“Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, 19 Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. 20 Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. 21 And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. 22 And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? For the seven had her to wife. 24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? 25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven. 26 And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.”~ Mark 12:18-27
One of the distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith, is the resurrection of the body from the dead, because of the immortality of the soul. Unfortunately, not everyone believes in a bodily resurrection. Because no one today has seen a resurrected person, it is easy to be skeptical. But then, some have always been skeptical.
During the days of Christ, religious leaders in Jerusalem rose to denounce the doctrine of the bodily resurrection. There was a group known as the Sadducees. They were the liberal religious sect of their day, for they also denounced the existence of angels.
In light of this, it is not surprising that the Sadducees came to Jesus one day to ask a question concerning the resurrection. Of course, the objective of the Sadducees was not to find information, or truth, but to discredit Christ. To achieve this objective the Sadducees would feign outward respect by calling Jesus, “Master.” But the Lord was not their Master for they did not respect Him personally, nor recognize His Messiahship.
In addition to feigned respect the Sadducees would use the Law of Moses to pose a hypothetical situation involving a levirate marriage. The word “levir” is a Latin word for “husband’s brother.” The social regulation for a levirate marriage is set forth in Deuteronomy 25:5. “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother unto her.”
According to modern standards, and social customs, this would be a shocking practice, but in the ancient world society was very different. A levirate marriage was not unique with Israel for the Hittites and Assyrians honored the practice. The purpose of the Levirate marriage was to prevent extinction of the family name and property (Study Numbers 27 and 36). Whatever criticism there may be of the practice, it was allowed, and because it was allowed, it was used, in another context, as a basis for doctrinal dispute concerning the resurrection.
What the Sadducees wanted to accomplish was to prove the absurdity of believing in the resurrection by carrying a temporal argument into eternity without any consideration as to what the future will be like. So, the Sadducees presented a hypothetical situation to Jesus in Mark 12:19-23. “Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. 20 Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. 21 And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. 22 And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? For the seven had her to wife.”
Having asked their question, the Sadducees stepped back to wait for an answer. Perhaps there was a smug smile upon their lips, for they thought a way had finally been found to trap the Lord logically, and discredit Him publicly. But omniscience cannot be frustrated. Infinite wisdom is no match for childish imaginations.
In His response the Lord dealt first with the pride of the Sadducees. These students of the Law believed they understood the Scriptures better than all others. “Ye do err,” said Christ, “because ye know not the Scriptures.” Suddenly the blood in the veins of the Sadducees began to boil. They were not used to being spoken to in such a manner. But it was true. The Sadducees really did not know the Scriptures as well as they should have.
Had the Sadducees understood the spiritual part of the Scriptures, as well as the literal letter of the Law they would not have bothered to ask the question they did. Had the Sadducees known the essence of God more fully, they would not have been skeptical of a bodily resurrection. The God of creation is the God of resurrection, and recreation. Everything that is needed to restore all things is still in the universe, for matter cannot be destroyed according to the known law of thermodynamics. Drawing back the curtain of time, Jesus revealed the following truth about the future: there will be a resurrection from the dead.
Earlier in His ministry the Lord affirmed belief in a bodily resurrection for both the just and the unjust. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).
Jesus not only taught the doctrine of the resurrection, He affirmed the faith of those who already embraced the thought. When Martha said to Christ following the death of her brother Lazarus, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:24-27).
In addition to teaching the doctrine of the resurrection, and affirming the faith in others, Christ demonstrated the reality of a future resurrection by bringing people back from the sphere of the dead.
He raised to life the daughter of Jarius, a ruler of the synagogue (Mark 5:22-43).
He raised to life the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-16). Nain was a small hamlet located six miles SW of Nazareth, standing on a bleak, rocky slope of the northern descending slope of the “hill of Moreh” in the Valley of Jezreel.
He raised to life Lazarus. “And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43).
There will be a resurrection from the dead for all people. Christ Himself is the firstfruits of this fact. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:20-24).
In the resurrection the marital state will be dissolved. Historically, Protestant theology has not stressed this point. In the 4th century AD St. Augustine began to teach that marriage is indissoluble, but that is not true. Death terminates the marital union (Rom. 7:1ff), as does divorce (Deut 24:1-2), and separation (1 Cor. 7:15).
In the resurrection there will be no marriage for men and women shall be immortal. To prove from Scripture the immortality of the soul, the Lord appealed to the words of His Father recorded in the Law. When Yahweh revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush He said, “Moses, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The implication was crystal clear. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still alive or God would have said, “I was the God of the patriarchs.” In effect Jesus was telling the Sadducess that
Because they live, because their souls are immortal, one day the soul shall be re-united with the body for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
In light of these considerations Jesus turned once more to the doctrinal errors of the Sadducees and informed them how grievous their position was. “Ye do greatly err” said the Lord in order to stress the gravity of their teaching against the resurrection. What Jesus said in His day is still applicable today. There are those who greatly err in their understanding of the Bible.
The Church can recognize those who err in their biblical understanding by knowing, and affirming, the truth of the gospel once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
The truth of the gospel is that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and not by human good works. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
The truth of the gospel is that salvation is based upon the free grace of the sovereign God, and not the will of the Natural Man. The Bible speaks of those, “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
The truth of the gospel is that, neither salvation, nor the Scriptures, which set forth the way of salvation, came by the will of man. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).
The truth of the gospel is that there is only one mediator between God. Neither Mary nor the saints, nor any angel, can mediate between God and man. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
The truth of the gospel is that there is a heaven to hope for, and a hell to fear. “And fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
The truth of the gospel is that those who are saved cannot be eternally lost. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). “Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none” (John 18:9.
The truth of the gospel is that Christ Jesus is coming the second time for all who believe, but not in stages, or phases, as some teach. There are no multiple comings of Christ. “So, Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).
The truth of the gospel is that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
The truth of the gospel is that there is a bodily resurrection promised to everyone who is born of God. “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).
Because there are still many within Christendom who do “greatly err”, there must be a return by individuals to the Scriptures for a more careful reading of the text. If this is not done, then two practical dangers will continue to exist.
The first danger will be to learn a System of theology and assume it reflects the teaching of the Bible. Today, many people are learning a System of theology by trusting religious authorities. They fail to personally study Scripture.
The second danger that confronts the Church when the Scriptures are not personally studied is to allow the Word of God to be merely alluded to, in order to prove a point. It is one thing to mention a passage of Scripture to prove a point, it is another thing to actually exegete the text.
The Sadducees used the tactic of merely alluding to Scripture when they spoke to Christ, and many Bible teachers use the same techniques today. It was wrong to do that then, it is still wrong to do that today. If a Scripture is alluded to, the passage cited, upon examination, should clearly teach the point presented.
What is the conclusion of this matter?
Never surrender a doctrinal truth.
Do not be intimidated by questions.
Hold to a high view of God.
Know the Scriptures intimately in order to respect God fully. Say to others what Christ said in essence to the Sadducees, “Your God is too small, your man is too big”.
Believe in Christ.
Believe the words of Jesus, and the Scriptures. Believe them over all else. And in particular believe in the resurrection of the body. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? (Acts 26:8).
“What reason have atheists for saying that we cannot rise again? Which is the more difficult, to be born, or to rise again? That what has never been, should be, or that what has been, should be again? Is it more difficult to come into being than to return to it?” (Blaise Pascal, French Mathematician, Theologian, 1623 -1663)
May the Lord always give us grace to hope in the resurrection of the body. Amen.
“Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!”
Because Jesus lives, those who believe in Christ shall live also.