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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Sadducees challenge Christ on the resurrection of the dead
Text:Mark 12:18-27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 7
Hymn 82:3
Psalm 16:1,4,5
Hymn 67:1,5,6,7
Hymn 79

Reading:  Exodus 3
Text:  Mark 12:18-27
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

As Christians we frequently think about the hereafter – or at least we should.  There’s evidence of it in my catechism classes.  Whenever we get to Lord’s Day 22 and the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Our younger members have all kinds of questions.  Some of them have definite answers, others can only be answered with a good guess.  As we grow older, we continue to reflect on what happens after we die.  It’s natural that Christians should do that. 

But sometimes you’ll encounter unbelievers who are concerned about it too.  When I was a missionary, there was a woman in the village where we lived.  She wasn’t a Christian, but she was interested in talking about the hereafter.  One of her favourite topics was a story about an uncle who was on his fifth wife.  “Who will he be married to in heaven?” she would ask.  Well, I wonder where she got that story from!  She tried that question on any missionary who came to visit.  I’m not sure if she was genuinely interested in the answer.

The Sadducees in our text were genuinely interested in an answer, but for all the wrong reasons.  They wanted to hear what Jesus thought, but it was because they had an idea already of how he would answer.  They had a murderous agenda.  But their agenda and the question that comes from it provides our Lord Jesus with another opportunity to give his disciples sound instruction on the hereafter.  So this morning I preach to you God’s Word and we’ll see how the Sadducees challenge Christ on the resurrection of the dead.  We’ll look at the question they ask and its:

1.      Background

2.      Motivation

3.      Response

So who were these Sadducees anyway?  They were one of the groups of Jewish religious leaders.  Many of the Sadducees were priests.  Some believe that the name Sadducee is derived from the name of Zadok the High Priest.  Zadok was an important figure during the reigns of David and Solomon.  If you know classical music, Zadok the Priest was written by Georg Friedrich Handel for the coronation of King George II of England:  “Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king.”  Zadok was a significant man in Israel’s history.  Many of the Sadducees believed themselves to be significant too.  Not only were they priests, but they were also part of the Jewish upper crust, they were aristocrats, wealthy men with connections and political power.

But for all of that, what they’re really remembered for in the Bible and in history is their theology.  They held some peculiar views.  For starters, they only regarded the first five books of the Bible as authoritative and canonical.  Then they had some different ideas about angels and spirits.  Luke tells us in Acts 23 that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the existence of angels and spirits.  Then there was what happens at death.  The Sadducees believed that when you died, that was it.  Your soul died along with your body.  You have one life to live and that’s it.  There is no hereafter.  Consequently, they also did not believe in a resurrection of the dead.  They did not believe that people who had died and gone to heaven would some day come back and receive their bodies back for judgment.  They didn’t believe that there would be a resurrection of shame for the wicked unbelievers or a resurrection of glory for the righteous believers.  Their religion was very much about this world here and now and that’s it.  When you hear this, it all sounds quite contemporary with our own day.  There are many people around us today who have much the same view as the Sadducees.  Death is final, they say.  All you are is the chemicals that make up your body and when those chemicals stop functioning, you don’t exist any longer.  You live, you die, that’s it.

So these are the men who approached Jesus in our text on that Tuesday before Good Friday.  Remember Jesus had confronted the Jewish religious leaders earlier in chapter 12.  He told a parable that antagonized them, the parable of the tenants.  The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders were looking for a way to kill Jesus.  First some of the Pharisees and Herodians took a stab at him.  They were unable to fluster him with their question about the Roman head tax.  So now the Sadducees have their turn.  They too want to find a way to silence this upstart from Galilee. 

They come to him with a carefully crafted “question.”  Like the Pharisees and Herodians just before this, they address him with the respectful title of “Teacher.”  But they’re not interested in being taught.  They’re interested in blood.  Jesus’ blood. 

Their question comes out of a law found in the book of Deuteronomy.  It was in Deuteronomy 25.  This law has become known as the law of levirate marriage.  Levir is the Latin word for a husband’s brother.  According to this law, if a man died and left no children, if he had a brother, that brother would take his wife and try to produce children.  Those children would carry on his brother’s name and receive his brother’s inheritance.  This was all about maintaining property rights.  For the Sadducees this law had special significance because if all that’s left of you is your inheritance and family name, it becomes really important to maintain that.    

So there’s that law.  They rehearse it accurately to Jesus and then they come up with a case study.  Seven brothers and one woman.  They each marry the woman and then die without having any children.  Then the woman dies too.  An unlikely scenario, but this is the case.  This is the test they’re going to put before our Saviour.  Now the question is:  when the dead are raised, who will she be married to?  She was married to all seven, after all. 

Now they’re Sadducees and they don’t believe in a resurrection.  This is a cynical question meant to accomplish at least one thing and maybe two.  The one thing they want to do for sure is alienate Jesus.  Whatever answer he gives to their question, he’s going to tick somebody off.  He’ll put a target on his own back no matter what.  But the other thing that their question might accomplish is a jab at the Pharisees too.  The Pharisees were the great theological opponents of the Sadducees.  All the distinctive beliefs of the Sadducees were oriented against what the Pharisees taught.  With their question, they were definitely trying to make a fool of Jesus, but also likely the Pharisees who also believed in the resurrection from the dead.

But here in Mark the focus is undoubtedly on Christ.  Here the aim and motivation is to build a case against him so that he can be discredited before the crowds and easily liquidated.  They address him as “Teacher,” but they’re not in the classroom here.  They’re in the back alley with knives drawn and brass knuckles ready.

These men were the sworn enemies of our Saviour.  He was the Messiah spoken of by Moses their great prophet.  But yet they want nothing more than to see his lips stop moving.  They want to see the life out of his eyes.  This is all part of his descent into suffering and humiliation.  Being opposed and challenged like this was part of the shame he endured for us.  When we read these words in Mark, it’s important to keep in mind the big picture.  We’re almost at the cross here.  The stage is being set.  They’re determined to make a fool of him.  Here they try to do it with a theological debate.  Later they will do it by sheer violence. 

And when we consider the sufferings of Christ, we should never do that abstractly.  This is not just a theological debate in this passage.  This is not just about a precise point or two of doctrine.  In everything he endured, our Saviour had us on his heart.  He put up with these “theologians” because he loved us and would go to the cross at their hands for us.  He schooled these “theologians” because he also knew that his disciples would need instruction.  Brothers and sisters, once again see the care and compassion of your Saviour for you.                        

His response to them is sharp and to the point.  He doesn’t beat around the bush.  He asks them a question of his own, “Are you not in error?”  That’s a rhetorical question, a question where the answer is obvious.  Yes, of course they are in error.  Why?  Because they don’t know the Bible.  They think of themselves as theologians and Bible experts.  But Jesus is about to show that they’ve missed the boat.  He doesn’t need anything more than the first five books of the Bible to make the point too.  You say you only accept the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses?  Well, let’s test your views just against those. 

And he says they also fail to reckon with the power of God.  By denying the resurrection of the dead, they imply that God is hamstrung.  They insinuate that God is unable to raise dead bodies from the grave – and of course, they’re also making a statement about the Messiah.  He may die, but when he dies, he’s never coming back.  When he’s dead, he’s dead.  That’s it.

In verse 25 Jesus first asserts the fact that the dead will rise.  And when they do, says our Lord, they don’t get married.  When Christ comes back, our souls and bodies will be reunited.  We will have a physical existence on the new heavens and new earth.  And in that existence there will be no marriage.  Marriage is only something for this world and for this age.  Here in this world, you live and you die.  Marriage and the associated fact of procreation are necessary for the continuation of the human race.  But in our resurrected state, we will be eternal, immortal.  There will be no need for marriage and procreation.  Christ says that we will be like the angels in heaven.  You have to be careful not to read too much into that.  That doesn’t mean that you’re going to grow a pair of wings.  All it means is that angels don’t die.  In our resurrected state, we won’t die either.  Angels don’t get married, don’t have to reproduce and make little angels.  In our glorified, resurrected state, we won’t get married and reproduce either.  That’s only something for this world.  That’s where the point of comparison is with the angels.

Now someone might read this and have more questions.  Maybe you’re thinking, “Will we recognize one another then?  Will I see my husband or wife and recognize them as having been my husband or wife during this life?”  Well, our Lord Jesus doesn’t answer that question here.  And the truth is that Scripture doesn’t say a lot about these sorts of questions.  I could offer you my opinion, but that would only be my opinion and it’s not my place to do that from the pulpit.  Here’s what I can tell you for sure.  Here’s something where I can say, “Thus says the Lord”:  whatever the new heavens and new earth hold, there will be no discontent whatsoever with what God has provided in that state.  We’ll have no reason to complain or to wish that things were different.  We’ll be perfectly satisfied with what God has done.  That is something the Word of God promises to you.  You can think about those questions and you can have your own opinion, maybe even a well-considered one, but what I just said is where you have to land at the end.  God is good and his goodness will be your satisfaction in that sinless eternal existence.          

So with those words, our Lord Jesus answers their challenge.  The woman is not going to be married to any of those men in the resurrection.  Because marriage is just not part of the picture.

But then Christ goes on to make his case for the resurrection of the dead.  He says that the Sadducees have not been good students of the Bible.  They’ve missed that passage that we read from Exodus 3.  God appeared to Moses at the burning bush and he announced himself to be the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Now Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all long-dead by the time of Moses.   Yet God chose to identify himself as the God of these men.  What was so special about them?  What was there between them and him that led him to speak in this way in Exodus 3?  There was the covenant.  God established a covenant of grace between himself and these patriarchs.  God committed himself to protecting them and their posterity.  And for what period of time did God make that commitment?  Well, let’s just take the example of Abraham.  What did God say to him in Genesis 17:7?  “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”  Those are familiar words  -- we hear them often in the Form for Baptism.  But now take note of the time attached to that covenant:  it is everlasting.  God did not say that he would only be the God of Abraham while Abraham had a heartbeat.  God didn’t say that he would only be the God of Isaac while Isaac’s neurons were firing in his brain.  He didn’t say he would only be the God of Jacob while Jacob’s blood was flowing.  No, an everlasting covenant.  That’s where the Sadducees missed the boat.  They believed that the soul ceased to exist when the body died.  With that belief they also nixed the possibility of resurrection – because there’s no soul to reunite with a resurrected body.  But Jesus says, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all alive and well with God because of his covenant with them.  Yahweh, the covenant God, is the God of the living, not of the dead!  Believers like the patriarchs are alive in God’s presence because he keeps his Word.  And therefore, the Sadducees are badly mistaken, way off the mark in their theology. 

What a great comfort this teaching gives us!  Fellow disciples of Jesus, listen to what our teacher is saying.  That covenant of grace established with the patriarchs is also our covenant of grace.  We’re part of it too.  God has made the same promises – he has promised to be our God forever.  When we die, he doesn’t stop being our God.  When our loved ones who believe die, he doesn’t stop being their God.  He continues to hold us and them in the palm of his hand.  Death is not a brick wall for Christians.  It’s a doorway into a new and better existence.  It’s a step along the way to the resurrection. 

When we die we enter into what we call the intermediate state.  Our souls depart our bodies and go to be with the Lord.  We live as disembodied spirits until the return of Christ.  So you see that existence as disembodied spirits in heaven is not going to be our final state.  We’re not going to be like that forever.  Our final state comes when Christ returns.  Then our bodies will be raised again.  All our bones and flesh will be miraculously reconstituted and glorified, raised perfect and immortal.  Our souls and bodies will be reunited and we will live like that in God’s presence in the new heavens and new earth.  And all of this we can be absolutely 100% sure of because God’s covenant with us is an everlasting covenant – a covenant made firm and steadfast through the perfect work of Christ. 

Believers in ages past have had that confidence.  We sang of it in Psalm 16.  David had the confidence of the resurrection and he pointed ahead to Christ’s resurrection.  There’s also those famous words of Job.  Look at Job 19:25-27 [read].  Job could be so certain because of who God is, because of his character, and because of the nature of his covenant.  Job is alive!  Our God is the God of Job.

What is this passage about for us then?  It’s about making sure we see Christ as the Saviour who fulfills the covenant promises.  It’s about teaching us the right way to think about the age to come.  That right way of thinking gives us the comfort of knowing we are God’s covenant children – we are alive now and we will be alive forever, because of our Saviour.  The world around us has many awful, sad, deluded ideas about death and what follows.  Here our Saviour gives a lesson in what the reality is.  In love he calls out to his disciples to hear his teaching and believe it.  And one day we will see it with our own eyes.  AMEN.                             


Our Father in heaven,

Thank you for your everlasting covenant with us and our children.  We praise you as the God of the living, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Our God now and always.  We thank you for the hope of the resurrection.  Father, we’re glad that we don’t have to fear death or what lays beyond it.  We rejoice at your Word that we have a glorious future ahead.  We look forward to being perfectly content in you.  Please teach us to always rest in that hope.  We also pray for your help in speaking to our unbelieving friends and acquaintances about this great gospel hope in Christ.  Please give us opportunities to speak about the reality of death.  Please give us compassion and a concern for the lost.  Help us with the right words.  With your Spirit, please give us wisdom and winsomeness.  Father, we pray that you’ll use us as your instruments to call sinners to faith and repentance.     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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