SERMON: The Unbelief of the Sadducees | Mark 12:18–27
Shaun Marksbury | Grace Bible Church
Sunday Morning Service | November 4, 2018
When skeptics come to attack biblical beliefs, we need not feel intimated, regardless of their intellectual prowess. In this encounter with the Sadducees, Jesus demonstrates the underlying problems with such attacks. He says they stray like sheep because they don't know the Scripture or the power of God. His answers help us as we think through the implications of like challenges in our lives.
We read today about yet another group approaching to accost Jesus: the Sadducees. They’re sent from the chief priests for a third wave of questioning, hoping to trap Him in a statement (cf. 11:27; 12:13). This wealthy group of men included the chief priests and most of Jerusalem’s ruling council. The Reformation Study Bible notes, “Their name probably derives from Zadok, David’s high priest (2 Sam. 8:17; 1 Chr. 15:11; 29:22) and appointed officer over the Aaronic priestly line (1 Chr. 27:17), who was given the exclusive right to be high priest (Ezek. 40:46; 43:19).”
Even wielding great influence in Jewish religious life, the beliefs of the Sadducees would be akin to theological liberalism today. They disregarded the oral law of the Pharisees, which is good. However, they only held the books of Moses as authoritative, and not even that. They also didn’t believe in the resurrection (v. 18) nor in the existence of angels, a future judgment, or the immortality of the soul (cf. Acts 23:6–8).
It’s reminiscent of the heresy later popularized in Christianity by Marcion; only some books of Scripture accepted as authoritative. The concept is making a resurgence in Evangelical circles through the teaching of one popular pastor Andy Stanley who advocates 1.) referring to the authors of books when quoting Scripture rather than saying “the Bible says,” 2.) “unhitching” oneself from the Old Testament when teaching others about Jesus, and 3.) rejecting the premise that the Christian faith comes from Holy Scripture. With 591,000 Twitter followers, he has a sizable voice in the Christian community.
With the rejection of the resurrection, the existence of angels, future judgment, and the immortality of the soul (cf. Acts 23:6–8), it reminds one of the heresy later popularized in Christianity by Sozzini (Socinianism) and theological liberalism in the modern era. They were practically deists.
As such, this hypothetical scenario of a woman marrying seven husbands is, of course, a challenge to Jesus. If He’s stymied, they believe they would prove themselves more intelligent than Jesus while also demonstrating how absurd it is to believe in the resurrection. They not only get a chance to embarrass Jesus, they can also shame the Pharisees who also believe in the resurrection but couldn’t outwit Him.
These kinds of attacks are not new, nor do they seem to grow old. Jesus highlights the problems with these kinds of challenges. He says they are going astray like a sheep because they do not know the Scripture or the power of God. His answers help us as we think through the implications of like challenges in our lives.
I. Such challenges demonstrate a lack of knowledge of Scripture.
They come to Jesus as though they all have the same starting point—Scripture. They start in v. 19 saying, “Moses wrote for us.” This is often the way of the skeptic, not only opening a passage of Scripture but also roping everyone together; this is our shared beliefs!
Their question rests on the “kinsman-redeemer” law of Deut. 25:5–10. That passage reads,
“When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. But if the man does not desire 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 establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ “Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’
This passage might also sound familiar—it’s the basis for the events of the Book of Ruth. If this were not a provision, widows might not be cared for in Israel, and family lines could collapse. If the widow already had male children, this wouldn’t be a concern as they would be able to support their mother and carry on their father’s name. However, if a young woman’s husband dies childless, his unmarried brother can take her in and beget a son to his name.
Of course, the Sadducees’ concern isn’t about widows or the particulars of the Law. Jesus always expressed a full trust in the words of Scripture, so their trap is based on creating an irreconcilable scenario in God’s Word to demonstrate doubt in it. So, they contrive the unlikely scenario where a woman loses her first husband and is given as wife to six more men before she also dies, childless. Who then will be her husband in the resurrection?
Jesus demonstrates their flawed understanding—they don’t know the Bible. First, the passage they reference has nothing to do with matters eternal, let alone the resurrection of the dead. If it at least dipped into the concept of eternity, it would bear some arguable applicability. However, the passage only deals with the matters of this life—after all, why would those in the afterlife worry about death, widows, poverty, and the carrying on of a lineage? So, this is a category error with Scripture.
Second, and perhaps more foundationally, because they reject the biblical nature of the resurrection of the dead, they misunderstand and misinterpret what the Scripture teaches about the afterlife. Various passages that address the subject. For instance, one of the oldest refences in Scripture, Job 19:26–27, says, “Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” Isaiah 26:19 says, “Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.” Daniel 12:2 says, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” (That last example comes with a warning that we’ll revisit in a few minutes.)
God’s Word also teaches a different manner of relationships in the resurrection. That’s what Jesus is getting at in v. 25. He says, “For when they rise from the dead”—and He could be referring to the hypothetical individuals in the scenario—“they neither marry” (the male perspective) “nor are given in marriage” (the female perspective). This doesn’t mean that we won’t have relationships with family members in heaven, but those relationships will not involve marriage. There’s no need to fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful anymore.
Jesus further explains that they “are like angels in heaven.” Of course, Jesus doesn’t say people literally become angels, nor does Scripture anywhere teach that. Still, we become like angels in that we don’t die, and therefore, have no need to marry and propagate. Luke’s account is helpful here; “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Lk 20:34–36).
Jesus goes on to give a convincing proof from an unlikely place in Moses. In v. 26, He says, “But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? ” Did that make sense to you in the context of this argument? Consider the words of the next verse: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”
Jesus’s faith in Scripture is demonstrated here in the state of a single verb. Moses records God as saying, “I am the God of Abraham.” Even though Abraham was long dead by Moses’s day, God doesn’t say He was Abraham’s God. This leads to one conclusion: Abraham’s soul still lives. As Jesus explains, God is the God of the living. Moreover, if Abraham’s soul still lives, then is there not hope that his body will be raised again?
Jesus isn’t just digging at the Sadducees here, referencing angels and souls and resurrections because He knows they don’t believe. He wants the people of God to know the Bible. That’s why Paul calls Titus to appoint an elder who is “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Ti 1:9). He says to the church, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 The 2:15).
II. Such challenges also demonstrate a lack of knowledge of God’s power.
An understanding of Holy Scripture should not come without faith in the power of God. Otherwise, Scripture can be read with an anti-supernatural bias, like with what the Sadducees are doing. In 1 Corinthians 1:18, we read, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Thankfully, reading Scripture should increase faith in the power of God, for “from faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17).
If the Sadducees had honestly and openly approached Scripture, even just Moses, then they would understand the power of God. God created the world in six days and created man—could He not grant him an eternal soul? God flooded the whole earth, destroying all flesh—could He not give all flesh life again one day? God delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt—could He not also deliver His children out of bondage of death?
In 1 Corinthians 15:39–44, we read,
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
This is why historically have buried our dead. We believe that the body is set aside but will be raised again. Contrast this with the pagans that would burn their dead. That is not to say that it is a sin to cremate the body—God will raise Christians who’ve been burned at the stake, those who have drown in the sea, and those who have long rotted away in their graves. Still, we should be aware of the message we convey to others with our funerals, and it should be a message proclaiming the power of God to one day raise the dead.
Believing in the power of God to one day raise us from the dead changes how we live today. Consider 1 John 3:2–3—“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” In other words, we look forward to the time when He will change us completely, so we strive to live out that change today.
Another example of this is Col 3:4–5—“When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” When we meet Christ face-to-face, we know we will finally be free from sin. Therefore, we should practice for that state today.
This tests whether we are indeed embracing the power of God in our lives. Romans 8:23 says that “we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” It’s not that we groan simply because we want to be free from death and pain, though that is part of it. It should also be that the working of the Spirit of God makes us yearn for the day when we will be without sin.
The Sadducees were revealing in their comfortable lives. They didn’t anticipate the resurrection of the dead because they enjoyed the way they were already living. They didn’t know the power of God.
If you look forward to that glorious day only because it means better living—life without suffering—then you are not in a better state than the Sadducees. If the thought of Jesus transforming us into a sinless state makes you want to get all your sinning in now, while you can, then you are not looking forward to the resurrection of the dead. You also don’t know the power of God. Repent and turn to the Lord.
When someone comes to you with doubts about Scripture, remember how Jesus addresses them here. An unbeliever doesn’t know the Scripture nor the power of God. So, our attitude when facing such skepticism should be like that of Paul in Romans 1:16; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
We need to be Christians who have hope in what God says and promises because we know both God’s Word and power. As Paul tells the church, we must “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 The 2:15). That hope should drive us to live according to our blessed assurance.
And if you don’t have that hope, know that it is available to all who seek it. Call upon the Name of the Lord in repentant faith and you will be saved.