Even though Jesus knew He was about to suffer an agonizing death on the cross in less than a week, He continued to teach those who would hear and answer those who wanted to trap Him with trick questions.
Luke 20:27 Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him,
The Sadducees were another group of religious leaders. While the Pharisees accepted the oral traditions, the Sadducees accepted only the written Law. Luke, who authored the book of Acts, provides insight on their differences, “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both” (Acts 23:8). The Sadducees are about to pose Jesus an interesting question. Chances are this was one of their favorite questions to confound the Pharisees and they decide to try it on Jesus.
28 Saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. 29 There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. 31 And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died. 32 Last of all the woman died also. 33 Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife.
Their question is based upon Deuteronomy 25:5. “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” The reason is explained in Deuteronomy 25:6, “And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” This ensured the family line continued and the property remained in the family.
The penalty for the surviving brother if he refused to get his widowed sister-in-law pregnant was great humiliation. Deuteronomy 25:7-10. “But if the man does not want to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to raise up a name to his brother in Israel; he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, ‘I do not want to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.’ And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal removed.”
The brother was to perform this duty whether he was married or not. This would be a very uncomfortable practice in today’s culture. It would certainly be a cause for jealousy. Ladies, can you imagine hearing your husband say, “Honey, I have to go over to see Jane again tonight to try to get her pregnant.” Moreover ladies, can you imagine that if your husband died and you were childless having to go to your husband’s nearest male relative to father your child? But in Biblical days, it was different. A woman’s social status depended upon her ability to conceive children (especially a male child) and to carry on her husband’s line.
And because this came through the Law, God approved it. This Deuteronomy chapter 25 law is the underlying principle in the book of Ruth. After Naomi’s sons died, she asks her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, “Why will ye go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown?” (See Ruth 1:11-13.)
If there were no brother alive, the responsibility went to the nearest male relative. The nearest male relative was known as the kinsmen-redeemer. In Hebrew, it’s a one-word term. He was the goel. In addition to having children on behalf of the deceased, the goel also was expected to buy back any property that had been sold. This is exemplified in Ruth chapter 4. Boaz buys back Naomi’s field and marries Ruth as he puts it, “the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.” So, Boaz’s first child with Ruth would be considered not his, but Naomi’s and the child would inherit all of Naomi’s property that Boaz bought back.
This is how it would work today. Husbands, let’s say that your brother died and left a widow. She had no children and the bank foreclosed on her mortgage and she was about to be homeless. You would have two responsibilities. One would be to pay her mortgage and the other would be to get her pregnant. When the child was born, the baby would not be considered yours. Your name would not be on the birth certificate, but your deceased brother’s name would be listed as the father. Also, your name would not be on the property deed, even though you paid the mortgage. It would be in your deceased brother’s name.
In other places in the Old Testament, the goel was a near relative who was not only a redeemer, but an avenger. The goel’s responsibilities are found in Leviticus 25:25-28; 47-49; and Numbers 35:19-21. He was to look after the best interests of his family and relatives in every way consistent with justice and holiness.
So, why would God command this under the Law? It’s because it is a picture of His plan of redemption for mankind. Everyone born into the world was sold to sin. Now, the Lord Jesus is the Goel of all those who trust under the shadow of His wings. He redeems them from slavery to sin, restores what they lost by sinning, gives them an inheritance with Himself, and avenges them against their enemies. Those who call upon Him to be saved have become a part of the bride of Christ and made alive unto Him. He purchased them, not with silver and gold, but with His own precious blood.
The widow relied completely upon the goel. She had no way she could redeem her property. She had no way she could continue the family line for another generation. She was totally dependent upon the compassion and willingness of the goel to free her and provide for her. As the ultimate Goel, the Lord Jesus Christ does for believers what they cannot do for themselves.
Back to the Sadducees. They have set forth their theological question and await Jesus’ answer.
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: 35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: 36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. 37 Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.
There are people today, who like the Sadducees, do not believe there is a resurrection. Jesus assures them there is. There are others who may be widowers or widows, and would like to remarry for the companionship, but feel like they would be cheating on their deceased spouse should they remarry. Jesus points out that those who are saved, once resurrected are not married. Marriage is not eternal. Therefore a widow or widower is not cheating on a deceased spouse and they should find comfort and encouragement from this teaching.
Finally, Jesus is willing to become anyone’s Goel. He has already paid the price of redemption and He freely offers to anyone who comes to Him. It is not just a promise, it is a spiritual law. Ruth went to Boaz seeking redemption and he granted it. She called upon him and he saved her from her physical poverty. Regardless of the lifestyle, history, wealth, race, sex, creed or circumstances of anyone today, all you have to do is seek Christ and He will grant it. If you call upon Him, He will save you from your spiritual poverty.