Picking up from where I left off before Christmas 2012, this post continues a study of the passages from St Mark’s Gospel which have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.
It is curious that the parallel account from St Matthew (Matthew 22:23-33) is also excluded.
The Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection
18And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
24Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
My last post related the pointed and violent Parable of the Tenants, which Jesus related to the Jewish leaders in the grounds of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was an allegory to warn them that they were hardhearted in not accepting Him as the Son of God. They got the message, although they walked away still plotting how to have Him arrested.
After that, the Pharisees challenged him about rendering to Caesar versus rendering to God (Mark 12:13-17). Every question the hierarchy posed was designed to ridicule, demean and trap Jesus in order that they could charge him with a rejection of Jewish law.
Today’s reading tells of the next challenge that day, the Wednesday before His death on the Cross. It is now the turn of the Sadducees, about whom you can read more. In short, they were the rationalists in the hierarchy, which placed them at odds with the Pharisees. The Sadducees rejected the supernatural, yet they were more legalistic than the Pharisees. The Sadducees placed absolute and exclusive importance on the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, said to have written by Moses. The Sadducees considered the other books of the Old Testament — the oral tradition — secondary to the Pentateuch.
Because the Sadducees did not believe in the supernatural, they rejected the notion of the resurrection, which appears in several of the post-Pentateuch books, e.g. the Psalms, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezra, Hosea. This perspective put them at odds not only with the rest of the Sanhedrin but the Jewish people as well, all of whom believed in a national resurrection of Israel. The Talmud, the compilation of Jewish teaching, is also very much resurrection-oriented.
John MacArthur has more about the Sadducees, who occupied themselves with the Temple (emphases mine):
They denied the presence, or the identity, or the existence of angels, according to Acts 23:8 … They denied spiritual existence, the existence of spirits. And they denied, therefore, the resurrection. Though they are the minority party in Israel and though they are opposites of the reigning theology, they happen to wield the power in the temple. They run the temple from the High Priest on down through the chief priests[;] they are predominantly Sadducees. It’s their turn because they’re the majority of the Sanhedrin. It’s their turn to come to Jesus and try to discredit Him …
They are very powerful, very wealthy, very influential, aristocratic … They wield the power. They think that they can accomplish what the lowlife Pharisees couldn’t pull off. While the religion of the people was the Pharisees’ religion, the structure of power was in the hands of these Sadducees.
Now politically they were eager to cooperate with Rome. They did not want to upset Rome, particularly, because they had it nice. They were getting essentially rich on what Rome let them do in the corruption they ran in the temple. They were happy to have an association with Rome that filled their coffers. They were very eager to make sure that Rome saw them as friends. But they wanted to get Jesus out of the picture. They weren’t against having Him crucified, they were for that. But their agenda was really not to upset Rome, it was just to have the people leave their affections behind and walk away from Jesus because He showed Himself to be such a fool.
The populace in general hated the Sadducees for their accommodations to Rome. They knew they did it for the sake of personal expediency and thus the Jews were angry over the relationship between the Sadducees and the Romans.
By the way, if you look back in history to find the Sadducees, you will not find them after 70 A.D. because once the temple was destroyed, they were finished. That was their whole bailiwick. And when it came down, they ceased to exist. Their power was operative only under Rome in that temple. And when that political priestly power came to an end, they couldn’t survive …
… the key factor in their belief system was that they denied the resurrection. They denied any kind of future life. To put it in a simple way, they were annihilationists, when you die, you go out of existence, it’s over.
Josephus … the historian of that era … tells us that they believed that the soul and the body perish together at death and went out of existence … There’s no afterlife. They had no interest therefore in Messiah. They had no real interest in salvation ...
And by the way, historically, the Pharisees argued with them over this all the time and the Pharisees poked around in the books of Moses trying to find verses they could cite that would convince the Sadducees that Moses’ writings did include this. They would use Numbers 18:28, Deuteronomy 32:39, various places in the writings of Moses where they thought they could prove that this could indicate resurrection. None of the ones they used, by the way, were very convincing and the Sadducees remained unconvinced. The more the Pharisees argued with them, the stronger their position became because the Pharisees had such a terrible time pulling it off.
The scenario that the Sadducees posed to Jesus in verses 18-23 of today’s reading is a hypothetical situation based on Old Testament tradition (Genesis 38, the story of Onan). If a woman’s husband died and the couple had been childless, she was required to marry either his brother or another male relative of his (provided they were single) in order to preserve and extend his family line. This not only preserved financial and material security for the woman, but enabled the first husband’s name and legacy to continue through at least another generation. This law was also essential to preserve the tribal identity of God’s people.
A son born of a remarried widow in this situation was given her first husband’s name to signify that the first husband’s inheritance would go to him.
Looking at the example of Ruth in the Bible, we recall that she was a widow. She was remarried to a man named Boaz, related on her late husband’s side. Together they had a son Obed, from whom later came the House of David, and, generations later, Jesus Christ, born of Mary and Joseph.
Now back to the situation that the Sadducees put before Jesus. What happens if a widow remarries seven times with all husbands dying and no heir. To whom is the wife married in heaven?
Matthew Henry warns us about asking frivolous questions such as these as they show a mockery of Scripture by people who think they are highly clever yet ignorant of God’s holy word. We could also apply this to the rationalist mockers we meet online and offline. Henry says:
They who banter the doctrine of the resurrection as some do in our age, would be thought the only knowing men, because the only free thinkers, when really they are the fools in Israel, and the most enslaved and, prejudiced thinkers in the world. Do ye not therefore err? Ye cannot but be sensible of it yourselves, and that the cause of your error is, (1.) Because ye do not know the scriptures. Not but that the Sadducees had read the scriptures, and perhaps were ready in them; yet they might be truly said not to know the scriptures, because they did not know the sense and meaning of them, but put false constructions upon them; or they did not receive the scriptures as the word of God, but set up their own corrupt reasonings in opposition to the scripture, and would believe nothing but what they could see …
In verse 24, Jesus wasted no time in telling the Sadducees that they were ‘wrong’ because they clearly did not understand what Scripture was saying. He added that they also did not understand the way God works. This is also where today’s self-proclaimed rationalists are wrong; because God’s ways are not Man’s, mockers err in charging that God is a contrived invention of fevered imaginations.
Jesus said something in verse 25, which may prove difficult for the happily married among us to comprehend. It is a highly difficult verse for me to grasp because I would very much like to be together with my spouse in Heaven. I do not expect sexual congress but companionship. However, our Lord says that marriage is for our lives on Earth, not in Heaven. Once we share eternal life with Him we shall be as angels.
The whole complex of sex and reproduction and birth and family is for this life and is not for the life to come. That is an absolute statement, folks. So if you’re wondering, there is no marriage in heaven. There are no sexual relationships, no families and no exclusive relationships in heaven.
Why? Because God will make us perfect in the afterlife. There will be no couples, cliques, factions or any of that. It is difficult for me to grasp that concept, however, I trust that as His ways are not ours, we shall be infinitely happy for eternity.
Bottom line: if you treasure your marriage in this world, then enjoy it for all it is worth because it will be finished after death. We will move to perfection after the end of the world, a higher level of existence. (I’m going to have to pray about that very seriously, starting today.)
Some of you might recall that this subject appeared in an older episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry told his (television) wife Cheryl that he looked forward to the afterlife because he could meet new women. Cheryl became angry, citing their marriage vows and claiming that marriage was forever. Larry was thinking of this New Testament passage, although not quite in the right way. Perhaps this should be included as a reading in church. (I do not know what the two-year lectionary features; it could be that this passage is included.)
Henry’s commentary includes a reference to Islam, still relevant today. After centuries, the Ottoman Empire had finally been defeated in his lifetime (Vienna, 1683, thanks to King Jan Sobieski of Poland):
For the relation between husband and wife, though instituted in the earthly paradise, will not be known in the heavenly one. Turks and infidels expect sensual pleasures in their fools’ paradise, but Christians know better things-that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Co. 15:50); and expect better things-even a full satisfaction in God’s love and likeness (Ps. 17:15); they are as the angels of God in heaven, and we know that they have neither wives nor children. It is no wonder if we confound ourselves with endless absurdities, when we measure our ideas of the world of spirits by the affairs of this world of sense.
Not believing in the God of the Bible offers no escape from this reality, by the way. We shall all appear for divine judgment and live forever in His presence or in eternal torment.
There is another essential concept, which Jesus explored in verses 26 and 27. After death, our souls do not die. Jesus referred to Exodus 3, the story of Moses and the burning bush. He cited Exodus 3:6: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’
Jesus pointed out the present tense in that verse, indicating to the Sadducees that the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still alive, even though they had physically died.
With this, Jesus concluded the exchange, making it clear that God is of the living, not the dead. Therefore, resurrection is very real. As such, Jesus repeated the words He used in verse 24. The Sadducees were wrong, in fact, ‘quite wrong’.
Jesus had taken one of the Sadducees’ trusted books — Exodus — and proved their error immediately.
As far as we are concerned, MacArthur says:
For us, isn’t it wonderful to think about the resurrection? That this is not the end? That this is not the way we’re going to be forever in any sense, physical, spiritually, we’re going to have a glorified body, perfect in every way in form, and more importantly perfect internally in spirit. We will be perfect lovers of God, perfect worshipers of God, perfect lovers of one another. We’ll have perfect knowledge. We’ll be perfectly motivated to do perfect service, rendering perfect obedience and doing it all with absolute undiminished joy and we’ll do that forever and never ever have to take a deep breath. We’ll never be weary, never be tired, never be bored, never be discouraged, never be disappointed, joy upon joy upon joy upon joy. And when we are raised, just so that we don’t leave anything up to speculation, it says that when Jesus comes, Philippians 3:20, “He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” He’s going to give us a form like His resurrection form and a spirit that is perfectly holy. And this is all by grace …
Henry’s commentary reminds us:
The same power that made soul and body and preserved them while they were together, can preserve the body safe, and the soul active, when they are parted, and can unite them together again; for behold, the Lord’s arm is not shortened. The power of God, seen in the return of the spring (Ps. 104:30), in the reviving of the corn (Jn. 12:24), in the restoring of an abject people to their prosperity (Eze. 37:12-14), in the raising of so many to life, miraculously, both in the Old Testament and in the New, and especially in the resurrection of Christ (Eph. 1:19, 20), are all earnests of our resurrection by the same power (Phil. 3:21); according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.
And, in general, concerning the Holy Bible:
Note, A right knowledge of the scripture, as the fountain whence all revealed religion now flows, and the foundation on which it is built, is the best preservative against error. Keep the truth, the scripture-truth, and it shall keep thee.
Next time: Mark 12:35-37