Passage: Mark 12:18-27 NIV
Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” 24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob ’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
Introduction: I have a question?
I had just gotten onto the flight, wrestled my bags into the overhead locker while repeating sorry a few times before making my way back down the aisle; to plant myself in what would be my home for the next seven and a half hours. I love flying, the excitement of going somewhere new where the culture is unknown and much to be discovered. I also love travelling because you get to meet new people and hear new stories. However, on this particular flight, I was simply looking forward to sitting on something remotely comfortable. In the 24 hours previous, I had an 11-hour bus journey that felt like a rollercoaster from start to finish. To put it simply: I was not really in the mood for conversation! Yet, ignoring the headphones in my ears, my new neighbour introduced herself, and the small talk began. After a few minutes she asked me where I was from and after I had informed her “Belfast in the United Kingdom” she seemed to be very puzzled:
“I thought Belfast was in Ireland and not England?”
I found myself chuckling as I tried to explain ‘home’ in a way that would not elicit more questions. Yet, the questions kept coming, and everyone that was asked I found myself dumbfounded but trying to be polite in my answers.
To Question is how we communicate; Questions (asked) are how we learn, grow, test, and share information. Accordingly to one 2013 article, the average four-year-old child will ask 288 questions a day of their parents,1 as they seek to understand the world around them. While as adults, we ask more minor questions of one another said to be between 20-30.2 We spend our day questioning the world via our phones, iPads and laptops, as according to one survey, 84% of people asked Google something more than three times a day.
One of the things I have learned over these last few months is that a question reveals information and seeks it. A question can show us what is on someone’s mind at that moment, it can tell something about the culture or context of a place, or it can point to someone’s fears or hopes; questions ask to find knowledge, but they also reveal information about why it is being asked. On that long flight home, my neighbours frustrating but innocent questions revealed something about their lack of geographical and political knowledge about the constitutional makeup of the UK and Ireland. As well as a certain lack of emotional intelligence because in spite of my obvious discomfort at some of the questions, they kept coming! As they sought to learn about Northern Ireland, I was able to learn something about them.
A Lesson in A Question
Questions have always been part of how humanity has communicated. It was no different during the ministry of Jesus; as you read all of the Gospel accounts, you will find that Jesus responds to teachers by questioning those with him and using the questions asked of him to reveal the way of the Kingdom the truth of God and the beauty of God. Think about the profound lesson of the good samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” That encounter revealed both the expansive view of Mercy in light of the Kingdom of God and the ethic of Life that a Disciple of Jesus should have. Also, how narrow the questioner’s view of Mercy and neighbourliness was. A question seeks information and reveals something about the one asking it. Hence, Jesus often seems to respond to questions in ways that don’t answer what is being asked but target the ‘why’ behind the what of the ‘question.’
We find ourselves at a point in the Gospel account of Mark where things are really starting to heat up for Jesus and his followers. First, we have had the most significant public displays of authority by Jesus during his ministry: he has ridden into the city on a Donkey evoking messianic fever from the crowds dreaming of rescue. Then he drove out the worldly filth from the Temple, challenging the established religious authority of the day. Additionally, just as Jesus challenged the powers and authorities of this world, they came to him and challenged:
“By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (11:27-28 ESV)
A question that revealed how threatened they felt by Jesus. Jesus responds by questioning them about the authority by which John (the baptist acted) before rebuking/teaching the religious leaders with the parable of the Tenants (12:1-12). A parable Story that draws on everyday life, yet the religious leaders hear as a clear rebuke to them – they are the tenants trying to seize from the rightful heir, and they will kill him for what they want.
Thus, with this rebuke and in the middle of this tension between Jesus and the religious authorities, we find ourselves dropping into. Like insecure playground bullies, the threatened leaders try to catch Jesus out with a series of (trick) questions. The first one around taxation: to which Jesus responded give to Cesar’s what is his and God what is Gods – sorted. The second, asked by another group of religious leaders (who have a go and see if they can catch Jesus out), asked around Marriage and the afterlife. Yet, what is motivated by sin, Jesus will use to show the beauty of God and the hope of the Gospel – eternal communion with God.
1. A Question If We May (12:18-19)
The Pharisees have faded into the background, yet, the threat is not over because as one group of religious leaders disappear, another arrives. The Sadducees enter the stage, puff out their shoulders and begin their attempt to trip Jesus! Remember how the question reveals much about the one who asks it, and the Sadducees question Jesus around matters of the Resurrection; they reveal to both their own insecurity in light of the Messiah and how wrong their understanding and teaching about it is matters of truth actually are.
About the Sadducees
Here is the only time this group is mentioned in Marks’ Gospel, and, to understand the challenge, we must understand this group. They were a collection of religious leaders who saw no eternal existence for humanity after death; there was no eternal life, no enjoying the presence of God – only now. Thus, whereas the Pharisees acknowledged the bibles teaching about Resurrection and Eternal Life, the Sadducees denied it. They also held the bulk of political power in Israel because they had compromised with their oppressors to share power.3
”The Sadducees were the aristocratic party, made up of the high priestly and leading lay families of Jerusalem. They were wealthy and worldly. Their arrogance and harshness in the administration of justice were notorious. Conservative in doctrine, they rejected what they regarded as Pharisaic innovations; but their main concern was for the maintenance of their privileges not for doctrinal purity. The origin of the name is uncertain.”4
Additionally, they accepted only the writings of Moses (12:19 “Moses gave us a law”) as authoritative on matters of doctrine and faith and thus base the Question they pose to Jesus off Deut. 25:7-105 A hypothetical situation devised only for the purpose of trying to catch Jesus out in his teachings. The questions show us not the ignorance of Christ but of the ones who ask the question in matters relating to God’s word and power over Life and death. Now that we understand the questioners let’s consider the question they pose to Jesus
2. The Question: Its About the Resurrection (12:20-23)
We have all been asked some strange questions over the years, yet, when I read this question, I think this could win the award for one of the most bizarre questions to have ever been posed! Not only for what it asks but for how it is posed to Jesus as if a riddle that needs unwound and deconstructed before an answer can even be given.
First, we are told that there was a family with seven brothers, and the oldest (presumably) got married before sadly passing away, leaving his widowed wife with no children ( to carry on his family name). Hence the remaining six brothers take turns marrying the same women, each dying and leaving no children. Today, we might suspect that the dear widower is indeed a serial killer, but it seems perhaps she has just been unlucky in love: married seven brothers, they all died and no children anywhere!
Yet, while the question is based on the law of Moses. The whole question seems to be posed on what trouble belief in the resurrection/afterlife will cause the one who believes in it. The lunacy of the question summarised perfectly as it finishes, and they ask:
“At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”6
One would assume that this is a question asked with the confidence of victory, not a weak attempt at intelligent debate, but a device that has been used before to stumble their opponents. A device used with the expectation that the one who is asked will stumble over their words. Thus, they now waited on Jesus to fail with their “in smug, self-satisfied confidence.” 7 They had not grasped who they were messing with!
We Are No Better than the Sadducees
How often do we approach God with the same audacity and arrogance? We are convinced of our own truths or ideas because they suit us and how we understand the world; because they require little of us and justify all that we are. We come to God-confidence in who we are and that God and what He needs of us is what we make it. We make God and our worship and service of him what is palatable and comfortable for us. Yet, if we were to stand before Jesus today, we would be met with identical correction and rejection!
We might not do it with beliefs around the Resurrection; however, there will be something in our life central to the Christian faith and/or the ethic of the way of Christ, and we have either lessened its requirements by reducing its importance or not living it out. Thus, perhaps, we have found ourselves attracted to modern teachings of biblical truths and notions that allow us to dismiss something that seems clear in the Bible. Something that allows us to be more comfortable with adapting our ethics, the message of the Gospel and biblical truths around the sensitivities of our moment.
We might do it for a good reason – to reach more people for Jesus – but the danger with changing truths is if we get it wrong, then we are sharing a lie! Hence, we must be certain about what we base the truths on. Although, the Pharisees in their question, revealed a wrong understanding of God and his word, they displayed a greater trust on their own interpretations and ethics because it suited the moment and their Kingdom.
Yet, Jesus, in his response, reveals that Gods truth is unchanging and how we come to know God and what it means to love Him and live for him will always be via the same means. Jesus answers them (and all of us) by telling us to read the Bible!
3. Jesus Answers: Read your Bible (12:24-25)
The Pharisees as religious teachers, held to a Canon of Scripture that was consistent with our Old Testament. Hence, they held as true belief about the Resurrection and Eternal Life because it was in the Scriptures. The Sadducees on the other hand held only to the writings of Moses (the first five books of the Bible) as their canon of Scripture. Hence their statement in verse 19 “Moses wrote for us.”
They rejected the Resurrection of the dead and eternal Life because they where “philosophical naturalists” 8 who rejected any notion of the Super natural bar Yahweh himself and they defended this point by the writings of Moses. Thus, there is great irony in the response of Jesus who dismantles their “truth” by the very writings they based it on.
3.1 The Resurrection is from Scripture by God (24)
As they question Jesus they make clear to the crowd and him that what they ask is based off the word of God, after all they are the Scholars of their people; “Moses wrote..” Yet, while the question seems to centre on Marriage it is really an attempt to prove the lunacy of believing in the Resurrection of the dead, something Jesus has been proclaiming.
The question seeks to disprove the Resurrection by apply Old Testament laws to highlight to the people that this Life is all that we have, because if the Law of God was true and a family of brothers followed the way of our people then what how messed up would it be for them in the afterlife. Thus, the conclusion based on one ludicrous proposition is that it is silly to believe in the afterlife.
They deny the Resurrection and scoff at those who believe it by the sarcastic tone and nature of the question. They don’t think Jesus will be able to teach his way out of this one because they assume if there was to be an after Life it would simple be an extension of our Life now – how wrong they were!
Jesus takes their question and proves its fallacy by their own logic, as he responds: “‘Moses wrote for us’ you say but are you not in error because didn’t it also say in one of the books of Moses….” Moreover, Jesus does simply correct them but call them out for error, showing the duality of their error as he rebukes: “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the Power of God.” (25)
Their sin in this moment had two faces: firstly, they were ignorance to the word of God even though they based their arrogance on it; second, they where ignorant to the power and authority of God over all matters of life and death. They had a limited knowledge of the word of God and a limited view of the power of God. The question is are we any different?
So many issues of human sin or error in the church can be traced by to these two foundations: a wrong view of God’s word and a wrong view of God. thus we must consider all that we hold to be true and ask is it true against the Word of God and God as revealed through his word.
“Almost all theological error can be traced to one or the other. Our Lord would deal with both errors, and it is a marvel to see.”>9
3.2 The Resurrection points to the Kingdom to Come (25)
After Jesus has called out the foundational error of the proposition, he begins to teach the truth that Scriptures reveals about Life after the Resurrection. First, we see that Jesus holds it to be a certain true and reality to come: “When the dead rise!” There is no suggestion of doubt for Jesus speaks with the assurance of one who is the Lord of Life and death, thus he points out that when the Resurrection comes it will look nothing like Life as we know it. As Calvin states: “After having refuted the objection brought against him, Christ confirms, by the testimony of Scripture, the doctrine of the final resurrection” 10
Moreover, Jesus seems to suggest that the Life to come will exceed all the goodness and joy that we known in this Life; it will be so much more. There will be no giving in Marriage because it will be a new life in the presence and beauty of God, Life will be perfected, and it will be eternal.11
As we ponder the folly of the Sadducees, let us make sure that we are not in the same error with warped understandings of eternal Life or how we might get there. Heaven is a New Creation (Rev 21:1-6)12, and nothing like our minds could ever fathom because it is by the power of God. If we are in Christ as we die in the death of the first Adam, we will be raised to newness of life in the Glory of the New Creation by the second Adam who became a life-giving Spirit for all through faith.13
4. The Living God is the God of the Living (12:26-27)
There is great skill in Jesus answer as he goes further still to correct error and point to the beauty of God and the power of his love. As now He references Exodus 3:6, where God reveals himself to Moses:
“Then he continued, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. 14
Jesus agrees with the Sadducees that God is alive! Indeed that is how he reveals himself to Moses. Yet, he points out that God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob continuously – inferring they remain alive! It is an interoperation of verse 26 that suggests these men live with God even after death.
Thus, if those men are still alive in God with Moses today, there shall be Life after death for those with God! It is the beauty of Gods Grace before the Gospel of Grace is revealed and a pointer for what is to come for all who walk with God. The Old Testaments foretells of the hope that would become ours through Christ and we can be assured of our Resurrection hope because the Living God is a God of the Living: Life is created so that it can know the fullness and purpose of Life – to be with God. As C. F. D. Moule puts it “death cannot break a relationship thus begun.” 15
Jesus shows us that God is always true to his word; meaning, he made a covenant with each of these men and that relationship is so profound and true that it continues even after death! Gods’ promises are true and everlasting. Thus, the assurance to never forsake Abraham (or any who commune with him through faith in Christ) will be true beyond the passing of eternity. If the Sadducees had not rejected the miraculous and sought to understand the power and majesty of the God of miracles, they would not have doubted the power of God to raise the dead to life.
The Life Giving Christ
How is Jesus so certain about the Resurrection? Because he knew his purpose! That he came so that death would lose its sting and the stain of the first Adam would be removed by the Life-giving sacrifice and power of the Second Adam – Jesus. Jesus came that by his Life, death and Resurrection, all who look to him might look upon the beauty of God and live in the power of the Spirit.
Jesus vigorously defends the doctrine of the resection because understanding it and believing it to be true is foundational to the hope that is ours in the Gospel and through the Cross. He came and died so that we might die and live the life that we did not deserve through faith.
A New Promised Land
This stunning interoperation creates a much broader vision of the promised land for God people16 As one author puts it, “Jesus opened up a vision of the future that could be large enough to include the nations.” 17 What a beautiful thing that in heaven there will be no death because through the death of one all who have faith in him will know the wonder of Eternal Life and covenant with God.18
A question reveals much about those who ask it and the one it is asked of, the question of the Sadducees revealed how much they were threatened by the ministry of Jesus and how limited their view of Life, the Scriptures and the power of God was – to the point that it would lead them to an enteral death. Yet, today the answer given reveals something more profound and beautiful than any answer we can give – that God has an eternal relationship with the living. A wrong question brought about the right answer, and that answer presents a question for us: Is the Living God our God?
5. Conclusion: A Question for You?
Today as we ponder the Sadducees and their interaction with Jesus, as we assess what we hold to be true against the word of God and the revealed nature, we are left with one startling and straightforward question: Is the Living God our God? It is a question that we must ask and brings into play our own understanding of all the matters that have been touched on: Our view of God and our knowledge of scriptures in terms of the truths’ they reveal and the response those demand from us.
Furthermore, it is a question that brings into play our own understanding of this Life as we think about the resurrection life. Do we release that we are made for something more than now, to dwell with God and bring him glory both now and forever as we live with him and Worship him in all that we do!
Not to earn this ‘life’ but because we know our sinfulness and require saving, turn to Christ and receive the deposit of eternal Life the Holy Spirit. Who empowers us to live our resurrected New Life now in light of the New Creation to come because we know in his dying and rising Christ defeated death and made it possible for all who turn to him eternal communion with God.
Thus we must ask ourselves: “Is he your God? Are you alive? Is he going to make you all he ever intended you to be?” Oh, How our hearts should burn at this truth because this is our hope in every situation and circumstance.19
- http://www.kindynews.com/blog/kids-ask-how-many-questions-per-day ↩
- https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2015/november/6111615.html ↩
- This group held the bulk of political power in Israel because they came from the upper classes that had compromised with Rome in order to share power (Josephus Antiquities 18.16–17; War 2.164–166). France (2002:470) and Lane (1974:426) describe them as an aristocratic body
Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (p. 508). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. ↩
- English, D. (1992). The message of Mark: the mystery of faith (pp. 196–197). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩
- But if the man has no desire to marry his brother’s widow, then his brother’s widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I have no desire to marry her,” 9 then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, “This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” 10 Throughout Israel his family shall be known as “the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Dt 25:7–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. ↩
- Mark 12:23 NIV ↩
- Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant and savior (Vol. 2, p. 108). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books. ↩
- They also have a prominent role in the book of Acts (Acts 4:1–4; 5:17–18). As philosophical naturalists, they rejected the idea of a resurrection, much like many Greeks did
Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (p. 508). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. ↩
- Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant and savior (Vol. 2, p. 109). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books. ↩
- Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, p. 51). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software. ↩
- 1. Future life and relationships will exceed earthly relationships, even the bond of marital relationships. The strong union and bond of marriage will not be less, it will be greater and stronger.
2. Future life and relationships will be equal to that experienced by the angels and God. This means at least two things. (Note: Jesus had just admitted the existence of angels, refuting the disbelief of the liberal-minded Sadducces.)
Leadership Ministries Worldwide. (1996). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 246). Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide. ↩
- 21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Re 21:1–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. ↩
- 42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Co 15:42–45). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. ↩
- Christian Standard Bible. (2020). (Ex 3:6). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers. ↩
- English, D. (1992). The message of Mark: the mystery of faith (p. 197). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩
- This was a stunning interpretation of an Old Testament text that was a cornerstone of first-century Judaism. While it did not deny that God promised the land to Abraham’s descendants, it did open a much broader vision of the future. The traditional reading, which focused so narrowly on the question of land, did not have much room for other peoples
Kernaghan, R. J. (2007). Mark (p. 234). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩
- Kernaghan, R. J. (2007). Mark (p. 234). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩
- that in Heaven there will be no death
Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant and savior (Vol. 2, p. 112). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books. ↩
- Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant and savior (Vol. 2, p. 112). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books. ↩