God of the Living
When boiling water for cooking, you can see the temperature increase as small air pockets form on the bottom of the pot, and as they begin to increase, you know the temperature of the water is rising. Eventually, the water starts to bubble and move rapidly; steam begins to rise from the pot. Jesus had dealt with conflict throughout his ministry; on these occasions, they would seem as if the bubbles were forming on the bottom of the pot, then finally Jesus would move away from that area to a new region, and the temperature would decrease again. However, we have reached a point in the Gospel of Mark where the conflict would continue to be a steady flame beneath the pot. Previously we saw the first of three questions raised of Jesus that the Pharisees had asked to try and ensnare Jesus in his words. We see the second question come from the Sadducees about the resurrection.
I. The Question
The Sadducees come up to Jesus and ask a question. Before looking at the question, we must first understand who the Sadducees are. We don’t know much about the Sadducees; we don’t know if they had completely different writings from the Pharisees. However, we have two primary sources that help us understand three significant beliefs that they held, 1) they did not believe in the resurrection; 2) they only believed that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) was God’s word and 3) they did not believe in fate. We will only be concerned with their first significant belief and briefly comment on the second. Before moving to their question, we must also note that Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote about the Sadducees, explaining, “But the behavior of the Sadducees one towards another is in some degree wild; and their conversation with those that are of their party is as barbarous as if they were strangers to them.” This might help us understand that this question is not only a question they have asked Jesus, but they had argued over it at their Sadducee debate clubs.
So now, with a bit of understanding of the Sadducees, let’s look at their question. They ask Jesus about a hypothetical situation about a family of seven brothers, the oldest marries a woman, but he passes away. According to the Law of Moses, the next brother was to take the widow and bring up offspring for his brother. This might seem like a strange law for our ears, but it accomplished two things; it carried the older brother’s name to the next generation and a way to help provide for the widow, to have a son who would provide for her in her old age. However, the woman never conceives in this hypothetical question, and all the brothers pass away. Finally, the woman passes away. The question is, in heaven, who would be her husband? The Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection did not have to answer this question, but they thought this would be a question that would stump someone who did believe in the resurrection. This comes back to the first significant belief that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They believed that the soul dies with the body, there is no heaven or afterlife.
II. Jesus’ Answer
Jesus’ response is quick and short. He does not mince words but clearly and bluntly explains to the Sadducees, you are wrong. He explains there are two reasons why they are wrong because they did not know 1) the Scriptures and 2) the power of God. This, I believe, refers to the other major beliefs of the Sadducees and their errors. Jesus’ bold statement turns the question back on the Sadducees; James Edwards explains, “The audacity of Jesus’ accusation of the Sadducees would be like claiming that Wall Street knows nothing of finance! Scripture (the Torah) and power (the Sanhedrin) were precisely the Sadducees’ stock-in-trade, the two matters in which they majored.” What they claim they know everything about; Jesus says they have no idea. His answer includes these two errors of the Sadducees’ position.
a. Power of God
Jesus first instructs the Sadducees, “that they will neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels.” The Sadducees had a very empirical view of the world. They seemingly denied the supernatural; life was merely all there was. But also, in their denial of fate, they believed it was simply up to human action, thus denying the power of God of providence at work in creation. They thought that the resurrection, if there were one, would be merely a pure reflection of the physical world they saw. Jesus shifts the view from man on earth to angels in heaven.
Again, James Edwards gloriously summarizes the folly in their thinking, “Present earthly experience is entirely insufficient to forecast divine heavenly realities: we can no more imagine heavenly existence than an infant in utero can imagine a Beethoven piano concerto or the Grand Canyon at sunset.” The Sadducees had a man-sized view of God, if at all. They could not see it is that God ordained marriage in the garden as an image of Christ and his church. The Common book of Prayer gives us three reasons why marriage was ordained by God: 1) the procreation of godly children; 2) the remedy against sin and fornication; 3) for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity, and adversity. The Sadducees thought only of earth and could not see God’s ordained purpose of marriage, in perfect heaven, we would not need the mystery of Christ and his bride nor procreation to sustain life, marriage to curb sin, or finally the need to have another for we have Christ and the great cloud of witnesses. You could argue that only the third point would be why anyone would need marriage in heaven, to have a companion by your side.
So let us take a short detour to shift from the hypothetical situation presented by the Sadducees and move to our own lives. For most of us, this does not sound appealing. We love our spouse, we love being married to them, and to think of eternity not being married is a depressing thought. Nevertheless, we can often merely think about this world and cannot behold the magnificent image of heaven. If both the spouses are believers, they both will be in heaven for all eternity, together, just not as husband and wife. Even the best day on earth would be nothing to a single second in heaven. I believe the new heavens and new earth will be like creation because they share the same designer. However, to think heaven is merely just all the best things on earth is not accurate. When Revelation speaks of heaven, it often has one focus, worship of God. No more sin, no more wrestling with the wretched man inside us, no more sorrow or sadness. No more pain or sickness. We, with unveiled faces, stand before Christ, the one who stood in our place, bore our sin and shame, gave us his righteousness. We cannot help but worship and fall. To cry out with all people from all tribes’ nations and tongues, Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive wisdom and honor and glory, forever and ever. There are many things God has ordained that we will not need. We will not need the sacrament of the Lord’s supper because we finally eat and drink with Christ. As he said, he would not eat and drink again until it was with his people. We would not need to celebrate the sabbath as a day of rest and worship, for we have finally reached the celestial city where we will have our eternal rest. We will not need to administer Baptism as a sign and seal, for we have entered the city and will never want to leave. Identical to marriage, God ordained for a time and purpose but will no longer be needed. Hence the Sadducees do not understand the power of God.
The second reasoning Jesus gives is that the Sadducees do not know the Scriptures. One of their significant beliefs was that the Torah alone was to be considered the Word of God; however, Jesus boldly states that do not even know the scriptures. Jesus stops at the question they asked about marriage in heaven and in their wrong interpretation of the Scriptures that they claim do not speak of the resurrection. The Sadducees quoted the Law of Moses to Jesus, and Jesus turns back to Exodus when God speaks to Moses in the burning bush. Jesus refers to one line, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (cf. Ex 3:6). Jesus’s argument is not based on this sentence but on one word, not even the word itself but the tense of the verb, I am. Jesus points out that even within the Torah (Which the Sadducees claimed they believed and knew), God explains that he IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God does not state that he WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Jesus asserts that they do not know the Scriptures, and in this claim, he does not point out their lack of knowledge of a book, chapter, or even a verse, but in a verb. Before we get to Jesus’s statement, we need to understand how Jesus reads the scriptures. Jesus teaches that the doctrine of the resurrection can rest on the verb of a word, written by Moses. Although Paul had not penned the words found in 2 Timothy 3:16, Jesus makes the same claim, “ALL of Scripture is breathed out…” even the tense of a verb is used to teach, reprove, and correct. How careful we should be to search and know the Scriptures. We should study the word in great detail.
Jesus boldly corrects the Sadducees that they are wrong. God is not the God of the dead but the living. This short little statement has enormous implications for how we understand the Bible. One of the major implications is that God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If they had died with no resurrection (meaning their soul died with them), once they had died, then the promise of God could not be fulfilled to them. However, God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are not dead but living. Although their bodies lay in the ground, their souls have gone to be with the Lord to await the bodily resurrection. As Jesus told the Pharisees in the Gospel of John, “Abraham rejoiced when he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
III. The Twist
Last week we saw the twist was that they had completely missed the bigger picture within the question. In today’s passage, the question of marriage pales insignificance. They were consumed with a hypothetical question about a widow who was married seven times and failed to study the Scriptures. Claiming to be wise, they were, in fact, fools (Rom 1:22). Their weak theology led to a weak God, who has no power. They thought they knew the Scripture, but they were too busy arguing amongst themselves to behold the glorious truth found in the Bible, that God is eternal and is not the God of the dead but the living. We are glad that the Sadducees are wrong. Jesus not only told them they were wrong but showed them how wrong they were. Within a short time, Jesus would show them the reality of the resurrection. Not only with his words but with his physical body, which would be raised on the third day. Showing them their misunderstanding of the Scriptures and also the power of God. Not only is God’s power to raise Christ from the dead, but also the power of God at work within us.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus that he prays for them to know God in them that they would know three things; 1) the hope we have been called to; 2) the riches of his inheritance, and 3) the greatness of his power. The third point Paul expands and writes,
“what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might, that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19–20).
Jesus told the Sadducees that God is more powerful than you know. It seemed impossible for God to be sovereign over all things but also for him to raise someone from the dead. The power was enough to raise Christ from the dead, and he would be seated in heavenly places. Not only that, but the power of God is also at work with us. He can work within a dead man’s heart and cause it to beat for him.
“Now to him who can do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21)
The same power that was at work in Christ will work in us, on the last day when the resurrection of the body will come to be a reality rather than a hope, not an airy-fairy hope but one of assurance and certainty that we have. You could see why they were called Sadducees because they were indeed sad. They had no hope of heaven; the grave was the end for them. However, to the believer, the grave is where the believer’s body will rest until that glorious day found in the resurrection. Thomas Watson puts it beautifully,
“The grave is your long home, but not your last home. Though death strip you of your beauty, yet at the resurrection you shall have it restored again.”
Even to add to Watson’s quote, not only will your body be restored, but that the perishable will put on the imperishable, the dishonor will be raised in glory, what is sown in weakness will be raised in power. The natural raised as a spiritual body. We often are just like the Sadducees; we do not know the scriptures or the power of God. But let us pray that we would search the scriptures like the Bereans, that we would see God’s power, and that God is not the God of the dead but the living.