Posted by: rogermitchell | February 3, 2011

three contentions (iii): resurrection

This post and the previous two are looking at the three responses by the authorities, provoked, at least in part, by Jesus’ demonstration in the temple. My purpose is to discover how Jesus behaved in relation to the authorities so that we can rediscover his practical politics for today. This third contention is, I suggest, the most important of them all because Jesus’ reply doesn’t only radicalise political action but shifts it into a totally different dimension.

This contention was instigated by the Sadducees who, as all three gospel writers remind us, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It is important to note, again from the recent work of the likes of Richard Horsley and Warren Carter (see the previous posts) that these questions came from leadership groups known to be closely aligned to the Roman occupying authorities. This was particularly true of the Sadducees because the ruling High Priestly family of Ananias and Caiaphas were from among them. Addressing Jesus as teacher and quoting the Mosaic law of Levirate marriage in which a brother of a deceased husband was required to marry his widow, the Sadducees put to him the convoluted example of the woman who as a consequence married seven brothers. Their question was, “in the resurrection, which one’s wife will she be, for all seven had her as wife?”

Clearly the Sadducees understood time quite differently to Jesus. For them “this age” was the only context for human life. Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ immediate response that the Sadducees “are mistaken, not understanding the scriptures or the power of God.” He understood that they were deflecting the impact of his actions by raising a pet theological issue. All three synoptic gospels record the rest of Jesus’ reply: “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Mtt 22: 31-32). Mark adds “you are greatly mistaken” (Mk 12:24) and Luke “for all live to him” (Lk 20:38).

It is interesting that Jesus did not refer to a specific, individual resurrection story, such as his recent raising of Lazarus or the account of the man raised by Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21). Instead he referred to a biblical reference to a different time frame. If God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush as the I AM who is present to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, people who were from Moses’ perspective dead, then there is life after death and a purpose to time beyond the temporal time frame. If this was the way that God introduced himself to Moses in the context of telling him that he wanted to deliver the Israelites from the imperial oppressors of what was Moses’ present time, then it was to encourage him to confront the powers of empire with the certainty that life overcomes death. In other words, in the power of resurrection.

The scripture Jesus quotes makes the certainty of resurrection the motivation for those who confront the political powers of empire as Moses had done, now Jesus was doing, and I suggest, his ecclesia is similarly called to do. It is important to grasp that this makes resurrection a political power, not an unrealistic immediate hope. The resurrection of Jesus was the first fruits of this power. Unless we understand the scripture and the power of God in this way, I suggest, that like the Sadducees, we don’t really believe in the resurrection of the dead.



  1. As I read this my thoughts went to those who have become martyrs for there faith and wonder if this is the extreme end of what you are trying to say.

  2. You are right to make the connection with martyrdom, but not that this is the extreme end of what I am saying. It is the norm of what I am saying. The word for martyr and the word for witness are the same in the Greek as in Acts 1:8 “you will be my ‘martus’ in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” Jesus’ related statement “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Mtt 16:24) underlines this. Living resurrectionally is about life-laying-down loving as a daily way of life, and listening to the Spirit about what way to express it. But in this sense martyrdom, whether by life or death, is the joyful heart of Jesus’ politics.

  3. Knowledge of the Greek does shed light on this.
    This Jesus politics is very challenging and takes some working out in real life situations, but I think I may have discovered a few keys recently that make it a bit easier.
    Being part of local politics here in the east end has been a long journey for me, one in which I knew the spirit was leading me in ,but I found it very frustrating at times .Learning how to voice and action this makes it more of a joy than a duty.

  4. You know Roger – I got something really different out of this. Perhaps it is really off topic but what went through my head last night after reading this post was the issue of gender relations. Much of the oppression that occurs between men and women on all scales – personal to institutional- has to do with reproduction, who owns the process, who owns the producer (primarily the woman), who owns the outcome, who pays for it all etc. So we have everything from an emphasis on virginity for marriage and the personal relations between men and women to the legal issues of abortion, rape, divorce, and the economics of them all. Women were given the vote only recently at least partially due to the fact that they are the mothers and had to be home rearing kids and not involved in public or professional life. So much, much of the structure of our society is based on the questions of reproduction and the relationships between men and women. And Jesus radically challenges all of that. Not only will we live after death but we will live without marriage. That completely shifts the gender relationships and perhaps allows for true equality for women. Remove reproduction and its politics from the picture and gender relations completely change. I assume, since Jesus posits this is a God thing, for the better much as many will feel that they would be missing something vital to their lives.

    I don’t know how it all works out, I just know it will be really different.
    P.S. if we are to live in Jesus’ time now, ie as witnesses for the gospel and all its radical differences, then shouldn’t all Christians be living this different type of gender relations now? I realize marriage etc is still with us but shouldn’t a Christian marriage appear very different from one in the world – not more oppressive but less so?

  5. Cheryl you are brilliant! This stuff opens up all kinds of vital resurrectional implications. Lots to follow up here in due course.

  6. I found this one difficult to see passed the martyr (you can’t stop me because after death I will get my reward) point. Myriads of the common man woman and child have been manipulated by that throughout the ages. The rich and powerful have joyfully spent the lives of others (inverted selflessness) in this manner and are doing it today just as much as always.

    My heart is utterly broken over this point. The manipulation of the disadvantaged.

    But after reading Cheryl’s response. My head hurts. I know what the Word says that there is no male and no female in Christ Jesus, but she turned it into a challenge “Shouldn’t we be living a different type of gender relations?” – my head hurts.

    • Thanks for this Justin, it is important to underline the way that the heart of kenotic love can be inverted by the rich and powerful to subdue the multitude to sacrifice for them. This is exactly the way that empire works and how the imperial wars of the 20th century were justified, as well the more recent and current wars for the defence of the West such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
      But from my perspective this abuse of the people for the sake of the rich and powerful is not martyrdom, it is the sacrifice and murder of our sons and daughters on the altars of empire or “passing the children through the fire.” This is fully demonic in my understanding. But the answer has surely still to be the politics of willing love and genuine martyrdom which non-violently confronts the powers for the deliverance and blessing of the poor and needy.

  7. I had a hard day at work today, not that work was hard but that I was not in the mood. I came home and read the love in your response and my outlook/perspective was altered.

    My point?

    The other post I learned a little bit about the power of what light can do – the true light. It can affect people and change their ways as they want to rid themselves of unseemly things.

    Today I am reminded about the power of love in Christ, it can give people a completely new outlook/perspective. This love, this (can I say) vision(perspective) of God? Changes everything, it changes the internal world in which people live, the things we hold on to in our hearts, the things we value.
    It has the power to change lives without the necessity of money or military might (coercion). It affects our vision.

  8. Hi Roger,
    What touched me is the verse : I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob! “He Is not the God of the Dead aim of the Living” (Mtt 22: 31-32).
    I do not understand all what that entails but I am considering the concept of being connected to the ancestors, the generations that preceded us to fit into the present and the future (the resurrection). We do not come from nothing and I think we will reign on earth in a love that we can not really imagine because of our limitations and we will find the plans of God. Of course between the past and the futur we can live the resurrection in your thoughts, your acts. We change by the Love of Jesus, his live, his ressurection…
    I like the comment from Cheryl.
    I wonder too how will be the relation ??

  9. Hey Rog
    Keep on going, you’re doing so good!

    It is my current perspective that just as words have the power the bind or loose people, so they can bind the creation itself.

    I currently hold the position that there are certain phrases that are perpetuated that have bound the created order and the land which in turn bind the people of that land.

    I think one of those phrases is this:

    ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’. or in english – ‘it is a sweet and proper thing to die for one’s country’

    If we take Romans 8 seriously then as get more liberated, we are to call for the liberation of the whole creation. The above is a phrase which upholds the nation state and is again and again celebrated through ecclesiastical structures in almost every land. It is a terrible demonstration of the marriage of church and empire, with the use of martyrs to defend the nation state; not at all what Jesus was talking about. If the increase of His government and peace knows no end (and this obviously does not not mean ‘if only we can get the ‘christians’ into the seats of power..!), then we can never justify the wars of one nation state over another as somehow righteous. If we are trying to preserve ourselves at the expense of others and use some religious gumph to back this up, then we have utterly missed the whole notion of shalom!

    I believe that much of the current shaking we are seeing around the world (which is going to increase big time – watching for Russia and Turkey next, along with Spain and the Netherlands) is because these lies which have bound us up are being exposed for what they are. This is causing instability not only in people groups but also in the earth itself.

    If we are about discipling nations, and we believe that resurrection is the political act, because we are receiving a kin(g)dom that cannot be shaken, then we must continually look to disciple out communities, wrokplaces, organisational structures and nations in the ways of peace. I am personally looking at the bullying culture in the NHS at the moment and seeing how we go about a change of culture. Once we learn that power is not there so we can throw our weight around, but only given to be poured out for the sake of those around us, then maybe we can find the way of peace. If we are going to be those that seek the peace of our cities, then this is the stuff we must look for at every level.

    So I’m totally with you on this. What I love is that the more of the coming age we can pull into the now, the more of it will remain into the future when all is made new. I think in that context it would be helpful at some stage to dig more into the parables which look at the things that will remain……….

    Anyway, enough for now, but I LOVED what Cheryl wrote too, and hope that my marraige will display more and more this kind of radical relationship.


  10. Hey Andy:

    I’m with you on liberating creation. Its the only hope in terms of all the pollution we have poured out every where on the planet and all the other environmental ills. Yes, let’s see creation liberated and healed. . . . along with those other institutions including marriage and gender relationships.

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