The synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ discussion with Sadducees about resurrection (cf. Matt 22:23-33; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40). The Sadducees denied resurrection because their sole theological authority was the Torah, in which they did not find reference to the dead being raised. Thus, it is fitting that Jesus supports his view of resurrection with words from the Torah. Yet, in order to understand Jesus’ proof-text, we need to attend not only to the broader context of his citation, but also to texts beyond the Book of Moses. Jesus’ single sentence from the Torah conjures language from the Psalms that highlights God’s ability to raise the dead.
Jesus asks the Sadducees, “As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ [Exodus 3:6]? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mk 12:26-27). At first glance, Yeshua’s quotation of Exodus seems odd since, by his day, the patriarchs from Genesis were no longer living — they had all been dead for hundreds of years! In order to appreciate Jesus’ exegetical logic, we need the context of Exodus 3:6: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob…. I have come down to deliver (נצל; natsal) [my people]… and to bring them up (עלה; ‘alah) out of that land [of Egypt]…. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob… is my name forever, and this is my memorial (זכר; zeker) for all generations.” (Exodus 3:6, 8, 15). Since being “delivered” and “brought up” from Egypt as a lasting “memorial” sounds like “resurrection” language, other biblical writers draw on this scene at the burning bush to describe how God saves them from death and renews their lives.
In the Psalms, the same language in Exodus is reapplied as an expression of God’s power to save one’s life from certain death. For instance, Psalm 97 reads, “The Lord… preserves the lives of his holy ones; he delivers (נצל; natsal) them out of the hand of the wicked…. Give thanks for the memorial (זכר; zeker) of his holiness” (97:10-12). Similarly, Psalm 30 declares, “Lord, you have brought up (עלה; ‘alah) my life from the grave…. Give thanks to the memorial (זכר; zeker) of his holiness” (30:3-4). In choosing the passage about the burning bush, Jesus knew that Exodus 3 contains specific liberative terms that other biblical authors use to describe God bringing new life out of death. Thus, with a single verse about “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” Jesus provides the Sadducees with testimonies to God’s resurrection power throughout Scripture.