18 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!”
(Mark 12:18-27 NIV)
Jesus had dealt with the Sanhedrin delegation who questioned His authority when He cleansed the Temple. Unsuccessful in their attempt to find grounds to arrest Jesus, they then sent the Pharisees and Herodians, two opposing groups, to entrap Jesus in His words. These two groups also walked away, equally amazed and unsuccessful.
Now the Sadducees, yet another Jewish group, come with their question in today’s passage.
The context of the Sadducees – who they are and what they believe – is key to understanding their question and Jesus’ response. The Sadducees were wealthy members of Jewish society and were typically sympathetic to Roman rule, not for political reasons like the Herodians, but to protect their own financial interests.
The Sadducees only accepted the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses. They rejected the oral laws so precious to the Pharisees, and also rejected any notion of angelic beings or the resurrection, as they said there was no evidence in the Torah.
The Sadducees tried to show how ridiculous the idea of a resurrection was by using an extreme example of Levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). God had established Levirate law to carry forward a family’s name, and to provide for that family by keeping the land in the family. In an agrarian society, the family’s income and survival was tied to the land – without land, they could not raise crops to eat, nor could they produce any income.
Jesus answers the Sadducees’ question in His typical rabbinical style – with another question. By using questions, Jesus replaces wrong thinking and human traditions with God’s truth. Jesus tells the Sadducees that they don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God, as the two are inseparably linked. You can’t have one without the other. This was the truth and a tremendous slap in the face to the Sadducees, who prided themselves on their detailed knowledge of Scriptures and their influence in Jewish culture.
First, Jesus addressed the existence of the resurrection and of angelic beings (v. 25). Jesus pointed out that the resurrection is not the reinstatement of earthly functions like marriage; rather, it is a complete transformation, both physically and relationally. Physically, resurrected people will have transformed bodies; relationally, they will be focused on God, not each other, similar to the angels.
Lastly, Jesus addresses the fact of the resurrection (vv. 26-27). Jesus uses a passage from their own Scripture, from the Book of Moses (Exodus 3:6). In this passage, God says “I am…” – using the present tense to refer to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God did not say, “I was…”, in the past tense. God is living, and is the God of the living, not the dead, Jesus says. This proves that there is a resurrection and that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive, even though their bones are buried.
As Jesus concluded, the Sadducees were badly mistaken.
While Jesus chastised the Sadducees for their unscriptural beliefs, He also showed them God’s eternal love of them, His eternal provision for them, and His eternal relationship to them. Jesus offers this same love, provision, and relationship to us.
The words of the psalmist express great words of comfort and hope that God is with us both now and into eternity:
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
(Psalm 73:23-24 NIV)
Though this world is filled with suffering, hurt, conflict, and pain, may we live in the reality of God offering to walk closely with us through this life and into the next.
Jesus is offering you His hand today, to guide you and walk with you and counsel you throughout your day through His Holy Spirit.
Will you humble yourself and accept His offer, or will you insist on doing it your way?
Each of us has a choice. I choose to not go alone, but with Him. Will you join Him also?