Have you ever wondered what the future holds for the people of God? What will life be like after the resurrection of the dead? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Luke by examining Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection and on His identity as Lord of all.
This morning, we will continue our study of the gospel according to Saint Luke. I will be reading from Luke 20:27–44. I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”
This is the inspired text of sacred Scripture, coming to us with all the authority of God Himself. I ask you to receive it as such and be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, we thank You for this teaching that comes to us from our Savior. We pray that He would send His Spirit to illumine the meaning of this text for our understanding. We ask this in His name. Amen.
Marriage after the Resurrection
One of the downsides of expository preaching—of going through the text seriatim such that I do not get to choose whatever I want to preach about, but must speak to whatever the text demands, is that we come to texts like this one. I am not excited about preaching on this text. In fact, if it were left to me, I would not even touch it.
We read that, this time, those who came to Jesus with a question were not of the group of the Sanhedrin. It was not that larger group made up of priests and scribes and Pharisees, but specifically it was the group known as the Sadducees who came to present Jesus a question with the same motive they all had: to try to trap and catch Him in some kind of heresy that would make Him unpopular either with the government or the populace.
The Sadducees traced their tradition to Zadok, the priest during the time of David. They were of the priestly class and significantly different from the Pharisees theologically. In the first place, they held up the Torah at a higher level than the rest of the Scriptures. Secondly, they rejected the traditions of the Talmud and other rabbinic studies, trying to restrict their doctrine principally to the Torah. They did not believe there were grounds for believing in a future life. Therefore, they denied the resurrection of the dead.
It was at this point that the Sadducees tried to press Jesus for an answer, going back to a citation from Moses with respect to the levirate law. In the case of marriage where a man died, leaving the wife childless, it was his brother’s responsibility to take her as a wife, that she might have the opportunity to bear children. The storyline with which they approached Jesus took it even further: not only one husband, but seven—and still no progeny—until the woman finally died.
The Sadducees asked Jesus, “If there is a resurrection and this woman has been married to seven men, whose husband will she be?” What He said in response to the question was helpful to a certain degree, but on the other hand, perhaps, raises even more questions for us than if He had not answered.
Questions of the Afterlife
Anytime I talk about heaven, people inevitably come to me with all kinds of questions, as if I have already been there and know all the details of what to expect. They ask questions like: “Will we know each other in the afterlife? If we do, how is recognition possible? In the resurrection, how old will I be? Will I be as old as I am now or even older? Will I look something like when I was twenty-five years old, which I prefer to imagine? What about infants? Will they have been grown to adulthood? If so, how will we recognize them?”
These are difficult questions, and when people ask me, I must tell them: I do not know. Where God has ceased His divine revelation, I will cease from inquiry. As Calvin said, when you get a question like this, you just need to be quiet and think about it.
We do not have all the answers to what life in the resurrected state will be. John himself says: “Beloved, what manner of love is this that we should be called the sons of God, and yet we are. But we do not know yet what we will be like, only that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.”
In Paul’s teaching about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he says that which is sewn perishable will be raised imperishable. That which is sewn in corruption will be raised in incorruption. That which is sewn in mortality will be raised in immortality. We do not get a comprehensive picture of what that will all look like.
Heaven Will Be Only Gain
Another question is this: Will people in heaven be able to look down on those still on earth and know what’s going on in their lives? If so, will they be subjected to pain and anguish by what they watch taking place before their heavenly gaze?
I remember hearing a particularly wicked sermon in a seminary chapel when I was a student. I walked out to the parking lot with my mentor, Dr. John Gerstner, and I said to Dr. Gerstner, “John Calvin would have rolled over in his grave if he listened to that sermon.” He stopped mid-stride, turned around, looked at me, and said: “What? Don’t you know that nothing could possibly disturb the felicity that John Calvin enjoys at this very moment?” I said, “Yes, sir. I stand corrected.”
Look at the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Parabolically speaking, that text suggests people can look down and see what is happening. But these are just little glimpses that we get about our heavenly state. For the most part, we must wait and see. We are now in a state where we look into the glass darkly. We know in part, but our knowledge will be so much greater when we arrive in that place.
If I know anything about the resurrected state, I know that it will be almost infinitely better than that which we enjoy in this state. Paul wrote to the Philippians and said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). In one sense, I must leave it at that point, simply saying that this we know for sure: when we enter heaven, we will lose nothing of substance or value. What we will experience is only gain. For example, when we get into heaven, the joy we experience as married couples will be exceeded by our relationship with every other believer in the kingdom of God, if you can imagine that.
Think of this: whatever is there or is not there, one thing we know will not be in heaven is sin. Everything that profanes human relationships will be gone: no sin, no deceit, no death, no sickness, no sorrow. How that falls out in the resurrection, I do not know. I trust God at His word that whatever we experience in heaven will be wonderful and will be nothing but gain.
In answer to the question regarding a women married to seven brothers, following the levirate law and whose wife she will be in heaven, Jesus said: “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” At first glance, that would suggest that we are not in a state of marriage in heaven. Whatever state we will be in will be better than anything we can imagine now.
“For they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” Here Jesus says that we will be like the angels. We will not be angels. Do not get the idea that when we die, we sprout wings and suddenly live an angelic existence.
Others think this means that angels are sexless. We do not know that. We do not know whether they are genderless. We have been created male and female and, in our redemption, I assume we will remain male and female. Maleness and femaleness will move to a completely different, greater, more wonderful level. Jesus was saying there will be no need anymore to fill the earth and multiply by propagation because death will be no more, and we will not need to have children in heaven in order to populate the place. All the population of heaven will be there by God’s grace for eternity.
Jesus promised glory. Just this Christmas season, we got a beautiful Waterford Crystal glass lamp for our house. I was admiring it and I said to my wife, “Honey, that is really beautiful.” Then, I immediately thought: “But we won’t need it in the new heaven and the new earth. There won’t be any lamps there because the light will be given by the glory of the Lamb and the transcendent majesty of the brilliance and refulgence of God Himself.”
When we say, “You can’t take it with you,” we mean that we do not need to take it with us. What is good, perfect, and beautiful in heaven will exceed everything that we could possibly imagine now.
How Can Christ Be David’s Son?
Notice in this text that Jesus silenced the Sadducees. Even the scribes who had failed already to trap Him complimented Him by saying at the end of the text: “‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ For they no longer dared to ask him any question.”
Jesus perhaps said: “You’ve been asking Me all kinds of questions. You’ve been trying to trap Me in every conceivable way. Now, let Me ask you a question.” He said to them:
How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’”
David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”
It is a provocative question that Jesus put to His opponents. The Bible says that the Messiah who is to come will be the Son of David. Yet, David speaks of the Messiah as David’s Lord. How can David have a son who is also his Lord? How do you put those two propositions together in any meaningful way? That was the question Jesus asked of His interrogators at that point.
Jesus supplied the answer for us Himself, citing Psalm 110. Let us pause for a moment to look at that psalm because it is the most quoted or alluded to Old Testament text in the New Testament. There is no Old Testament text referenced as often as Psalm 110 in the New Testament.
The Supreme Title of Lord
Jesus spoke of Psalm 110, which has an apparent jarring contradiction within it. We have a conversation between God and somebody else, where it says, “The Lord said to my Lord.” What you have in the Hebrew is the name of God combined with the chief title of God.
At the end of Psalm 8, David writes, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent (or majestic) is Thy name in all the earth.” What David does in that Psalm is combine the name of God, Yahweh, with the chief title of God, Adonai. Though we have in the English text the repetition of the word “Lord,” they are two different words in the Hebrew text, where it says, “O Yahweh, our Adonai.” That is: “O, Yahweh, our Sovereign One, our Supreme Governor, our Adonai. How majestic is Your name in all the earth.”
Throughout the Old Testament, that supreme title Adonai, or Sovereign One, is reserved for God. That is why it is so startling that in this text, Psalm 110, you have a conversation between Yahweh and somebody else who is given the title Adonai.
Psalm 110 reads, “The Lord (Yahweh) said to my Lord (Adonai): ‘Sit at my right hand.’” Somebody else is given the title Adonai besides God the Father: “Yahweh says to my (David is referring to himself) Adonai, my sovereign, my Lord (the Greek translation is Kyrios), ‘Sit at my right hand.’”
In Philippians 2, Paul says, “Have this mind among you, which was in Christ Jesus, who being equal with God took His equality not as a thing to be tenaciously grasped or held onto, but emptied Himself, became a servant, obedient even unto death.” Then he goes on to say, “Therefore has God highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name.”
What is that name? It is not Jesus; He already had that name. He has given to Jesus the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee would bow and every tongue confess that He is Adonai, He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. In His exaltation, Jesus ascends to heaven and sits at the right hand of God, where He is appointed by the Father to rule over all the earth, to be the King of kings and Lord of lords, to be Adonai, David’s Lord, Caesar’s Lord, your Lord, my Lord.
God has given Him the name that transcends all titles—Adonai, Kyrios—so that every time we even hear the name of Jesus, the appropriate response is to be on our knees in obeisance before the One whom God has placed at His right hand. He has exalted Him with such majesty that does not detract from the glory of God the Father, but it is to the glory of God the Father that we confess that Christ is Lord.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.