A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
The Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection
18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are 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 passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.
It has grown increasingly popular in recent years for couples to write their own vows for their wedding ceremony. Although I hate to admit it, and would not advocate for their universal adoption, some of these custom vows can be quite humorous. Here are just a few examples of real vows that have been used in real weddings: “I promise not to drink your drinks, even though I am thirsty and your drink is literally right there”; “I vow to thrill you each day – to amaze and astonish you – did I mention all the magic tricks I am learning?”; and maybe my favorite “A pair of penguins mate for life, across hundreds of miles of tundra, the female penguin travels to bring food to the male, as he watches the egg over a month of sub-zero temperatures. As your husband, I promise to never ask you to do anything like that.”
Reciting your own vows can be fun, cute, and surprisingly beautiful. But even for those who don’t create something completely new, there is an increasing tendency to make small tweaks to the traditional vows. You may have even attended weddings where the closing phrase, “As long as we both shall live” has been replaced with “As long as our love shall last.” Now, this is not an argument that one small change in the wording of vows itself is responsible for the recent decline in marital satisfaction and increase of divorce rates. But it does reveal that often the expectations of what a marriage is supposed to be has changed from something permanent to something temporary. However, it is noteworthy that those who view marriage as permanent—meaning that divorce is completely off the table except in cases of infidelity and abuse—actually report higher levels of marital satisfaction than those who say they are only “in this marriage so long as our love lasts.”
For many reasons, marriage can be a tricky topic to broach in today’s society. Not only have the expectations of marriage changed, and the traditional definition of marriage been challenged, but many of those we love, and increasingly many of us within the church, have experienced the real pain of failed marriages. As we saw earlier in Mark’s gospel, the Pharisees, the religious rulers of Jesus’ day, were advocates of a very literal interpretation of Moses’ concession which allowed men to legally divorce their wives. The Pharisees took the concession and used it as permission for anyone who was unhappy with their wife for even the most ludicrous reason to divorce her and get a new one, who, not coincidentally, was always younger and more attractive. In fact, finding another woman physically more desirable was actually one of the lawful reasons the Pharisees gave for men to divorce and remarriage.
Now it was the Sadducees’ turn to test Jesus with a question of their own, and while it was presented as a question regarding marriage, it was really about resurrection. The Sadducees were different from the Pharisees in that rather than creating and obeying their own fence around the law and promoting their personal brand of holiness, they were busy living the high-life here and now. Sadducees came from prestigious families, had extravagant personal wealth, and were not ashamed to be seen living large. We might think of them as ancient prosperity-gospel advocates, but however we define them, their material success left them with little use for the supernatural and they also denied the possibility of resurrection. They did not believe heaven could be any better than their lives on earth.
So the Sadducees began by asking Jesus about the provision in God’s law known as Levirate Marriage, given to safeguard women who were widowed without children. We see this in action in the book of Ruth, but essentially if a man died without first providing his wife a child, his next closest kin was required to marry her to safeguard the family land, inheritance, and good name. The Sadducees present Jesus with sort of a worst case scenario, where a woman marriages 7 brothers in turn, each windowing her without an heir. Its not clear whether this is a hypothetical situation or whether it actually happened, although it is certainly possible they are referencing a real person within their community, but the details and veracity are essentially unimportant. The questions the Sadducees verbalize is, “Since the woman was married seven times, who’s wife will she be in heaven?”, but what they are really questioning is, “If a perfect afterlife truly exists, what is going to happen to people like this? How do you explain that, Jesus?”
This was likely the Sadducees’ favorite example to cite anytime they found themselves in theological debates about the resurrection, and they expected to catch Jesus off-guard, to waffle and waver as most assuredly the Pharisees had when confronted with the same. But, as we would expect, Jesus doesn’t miss a beat. Right off the bat Jesus points out the deadly consequences of their Biblical illiteracy. He says, in essence, “The truth behind Your ignorant question is that You don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.” They asked foolish questions—as this one certainly was—because they were unfamiliar with God, the source of all knowledge, wisdom, and power.
Jesus answered their surface question by explaining that in His kingdom those who are resurrected will neither be married nor get married. At first, we might be taken aback by this, it even might sound rather harsh and cruel. Why would those who have experienced wonderful relationships here on earth not get to continue those on into eternity? The simple answer is that even the best, most life-giving, beautiful relationships are just a faint shadow of what is to come. Scripture repeatedly shows us that marriage is given to us as a tangible demonstration of the perfect intimacy we will all share with God. Jesus used many parables to describe Himself as the perfect Bridegroom with His church as the bride, and the inauguration of heaven is presented in Revelation 19 as a great wedding feast, where the church is presented in pure, radiant splendor to her majestic Groom. Heaven is about enjoying the very best things, and there is nothing better than being wrapped up in the presence of God Himself.
The Sadducees didn’t realize that by trying to spring a theological trap on Jesus, they walked into one of their own. Jesus explained that marriage in this life is not an eternal union, but it is an enduring example of the eternal love and faithfulness of God for His people. How could God fulfill His promise to love us forever if we simply cease to be at our last breath? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. May we never forget all that He has in store for us, for as long as His love shall last.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, as we reflect upon Your perfect wisdom and power, we are once again reminded of Your perfect love. Although we are prone to wander, You are patient and merciful. We thank You for Your many blessings, yet we confess that we often become too focused on this world. Help us to fix our eyes upon You, to draw near to You, and to love You with all that we are. We ask in Your beautiful name, Amen.