There were clearly at least two schools of thought about resurrection, and the Sadducees (the landed gentry of Jerusalem who operated the temple and wielded power from this religious base of operations) held that ‘there is no resurrection’.
Following on from Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees, who had tried to trap him with the question “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?” (v 20-26), it was the Sadducees turn to have a go, and they produced a convoluted question (v28-33). It involved a family of brothers and a woman. The woman married the first brother who died, and in accordance with the law, she married the second … and so it proceeded until she had survived all seven. Whose wife would she be in the resurrection?
Jesus dealt with the question in a different way to the one from the Pharisees. To the Pharisees, he offered a trap in return, forced a question onto them and silenced them. However he took the Sadducees seriously. He begins by speaking as if resurrection is a given and explains that relationships in the age of resurrection are different from the relationships in the age of our mortality. Then he offers his argument for resurrection by quoting scripture: he spoke about Moses referring to God as God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:6); words which could only be understood if all these characters were present at the same time.
Because resurrection is so different, it is difficult to get our heads around the many possibilities for relationships, but perhaps thinking through what we understand when we speak of being ‘surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses’ is something that is useful. To try to grasp that even in our mortal state we are influence by both those who have gone before us and those of our present generation is an attempt to lift our understanding beyond the limitations and restrictions of time and mortality and onto the plane of immortality and eternity.
Paul wrestled with the arguments (1 Cor 15 v 42-56) and declares “I will tell you a mystery” (v 51) and then affirms “we will be changed” (v52) which is rather like saying ‘I can’t explain it, but deep inside my being I know it!’