18 Sadducees, who say that resurrection is not possible, came to him and questioned him, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving behind a wife but no child, the man should marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21 and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22 none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23 In the resurrection whose wife will she be? Because the seven had married her.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you have gone astray, that you recognize neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 Because when they rise from the dead, they will neither marry nor be 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 story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you have gone extremely astray.”
I like to watch a good debate. I don’t mean when two or three political candidates get together and call each other names, and reveal the fact that neither knows what they are talking about. Let’s call that a category one debate. I mean an honest-to-goodness real debate, where we actually learn the facts behind the issue, and are left with the ability to make an educated decision about which side is best. That’s the kind of debate I like to watch. We will call that a category two debate. The trouble is, most debates don’t have participants who approach the task with integrity, so they wind up being category one debates, and leave the audience with the wrong impressions.
Today’s text records what started out as a category one debate, but it ended up as a category two debate. Mark records Jesus and the Sadducees having a fundamental disagreement here over the concept of bodily resurrection. Their disagreement comes from the fact that each has a presupposition about the promise of resurrection, and their presuppositions are diametrical opposites.
The Sadducees say that resurrection is impossible, and that such a concept implies ludicrous things – a view they demonstrated with their little hypothetical story to Jesus. What they are actually doing is trying to have the wrong kind of debate with Jesus. They want to throw out a bunch of wrongheaded arguments and leave their audience thinking they know something about the subject, but they don’t. I have actually read scholarly books where the same kind of argument is made. Here’s some examples of that:
· The resurrection cannot happen because if people really die, they have to be recreated in order to live again, so they are not the same person.
· The resurrection does not need to happen because all that is really important is the soul, and that never dies.
· A universal resurrection cannot happen because some people are completely are completely disintegrated, so there is nothing left to resurrect.
· A universal resurrection cannot happen because some people are eaten by animals or cannibals so their bodies become part of the bodies of those who eat them.
I’m not going to stop and answer each of these arguments yet. I just want to demonstrate that the debate over the resurrection still goes on. I do want to say that any argument against the concept of a coming, universal resurrection of all the dead tends to try what the Sadducees were trying. They tried to show that the promise of the resurrection is not possible. The Sadducees used as their debate tactic a hypothetical story about a woman with seven husbands. If the argument had been stated as a syllogism, it might sound something like this.
· resurrection restores a dead person back to life.
· if a woman marries seven men in succession, when she is raised, she will either be a polygamist, or she will be forced to divorce six of her legitimate husbands.
· therefore the resurrection is immoral, so it cannot happen.
The argument does not sound half as convincing today as it probably did back then. But the problem with category one debates is that they do not have to be convincing. As long as the debaters are saying something, they think their job is done. They don’t have to prove their point, all they have to do is make their point.
Jesus reveals his presuppositions about bodily resurrection here. In so doing, he proves not only that he is right about the coming resurrection, but he also proves that all three presuppositions that the Sadducees had about resurrection are false.
· He proves that resurrection involves more than merely restoring a dead person back to life.
· He proves that a person married in this life will not be married in the next (even if you are Mormon).
· He proves that there are no moral obstacles to the resurrection.
Here is how Jesus frames his argument:
First, he explains that the resurrection is not a debate to be fought, but an event to be experienced. It is promised in scripture, and God’s unstoppable power is behind that promise. So, Jesus does not address the resurrection as a hypothesis. He does not say “if they rise,” he says “when they rise” (25). He had the advantage of not having to sort out all the questions and figure out solutions for them. He knew that there would be a resurrection, and that he, himself would be the one who brings it about.
Do you remember when Jesus was talking to Martha when he arrived in Bethany, four days after the death of Lazarus. Martha told Jesus that she knew her brother would be raised on resurrection day. Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life.” He explained to her that on that day, anyone who had died, he would bring them back to life. He went on to explain that anyone who believes in him who was not dead on that day – would never die.
Some people read Jesus’ words to Martha with blinders on, because they are convinced that it must somehow be about what happens when you die. It is not. It is about resurrection day. That day will start out with two kinds of Christian: dead Christians, and living Christians. Then Jesus will do his thing, and suddenly, and eternally – there will be only one kind of Christian. He will literally raise the dead, and make all living believers immortal.
The second point in Jesus’ argument is that the resurrection will not be a mere resuscitation to the same corruptible bodies and sinful souls that we have today. God will restore us not to our present status, but to the one he intends us to have for eternity. He addresses that argument that the Sadducees made, presuming that resurrection is merely bringing a body back to life.
All resurrections that have ever happened in history have been merely resuscitations. But the resurrection that God promised is so much more than that. The apostle Paul explained that in his first letter to the Corinthians. He compared the original body with a seed that is sown. We all know that when a plant grows out of the earth that it started as a small seed, but we also know that the end product is something different – something much bigger and more glorious than the seed.
“42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49 ESV).
When we Christians talk about our longing for the resurrection, it is not just that we want to be brought back to life after we die. We want much more than that. We want this sin and death that destroys our relationship with God and each other to be destroyed. We want a new life – a sinless, holy, God honouring life. That is what the resurrection promises for us. In the end, we will look more like Jesus than like Adam. We will have more in common with the eternal heaven than this present corrupted earth. You cannot really understand our desire for the resurrection as long as you see resurrection as mere resuscitation. It is more like complete regeneration.
Finally, Jesus argues that the resurrection must happen because God has a plan, and that plan cannot be realized among the dead. God’s promise is to all his people, not just his people of the future. His words to Moses were in effect a reminder that he is not through being faithful to those who have died. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had long been dead. They were truly dead and they still are. Jesus was not denying the reality of death. What he was saying was that God always sees into eternity. He sees Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and David alive in their final perfected state. He sees you and me there as well. So, God is always our God. Even when we die, he is our God. He sees not just this part of his plan, but his whole plan.
To me, that fact is comforting on so many levels. The Bible says that Christ, “by a single offering … has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). God sees that. He sees the trouble I am having right now following him, and he is not worried. He looks back in time to the cross, and he sees the debt paid forever for my sins. And he looks forward into time to the resurrection, and he sees me changed into my eternal, perfected self. He sees me in that perfected state for a million years, and a million more. God sees me, and he sees you, and he is not ashamed, and he is not worried. He sees his children, and he smiles.
Something wonderful happened to me as I got a little older. I stopped worrying so much about my children. I used to be anxious about making the wrong decisions, and scarring them for life. Now, I look at those same kids, who are now raising kids of their own, and I realize that I worried too much about them. I should have trusted that God would take care of them the same way he took care of me. It’s a lot easier for me to do that now that I can see them acting with maturity and consideration for others.
The reason why people don’t have confidence in the resurrection is that it hasn’t happened yet. One day we will look back on all the pain and struggles that we are going through now, and realize that we should have just trusted God to work out his plan. If we can believe the first four words of the Bible (three words in Hebrew) we can believe in the resurrection. Those words are “In the beginning, God…” He was there in the beginning, setting his plan in place. He will be there at the end, restoring all things to himself. If we just look at the cemeteries, we will wonder about the resurrection. But if we look to the one who was here before us, he will bring us to a time when all the cemeteries are history. His plan for us is eternal, abundant life.