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What does it mean that God is not the God of the dead (Matthew 22:32)?

not the God of the dead

Mathew 22:32 concludes an exchange Jesus had with the Sadducees concerning the resurrection of the dead, best understood when read with the prior verse: “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (verses 31–32).

The Sadducees denied the resurrection and only accepted the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament—as inspired texts. Therefore, Jesus tackled their misconception on the resurrection by citing Exodus 3:6a: “Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’” God made this statement long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died, but the present tense indicated that those three men were still alive. It’s not that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God still is their God, because they still exist.

In Matthew 22, Jesus asserts that God is not the God of the dead because life persists beyond death. In contrast to the Sadducees’ liberal position, life doesn’t cease in this world. Therefore—like the faithful patriarchs—God’s children have eternal life. Jesus, in one decisive statement, refutes the Sadducees and proclaims the hopeful truth of believers today: death is a defeated enemy, and there is a resurrection of the dead.

Old Testament saints expressed trust in God by believing God’s promises, including the promises pointing to Jesus (see Genesis 12:1–3; 2 Samuel 7:12–16). New Testament saints, looking back to Christ’s redemptive work, find evidence for their future hope. Jesus, crucified for our sins and risen again as the Firstborn of those who will rise (1 Corinthians 15:20), ensures our resurrection as believers.

Despite Jesus’ resurrection, the Sadducees’ ideology persisted, and it was addressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:22–23: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” The resurrection of the dead is certain, further reaffirming Jesus’ proclamation that God is not the God of the dead.

What about those who are not in Christ? Will they face annihilation, as the Sadducees believed? John 5:28–29 provides clarity: “‭‭Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” Both the just and the unjust will rise, but only the just will rise to eternal blessedness.

‬‬ In contemporary society, skeptics often align with the Sadducees, denying an awaited resurrection. Atheists, agnostics, and progressives all persist in their attempts to reject or distort Scripture’s teaching on physical resurrection. But we look to Christ, the New Adam and Prototype of the New Creation, as the unwavering assurance that God’s promise won’t fail.

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What does it mean that God is not the God of the dead (Matthew 22:32)?
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This page last updated: November 30, 2023