The Gospels record an incident when the Sadducees challenged Yeshua with what they thought would be a very difficult question. They were hoping to trap Him when they asked about marriage during the time of the resurrection.
“The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: ‘Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.'”
– Matthew 22:23-28
As usual, Yeshua’s response silenced the opposition, causing them to leave without the satisfaction they had hoped for.
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’ And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.”
– Matthew 22:29-33
People often claim that the phrase “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” is a reference to people being alive in heaven. However, the context of this statement has absolutely nothing to do with heaven, and everything to do with the resurrection. Not only is the framework of this conversation exclusively about what will happen in the resurrection, but Yeshua even says, “concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read…” Thus we cannot conclude that the phrase “God of the living” has anything to do with the souls of the deceased living in heaven.
He contrasts the “god of the dead” with the “God of the living”, showing that the God of Abraham is unique among all other gods. When we study ancient pagan cultures such as the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greeks, we find out that they all believed in a “god of the dead” who ruled over the underworld. Death deities were some of the most important gods to early pagan societies because they glorified death and looked forward to the afterlife as their reward.
The most well-known death deities are those of the Egyptians. Death and the afterlife were so important to the Egyptians that they had elaborate burial procedures, incantations, and protocol in place to ensure the dead were received into the afterlife. These funerary protocols are detailed in what is known today as “The Egyptian Book of the Dead”, which consists of a number of magic spells that were believed to assist the dead through the underworld and into the afterlife.
Among these death gods, Anubis was the most important and was believed to be the guardian of the dead. Anubis was also known as the patron god of embalming and mummification. However, his most important role was the “Guardian of the Scales” which were used to weigh the hearts of the deceased to determine if they would be allowed into heaven. Later, when Egypt became Hellenistic, Anubis was amalgamated with the Greek god Hermes, because they were both thought to guide dead souls into the afterlife. Nearly all pagan religions have a god of death, and while they may have different names, they each represent the same idea that when we die, our soul goes to be with that god.
This stands in obvious contrast to what Yeshua was saying about the God of Abraham. The souls of the dead do not go to heaven to be with God because God is not the god of the dead. The dead rest in their graves until the God of the living brings them back to life at the resurrection.