Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1150 MP3 Audio File Video File

The Afterlife (Part 1)

Matthew 22:23-33

Delivered 01/15/2023 (Updated from 08/25/2013)

Good morning, Bereans. Before we get into 2 Thessalonians, I have a few things that I want to deal with. Back in 2013 I did a three-part series on the afterlife. Because I no longer agree with what I said, it needs to be taken down. So, I want to redo that series.

Let me start by saying that the Bible has very little to say about the afterlife or heaven, so what we believe about it is for the most part speculation. One of my college professors wrote a book called, The Truth About Heaven. The book takes all the passages that refer to the New Covenant and makes them about heaven. Before becoming a Preterist, I thought the Bible said a lot about heaven, but now I see that most of those verses are talking about the New Covenant. The nature of the afterlife/heaven is a big question, and there's a lot to learn—maybe a lot that we simply can't learn in this life. Why does the Bible say so little about the afterlife or heaven? I don't know, but my guess is that there is no way we can begin to understand the spiritual realm that Yahweh dwells in. It is beyond our finite understanding.

One text that does tell us something about the afterlife/heaven is found in Matthew 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 offspring for his brother.' Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring 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, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her." Matthew 22:23-28 ESV

What strikes you as odd in this text? Verse 23 says, the Sadducees "say that there is no resurrection" and then in verse 28 the Sadducees ask, "In the resurrection… whose wife will she be?" The Sadducees were asking Yeshua about something they didn't even believe in. The best way to describe the Sadducees might be to say that they are the opposite of the Pharisees. If a Pharisee said, "White," the Sadducee would be almost certain to argue, "Black." The contrast between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, according to Edersheim at least, can be found in three major areas: (1) their view of tradition (at least the traditions of the Pharisees), (2) their view of the supernatural, especially the resurrection of the dead, angels and spirits, and (3) their views on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The Sadducees were disenchanted with the traditions of the Pharisees, so they rejected the concept of the resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels and spirits, and they leaned heavily on the role of the responsibility of man.

To the Sadducees, this life is all there is. When people die physically, that's it—they're done. This is a rather sad position. There is a book found in the Apocrypha called The Wisdom of Solomon. It was written before Christ, and there is a place in its second chapter in which men who don't believe in life after death like the Sadducees speak out. What they reveal is what you're left with if you've no expectation of life after death and no belief in the resurrection:

For we were born by mere chance,

and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been,

for the breath in our nostrils is smoke,

and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts;

when it is extinguished,

the body will return to ashes,

and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.

Our name will be forgotten in time,

and no one will remember our works,

our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,

and be scattered like mist

that is chased by the rays of the sun

and overcome by its heat.

For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,

and there is no return from our death,

because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

(Wisdom of Solomon 2:2-5).

That is a pretty sad view of life. Paul expressed life without resurrection like this:

What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."  1 Corinthians 15:32 ESV

If there is no afterlife, then we might as well party and eat and drink because this is all there is.

In our text in Matthew, the Sadducees referred to the teaching in Deuteronomy 25 on levirate marriage. The word has nothing to do with the name Levi or the Biblical Levites. It is so called because of the Latin word "levir" which means "husband's brother." The Law taught that if a man died without bearing offspring, his widow was to marry the deceased's brother. Refusal to fulfill this obligation resulted in public shame (Deut. 25:9-10) because it indicated a greater concern for one's personal welfare than for the welfare of one's extended family.

Most scholars believe that this was a question that the Sadducees often posed to the Pharisees in order to mock their belief in a resurrection. If there really was a resurrection, then think of the problems it would cause. Who would she belong to?

The Sadducees didn't care about whose wife someone would be in the resurrection. They didn't even believe in the resurrection. This never really happened; it is simply a ridiculous story that they made up. The question of the one bride and the seven brothers is not a search for the truth. The Sadducees do not expect, in fact, do not want, an answer. They hope to stump Yeshua and thus demonstrate how "foolish" ideas of a resurrection from the dead are. If Yeshua, the most noted and "unstumpable" teacher who ever lived, could be confused by their question, then He would become (reluctantly) an endorsement for their view.

But Yeshua answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. Matthew 22:29 ESV

Even before He offered any response to the actual question, Yeshua commented on the incompetence of the interrogators. "You are wrong." This is the Greek word planaō, which originally meant someone that had geographically gone astray from a particular road or path. Then it came to take more ethical connotations. They had gone astray from truth—that's what Christ meant by "You are wrong."

When Yeshua declares that they deny the power of God, He may evoke the traditional Jewish view that God expresses His power most visibly in the resurrection of the dead.

Now let's look at Yeshua's answer to the Sadducees:

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. Matthew 22:30-33 ESV

What does this answer of Yeshua tell us? This text affirms the reality of an afterlife. It doesn't really tell us much about the afterlife, but it affirms that there is one. By "afterlife" I mean the continuation of spiritual life in heaven after physical death. So, I'm using afterlife and heaven interchangeably.

Yeshua didn't go back to an obscure text buried somewhere in the Torah. This would have been one of the most well-known passages to these men. And Yeshua is saying, "You don't even get this one. When God said, 'I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,' He did not say, 'I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' And He's not the God of the dead."

Let's compare Matthew's account to Mark's.

And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?  Mark 12:26 ESV
And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:  Matthew 22:31 ESV

Mark says, "Have you not read in the book of Moses," and Matthew says, "Have you not read what was said to you by God." Yeshua affirms the plenary inspiration of Scripture—"When the Scripture speaks, God speaks." Moses was not just speaking to the Israelites of his day, because Yeshua says, "It was said to you by God,"—referring to His first- century crowd in the temple. At the end of verse 32 Yeshua said,

'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."  Matthew 22:32 ESV

"He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." These words come from an early portion of the book of Exodus known as "The Bush" section. That is, these words were spoken to Moses by Yahweh from the burning bush. Both the precise words and the context are of great significance to us in the matter of the resurrection of the dead.

Yahweh identified Himself to Moses, and thus to Israel, as the "I am."

God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"  Exodus 3:14 ESV

"I AM WHO I AM" is the Hebrew "Ehyeh; asher ehyeh" and means: "I am that which exist." The root of Ehyeh is hiya, which means: "to be" or "I exist." So here Elohim tells Moses His name is Ehyeh. But look at the next verse:

God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel: 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Exodus 3:15 ESV

Elohim again gives His name to Moses, but this time it is Yahweh. The two names, Yahweh and Ehyeh, are related. Yahweh includes the verb hava ("to exist") and the letter yod as a prefix ("He"). So, Yahweh means "He exists." If it is a causative verb, it would mean "He causes to exist." Both are true. Yahweh is the self-existent One who causes all things to exist.

But further, Yahweh referred to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thus speaking of these patriarchs not as dead men but as those who are alive and immortal. If God spoke of dead men as though they were alive, then this implied that these men would live again; they would rise from the dead.

There may also have been the further thought that Yahweh is the God of covenant. He was "the God of Abraham" precisely because He had entered into a living covenant with him. He had shown His love to Abraham time and again. That was what His being "the God of Abraham" indicated. Did the Sadducees then think that the living God would forget that covenant and that relationship when Abraham died? That He would just drop him and overlook him and let him sink into nothingness while still claiming to be his God? Never! For then He would cease to be the God of Abraham. He would simply be the God of the present generation. He would cease to be the faithful God towards those with whom He was in covenant. And that could not be. So, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would live again; they would rise from the dead.

This event in the life of Moses occurred about 1440 B.C. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived from 2000 B.C. to 1870 B.C. They were a long time dead when Yahweh said this to Moses. The Sadducees would have believed them to be extinct, no longer existing. But Yahweh said, "I am [right now, still] the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

The resurrection is no small matter. It was, and is, one of the fundamental and foundational truths of the Bible. Yahweh is the God of the living. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, if there is no resurrection, there is no hope.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV

Believers, we have already been raised from death to life.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV

We are spiritually alive! Someday we will all die physically, and when we do, we will simply move into the heavenly realm for unhindered, unending fellowship with our Lord, never to die again!

So we see from this passage that Yeshua affirms the fact of an afterlife. Now let's back up and look at Matthew 22:30.

For in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

One thing that this verse tells us about the afterlife/heaven is that there will be NO MARRIAGE! What is the purpose of marriage? Companionship! In Genesis at the close of each creative day, it says, "God saw what He had made, that it was good." But when Adam was made, Yahweh stated,

It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him. Genesis 2:18 ESV

The creative work lacked completeness until there was found for Adam a helpmate, a companion. Not until this was done did Yahweh see the work of the last creative day also to be good. I believe that this tells us that Yahweh's primary provision in marriage is companionship. We were created for companionship, with all the sexual aspects that that relationship implies. But when the physical stops, marriage stops.

Look with me at Luke's account of this incident.

And Yeshua 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, Luke 20:34-35 ESV

According to these verses in Luke, those who attain to "that age" and the resurrection from the dead don't marry. If this is true, then why do we marry? We are living in the "that age," and we have experienced the resurrection from the dead. We have been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life by the power of God. So, does this statement about marriage apply to us? In the text, whom is Yeshua talking about? The subject is physically dead people. The woman and her seven husbands had all died physically. This "no marriage" state will also apply to us when we physically die.

For in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Matthew 22:30 ESV

As little as this verse tells us about the afterlife, it tells us more than any other verse that I am aware of. So, what does it tell us about the afterlife? Yeshua did not say that resurrected believers become angels, as some have mistakenly believed. He said, "When they [those who died under the Old Covenant age—this age] rise from the dead [which happened in A.D. 70], they don't marry, but are like angels in heaven. The word "like" is a comparative adverb which draws a similar but not exact comparison.

I believe that Daniel tells us the same thing in Daniel 12.

And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3 ESV

This is after the Resurrection. Who are those who shine brightly like the brighteners of the expanse of heaven? This is astral language to speak of believers. They viewed the stars as deities.

when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Job 38:7 ESV

Here "stars" and "sons of God" are synonymous. Daniel is saying that believers in The Resurrection will be like the sons of God; they will be like stars. This is what Yahweh promised Abram in Genesis 15.

And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."  Genesis 15:5 ESV

The question here is does the phrase, "So shall your offspring be," refer only to the quantitative (i.e., you'll be as numerous as the stars) or does it refer qualitatively (i.e., you will be like stars)? I think it is both. This is theosis, "the deification of man." We are to be like the divine host, part of Yahweh's celestial family.

A number of early Jewish interpreters of Genesis 15:5 understood the patriarchal promise of being multiplied as the stars of heaven, not merely quantitatively, but also qualitatively. Abram's seed would become star-like, assuming the life of the gods or angels.

The common belief of the Second Temple Period was that in the resurrection, we would be like the gods. And they believed that the gods had bodies. There is actually a considerable amount of literature in terms of ancient texts where writers talk about what the gods are made of, because they appear in bodily form.

So, Daniel says believers will be like the gods and Yahweh says we will be like the gods and that is exactly what Yeshua is saying when He says that we will be like the angels.

What does the Bible say about angels? First of all, the term "angel" is derived from the Hebrew word, malak, which means "messenger." According to Strong, Malak is  "from an unused root meaning to dispatch as a deputy; a messenger; specifically of God." In general, in texts where an "angel" appears, the task is to convey the message or do something on behalf of Yahweh.

So, in what way are believers in the afterlife/heaven like the angels?

1. We do not marry. After physical death there is no marriage. In heaven men become spiritual beings like the angels and do not need to marry for companionship. Marriage is for now, but not for the afterlife/heaven.

2. We cannot die (Luke 20:36—ESV). for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. Luke 20:36 ESV

Remember, in the context he is speaking of physically dead people that are spiritually alive. So, the death that he speaks of is referring to any death—we cannot die physically or spiritually. Resurrection brings one to a state where he or she can never again experience death, which is to say that we can never be separated from Yahweh. This is true of us now, so the only thing for us to experience is physical death.

What else do we know about angels that will apply to us after physical death? Back in 2013 I said that angels are incorporeal—they don't have bodies. And as a spoof text I used.

And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:13-14 ESV

I said that since it says that angels are spirits, this means that they don't have bodies. And as a spoof text I used.

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."  Luke 24:39 ESV

Since angels are spirits rather than physical beings and spirits don't have flesh and bones, I took it that they don't have bodies. But that isn't what the text says. Spirits don't have flesh and bones, but they do have bodies. They are spiritual bodies that aren't made of flesh and bones.  I used to think "spiritual body" was an oxymoron because I thought of "spiritual" as non-material. But a "spiritual body" is a non-fleshly body; it's corporeal. It is a body made for the spiritual realm.

The Bible not only says that angels are spirits, but that Yahweh is spirit also.

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."  John 4:24 ESV

Saying that "God is spirit" is often taken to mean that He doesn't have a body. But if we compare this verse with what Lazarus has told us earlier in this Gospel, we might get a different viewpoint:

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6 ESV

Two words are being contrasted here—flesh and spirit. In the Greek it is sarx versus pneuma. In Paul's letters, he will often contrast these two words; but in the Fourth Gospel, the contrast appears only here. In the Synoptic Gospels the sarx versus pneuma contrast appears only in Mark at Yeshua's prayer at Gethsemane.

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  Mark 14:38 ESV

What is the context of "flesh" in John 3:6 and Mark 14:38? It is human frailty, not sinful nature. Until now man has only thought in terms of "birth" in human terms (the seed of man bears children). Man is "begotten" by the seed of a human father and becomes "flesh" when he is born in the kingdom of the world. But Yeshua tells Nicodemus that man can enter the Kingdom of God only when man is "born" of the heavenly Father, born from above. Earthly life comes to man only from an earthly father; spiritual life comes only from the heavenly Father.

So, "That which is born of the spirit"—is referring to Christians. So, we could say that a "Christian is spirit"! But that doesn't mean we don't have a body. And saying that "God is Spirit" doesn't mean that He doesn't have a body.

"God is spirit"—which member of the trinity is this referring to? Which members of the trinity are God? All of them. God here is Theos, Yahweh of the Tanakh. We know that Yeshua is Yahweh, but he has a body. So, saying "God is spirit" does not mean that He doesn't have a body, it means that He is spiritual verses fleshly.

Let's look at a few texts that talk about gods, angels, and Yahweh as having bodies.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Genesis 6:1-2 ESV

What is happening here? Sons of God is referring to divine beings, part of Yahweh's divine counsel. If you are not familiar with the divine counsel viewpoint, please go to our studies page and you will find a bunch of messages that deal with this topic.

Here we have divine beings leaving heaven and marrying women and having hybrid offspring.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. Genesis 6:4 ESV

They must have had bodies if they married women and had children with them. We'll talk about this more next week.

And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, "O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Genesis 18:1-3 ESV

The Hebrew word "appeared" here is râ'âh which means "to see, look at, inspect." Abraham saw Yahweh, so I would assume he had a body. And Yahweh is with two angels and Abraham also sees them. Look at the next verse.

Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, Genesis 18:4 ESV

Yahweh and the two angels had feet that needed to be washed. They had bodies, and he is looking at them and talking to them.        

while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant." So, they said, "Do as you have said."  Genesis 18:5 ESV

Abraham wants to feed them; he saw them as men with bodies needing nourishment.

Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. Genesis 18:8 ESV

Abraham serves them food and watches them eat. Now remember angels and Yahweh are called spirits, and spirits don't have flesh and bones, however, they obviously have bodies made out of something. The text goes on with Yahweh and Abraham talking and even debating. Then Yahweh leaves but the angels go to Sodom.

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, "My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way." They said, "No; we will spend the night in the town square." Genesis 19:1-2 ESV

In Sodom, Lot sees the angels and offers to wash their feet and house them, so they obviously had bodies that looked human.

But he pressed them strongly; so, they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. Genesis 19:3 ESV

Again, the angels eat with Lot. So, I don't think we can say that because they are spirit, they don't have bodies. Men can see them and they seem to appear as human.

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. Genesis 32:24 ESV

Whom is Jacob wrestling with?

Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."  Genesis 32:28 ESV

Jacob wrestled with God. That would be hard if God didn't have a body.

Let's look at some New Testament sightings of angels.

And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Yeshua had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. John 20:12 ESV

Mary sees the angels and they were sitting, which implies they had bodies.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2 ESV

I guess it is possible to be with an angel and not know it because they look human.

Look at what Paul said about believers after the resurrection.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 1 Corinthians 15:42 ESV

What is sown perishable is raised imperishable. These are terms used by Philo and other Jews to describe the gods. They are imperishable. The Stoics use that language to talk about the pneumatic beings, the spirit beings. They're imperishable. Whatever that heavenly body is made of, it is made of stuff that is imperishable, just like those beings who are imperishable. Paul is saying that believers will be like the gods. Yeshua said we will be like the angels.

What is this spirit body like? We don't know a lot about it, but there are some texts that give us some ideas.

The spiritual body is powerful.

But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door. Genesis 19:10-11 ESV

The angels looked human and the men of the town wanted to have sex with them. So, the angels struck the whole crowd with blindness.

Psalm 78 speaks of the destruction of Egypt.

He let loose on them his burning anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels. Psalms 78:49 ESV

These angels were God's messengers of destruction. They destroyed Egypt.

And the LORD sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So, he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword. 2 Chronicles 32:21 ESV

The angels may look human, but they have super human strength and ability.

Angels can fight.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, Revelation 12:7 ESV

I'm not sure how you fight without a body.

Notice what Paul says about angels in Colossians.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16 ESV

The words "thrones," "powers," "rulers," and "authorities" probably refer to spirit beings and not to human government. In part, this refers to the hierarchy of spiritual beings. "Invisible" here refers to these spirit beings.  So, angels and the gods can be visible or invisible. Do you remember in 2 Kings where Elisha prayed that his servant would see the armies of angels surrounding the city?

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" He said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see." So, the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:15-17 ESV

Yahweh opened his eyes to the invisible spiritual realm, and he saw the host of Yahweh.

And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Numbers 22:23 ESV

Here the donkey sees the angel, but Balaam did not see him until Yahweh opened his eyes.

Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. Numbers 22:31 ESV

The angel was invisible until Yahweh opened Balaam's eyes to see him. So, this spirit body seems to be able to be seen or be invisible. And when it is visible, it appears human.

Next week we'll continue to look at what the Bible tells us about angels.

Continue the Series

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