For the Christian, there is indeed something to look forward to after this life. Continuing his sermon series in the book of Mark, R.C. Sproul reminds us of Jesus’ clear affirmation that our souls and our bodies will not be destroyed by death, but we will live in the resurrection.
We turn our attention once again to the gospel according to Saint Mark. We are still in chapter 12, and this morning I will be reading from Mark 12:18–27. I will ask the congregation to stand please for the reading of the Word of God:
Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”
Beloved, let us never be greatly mistaken in our understanding of the Word of God, which you have just heard. Please be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father, as we come to this portion of the text, once more we plead with You to condescend to our fragile understanding. As our Lord speaks to us of those things that pertain to heaven, which we in our greatest moments cannot begin to imagine, we pray that You would give us eyes to see and ears to hear. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Resurrection
When we looked last time at the confrontation Jesus had with the Pharisees and the Herodians, I mentioned that chapter 12 gives us three episodes of encounters Jesus had with various groups in that day, each of which had their own agenda and came to Jesus trying to trap Him on the horns of a dilemma. The Pharisees raised the issue of paying taxes to Caesar, hoping that Jesus would either get Himself in trouble with the government or with the people.
Today, we are looking at an issue regarding the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which was a serious dispute in the first century that divided the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Sometimes we tend to think there was great unanimity between the Pharisees and Sadducees because of their commitment with each other to the destruction of Jesus. However, that hatred of Jesus was about all they agreed on.
Both the sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees presumably began in the second century BC, but they had serious theological differences. Firstly, for example, the Pharisees laid great emphasis and stress on the sovereignty of God. They were the Calvinists and Augustinians of their day. The Sadducees were the Pelagians before Pelagius, who believed that the affairs of men and of history were determined not by a sovereign God but solely and exclusively by the unfettered free will of human creatures.
Secondly, the Pharisees affirmed their belief in angels and the demonic realm, whereas the Sadducees categorically denied the very existence of angels or demons.
A third point of dispute had to do with what was contained in the canon of sacred Scripture. The Pharisees believed that the Scripture contained the Torah, or what we might call the Pentateuch, which contains the first five books of the Old Testament, as well as the Prophets, the Writings, the Wisdom Literature, and so on. The Sadducees had a much more restricted view of the canon, recognizing only the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, as the Word of God. Any appeals to writings beyond the book of Deuteronomy did not count for the construction of theology as far as the Sadducees were concerned.
So, the Sadducees were convinced that since there was no teaching in the Torah about life after death, certainly there would be no resurrection at the end of the age. The Pharisees, building their case largely on the teachings of the prophets, believed in life after death and in the resurrection.
Marriage in Heaven
Since the resurrection was a key point of dispute, the Sadducees brought their case to Jesus and set up a conundrum about what would happen in the resurrection to the seven men who shared, at one time or another, the same wife.
They put the question to Jesus: The man marries a woman. The man dies before the woman has children, and according to the law of Moses, called the levirate law or the kinsman redeemer commandment, the surviving brother of the man who perished was obligated to take his brother’s widow as wife so that his brother may have offspring. But suppose the second brother dies, and the woman still has no children, and they have another brother. So, the third brother marries the woman, and she still has no offspring, and he dies, and so on, until we have seven grooms for one wife. All the men die without the woman bearing any children, and then, at last, she dies. The question the Sadducees put before Jesus was, “If the woman has had seven husbands, who is going to be her husband in heaven?”
Any time I stand up to preach in this pulpit about anything, my chief responsibility is not to please you, nor to please the choir, but my ultimate responsibility is to please God. He is the One who will judge me for how carefully I have handled His Word. But today I have a dilemma of my own because not only do I have the responsibility of pleasing God, but I have the task of trying to please my wife in how I handle this text. This is one of her theological inquiries that she brings to me. She asks, “Honey, are we going to be married in heaven?”
I am not sure how to answer her question, and I try to flee from this text as fast as I can because I know the text does not give my wife very much comfort. On the other hand, maybe it would be bad news for her to think that she would have to stay married to me for all eternity. I say: “Remember, the vow was, ‘to death do us part.’ This is a strong commitment, but I don’t know that it’s an eternal one that we’ve entered between us.” In any case, we have talked about this text.
The Word and Power of God
Jesus answered the inquiry of the Sadducees with a rebuke. It is easy for us to sit back in the comfort of the twenty-first century, look in judgment at the contemporaries of Jesus, and think about how unintelligent or arrogant they may have been, though we harbor many of the same ideas and attitudes within our own hearts. But Jesus rebuked them for this reason: “You are mistaken because you don’t know the Scriptures.”
I think 100 percent of the theological errors we make are because we do not know the Scriptures, because God has revealed the same things to all of us, and all from the same book. We read the same book but do not always agree on what the book teaches, and that is because we do not really know what is in the Bible. Every believer should strive with all his might to have a sound knowledge of the Word of God, lest we hear that same rebuke from Jesus: “You’re mistaken because you don’t know the Word of God. You don’t know the Scriptures.”
Jesus went on to say not only did they not know the Scriptures but also that they didn’t know the power of God. Christianity, whatever else it is, dear friends, is a supernatural religion. We live in a culture that does everything it can to squelch and quench any idea of the supernatural. We say that we believe in God, yet we live sometimes as if our lives were totally in the grip of the powers and forces of this world. We have not begun to understand the transcendent power of God, the God who can say, “Let there be light,” and the lights come on, the God whose power has been manifested throughout the gospel of Mark in the earthly pilgrimage of Jesus, who calms the storm, who raises the dead, and who heals the sick.
So, Jesus rebuked these Sadducees, who were closely related to the priestly class and the ruling body of the Sanhedrin, and He said: “You have no understanding. You don’t understand the Scriptures, and you don’t understand the power of God, so you come with this sophomoric question, trying to trap Me regarding whose wife the woman who was married to seven brothers will be in heaven under the kinsman redeemer law.”
Marriage and Giving in Marriage
Jesus began to correct the Sadducees’ thinking. He said, “For when they rise from the dead.” That was strike one as far as the Sadducees were concerned because Jesus affirmed resurrection. He was saying: “You’re mistaken about the resurrection. They will rise from the dead, but they will neither marry nor will they be given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Remember, He was talking to people who did not believe in the resurrection or in angels. Jesus said, “There is a resurrection, and when we are raised, we’ll be like the angels that you deny.”
What did Jesus mean when He said there would be no marriage or giving in marriage? When I read this text, it seems to me that Jesus clearly says there is no marriage and no giving in marriage in heaven. There are some thinkers, however, who believe that Jesus was not saying there will be no marriage, but something else because He used the Hebrew idiom marrying and being given in marriage.
In the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus talks about His coming in judgment, He says no one knows the day and hour, but His coming will be like it was in the days of Noah. And He says that people will be “marrying and giving in marriage.” When you look back at the text describing the flood that destroyed the world in the days of Noah, we see that God looks at the world and sees that men were only wicked continually, and everybody was doing what was right in their own eyes in the corruption of the day.
Jesus said: “It is going to be just like it was in Noah’s day. People are going to be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” Some few scholars argue that Scripture is saying that what characterized the days of Noah, to which God responded with such severe judgment, was the sanctity of marriage being tarnished by sin because people were marrying and divorcing, and then marrying and divorcing again. It was like a merry-go-round wherein the sanctity of marriage was not being honored at all, and that was one of the reasons God sent the flood to punish them. Jesus said, “It’s going to be just like that when I come in judgment.” Perhaps He was saying that people will be at ease in Zion, totally disregarding God’s regulation for marriage, but in heaven there will be no divorce, and there will be no cheap marriage.
Maybe that was all Jesus was getting at in this text, but I do not see how that would answer the question being posed by the Sadducees. I am not persuaded by that particular option. I think Jesus was speaking straightforwardly, saying there will not be any marriage in heaven because we will be just like the angels. The angels are not married. The angels do not have offspring. They do not procreate.
The Joy God Has Prepared
When I say that, my wife is disappointed. I say: “But think of it, honey, why would you want to be married to me in heaven? Do you want to put up with me for all eternity?” When we’re in heaven, there will be no sin. There will be no exploitation of women. There will be no insults between husbands and their wives. Sin will be banished from all human relationships. Our relationships to people that we hardly know in this world will be deeper, more blessed, more intimate, and more fulfilling than anything we can experience in marriage in this world. Think of it. We will enjoy far richer human fellowship and communion than the best communion we ever can possibly experience in this world. So I say to my wife, “I guarantee you, honey, if we get to heaven and you find out that we’re not married anymore, it will not bother you at all.”
I was reminded of an episode I had in seminary when we had a chapel speaker who did everything but completely destroy the Reformed faith. He attacked everything precious to classical Reformed theology. On the way out, in my distress, I caught up with my mentor, Dr. Gerstner, as he was on the way to his car. I said, “Dr. Gerstner, if John Calvin were in that chapel this morning, he would have turned over in his grave.”
Mid-stride, Gerstner stopped and turned to me, saying, “Young man, don’t you know that nothing could possibly destroy the felicity that John Calvin enjoys at this moment?”
We fail to understand the depth of joy and delight that God has prepared for His people in heaven. If you use your imagination and try to conjure up the greatest possible experience that you would have in heaven, once you reach the pinnacle of that imagination, multiply it by a million times, and you still will not reach what God is preparing for His people with His power and with His Word.
We Have Life Forever
Jesus moved to this consideration in verse 26: “But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read?” He was going to give the Sadducees a quiz on what they have read, of their theological acumen, of what they have studied in the Bible: “Have you not read?”
Jesus did not take them to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, or the Writings. He took them to the Torah, to the second book of the Old Testament. He said: “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”
To prove His point of future resurrection, Jesus went to the very book the Sadducees thought did not teach life after death, and He said: “What do you think the Bible is teaching? God is not the God of the dead. Why would God say, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,’ unless He was still the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?”
Do you realize what that means to us today? Abraham is still alive. Isaac still lives. Jacob is alive and well. Their lives are in the hand of the God of the living, who will not let death end our personal existence. We find in this text, dear friends, not only a magnificent philosophical refutation of the views of those who tried to entrap Jesus, but we find from our Master’s lips His bold and strong affirmation to the oldest question that man has, which is, “If a man dies, shall he live again?”
Our Lord, without hesitation, without ambiguity, answers that question in the affirmative. We have life, and we have it forever. To miss that is not only to be mistaken, Jesus said, but to be “greatly mistaken.” My prayer, dear friends, is that this mistake may never be found among us.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.