Living with the End in Mind – Mark 12:18-27
Good morning and Happy Mother’s Day! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark, where we are going to be looking at Mark 12:18-27, this morning.
I just want to wish my mom and my mother-in-law and my wife, Helena, a Happy Mother’s Day. These three women have been instrumental in my life, and I wish them all the best on this day and on the Mother’s Days to come, Lord willing.
For many of you watching this, Mother’s Day is a joyous occasion. To those who have given birth to a child, or who have stepchildren or adopted children or foster children, or who are currently expecting a child, or who have a good relationship with their moms or their children, we celebrate with you on this day.
But for some of you watching this, Mother’s Day can cause a mix of emotions. To those who have lost their mom, or who have lost a child, or who have miscarried, or who have walked the hard path of infertility, or who have given a child up for adoption, or who have children who are wild and out, or who have difficult relationships with their moms or their children, or who are single and long to be married and have children, we remember you on this day and mourn with you.
Whatever Mother’s Day looks like for you, my hope is that you will find comfort from the God of all comfort, today.
I’m just going to read our passage for us, and then we will dive in. Mark 12, beginning in verse 18: “And 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. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.’
"24 Jesus said to them, ‘Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And 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”? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.’”
In the past couple weeks, we have been looking at these Jewish leaders coming to Jesus with questions, trying to trap Him. The chief priests, scribes and elders questioned the authority of Jesus, but Jesus shut them down. Next, the Pharisees and Herodians came to Jesus with a question about obeying the government, but Jesus shut them down, as well. And in our text for this morning, a religious group called the Sadducees come to Jesus with a question about life after death.
This is a question that many people think about. I just read a study that was done back in 2018, where 66% of Canadians believed in life after death. There is a kind of curiosity about what happens after we die, and I believe that curiosity has been heightened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Sadducees come to Jesus with a question about life after death, and Jesus is going to dismantle their argument and their theology, like He has done with the previous two groups, but He is also going to give us a healthy perspective of what we can expect for the future. For the follower of Jesus, we can have hope for the future and live with the end in mind, even though some of our questions about life after death remain unanswered.
Mark begins, in verse 18, by telling his readers that Sadducees had come to see Jesus. Who were the Sadducees? The Sadducees, along with the Pharisees, whom we looked at last week, dominated religious life among the Jews. They believed similar things, but they were also significantly different.
The Pharisees believed in angels and demons, whereas the Sadducees did not. The Pharisees accepted a broader understanding of Scripture, which included both written and oral tradition, whereas the Sadducees only accepted the authority of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. The Pharisees affirmed the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees denied.
In Jesus’ day, the majority of Jews believed in life after death, but the Sadducees did not. They didn’t believe in heaven or hell or anything like that. They simply believed that, when you died, you simply ceased to exist.
These were the Sadducees. Mark says that they are the ones, “who say that there is no resurrection.” And this is important for us to note, because they are about to ask Jesus a question about the resurrection. They are about to ask Jesus a question about something that they don’t even agree with, in order that they might trap Jesus and shut Him up.
And the basis for their question is rooted in what is called Levirate marriage. Levirate marriage is explained in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, which says, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’”
The custom of Levirate marriage is played out in the book of Ruth, which was a sermon series we did, last year, around this time. Those sermons on our website, if you want to check them out later. But the idea was that a man would marry the childless widow of his brother, in order to preserve the name and memory of his deceased brother and to ensure that his brother’s inheritance would be passed on to his widow. Levirate marriage was God’s way of caring for widows.
And so, the Sadducees, who only used the Torah as their authority, decided to base their question on the custom of Levirate marriage. And here is their argument: There were seven brothers. And the oldest brother marries this woman, but then, he dies, leaving her with no children. The next brother takes her as his wife, but then, he also dies, leaving her with no children. One by one, they are called on to perform the duty of Levirate marriage to this woman, and one by one, they are unable to provide her with a child before they die.
And I wonder, what is it about this woman that causes each one of these brothers to die? I feel like if I were the seventh brother to come along, after seeing all of my brothers die before me, I would be a little concerned about marrying her. But the last brother marries her, but then, he also dies, leaving her with no children. Finally, the woman also dies. And the question that the Sadducees ask is, “in the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
The Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection, remember, they don’t believe in the life to come, they create this scenario, where Jesus is being forced to argue for who has the right to this woman in heaven. If Jesus holds to monogamy, which He does, then He needs to decide whose wife she will be.
And they must have thought that they had stumped Jesus with this one. But it’s like the question, “Can God create an object too heavy for Him to lift?” Either God is not powerful enough to create such an object, or He is not powerful enough to lift such an object. It’s ridiculous question. The argument doesn’t make sense.
And what is the first thing Jesus says to them? “You are wrong.” I love how straight-forward Jesus is. He doesn’t immediately address their question. He just simply says, “You are wrong. You don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.”
The Greek word used here is planan, from where we get the word, “planet,” which means, “to wander off track” or “to be led astray.” Jesus is saying that their faulty way of interpreting the Scriptures has led them astray to a distorted view of God. They are way off base. The god that they claim to worship is not the God of the Bible. It’s another god, entirely.
And that’s terrifying. As the pastor of a church, I feel the weight of this. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” If I am steering people away from the Scriptures, then I am steering them towards a god of my own making, and that’s not good for me or for you.
It’s why I get us to grab our Bibles, every Sunday morning, because I want us to see, if what I am saying is rooted in Scripture, or if I am making this up. We need to make sure that we are going to Scripture and letting it sink down deep into our hearts. We need to make sure that we know it and that our kids know it and that our grandkids know it.
One thing that I value so much about my mom, since it’s Mother’s Day, is that she constantly has her Bible open. She is going to the Scriptures. And my hope for us, as a church, is that we would find the same value in that, and that we might not be found in error, worshipping a god of our own making, because we veered off course by not going to the Scriptures. My hope is that we would be like the Bereans, in Acts 17:11, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
Jesus critiques the Sadducees’ lack of knowledge of the Scriptures. This would be like claiming doctors know nothing about the medical field. The Sadducees majored in the Scriptures. This was what they went to University for. This was what they got their degree in. And Jesus is asserting that they are wrong at the very core of their belief system.
But Jesus also says that the Sadducees know not “the power of God.” And there are two significant ways, in which they are in error:
1. First, they are in error of hedonism.
The Sadducees have made the mistake, and I suspect that many people do the same, today, of believing that this world is all there is, so you better live it up and get as much pleasure out of this life as you possibly can. If it feels good or makes you happy, do it. If this is all we get, then let’s have fun. But that’s not what Scripture teaches.
In verse 25, Jesus says, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
Contrary to what the Sadducees believe, Jesus says that there will be a resurrection from the dead, so this life is not all there is, and that this resurrected state in heaven will be more satisfying than anything in this world, including marriage. Life after death will not include marriage.
Now, that’s sad for me, because I love being married to my wife. We have a lot of fun, together, and I can’t imagine not being married to her in heaven. But the point that Jesus is making is that our relationships in heaven will be more satisfying and more pleasurable than we ever thought possible on earth.
Sex is a good gift from God for us to enjoy. But there is something better than sex in heaven, and it’s the fact that we will know each other and be known by each other, more completely, because we will be in the presence of our Creator God and our relationships will finally be how they were always intended to be.
We can’t even imagine what heaven will be like. Even our imagination pales in comparison to the real thing. As one commentator put it, “Present earthly experience is entirely insufficient to forecast divine heavenly realities: we can no more imagine heavenly existence than an infant in utero can imagine a Beethoven piano concerto or the Grand Canyon at sunset.”
What we know for sure is that we will not be disappointed. We won’t get there and wish it were better. In fact, Jesus says something really interesting. He says that we will be “like angels in heaven.”
Notice that Jesus isn’t saying that we will be angels in heaven, but that we will be “like angels in heaven.” I feel like there is this fascination with us becoming angels and flying around heaven with harps. But why would we want to be angels, when 1 Peter 1:12 says that the “angels long to look” at what God is doing in the salvation of His people? Why would we want to be angels, when the angels are more curious about what God is doing with us?
No, Jesus says that we will be like angels. 1 Corinthians 15 says that the follower of Jesus will have a glorified body in heaven. What does that mean? It means no hunger or thirst, no weariness or fatigue, no sorrow, no pain, no death. There will be no miscarriages, no infertility, no longing for something more. The groanings of this body, the weaknesses and imperfections, the cares of this world, all of it will be fully and finally restored.
Do you see how limited we are, if we believe that this life is all there is? The life to come sounds way better than anything in this life. Jesus said, in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Why would I trade away future glory for temporary satisfaction? But we do it all the time. For myself, there are some moments when I want the praise of man more than I want to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Like the Sadducees, we fail to see the power of God by committing the error of hedonism. We have supreme satisfaction and pleasure in the life to come, but we often trade that away to live it up in this life.
2. But then, the second error of the Sadducees is the error of nihilism.
The Sadducees have made the mistake, and again, I suspect that many people do the same, today, of believing that this life is all there is, therefore everything is meaningless. There is no hope. There is no assurance of a future. We go through life, punch our time card, and that’s it for us. We eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. But again, that’s not what Scripture teaches.
In verse 26, Jesus is quoting from Exodus 3:6, where God says to Moses, from the burning bush, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Notice that God doesn’t say to Moses, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now they’re dead,” but rather, God says to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” By the time of Moses, these men were long dead and buried and rotting in the ground, but God is still their God. Why? Because these men are spiritually alive with God in heaven.
Now, what is fascinating about Jesus’ response is that Jesus could have gone elsewhere in the Old Testament to support the resurrection from the dead. He could have gone to Isaiah 26:19, which says, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!”
He could have gone to Daniel 12:2, which says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
He could have gone to Ezekiel 37, where the prophet Ezekiel sees this vision of a valley of dry bones that are eventually covered with skin and come to life, and how this is a picture of the people of God, as God says to Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 37:12-13, “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.”
Jesus could have used any of these Old Testament references to support the resurrection of God’s people from the dead, but Jesus goes specifically to the Torah, to one of the Scriptures from which the Sadducees got their authority and that which they claimed to know well, to show them that they were in error and that they didn’t actually know the power of God.
It’s why Jesus closes His conversation with the Sadducees, by using the same Greek word, planan, to reiterate that the Sadducees were way off base. And like the Sadducees, we fail to see the power of God by committing the error of nihilism. We have assurance of a future resurrection from the dead, but we often trade that away to live in hopelessness.
In 1 Corinthians 15:19, the apostle Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Since this life is not all there is, and since God is God of the living and there will be a resurrection from the dead, there is no need to despair. For those who believe in Jesus, we have hope, and it’s not a hope for this life only, but so much more for the life to come.
A few days after this conversation with the Sadducees, Jesus is going to be handed over to the Roman authorities, who will put Him to death on a cross, and they will bury Him in a tomb, but three days later, in victory and triumph, He will rise from the dead, showing that God is indeed God of the living.
Jesus would verify to the Sadducees and to us that there is not simply a resurrection from the dead, but that He Himself is “the resurrection and the life,” according to John 11:25. 1 Corinthians 15:20 says that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
You see, we all will rise from the dead. The resurrection from the dead is for everyone. But some will rise to eternal life, and some to judgment. For those who do not believe in Jesus, this will be a day of despair. But for those of us who have believed in Jesus, this will be a day of rejoicing and victory.
What will heaven be like when we get there? I don’t know. I can give you my opinions based on what I see in Scripture, but I don’t ultimately know. What I do know is what the apostle Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 2:9, that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” An even better question is: Do we believe in Jesus? It doesn’t matter how great heaven is, if we don’t have Jesus.
Eliza Hewitt was born in 1851 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She grew up there and eventually taught in the Philadelphia area. One day, while overseeing her students in the playground, she, unfortunately, suffered a severe back injury and was confined to her bed for months, dealing with pain for the rest of her life.
As Eliza recovered some of her strength, in later years, she was able to get around slowly. She attended the summer Methodist Camp meeting, in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, where she met Emily D. Wilson, and together they wrote the hymn, “When We All Get To Heaven.” The chorus of the hymn goes like this: “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus we'll sing and shout the victory.”
Notice where Eliza’s focus is, in the words of this hymn: She isn’t shouting for joy because her back pain will soon be gone when Christ comes again to restore all things, including her back. She could have rejoiced in that fact, but instead, she rejoices in seeing Jesus on that day when she gets to heaven. Can we say that we are looking forward to seeing Jesus? Can we say that it will be a day of rejoicing when Christ returns? I pray we do.
Going back to that study from 2018, there were a number of Canadians who believed in life after death, but who didn’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God. It would seem that people want heaven more than they want Jesus, but it doesn’t work that way. The only reason why heaven is so spectacular is because Jesus is there in all His glory. A Christless heaven is no heaven, at all.
Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
We must set our focus on Christ, not on heaven. Heaven will be amazing—greater than anything we can ever imagine. We worship and serve a great God who is preparing a great heaven for His people. And yet, the point isn’t heaven. The point isn’t even the resurrection from the dead. It’s Jesus. Jesus is the point.
All these other things are great, but if we don’t have Jesus, if we don’t treasure Jesus above everything else, if Jesus is not our aim, our goal, our focus, then all these other things are worthless. They have no value. And worse, we have no part in them, as 1 John 5:12 says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
And so, the question is not whether or not there will be marriage in heaven, or what heaven will be like, or what kind of bodies we will have, but whether or not we believe in Jesus. Do we believe in Jesus? Do we have the Son of God?
Let us not waste our lives on temporary pleasures and hopelessness. Instead, let us set our focus on Jesus. Let us know the Scriptures and the power of God, that says there is coming a day when the God of the living will raise those in Christ to everlasting life with Him. If you do not believe in Jesus, I pray you do, today.
On that day when Christ returns, there will be much rejoicing and shouts of victory among the people of God, all our hopes finally realized, for we will see Jesus. May we be a people who live with this end in mind. Let’s pray…