they are dead. There are only two possibilities. Either they are alive or they are dead. You take your choice. “According to you, Sadducees, they are dead.” Therefore, if they are dead, then what God proclaimed is this: “I am the God of dead Abraham; I am the God of dead Isaac; I am the God of dead Jacob.” Right? What did God proclaim? He proclaimed Himself to be God of the dead. Is that what God said? Is that the God you believe in? Now, you can begin to see the insight, the depth of the Lord’s words.
We can take it still further and see here what the Lord Jesus is saying. “If you, Sadducees, believe in a God of the dead, seeing that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are dead, then let Me put it to you like this: ‘either God is unwilling, or God is unable, to raise up Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ You have only two choices to go. You think that by telling Me that in heaven, there would be an embarrassing situation, let Me tell you, your position is an awful lot worse because you believe in a God of the dead, and if He is God of dead people, He is God of dead people for only two possible reasons. There is not a third alternative. It is either that He is unwilling to raise them up, or He is unable to raise them up, and either of these choices will leave you in a hopeless position. If God is unwilling to raise up Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then He is not a God of compassion. Neither is He a God of justice.”
What kind of God is this that sees the ones that He loves and have entered into covenant with Him dying and simply leaves them in death? You call that compassion? And He is also not a God of justice because it is simply unjust that the godly and the ungodly receive exactly the same end. Therefore, there is no point in being godly since their end is exactly the same as the ungodly. This, of course, is precisely where the ungodly hope to triumph, that: “You believe in God, that’s okay. But your end will be the same as mine. We both go six feet under. You will have a little tombstone there. My tombstone might even look nicer than yours because, all right, I have been able to cheat more money in my time, and therefore, I can afford a nicer tombstone. As for you, being so honest and paying all your income tax and paying all this and that, and when people give you the wrong change, you even return it to them, I mean you are simply nutty. No wonder you deserve to have a much worse tombstone than I have. And I will have a nice big piece of land and I will even have a gardener who will put nice flowers on there all the time, and you cannot afford it, you see. So the end of the ungodly ends up being even better than the godly. So what point is there to believe in God?
Either God is unwilling to raise up Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and therefore He is neither a God of compassion nor a God of justice, who treats godly and ungodly alike, or He is unwilling. Now what does the Scripture say? The Scripture tell us that God is compassionate and He is just. Therefore, if you know the Scriptures, you have to rule out that possibility: that God is unwilling to raise up Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That leaves us only with one alternative: that he is unable to raise up Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is unable to do that. He has not got the power; He is very willing to do it. He is so compassionate and He is just; He would like to treat the godly and the ungodly alike, but He has not got the power. So, He is unable to. Now that is where you see the Lord Jesus say, “you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” “It is because if you knew the Scriptures,” He said to the Sadducees, “you would not have accused Him of being uncompassionate and unjust. But if you knew God’s power, you would not have said that He is unable to because to say that God is unable to raise the dead is to say that death is more powerful than God; God is not the Almighty after all. Death is the Almighty; God is not the Almighty because death is even more powerful than God. God cannot overcome death. He cannot raise the dead.”
The Importance of Resurrection - It Is Proof that God Is Just, Merciful and Powerful
Now you can see why the Resurrection is so important - the Resurrection of Christ. It is to show that God is both just and merciful and also that He is powerful, that He is willing to raise the dead and He is able to raise the dead. That is the significance of the Resurrection. Now you can see the amazing insight of the words of the Lord Jesus. There is within it an intricacy and a depth of insight that He simply states so plainly and walks away. If you do not have the insight to see what He means, you are stuck. You do not know what He is saying. Oh, yes, now we can begin to see it, that these words either mean, as the Lord Jesus Himself explains, either He is the God of the dead or He is the God of the living. Therefore, He concludes His statement in these words, “He is not the God of the dead; He is the God of the living.”
Do you see the beauty? The Lord Jesus gives the key of what He says simply in those words. You have to take a choice: either He is the God of the dead or He is the God of the living. If He is the God of the living, then He is both willing and able to raise those who trust in Him, mainly people like Abraham. Here you see the meaning. Can you see the Resurrection in there? Now it becomes clear. There are only two ways in which you can take the Scripture, and according to your faith, you will take one or the other. The Sadducees, by implication, believed in a God who was the God of the dead, since they believed Abraham and the others to be dead, and dead in a permanent sense, there being no Resurrection. But the Lord Jesus points out that if that is the case, their faith in God is worthless. There is no point in believing in God at all. Exactly as Paul says in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, that: “If there is no Resurrection, if death is final,” then Paul said, “we servants of God are of all men most miserable.” What did he endure all that suffering for? Why did we turn our backs upon the world? What did we go through all this for? For nothing! It is because it all ends finally in death. Everything is finished. “So let us,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians, quoting the Old Testament, “let us rather go out and eat, and drink, and be merry.” [1 Cor. 15:32] Let us enjoy ourselves in the world, in sin, in maximum capacity. Let’s go out there and dance. Let us go and visit the prostitutes. Let’s go and play our lives away. At least we have died happy.” Maybe. “Just enjoy as much as you can. [Let us] not [be] like these Christians, all the time fasting. When there’s good food there, they don’t eat it. They’re getting thinner through fasting all the time, wearing out their trouser legs in praying, walking to church, spending their money, buying Bibles, believing in a God who is a God of the dead. Who wants to read this kind of stuff? You end up with glasses on your face, reading the small print in this Bible. Meaningless! The whole thing is meaningless.”
If There Is No Resurrection, We Believers Are Utter Fools
That is what Paul is saying: that if there is no Resurrection, we are utter fools. We are fools, that what we are. Now you can do that. And so, by implication of course, the Sadducees are fools; they believe in a God of the dead. What are you believing Him for? They built a great big temple there for Him. What for? You can just go buy some materials and make houses for the people, instead of a great big temple there for a God who is God of the dead.” Useless! You have to make that choice today. What is your God like? Is your God the God of the Sadducees, or is your God the God of the Lord Jesus? Is your God a God of the dead, or is your God the God of the living? Which is yours? Frankly, as I have said many times to people who are Christians, either God is real, and so you walk with Him and you serve Him. Or if God is not real, then pack it up, go home! Forget the whole business. Don’t go to church anymore. It is no use to live in illusions. It is no use to use religion as an opiate to give yourself some comfort, which is pure hallucination because if God is God of the dead, what comfort can you get in the end? It is an utter waste of time. This kind of religion is not worth it. It is not worth the effort. It is not worth the prayer. It is a pointless thing. All you get is guilt complexes; every time you sin, you feel so guilty. I mean, the guy who has no conscience, he sins and he is still smiling. He is still happy. “I stole the guy’s money. Oh, great! Now I get richer. I don’t like this guy; I bump him off. Now, I have got one enemy less! Now I have to see him every week and try to love him, try to love him. You are wearing yourself out to love a guy who is not worth loving. This Christian life becomes ridiculous. I mean just pay some guy off, some gangster, and he goes and bumps him off in the middle of the night. Pay him a few hundred bucks and the peace of mind you get, without having to see that guy again, is really simply marvelous. So, you see, you do not have to let your conscience bother you with this endless guilt complexes that are wearing your life out. You sin and enjoy it. “...eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” [1 Cor. 15:32] So, what does it matter?
Therefore, if there is no Resurrection, then you and I are the biggest fools. We should not be here wasting everybody’s time. Look at the nice sunshine. Go for a walk in the park. Get the fresh air and some vitamin D from the sunshine, instead of sitting here in this rather strange building listening to some guy yakking away. It is pointless. I do not know why people like to have this self-torture. This long-winded fellow rambles on for one whole hour, getting me utterly exhausted. I have to go work through the whole week and then have to listen to him for one hour. Clearly, we are fools if there is no Resurrection. I mean, clearly, we are fools. So you have to make up your mind. You have to get this thing very straight in your own mind. Is God the God of the dead or of the living? It is because if He is the God of the dead, even if He exists, it really does not matter one way or the other. We do not have to be atheists, we can say, “Sure, sure God lives!” Just like the Sadducees, “There is a God. Indeed there is, and that still classifies me as a religious person because I believe in God. But then He is the God of the dead and so it would not matter anyway.”
He is God of the Living, Thus We Live to Him
Or this is the other alternative: that God is the God of the living. And because He is the God of the living, we must face Him. That is what the Scripture says, that indeed He will raise up not only the believers, but even the unbelievers will be raised up, to face the judgment. That is the Scriptural teaching. Every man will die, but every man will be raised up to face the judgment of God. There is no escape from His judgment. In fact, in the parallel passage to this passage in Luke, we read exactly the concluding statement there. In Lk. 20:38, the same statement is made. This is what we read there: “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” What does that mean, “all live to him”? The statement here, in the dative case, means that everyone lives by His power and lives answerable to Him. Everyone lives to Him. This statement, put in a nutshell, summarizes the fact that all the issues of life are in God’s hands. Your life is in God’s hands. You will live or die, not because death is too powerful for God to handle, not at all; life and death are in God’s hands. He raises whom He wills and He will put to death whom He wills.
This is what the Lord Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew Chapter 10, “Don’t be afraid of people. Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body and can’t do any more, but be afraid of Him, that is, of God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” God is the One who holds all the issues in His hands. Life is in God’s hands. Life is not in the hands of death, but in the hands of God. He is the one that determines who lives and who dies. All live accountable to Him. “...all live to him.” And so the Scriptures tell us that even the wicked, even the gangsters, the Mafia bosses, they will not get away with what they do because even the wicked will be raised up to answer for their actions. This we read in the Revelation, that there are two resurrections: the first resurrection and the second resurrection. You read about the second resurrection in Revelation Chapter 20, when God will raise up all living persons, who once were alive, that is. He will raise up all these people great and small to answer before Him because we all live accountable to Him. You see, God then is not only going to raise the righteous, but He will also raise the wicked because the wicked will not get away with their actions. It is so important to understand. He is the God of the Resurrection. He is the One who holds all the issues of life in His hands.
To Know God Is Life Eternal
Now [here are] very briefly two points and we must conclude. I hope, by now, you have begun to understand what the Lord Jesus is saying in here, that God is the God of the living. But furthermore, the other principle in Scripture to understand is this: that to know God is life eternal. To know God is eternal life. To know God means to be standing in a relationship with Him as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did. To stand in a relationship with God, to be in a covenant relationship with God as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were is to have eternal life. That is a basic principle in Scripture.
You remember when the rich young ruler asked the Lord Jesus, “How do I enter into life?” The Lord Jesus’ answer to Him was what? “You know the commandments. Do them and you shall live.” Do them and you shall live! Now the commandments of the Pentateuch are the commandments of life. Those who live by God’s power, by God’s grace, by God’s enabling - because in our own strength, we cannot do it - but if by God’s grace and power, by His Holy Spirit we can live in His Word, there would be life. Now Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were people who lived according to God’s Word. They lived - according to the words of Deut. 8:3 - they lived by God’s words: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but man shall live by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” Now Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were people who lived according to His Word, therefore they will live. To know God is life eternal. That is what the Apostle John says in 1 Jn. 5:20, “To know Jesus Christ, Whom to know is life eternal.”
Nothing Can Separate Us from God - Not Even Death!
The last point as we close is this: death can separate between man and man. Death cannot separate between God and man. Death indeed will separate us at one point or another, will separate us from our loved ones for a time; will separate us very decisively for that period of time. But death, as we saw last Friday, cannot separate between God and man. We saw last Friday that the moment a Christian dies, he goes to be with Christ. Death has not been able to separate him from God for one split-second. That is the beauty of it. Isn’t that marvelous? This is fundamental. This is what the Apostle Paul says in Rom. 8:38. That passage is so beautiful that I would like to read it to you. This is what the Apostle Paul says here: “For I am sure that neither death nor life,” - that is, there is nothing that can happen in life - “nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Here is a fundamental principle: death cannot separate between God and man. The man who stands in that relationship, that covenant relationship to God as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did, death cannot separate. There is nothing, Paul says, that can separate between Him and us, between those He loves and who love Him. There is nothing that can come between you and Him and tear you away from Him against your choice and against your wish. No way! That is a fundamental principle, too.
So, by now, I hope we fully and clearly understand the teaching of the Lord Jesus and also learn from this how to penetrate more deeply into the Word of God. It is because many times, I confess, that as a young Christian, I looked at this verse and I could not see how these words could prove the Resurrection. Indeed some scholars go so far as to suggest that the Lord Jesus uses a piece of argument which, in modern terms, is not acceptable, that it was a rabbinical kind of argument for the Resurrection. Well, clearly, by saying that, they show they do not understand what the Lord Jesus is saying. No, no! Once you understand what the Lord Jesus is saying, the meaning is so clear. It is so profound that there is not even another alternative you can turn to because we have only two alternatives. Either God is God of the living or He is God of the dead. You have only those two choices and the man of faith will know. He knows the power of God. He knows that God is the God of the living. And blessed are you, if like the Apostle Paul you can say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He will keep safe that which I have entrusted to Him on that Day.” [2 Tim. 1:12] I have entrusted myself to Him and I know that He will raise me up at the last day. This physical body will be raised up, but more than that, even at the moment of death, I shall enter into His presence immediately. Death will not be able to separate me from Him for so much as a split-second because I know He is the Living God. May you know Him too on this Resurrection Day!
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church