Is There Marriage After Death?
January 6, 2013 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Gospel of Mark
Topic: Resurrection Passage: Mark 12:18–27
Let’s turn together to Mark 12. If you’re visiting us this morning we’re working our way through the gospel of Mark, but it’s been a couple of weeks since we opened Mark so before we read I want to remind us of where we are and what’s going on. Beginning in chapter 11, Mark records a series of confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders and in the verses we are looking at this morning, a new group step up to challenge Jesus – a religious sect called the Sadducees.
The Sadducees were a smaller sect, probably the wealthiest and most worldly of the religious sects in Jesus’ day, and from what I’ve read, probably the most obnoxious of the religious sects. The ancient historian Josephus wrote about them, “The Sadducees…are even among themselves, rather boorish in their behavior, and in their [communication] with their peers are as rude as aliens.”
Two distinctive things about the Sadducees is that they only recognized the Torah, that is, the first five books of the Bible written by Moses, as authoritative scripture, which means they didn’t recognize the Psalms or wisdom literature or prophets. So there was a lot of Bible they didn’t read. The other distinctive thing about the Sadducees (and you’ve probably heard this) is that they rejected a belief in the afterlife and specifically rejected the concept of the resurrection. They didn’t believe in angels or spirits or judgment or rewards or any other aspect related to the afterlife. They believed that when someone died they simply ceased to exist.
Mark 12:18-27 (pray)
The Sadducees come to Jesus with a question that is meant to cast the concept of the resurrection in a ridiculous light. They begin by referring to a commandment in Deut 25:5 which says if a man’s brother dies without bearing a son to carry on his name and inheritance, the living brother is to marry the deceased brother’s wife and their first son will bear the name of the deceased brother. It was a law designed to protect a man from having his name and inheritance blotted out from Israel.
From this law the Sadducees pose the hypothetical scenario of seven brothers, and one of them marries a wife and then dies without leaving offspring, and so the second brother marries his brother’s wife but he too dies, leaving no offspring and so the third brother marries her and then dies and on it goes right down to the seventh brother. Finally the woman dies. That’s when they spring the question that is meant to illustrate how ridiculous the concept of the resurrection is:
In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife. – 23
This isn’t an honest question about the resurrection, it’s a “gotcha question”. It’s an example of the age old practice, still used today, of erecting a caricature of someone else’s view and then demolishing that caricature, often with ridicule. This question is simply meant to put the resurrection in a ridiculous light.
Jesus answers by pointing out that the flaw isn’t with the resurrection, the flaw is in their thinking.
Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? Vs 24
Their whole grid for understanding spiritual realities is knocked out of whack because they are ignorant, ignorant about the word of God and ignorant about the power of God. The problem is, like us, they don’t know what they don’t know. So Jesus simply tells them how they are wrong.
I. They were wrong about the nature of the resurrection (vs. 25)
The Sadducees make the mistake of thinking that the resurrection is just a continuation of our earthly existence on a timeless scale. So of course seven brothers being resurrected to find they all have the same wife is a pretty awkward situation – especially for her! Will eternity be filled with the brothers quarreling jealously over whose wife she is?
It’s natural to the human race to project what we’ve experienced in this life into the afterlife-only better. Native Americans spoke and wrote of the “happy hunting grounds”. The Vikings, who were by nature warriors, envisioned a Valhalla where they would fight all day and then at the end of every day the wounded would be healed, the dead raised and they would all drink wine from the skulls of their conquered foes. What could be better than that? Even today it’s common at funerals for people to comfort themselves about a loved one’s passing by describing them doing in heaven what they loved to do on earth: they’re playing baseball or partying or playing practical jokes on Saint Peter or whatever they might be remembered for doing while here on earth. It’s comforting to think of the afterlife in similar terms of this life – only lasting forever.
But Jesus says that’s where they are wrong: to think that the resurrection just continues this life as it was. Instead Jesus and other places in scripture describe resurrection life as a life transformed into something far different and far beyond anything we experience in this life. Resurrection transforms life to a much different and much higher quality than anything we know here. Jesus says we will be like the angels in heaven, powerful beings that never die and never wear down, worshipping in the presence of God and serving His eternal purposes with power and glory. When we rise from the dead, though we’ll recognize those we knew in this life, we won’t be in the same relationship with them, including those we are married to in this life. We’ll recognize one another, and remember our relationships on this life (I think with tenderness and love), but we won’t be married to our spouses in heaven. The only marriage in heaven is between Jesus and his church.
So that is their first mistake – to create a dilemma based entirely on a faulty understanding of the resurrection. We’ll come back to the resurrection with a couple more thoughts before we close, but let’s consider the second mistake they made.
II. They were wrong about the covenant-keeping nature of God (vv. 26-27)
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.”
The scriptures speak a lot about the resurrection of the dead and the afterlife, but remember that the Sadducees only accepted the Torah as authoritative scripture. So Jesus draws their attention to the second book of the Torah – Exodus 3 and draws a compelling argument for the resurrection from Moses.
In Exodus chapters 3 and 4, as the Lord is calling Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and promises that He will be with them and bring them into a good land overflowing with milk and honey, the Lord refers to Himself over and over again as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus points out that God isn’t the God of the dead – He isn’t the God of the non-existent, as they would believe Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were. He is the God of the living. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive and God was still their God.
The covenant-keeping God
Jesus argues for the resurrection by reminding them of God’s covenant faithfulness. As God reveals Himself to Moses, He reveals Himself as the God of the covenant that was cut with the patriarchs many centuries previously. If they no longer existed, God would no longer be their God, for the non-existent cannot be in relationship with God.
And that statement, the God of, carries with it the assurance of God’s help, blessing, and saving. God doesn’t cut covenant to deliver and save a person for 40 or 50 years only, but forever. God isn’t the deliverer and the Savior of the dead, but of the living. Their hope and God’s covenant reached beyond this life into the next. And that declares resurrection.
Hebrews 11:10 says of Abraham that he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. And verse 16 says that the early men of faith desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Their faith in God looked beyond this world to a better city, a better country, a better world. If God delivers His people from the bondages and oppressors of this life, only to stand by as His people succumb to the final and ultimate bondage and enemy death, than He isn’t much of a Deliverer when it counts. Jesus tells these Sadducees, God is a great deliverer and you are quite wrong! (vs. 27)
III. The promise of the resurrection
I want to close by sharing two biblical truths about the resurrection:
1. The concept of the resurrection – that there is an afterlife, that this life isn’t all there is, is central to the Bible. It is central to all the promises, central to all the covenants, central to all the threads of redemption and deliverance, central to the life and saving work of Christ, and central to the believer’s hope. In fact in 1 Cor. 15:19 Paul writes, If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
You can’t pull the hope of the resurrection out of the Bible, as the Sadducees did, without gutting the Bible of its central message. It’s that important. Death is one of the great non-negotiables of the human condition. No one can say, “well that doesn’t apply to me.” Many of us have already lost one or more loved ones, and all of us will lose loved ones one at a time until either they are all gone or we ourselves come to the dark river that all of us have to eventually cross.
How sweet and how strong is the comfort that comes from the hope of the resurrection. My father passed away 33 years ago believing firmly in Jesus Christ as his Savior. The Sadducees would say he ceased to exist. Jesus would say he is in the presence of his God, awaiting the resurrection.
At the resurrection, we will be raised in the same bodies we have now – but they will be totally transformed. You will be the same person, but you will be so very different. We will recognize one another and love one another, except there won’t be any impurity or imperfection to our love. We will love perfectly. We will be free from sin. We will love God with all our mind, soul, and strength. Our bodies will course through with power and we won’t need to eat or sleep, but we can eat for the pure enjoyment of it. Death isn’t the end – it’s really the beginning of life for the Christian. I like the way the nineteenth century clergyman Henry Van Dyke put it as he likens death to a ship sailing out to sea. He writes:
I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she’s gone.”
Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone” there are other eyes watching her coming and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
For the Christian, that’s what death is – the departure from one shore and the arrival to another. What a hope the resurrection is, and what a central truth of the entire Bible it is. It is wonderfully comforting but the great power that lies in the reality of the resurrection isn’t that it’s comforting, it’s that it is true. Jesus promises.
2. If you aren’t a Christian, I want to speak to you for a minute. The biblical message of resurrection is far more than just a sentimental message that there’s life after death – most people and most cultures have vague beliefs about that. As I mentioned earlier, it is human nature to envision something happening beyond this life. In today’s culture it is popular to speak at funerals in sentimental tones about how Uncle Jim is playing poker or watching football in heaven. That is no more Christian than a Viking talking about how Helga is drinking wine from Olaf’s skull. The resurrection is more than just sentimental wishes about a loved one being in a better place.
The resurrection is centered on a genuine and living faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible is clear that, while everyone will be raised, some will be raised to eternal life, and some to eternal death. We all deserve eternal death, but those who trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross will receive eternal life as a gift given freely by His grace. We can’t earn it, but we can receive it by faith.
As we close, will you pray with me? Will you repent of living life apart from God and put your faith in Jesus to save you and forgive you and raise you up on that final day? Let’s pray.
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption