Reader: “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures,”
Response: “and you don’t know the power of God.”
Scripture: Mark 12:18-27
Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”
Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.
“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
Today’s pericope stays with the topic of the resurrection and is the third of three trick questions posed to Jesus by the Sadducees in order to trap him. The first had to do with the source of Jesus’ authority regarding the miracles he was doing. The second addressed the issue of paying taxes to Caesar and this third challenge concerned the resurrection of the dead.
A little background on the Sadducees gives added insight into the passage. This group of leaders were primarily engaged at the Temple. They were the landowners, the wealthy, religious and sophisticated side of Judaism. They did not believe in the existence of angels nor in the resurrection of the dead. To them, death was extinction. They differed from the Pharisees in that they were more politically savvy and got along better with the Romans. Believing only in the five books of Moses, they interpreted the law even more rigidly than the Pharisees. They loved to debate religious teachers. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, we hear no more of the Sadducees.
They struck out in their first two challenges to Jesus as he exposed their foolishness, shortsightedness and lack of understanding of his authority and paying taxes. This third failure completes their day! The question applies their understanding of the law to use it to trap and expose him showing the fallacy of the existence of life after death. Since they didn’t believe in life after death, they hoped to get him to admit that they were right and embarrass him.
We now come to their question to Jesus. There was a law that said that when a man died with no children, his brother was to marry his widow and have children with her in order to maintain the family name. (Remember the book of Ruth. This practice is known as a levirate marriage.) In their trick question they carried this hypothetical situation seven times, the number of perfection. Then came their clincher to disprove life after death. “In heaven, which of the seven brothers got to be married to her?”
While the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Job and Psalms all talk of life after death and resurrection, Jesus didn’t quote any of them because the Sadducees did not accept those writings in their Bible, the Torah. So Jesus answered their question using the Pentateuch, their own Scriptures. He went right after their ignorance with the words, “Your mistake is that you don’t know your own Scriptures and you also don’t know God’s power!”
The Sadducees certainly knew the story of Moses and the burning bush and the phrase, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Jesus continued. “In other words, Sadducees, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still living! The verb is present tense! You have made a serious error in your logic in the attempt to trap me. You are also seriously ignorant of God’s power.” Game, set, match! The Sadducees thought that if there were a resurrection, it would have to be some kind of extension of earthly marital life. Jesus corrected their assumption to say that resurrection life is comparable to the life angels experience in heaven.
I am indebted to *F. Dreyfus and William Lane for this additional thought regarding “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” In first century Judaism, this phrase was a significant part of Jewish prayers. Inherent in the phrase is the idea of God as Savior and protector. This aspect was part of the covenant God made with his people. Remember we have mentioned the nature of the suzerain covenant includes protection on the part of the king. At a deeper level beyond the thinking of the Sadducees, Jesus is making the point that God is protector of the living. He cannot be the Savior and protector of the extinct! That makes no sense.
In this passage Jesus also gave you and me some insight into life in heaven. In Luke’s account of this interaction, he recorded this additional information from Jesus. Angels do not reproduce. God created a set number. In heaven we will not reproduce. The intimacy of marriage will be replaced by an unimaginable fellowship with God and other believers. In this respect we’ll be like the angels (Lk. 20:36). Like the Sadducees, I fear we too are ignorant of the power of God and the glories of heaven. We’ve got something to look forward to!
*Dreyfus, F., and Lane, William, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI. p.429-430
Music: “Beautiful Savior” St. Olaf Choir and Alums Kenneth Jennings conducting
Forgiving Lord of heaven and earth, why is it that we, like the Sadducees, are so engrossed in our own worlds? All too often we believe that we have it all figured out. Forgive us for our arrogance and belief in ourselves and our wisdom. The truth is, it is embarrassing how proud we are of us when the truth settles in. Thank you that our Savior took our debt upon himself gaining the victory on the cross. His most glorious resurrection clearly confirms our life with you. Help us to more and more think in heavenly terms. Help us to spend more and more time with you in your holy word that we might hear your voice and know your mind during our time down here on earth, away from our true home. Until the time of seeing you face to face, grant us grace, humility, faithfulness and wisdom for the living of these days. In the name of the God of the living Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp