April 21, 2014

A Resurrection Riddle

by Clint Archer

Linda Lou Taylor only got married once…for love.

It was in 1957. Linda was sixteen and she married 31 year old George Scott, whom she loved deeply. The marriage lasted seven years, ending in a regrettable divorce. After that Linda gave up on the idea of marrying for love, and instead began to marry, it seems, for sport. She wed and divorced with a dizzying frequency.

She tied the slip-knot in rapid succession, collecting a string of ex-husbands form all walks of life, including a plumber, a preacher, a bartender, a musician. To add valuable rare items to her collection of erstwhile hubbies, she married a one-eyed convict, two homeless guys, and two gay men.

She creatively upped her matrimonial stats by “committing” to one fellow, Jack Gourly, on three separate occasions. Her shortest marriage lasted a mere 36 hours.  It seems her goal was to immortalize her hubby-hobby with a dubious entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most married woman.”

She accomplished this notoriety by wedding Mr. Glynn Wolfe in her 23rd wedding. The marriage was unabashedly performed solely for the publicity of gettione brideng into Guinness. You may ask yourself, what kind of man would marry a woman just to help her get into a record book? Good question. The motive was hardly difficult to discern, as that wedding happened to secure for 87 year old Mr Wolfe his own record as “most married man,” when Linda became his 29th bride.

He died a year later, and Linda, age 63, has been single for ten years now, but she told a journalist that she’s on the prowl for husband #24.

Personally, I rankle at the recurring spectacle of those who degrade the sanctity of marriage with such reckless abandon. But it does remind me of another far-fetched story of serial marriages. One that was not trying to mock the sanctity of marriage, but rather to mock—of all things— the doctrine resurrection.

If a musical were to be composed from this account, it may be called A Severe Bride for Seven Brothers…

Luke 20:27  There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection,  28  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.  29  Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children.  30  And the second 31  and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32  Afterward the woman also died.  33  In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”  34  And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage,  35  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,  36  for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  37  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.  38  Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”  39  Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.”  40  For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

I guess you could also call this tragi-comedy Seven weddings and Eight Funerals.

This was a actually a good question for theological liberals to ask. They are referring to something Moses had written in Deut 25: “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.   And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.

This was called ‘levirate marriage’ and it was how they ensured  the promised land would remain with the family and clan with which it had allotted.

The liberal Sadducees were saying “We all agree that Deuteronomy, written by Moses, is the word of God. But if the resurrection is true, then the Scriptures teaches a scenario where you would have a women married to multiple men, polyandry,” which all Jews abhorred.

This is a question they had no doubt posed to Pharisees in the past, without suitable answer, and they thought it was their best riddle for Jesus to stump him. It was like challenging Bobby Fischer to a game of speed-chess in the park.

And here we see typical hubris of unbelief. There are two ways of approaching mystery when you read the Bible. One is to approach by faith, assuming the Bible is breathed out by God, free of error, and perfectly accurate in historical, theological, and scientific details. And then seek to figure out how it fits together.  E.g. The gospels tell us Judas hanged himself, Acts tells us he fell down a cliff. A believer assumes that he hanged himself on a tree at the side of a cliff, and when the branch broke he fell.

The other approach is to launch off a springboard of unbelief and then gleefully assume you have discovered a contradiction that proves your position.

As a Christian you don’t need to get sucked into these types of debates. There is nothing wrong with admitting there are things hard to understand in the Bible (Peter confessed as much in 2 Pet 3:16 about Paul’s epistles!), but that you trust God will do a decent job explaining it when you get to Heaven.

Here Jesus reveals in unprecedented detail that our family structure in Heaven is different from this life’s. There is no marriage because there is no need for procreation and raising children.

Think about this, those of you who have lost children, or had a miscarriage…when you meet your child in heaven, they could well be “older” than you, in that they will have been in Heaven for years longer than you have been there.  Your baby—who will no doubt have a mature body and mind in the resurrection, not an infant body—may show you around Heaven as they will be more familiar with the place than you, the new arrival.

We don’t know exactly how all that works out, but from Jesus’ answer we know this: the resurrection is real, and there are details about it that are not yet revealed in the Bible.

The reason Jesus has unprecedented clarity on this doctrine is because he knows the Bible, he has direct revelation from the Father, and oh, he’s been there!

At this time of the year it behooves us to remember that Christ’s victory over death swung open the door for a reality of eternal life that defies comprehension and imagination. And for those who believe in Jesus our funeral on Earth marks an event as happy as a wedding in Heaven.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Enjoyed the post, thanks!

    • You’re welcome Michael.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Sometimes it seems we assume an awful lot about what heaven will be like when the Bible doesn’t say all that much about the things of heaven we take for granted. The particular matter you write about–the fact that the notion of “spouse” isn’t something that persists into eternity–is one of the few times we are given a peek into matters of this life as they relate to life on the other side.

    But do we read anything about being able to recognize people we knew in life? Maybe we will–I’d like to think we will; but perhaps heaven won’t be about that. Moses and Elijah appeared–as themselves–on the mountain and were identified in the text, but of course the apostles never knew them on Earth; so Jesus must have advised them who these two men were.

    I can’t think of any instances of a believer anticipating seeing and recognizing a loved one in Glory. In the OT, it was often said someone died “and was gathered to his people”, and David said of his dead child that he would “go to him”, as though he would know him, and Jesus told the thief they would be together later that day in Paradise. But these are somewhat nebulous texts as to this question; I’m not sure what we can take from those passages as to knowing people there who we knew here.

    The difficult part of it all is that if we DO recognize people we used to know, then earthly memory persists, and therefore we would also be aware of who isn’t there. Gotta admit, I’m still trying to sort that out. I’m convinced heaven is glorious beyond measure, but what becomes of our memories of the unfortunate and regretful things of this life?

    • Johanna

      Being finally and fully conformed to the image of Christ, meaning being glorified, should provide the satisfaction, peace of mind, and acceptance of the fate of unbelievers. We will no longer have to mentally struggle against the sovereignty of God. Having our memories intact will give us even greater appreciation of what God has done in our lives to achieve our sanctification, and perhaps even finding out to some extent in what providential ways He has delivered us through various circumstances.

      The fact that God will “wipe away every tear” means we may experience SOME measure of sadness at first, most likely from regret and sorrow that we failed so miserably to glorify and reflect Him on so many occasions (imagine having all your works burn up as stubble before the judgment seat of Christ–that’ll be devastating!). If anyone weeps for people who aren’t found in heaven, it’ll have to be in a way that does not conflict with the perfect, righteous judgment of God, and He will then provide the comfort that will permanently remove any of that lingering grief–the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, as Job said. Ultimately, the joy of just being in the unveiled presence of God, period, will outshine all our misgivings, which are really the product of our sinful, doubting fleshly nature. In a nutshell, it’ll work out. Personally, I believe losing our memories of our former lives would dilute the amazing power and beauty of Jesus’ act of redemption, to our perceptions. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” [2 Cor. 4:17]

    • Good points. Remember that the rich man in Hades remembered Lazarus who was in Heaven, and Abraham knows about the rich man’s past (Luke 16). I assume our memories will not detract from our happiness in Heaven any more than the knowledge God has of what’s going on here on Earth affects His happiness in Heaven. We are told we will known as we are known. But I guess we’ll find out when we get there in the new arrivals’ orientation session.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Well, the story of the rich man and Lazarus has been debated for a long time as to whether Jesus was giving us an actual case history of two real people, or a kind of compacted parable of the afterlife to make the point about the need for repentance while there’s still time. (The same phrase, “Now there was a certain rich man…” appears in verse1 as well as v19 for the Lazarus story, and clearly the former is a parable. But I digress).

        It would certainly seem to be a tremendous disappointment if, after longing to be reunited with parents, or children, or other loved ones, God didn’t provide for that. But, as you say, the orientation session should cover those matters. I’m waiting for the Q&A there. Man, I have a couple things I want cleared up once and for all…like, “Was there a second shooter on the Grassy Knoll, or not?”

        • Johanna

          “It would certainly seem to be a tremendous disappointment if, after
          longing to be reunited with parents, or children, or other loved ones,
          God didn’t provide for that.”

          As I mentioned previously, disappointment implies that we would be dissatisfied with the judgment of God, an insult to His authority and an impossibility for a glorified saint to muster while having the mind of Christ. Joni Eareckson Tada’s book on heaven is a good read for anyone considering these matters. The thing with us here in our mortal flesh, with our old and new natures warring with one another, is that we tend to think of heaven too much in terms of a family reunion instead of a union with God Himself. He is the reason heaven is heaven at all. Whoever is there and whoever isn’t there is a matter of His sovereign election and prerogative, something beyond question.

          In other words, if we’re looking more forward to heaven to see some beloved old faces rather than desiring to be with Christ…well, Houston, we have a problem.

          God understands our relationships and love towards one another and is not inconsiderate of them; yes, because He is love, we are to love one another as well. (He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked either.) But that has to take a distant second priority to loving God, the greatest commandment of all. We will be with Him to primarily enjoy HIM forever. Anything else included in that wonderful communion will just be icing on the cake, frankly.

  • ed

    While my comment doesn’t relate directly to the original post, it does tangentially. If it’s too far off the mark, delete it, and I’ll wait for the subject to be addressed. My understanding is that by and large, the contributors to this blog are Calvinists. This is a view that I adopted after a study of John’s gospel. Your mention of those who lost babies brought to mind a discussion I had with my wife not long ago. We lost our firstborn at birth. With predestination in mind, can we expect to see our son in heaven? He did neither good nor evil, but presumably was born with a fallen nature. Are we taught anywhere predestination with regards to the death of infants?

  • Dude, you knew I was preaching through Mark, and yet you didn’t give me this introduction when I got to this passage. I’m offended Clint.