Sermon on Mark 12:18-27
This passage is a difficult one to explain. First of all, it’s important to understand that the Sadducees and Pharisees were both political parties. Our political views are shaped by our values, our ideas, our doctrines, and our worldviews. The Pharisees and Sadducees had a political debate over whether or not there was a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees said that there was no resurrection, so their focus was on living their best life now, because afterwards there is just nothing.
The Pharisees, however, believed that there is a resurrection of the dead. They believed that when people die, they go to a sort of temporary state in heaven, but then there will come a day when God will turn the world upside-down and set everything to rights, and this is the Day of Resurrection. On this day, those who have died and are in the temporary state will rise from the dead bodily and be alive again.
(Many people don’t know that Christian doctrine agrees with the Pharisees. A common misconception is that heaven is the ultimate destination for our souls, but it’s not. We are looking forward to the day when Jesus Christ will return, and we will rise with him, and live out eternity on earth with Christ in bodily form.)
We see in Acts 23:6-10, an example of how volatile this division between the parties was, because Paul used the violent dissension between the groups as a way to get out of trouble before the Jewish council.
So in Mark 12, the Sadducees are trying to bring Jesus into this argument with the Pharisees by presenting him with what they think is an incontrovertible proof that they are right: A woman is married and widowed by a succession of seven brothers and then she dies… Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? The Sadducees think this is a zinger, because that situation is ridiculous.
So Jesus responds. Sometimes he refuses to engage in debate when he is challenged, but the issue of resurrection is so central to who he is and what he came to do that he responds clearly and firmly.
Jesus essentially says to the Sadducees, “You are wrong. Resurrection is real.” Jesus explains that marriage is a temporary situation for this age only; there will not be marriage in the resurrection age. Marriage is necessary in the current age because people die, and so we need to marry and have children in order to make more people to carry on in the world. But in the resurrection, there will be no more death, so marriage and procreation will not be required to make more people. In the resurrection, marriage will be irrelevant. The Sadducees are focusing on the wrong thing entirely.
Jesus then goes on to give further proof that resurrection is real, by using a passage from the Book of Exodus, when Moses was at the burning bush. God introduced himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To the human way of thinking, those three men were dead, but God was saying in essence, “These men are alive and with me now.”
It is absolutely necessary for a Christian to believe in resurrection, and Paul explains it this way:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But 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 in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.1 Corinthians 15:12-19
When Jesus was dismissing marriage as a temporary state for this age only, he was aiming straight for the Sadducees’ way of thinking, because the Sadducees were focused on this life only. They were wrapped up in their earthly wealth, status, and comfort.
But the truth is, if you put too much stock in the things of this age, you may very well forfeit your soul. You have to place all your hopes in the coming age. Jesus promises that all the blessing, comfort, and riches are coming for his people in the resurrection, not in this world. People who are truly following Christ will be willing to lay down their temporary lives, their temporary possessions, because they believe they will receive all that and more in eternity.