The Certainty of the Resurrection (Mark 12:18-27)

Last week, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes.  This week the Sadducees will try to trick him up with a question about marriage.  Now there are two things you need to know about the Sadducees. One of them we learn from the Scriptures, the other we learn from Josephus, a Jewish historian:1

  1. Acts 23:8 tells us, “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”  According to a Sadducee, life ends at physical death.  They were anti-supernatural.  There is nothing beyond what we see, except God. There is no future life.  No souls, no heaven which people will inherit. The Sadducees were essentially physicalists or materialists.
  2. To a Sadducee only the Torah, first five books of the Bible, was to be believed and received as the authoritative Word of God.  All the other Jewish writings were human inventions and were not to be regarded as authoritative.


Given these characteristics lets see how they play out in the question posed to Jesus concerning the resurrection and the answer that Jesus gives. The story about the woman who is married to seven brothers, each of whom dies without leaving a child is built upon some Mosaic instructions given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Verses 5-6 read, “5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”  The Sadducees have masterfully woven together a fictional “what if” story that is based on the teaching of the Law, with 7 marriage opportunities2, the perfect number of possibilities for God to fulfill his promise.


But, remember, the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection, so it makes one wonder therefore why they are asking about marriage at the resurrection. Here is my interpretation of their question:  Essentially they are saying, if God can’t raise up an heir after 7 tries, how can he raise the dead?


By framing the story this way, the Sadducees have placed Jesus in a position where his answer must address the question of the resurrection of the dead while also addressing the issue of marriage. And if that isn’t limiting enough, to be an acceptable answer to a Sadducee, Jesus can only use the Pentateuch and no other passages or books.  Furthermore, the Scriptures he uses must be able to disprove the levirate marriage situation created by Deuteronomy while also being a compelling enough argument to win the verbal debate.  How would you like to debate under those conditions?


In typical Jesus fashion, the limitations imposed upon him by his opponents are accepted and the case is made.  Here is what he says, “Are you not in error, because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mk 12:24).  With these words, Jesus has just insulted his opponents.  So much for the meek and mild Jesus, Jesus is on the offensive.  These are strong words to say to a group of men who weren’t ignorant of the Scriptures; in fact, they were quite literate in them.  They knew the Torah, like every male of the day.  They had memorized the first five books of the Scriptures.  They had built their life and doctrine upon its literal teachings, but unfortunately all of this religion had failed to lead them to the truth.


The Sadducees had fundamentally misunderstood the marriage covenant. According to Jesus marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman, “What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:9). But that union ceases to exists at the death of one of the spouses. This was the logical error the Sadducees committed.  They failed to recognize that the marriage covenant only exists as long as both partners are alive in this world.  We know this explicitly from Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians. (1Cor. 7:39) A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.


But how were the Sadducees to know this from the Torah, since it is never explicitly declared? Had these men reflected upon the very passage in Deuteronomy which they were using to build their air-tite fable, they would have realized that marriages end at death.  For if the marriage bond wasn’t terminated at the death of each of the first six brothers, then the woman would be considered an adulteress and adultery was forbidden and punishable by death according to the Torah.  This is part of the insult behind Jesus’ statement, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures” (Mk 12:24).  They use the Scriptures but they don’t know them and use them properly, which leads us to our first application:


APPLICATION #1: We must be a people who are filled up to the full measure of the knowledge and understanding of the Word.  We must study the word, committing it to our memory and applying it to our life. We must ensure that we are applying it in ways that are faithful to the covenant story God has been engaged in since the beginning of time.  There are right and wrong ways of reading the Word of God as Jesus tells the Sadducees.  There are good interpretations and bad interpretations.  We must be able to discern these and be able to refute those faulty interpretations. All deception is based upon ignorance or a twisting of the truth.  Therefore, every believer has a responsibility to be trained in the word. For the holy Scripture are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2Tim 4:15-17).


But the story doesn’t stop there.  Not only are these men are ignorant of the Scriptures, they are ignorant of the truth of resurrection life. Just as they have read the word and missed the clear teachings concerning marriage, so also they have read the word and missed the Hope of Eternal Life.  They think the future life will be just like the present life.  Heaven forbid that this is as good as it gets.  When Jesus declares, “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage, they will be like the angels in heaven?” (Mk 12:25), he is saying that our new lives will be different because of the resurrection. Though people will fill the new heavens and the new earth, their form and ways of interaction will be changed.  No longer will we live as couples in community, serving each other and modeling the life of Christ to a dying world as individual family units, rather our life will be transformed as we relate to everyone as brothers and sisters and to God as our loving Father and to Christ as our loving bridegroom.


The resurrection is all about the consummation of our covenant relationship with God.  That is the entire picture we get of the marriage banquet at the end of time.  The great wedding feast of the Lamb where the bride, the church is dressed in white, spotless and blameless and is seated at the table to feast with her Lord.


As William Lane says our resurrected life will be “comparable to the life enjoyed by the angels.  Its great purpose and center is communion with God” (Lane, p.428). In heaven, the most important relationship we will have will not be to a spouse that is a created being, it will be to God who is the Creator.


But even more than this, the resurrection is part of the  covenant promise of redemption. The Sadducees had forgotten the power of God (Mk 12:24).  The book of Exodus speaks about the call of Moses and the burning bush where he met God.  It was there that God declared, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Mark 12:26, Exo 3:6). These are present tense words, spoken of as though these men are still alive.  If the first argument Jesus presented to support the resurrection is based upon the Sadducees failure to understand the marriage covenant, this second argument is based upon their failure to understand the covenant God made with the Patriarchs. You see, just like in a marriage covenant where both partners must still be alive for the covenant to be in effect, so it is with God’s covenant to the patriarchs.


Let me explain: We know that God made covenant promises with the Patriarchs. We know from Genesis that none of the patriarchs actually enjoyed the fulfillment of the promise of God to inherit the Promised Land.  Their descendants did, but they didn’t.  Yet God had promised them on oath, and so, either God is a God of steadfast faithfulness, or he is a God of lies.  If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were truly dead, never to rise, dead in God’s sight, then God’s responsibilities have been fulfilled and the covenant promises have passed away with the death of each of these men, just like in a marriage, the covenant has been broken.  If that is the case, then Sadducees are right and there is nothing more than this life. If God only ‘provided for the patriarchs some partial tokens of deliverance and [left] the final word to death’ (Lane 430) then his promises concerning the land, and the people and the blessing are useless.


But, since God is faithful, then the exodus story is proof that a resurrection must take place so that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can experience the promises made to them. And since God did fulfill his promises after these men had physically died, then the power of God must still be at work awaiting a resurrection of the dead for these men to experience the fullness of promises they have received.


By telling the Sadducees that they don’t know the power of God he has effectively told them that their god is too small, that is if they believe only the material world exists and there is nothing more, then they are failing to understand the mighty power of God at work in the resurrection and preservation of his people.  They fail to understand the power of covenant and they fail to understand the promises of God to give his people everything he has promised.


And that leads us to our second application this morning.  It is the issue of the certainty of the resurrection. Paul reminds us that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and so is your faith…And if Christ has not been raise, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (1Cor 15:13-17).  The resurrection is an issue of faith and it is so easy to forget about the meaning the resurrection has for our daily lives and our daily hopes.  I know what it is like to live in the most prosperous country in the world.  It is easy to believe that this is the best that God has to offer – fancy cars, big houses, exotic vacations.   But rest assured there is a resurrection and when it comes everyone will be called to give an account of the life they have lived – the things they have said, the actions they have done and the things that have been undone.  Then the rewards and the punishments would be given out and one’s relationship with God Almighty will be put on display for all creation to marvel.


Are we living like there is a resurrection?  Are we living like God is the center of our life and the hope of all we desire or are we living like this is the only life that matters and the only chance we get to have it all?  I have had to remind myself many times recently, that if I don’t get to it in this life, that is okay.  There are a myriad of lives ahead of me in which to experience all the best that the Kingdom of God has to offer – from travel, to food, to leisure and worship.


One couple we met on our trip to Ethiopia to adopt our daughters best exemplifies this. They were a couple in there 50’s adopting numbers 8 and 9 or 9 and 10, I can’t remember.  When I asked the woman why, her answer startled me, because it is so counter-cultural to many of our ways of living.  This is what the woman said, “I have all eternity to rest, I want to get to heaven having been tired out doing God’s work.”  That is a woman who lived with the certainty of the resurrection.  She knew that God was returning and that until he returned, her life had to be shaped by the certainty of the coming resurrection, she was to be preparing as a bride for her great day.





1 “That souls die with the bodies; nor do they regard the observation of any thing besides what the law enjoins them; …But they are able to do almost nothing of themselves; for when they become magistrates, as they are unwillingly and by force sometimes obliged to be, they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise bear them.” []

2 This story appears to be a reworked version of a popular story of the time recorded in the apocryphal Book of Tobit.

3 Mark Hick Ministries, Mark 12:18-27 Who is your God? accessed 12 June 2013 12:55 p.m.

About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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