Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her." Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."
The Sadducees were a particular party in Judaism, since the time of the Maccabees. They held some political and theological views that were not generally accepted by the ordinary people, nor, especially, by the Pharisees who were the more numerous and more influential party. One of the doctrines held by the Pharisees, and by the majority of Jews, was the resurrection after death. This the Sadducees denied. Knowing that Jesus taught the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, they came to him with what they thought was a case, which would prove how ridiculous this idea of resurrection was.
They posed the case of a woman who had successively and lawfully married seven brothers according to the levirate law (see Dt. 25:5-10). If this woman and the seven brothers rose from the dead, whose wife would she be?
We can thank the Sadducees today. They came to Jesus with what they thought was a case that would make the doctrine of the resurrection look very ridiculous. It would have appeared so, if it were understood in the crude sense which they gave it, namely, that we would come forth again from the grave in the very same bodies which we are now have, with all their needs and instincts.
Jesus corrected that erroneous idea. We shall all rise to a new and eternal life in a form and an existence very different from that of our present life. Thus, the question of ownership of wives or property will not, and cannot, arise in our new life. He gave us a brief but basic description of what our risen bodies will be. Most of us would love to know a lot more about what our future state will be like. But if we knew all, then where would our faith and trust in God come in? Some saints are said to have had brief visions of the joys of heaven. They wanted to die immediately in order to get there. God wants each one of us to earn heaven, by living our life on earth, and trusting in his word that heaven will be our eternal home if we do our part here below.
In his brief answer to the Saducees, Jesus gives us the essential facts concerning our future status. First, he affirms that all those who have proved themselves worthy while in this life will rise to an eternal life. In that life we will become like angels. We will not be angels, pure spirits without bodies, but we will be like them in that our bodies will become “spiritual.” They will lose all the restrictions and limitations imposed on them now, as mere material composites. They will no longer be subject to decline and decay as they now are. Therefore, they can never suffer from pain or sickness or weakness of any sort.
Second, he clearly affirmed that this risen from the dead are no longer liable to death. Leaving aside the other greater joys of heaven, such as the beatific vision, and the close association with Christ our Saviour in his risen humanity, the meeting with our blessed Mother and with all the saints, including our relatives and friends, what a source of happiness and joy will it be for us, to know that we can never die again! The happiness and joy which we shall have will never end. We all have had moments of happiness in this life. Great as these moments were, the thought that they had to end too soon cast a shadow on our joy. There will be no shadow to darken or lessen our future joy and happiness.
Many Christians, even good, pious Christians, fear death and try to keep the very thought of it far from their minds. This is very understandable for one who believes that death is the end. To a certain degree it is understandable in the case of the believer or the Christian, whose conscience is not at peace with God. That latter, however, has the means of removing his fears by removing his sins, and by putting himself right with God. The normal, pious Christian should see death as what it is, an end of his time of probation and the door to his eternal reward. It is not normal for a student to dread his graduation day. Death for the God-fearing, honest Christian is graduation day. Therefore, no Christian should be afraid of it.
Of course, part of the fears which death instills come from the fear of the judgment which accompanies it. If we think every now and then, that our death is around the corner, we will turn to the God of mercy, to our loving Father, and ask for his forgiveness. He never refuses pardon to those who with a sincere heart, ask for it.
Let each of us look into his own conscience today. Let him ask himself, how he would fare if death should claim him tonight. If there are sins on my conscience, which I would not want there when facing my just Judge, I still have time to approach the merciful Father. The Christian who does this daily, or even weekly, will not worry when death calls. He can rest assured that it is the beginning of the true and everlasting life, planned for him by God before time began. Amen.