Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 22:23-33; MARK 12:18-27;
23. The same day came to him the Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection, and interrogated him, 24. Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, not having a child, 64 his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed to his brother. 25. Now there were amongst us seven brothers, and the first, having married a wife, died, and, having no seed, left his wife to his brother. 26. In like manner, the second, and the third, till the seventh. 27. And last of all the woman died also. 28. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. 29. And Jesus answering said to them, You err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. 30. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. 31. But as to the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32. I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. 33. And when the multitudes heard it, they were astonished at his doctrine.
18. And the Sadducees come to him, who say that there is no resurrection; and they interrogated him, saying, 19. Master, Moses wrote to us, that, if any man’s brother die, and leave a wife, and do not leave children, his brother shall take his wife, and raise up seed to his brother. 20. There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and he, dying, left no seed. 21. And the second took her, and died, and neither did he leave any seed; and the third likewise. 22. And the seven took her, and did not leave seed. And last of all the wife died also. 23. In the resurrection, therefore, when they shall rise again, whose wife of them shall she be? for the seven had her for a wife. 24. And Jesus answering said to them, Is it not the reason why you err, that you do not know the Scriptures, nor the power of God? 25. For when they shall rise again from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels of God who are in heaven. 26. But as to the dead, that they rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, how God spoke to him in the bush, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? 27. God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living; therefore you greatly err.
27. And some of the Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection, came, and interrogated him, 28. Saying, Master, Moses wrote to us, that if any man’s brother die having a wife, and he die without children, his brother shall take his wife, and raise up seed to his brother. 29. Now there were seven brothers, and the first took a wife, and died without children. 30. And the second took her, and also died without children. 31. And the third took her, and in like manner all the seven, and left no children, and died. 32. Last of all the woman also died. 33. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of them shall she be? for the seven had her for a wife. 34. And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage. 35. But they who shall be counted worthy of that world, 65 and of the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36. For they cannot die anymore; for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. 37. But that the dead rise again, even Moses showed at the bush, when he says that the Lord is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38. But he is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him. 39. And some of the scribes answering, said, Master, thou hast spoken well. 40. And they did not venture to put any more questions to him.
Matthew 22:23. The same day came to him the Sadducees. We see here how Satan brings together all the ungodly, who in other respects differ widely from each other, to attack the truth of God. For, though deadly strife existed between these two sects, 66 yet they conspire together against Christ; so that the Pharisees are not displeased to have their own doctrine attacked in the person of Christ. Thus in the present day, we see all the forces of Satan, though in other respects they are opposed to each other, rising on every hand against Christ. And so fierce is the hatred with which the Papists burn against the Gospel, that they willingly support Epicureans, Libertines, and other monsters of that description, provided that they can avail themselves of their aid for accomplishing its destruction. In short, we see that they come out of various camps to make an attack on Christ; and that this was done, because all of them alike hated the light of sound doctrine. Now the Sadducees propose a question to Christ, that by the appearance of absurdity they may either lead him to take part in their error, or, if he disagree with them, that they may hold him up to disgrace and ridicule among an uneducated and ignorant multitude. It is no doubt possible, that they had been formerly accustomed to employ this sophistry for harassing the Pharisees, but now they attempt to take Christ in the same snare.
Who say that there is no resurrection. How the sect of the Sadducees originated we have explained under another passage. Luke assures us that they denied not only the final resurrection of the body, but also the immortality of the soul, (Ac 23:8.) And, indeed, if we consider properly the doctrine of Scripture, the life of the soul, apart from the hope of the resurrection, will be a mere dream; for God does not declare that, immediately after the death of the body, souls live, — as if their glory and happiness were already enjoyed by them in perfections — but delays the expectation of them till the last day. I readily acknowledge that the philosophers, who were ignorant of the resurrection of the body, have many discussions about the immortal essence of the soul; but they talk so foolishly about the state of the future life that their opinions have no weight. But since the Scriptures inform us that the spiritual life depends on the hope of the resurrection, and that souls, when separated from the bodies, look forward to it, whoever destroys the resurrection deprives souls also of their immortality.
Now this enables us to perceive the dreadful confusion of the Jewish Church, that their rulers 67 in religious matters took away the expectation of a future life, so that, after the death of the body, men differed in no respect from brute beasts. They did not indeed deny that our lives ought to be holy and righteous, and were not so profane as to consider the worship of God to be superfluous; on the contrary, they maintained that God is the Judge of the world, and that the affairs of men are directed by His providence. But as the reward of the godly, and likewise the punishment due to the wicked, were limited by them to the present life, even though there had been truth in their assertion, that every man is now treated impartially according to his merit, 68 yet it was excessively absurd to restrict the promises of God within such narrow limits. Now experience plainly shows that they were chargeable with the grossest stupidity, since it is manifest that the reward which is laid up for the good is left incomplete till another life, and likewise that the punishment of the wicked is not wholly inflicted in this world.
In short, it is impossible to conceive any thing more absurd than this dream, that men formed after the image of God are extinguished by death like the beasts. But how disgraceful and monstrous was it that while, among the profane and blind idolaters of all nations, some notion, at least, of a future life still lingered, among the Jews, the peculiar people of God, this seed of piety was destroyed. I do not mention that, when they saw that the holy fathers earnestly aspired to the heavenly life, and that the covenant which God had made with them was spiritual and eternal, they must have been worse than stupid who remained blind in the midst of such clear light. But, first, this was the just reward of those who had split the Church of God into sects; and, secondly, in this manner the Lord avenged the wicked contempt of His doctrine.
24. Master, Moses said. As it was enough to mention the bare fact, why do they make use of this preface? They cunningly employ the name of Moses, for the purpose of proving that they were lawful marriages, which had been contracted not by the will of men, but by the command and appointment of God himself. But that God should contradict Himself is impossible. Their sophistry therefore is this: “If God shall one day collect believers into His kingdom, He will restore whatever He had given to them in the world. What then shall become of the woman, whom God assigned to seven husbands?” Thus all ungodly persons and heretics forge their calumnies, that by means of them they may disfigure the true doctrine of godliness, and put to shame the servants of Christ. Nay, the Papists are restrained by no shame from openly ridiculing God and his word, when they attempt to take us by surprise. And not without reason, therefore, does Paul enjoin a teacher to be furnished with armor for repelling the adversaries of the truth, (Titus 1:9.) With respect to the law, (De 25:5,) by which God commanded the relatives, who were nearest of kin, to succeed the dead in marriage, if the first had died without children, the reason was, that the woman who had married into a particular family should leave offspring in it. But if there had been children by the first marriage, a marriage within the degrees forbidden by the law (Le 18:16) would have been incestuous.
29. You err, not knowing the Scriptures. Though Christ addresses the Sadducees, yet this reproof applies generally to all inventors of false doctrines. For, since God makes known His will clearly in the Scriptures, the want of acquaintance with them is the source and cause of all errors. But this is no ordinary consolation to the godly, that they will be safe from the danger of erring, so long as they humbly, modestly, and submissively inquire from the Scriptures what is right and true. As to the power of God being connected by Christ with the word, it refers to the present occasion. For, since the resurrection far exceeds the capacity of the human senses, it will be incredible to us, till our minds rise to the contemplation of the boundless power of God, by which, as Paul tells us,
he is able to subdue all things to himself, (Php 3:21.)
Besides, the Sadducees must have been void of understanding, when they committed the error of estimating the glory of the heavenly life according to the present state. In the meantime, we learn that those men form and express just and wise sentiments respecting the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, who join the power of God with the Scriptures.
30. But are like the angels of God in heaven. He does not mean that the children of God will be, in all respects, like the angels, but only so far as they shall be free from every infirmity of the present life; thus affirming that they will no longer be exposed to the wants of a frail and perishing life. Luke expresses more clearly the nature of the resemblance, that they can no longer die, and therefore there will be no propagation of their species, as on earth. Now he speaks of believers only, for no mention had been made of the wicked.
But a question arises, Why does he say that they will then be the children of God, because they will be children of the resurrection; since God bestows this honor on those who believe on him, though shut up within the frail prison of the body? And how would we be heirs of eternal life after death, unless God already acknowledged us as children? I reply: As we are engrafted by faith into the body of Christ, we are adopted by God as his children, and of this adoption the Spirit is the witness, seal, earnest, and pledge, so that with this assurance
we may freely cry, Abba, Father, (Ro 8:15; Ga 4:6.)
Now though we know that we are the children of God, yet as it doth not yet appear what we shall be, till, transformed into his glory, we shall see him as he is,
we are not as yet actually reckoned to be his children. And though we are renewed by the Spirit of God, yet as
our life is still hidden, (Col 3:3,)
the manifestation of it will truly and perfectly distinguish us from strangers. In this sense our adoption is said by Paul to be delayed till the last day, (Ro 8:23.).
Luke 20:37. But that the dead shall rise. After having refuted the objection brought against him, Christ confirms, by the testimony of Scripture, the doctrine of the final resurrection. And this is the order which must always be observed. Having repelled the calumnies of the enemies of the truth, we must make them understand that they oppose the word of God; for until they are convicted by the testimony of Scripture, they will always be at liberty to rebel. Christ quotes a passage from Moses, because he was dealing with the Sadducees, who had no great faith in the prophets, or who, at least, held them in no higher estimation than we do the Book of Ecclesiasticus, or the History of the Maccabees. Another reason was, that, as they had brought forward Moses, he chose rather to refer to the same writer than to quote any of the prophets. Besides, he did not aim at collecting all the passages of Scripture, as we see that the apostles do not always make use of the same proofs on the same subject.
And yet we must not imagine that there were no good reasons why Christ seized on this passage (Ex 3:6) in preference to others; but he selected it with the best judgment — though it might appear to be some what obscure — because it ought to have been well known and distinctly remembered by the Jews, being a declaration that they were redeemed by God, because they were the children of Abraham. There, indeed, God declares that he is come down to deliver an afflicted people, but at the same time adds, that he acknowledges that people as his own, in respect of adoption, on account of the covenant which he had made with Abraham. How comes it that God regards the dead rather than the living, but because he assigns the first rank of honor to the fathers, in whose hands he had placed his covenant? And in what respect would they have the preference, if they had been extinguished by death? This is clearly expressed also by the nature of the relation; for as no man can be a father without children, nor a king without a people, so, strictly speaking, the Lord cannot be called the God of any but the living.
Christ’s argument, however, is drawn not so much from the ordinary form of expression as from the promise which is contained in these words. For the Lord offers himself to be our God on the condition of receiving us, on the other hand, as his people, which alone is sufficient for the assurance of perfect happiness. Hence that saying of the Church by the prophet Habakkuk, (Hab 1:12,)
Thou art our God from the beginning: we shall not die
Since, therefore, the Lord promises salvation to all to whom he declares that he is their God, and since he says this respecting Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it follows that there remains for the dead a hope of life. If it be objected, that souls may continue to exist, though there be no resurrection of the dead, I replied, a little before, that those two are connected, because souls aspire to the inheritance laid up for them, though they do not yet reach that condition.
38. For all live to him. This mode of expression is employed in various senses in Scripture; but here it means that believers, after that they have died in this world, lead a heavenly life with God; as Paul says that Christ, after having been admitted to the heavenly glory, liveth to God, (Ro 6:10) because he is freed from the infirmities and afflictions of this passing life. But here Christ expressly reminds us, that we must not form a judgment of the life of the godly according to the perceptions of the flesh, because that life is concealed under the secret keeping of God. For if, while they are pilgrims in the world, they bear a close resemblance to dead men, much less does any appearance of life exist in them after the death of the body. But God is faithful to preserve them alive in his presence, beyond the comprehension of men.
39. And some of the scribes answering. As it is probable that all of them were actuated by evil dispositions towards him, this confession was extorted, by a secret exercise of divine power, from some of them, that is, from the Pharisees. It may be that, though they could have wished that Christ had been disgracefully vanquished and silenced, when they perceived that his reply has fortified them against the opposite sect, 69 ambition led them to congratulate him on having obtained a victory. Perhaps, too, they burned with envy, and did not wish that Christ should be put down by the Sadducees. 70 Meanwhile, it was brought about by the wonderful providence of God, that even his most deadly enemies assented to his doctrine. Their insolence, to was restrained, not only because they saw that Christ was prepared to sustain every kind of attack, but because they feared that they would be driven back with disgrace, which already had frequently occurred; and because they were ashamed of allowing him, by their silence, to carry off the victory, by which his influence over the people would be greatly increased. When Matthew says that all were astonished at his doctrine, we ought to observe that the doctrine of religion was at that time corrupted by so many wicked or frivolous opinions, that it was justly regarded as a miracle that the hope of the resurrection was so ably and appropriately proved from the Law.
“Sans avoir enfans;” — “without having children.”
“Dignes d’obtenir ce siecle-là;” — “worthy to obtain that world.”
“Combien que ces deux sectes se fissent tous les jours la guerre l’un contre l’autre;” — “though those two sects were every day making war against each other.”
“Une partie des principaux chefs de la religion;” — “a part of the chief leaders in religion.”
"Que Dieu traitte yei un chacun selon qu'il a merite;" — "That God here treats every one according as he has deserved."
“Contra la secte des Sadduciens, leurs adversaires;” — “against the sect of the Sadducees, their adversaries.”
“Que ce fussent les Sadduciens qui emportassant la victoire par dessus Christ;” — “that it should be the Sadducees who carried the victory over Christ.”