"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.' 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."
When the other Jewish sects failed, the Sadducees decided to try their best to defeat Jesus in an argument. Matthew reveals that the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection (cf. Acts 23:8). This is important to know if we are to understand their thought processes behind the question.
Interestingly, there is no motive given in the text that explains why they asked Him the question they did. Some believe that this argument they presented was a classic one of theirs that had never before been adequately answered by their rivals (i.e., the Pharisees). This question does not appear to be asked with the intent to cause Jesus to get into trouble with the Romans or lose His following with the people. It appears that the Sadducees simply desire to challenge Jesus with their most difficult question. Certainly they believe that they can get the best of Him in a verbal argument of this sort, in spite of the fact that the other Jewish sects had already failed miserably in all of their dialogue with Jesus.
"Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother" - Moses did write this in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, but the custom of this practice preceded the Mosaic law (e.g., Gen. 38:6-11). The intent of the law (and custom) was to preserve "family lines." If a father died without having a son, then his name would not live on through his descendants. Thus, God allowed the father's brother to bear a son for him (by taking the widow as his own wife). This was practiced in order to prevent family names from dying out, an occurrence that was generally considered to be a tragedy.
The scenario they present, though extremely unlikely, is alleged to be true by their words - "There were with us seven brothers." They ask their question in Matthew 22:28 - "Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her." The Sadducees are trying to use the Old Law to show that the doctrine of the resurrection is absurd (in their opinion). They believe that this scenario proves their assertion (namely, that there is no resurrection) because it would lead to a ridiculous and chaotic situation that God would have to settle arbitrarily ("Whose wife of the seven will she be?"). The flaw in their reasoning is that they assume the present arrangement of life regarding marriage between males and females will continue in the life hereafter.
We will consider Jesus' enlightening response in our next lesson.