Jefferson Vann explains the meaning of the Phrase “all live to him!” in Luke 20:38.
Luke 20:37-38 (JDV)
“But that the dead are raised, even Moses revealed at the bush, when he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, because all live to him!”
Is everyone still alive? Is that what Jesus was teaching here?
Matthew Henry suggested that Jesus was referring to “the world of spirits” in which all the dead are still alive.¹ He envisions Jesus introducing a new theological concept here: some new place in God’s universe where the disembodied spirits of the dead continue consciously after the deaths of their bodies.
Likewise, John Gill says that Jesus was saying that the souls of the patriarchs live with God, and their bodies will be raised by him.² He suggests that there will be an intermediate state in heaven with God in which souls are separated from their bodies, and that the resurrection is just God reassembling the parts that were temporarily separated by death.
No, the Bible insists that when people, die they really die. They totally die. That is what happened to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:
- “Abraham breathed his last and … was buried with Sarah his wife” (Genesis 25:8,10 NASB).
- “Isaac breathed his last and died … and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (Genesis 35:29 NASB).
- “When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel” (Genesis 49:33; 50:2 NASB).
So, Jesus is not introducing a new theology here, and he is not contradicting the above scriptures. The question Jesus was addressing is that of the resurrection at his return. He answered that question by showing that those raised will not live under the same limits as they do in this life. Now, he explains how they will be raised. There is a person who lives on after we die. That person is God, and he has the power to raise us to life again.
This passage does not teach the immortality of the soul. It does not deny the reality of death, or explain it away as a conscious existence in another place. It teaches the power of God to resurrect the dead. That is the point which the questioners doubted. That is the gospel issue. Immortality is conditioned on the power and love of a God who chooses not to forget those who lie in the dust. We all live to him because he will not forsake us to death.
¹ Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary (Luke 20:27).
² Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (Matthew 22:32).