What happens after we die? What about our relationships with others? Are couples still a couple in heaven? Are your children still your children in heaven? Do some people become angels when they die? What happens after we die? What is life like on the other side? Maybe there is nothing more after we die. Maybe this is it.
Jesus is asked this question, but in the context of husbands and wives. Today, Jesus is going to give us a little more insight into life after death.
You are wired and designed to think about life after death. Humans from all generations have this built in curiosity about the other side of life. I have it and you have it.
- If you pick up the Egyptian book of the dead, you will find it filled with all kinds of information and instructions about preparing for the afterlife. In the tomb of Pharaoh, Cheops, sealed for over 5,000 years, you will find a boat which he had built so he could sail through the heavens in his next life.
- In Greek religion, a coin was often placed inside the mouth of the corpse so he could pay his fare across the mystic river of death into the land of immortal life.
- Some American Indians would bury a pony, and a bow and arrows with the warrior so he could hunt in the happy hunting grounds.
- In Greenland, when Eskimo children died they were buried along with a dog, so they would have a guide through the cold wasteland.
God created us to anticipate life after death. Without God’s Word we are left to come up with what life after death looks like based on our own imaginations. However, God tells us what it will be like. We don’t need nor can we take anything with us.
As we get closer to the crucifixion of Jesus, the interrogations and attacks on Jesus are ramping up. They are intensifying.
- Back in chapter 11, the Sanhedrin asked Jesus a historical question to trap Him.
- Earlier in chapter 12, The Pharisees and Herodians failed with a political question dealing with giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and giving to God what belongs to God. They tried to trap Him as well.
- Today, we see that Jesus is confronted by the Sadducees with a theological question regarding the bodily resurrection of God’s people. Again, this question is a trap question.
All these questions were designed to trap Jesus in order to arrest Him for treason or blasphemy of some kind. Within the question and the answer to the question we learn some valuable truths.
Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: 19 “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. 20 Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. 21 So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. 22 This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. 23 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.” 24 Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. 25 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. 26 “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.’27 So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.” (NLT)
This encounter between Jesus and the Sadduccees break down into three sections.
- First, there is the background of the story.
- Second, there is this odd question by the Sadducees to make Jesus look like a fool.
- Third, there is Jesus’ insightful answer that made the Sadducees look ignorant.
Let’s walk through this together and see what God has for us today.
Mark tells us in verse 18, Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. To understand what the question Jesus is asked and why He answers it the way He does we need to go to be introduced to the Sadducees. Who are these people? And what do we learn from them? Two months ago, we took a good look at them, but let’s remind ourselves of some things about them.
- They believe in God, but they are not spiritual. They are religious, but they don’t have a relationship with God. They were earthly. They believed in God, but were very tide to this world. We are told in Acts 23:8, “the Sadducees say there is no resurrection or angels or spirits” (NLT). They did not believe in life after death, nor anything supernatural. To them, there was no spiritual world that involved angels or spirits. They believed in God, but were very physical, scientific, and earthly in their approach to life. To them there were angels, demons, or devil. None of that existed to them.
- They believe in God, but they use God. They were religiously active. They lead and oversaw the temple where people came to worship God. They organized religious events and activities. For them, their religion was a job and a source of income. They used God to get wealthy, gain popularity, and influence. This would be similar to those who go to church and are active in church who are involved so they can get more business or get more votes.
- They believe in God, but are focused on this life. They are temporal. They don’t’ think in terms of eternity. They live for the now, because there is no after life. At death, they believe the soul perishes along with the body.
- They believe in God’s Word, but not all of it. They only believe the first five books of the Bible are from God. The first five books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. After the Sadducees asked Jesus their question, Jesus responded by saying in verse 24, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God” (NLT).
The Sadducees have never gone away. There are many precious people today who believe in God, but don’t believe in the spiritual. They believe in God, but use Him for their own gain. They believe in God, but are focused on this life and don’t truly believe there is a life after death. They believe in parts of God’s Word, but reject the rest of it. It’s this group that ask Jesus the strange question about a woman who ended up being married to seven brothers over her life time and in heaven which one would have her as his wife.
To understand what’s happening here, we also need to talk about the Pharisees. The Sadducees and Pharisees did not see eye to eye on many theological issues. The Sadducees only believed the first five books were from God, the Pharisees believed the entire Old Testament was from God. Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees spent a lot of time speculating beyond what the Old Testament taught. They would add oral traditions and extra-biblical writings to their systems of belief. The Pharisees would get into great discussions about what it would be like when the resurrection took place.
- Would people rise from the dead clothed or unclothed?
- If they wore clothes, would it be the clothes they were buried in or would they be given some new clothes?
- They discussed ideas like, if you were born without a hand, would you rise from the dead without a hand? They speculated that if you had a large mole on your arm, in the resurrection, would you still have that mole on your arm.
- The general consensus of the Pharisees was that in the resurrection everyone rose from the dead exactly the way they were when they died.
- They assumed that the similarity between our current bodies and our resurrection bodies continued into relationships. If you were married to someone in this life, they believed you would be married to the same person in the next life.
Remember, the Bible does not teach any of this. This was all Pharisees speculating what the resurrected life would be like. These speculations turned into divine truth for them, even though God never said such. This is where much of the problem lies, going beyond what Scripture clearly teaches.
You needed to know this background to understand the trap the Sadducees were trying to set for Jesus about the resurrection. The Sadducees see Jesus as more in line with the Pharisees so they are going to ask Jesus a question based on what they think He believes. This brings us to verse 19 which says, 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. Just like the Pharisees and Sanhedrin earlier, they are trying to butter Jesus up in order to set Him up by addressing Him as Teacher.
I find this very interesting because they quote Scripture to Jesus and that means they are bringing the written Word to the Living Word. They are quoting a verse to its Author. They are asking the living Word of God to explain the written Word of God. They don’t know what they are doing, but this is what’s really happening.
In their attempt to disprove the resurrection, they went to Deuteronomy 25:5-6 which talks about levirate (leh-va-rit) marriage. Levirate marriage refers to a brother-in-law marriage. If a man died and had not had a child, his wife was supposed to marry her husband’s brother so she could have a child through him in order to continue the family line. This was very important in the early days of the Old Testament where farmland was supposed to stay in the family so people needed an heir. This is why the custom of levirate marriage strongly discouraged a widow marrying outside the family.
An example of levirate marriage is found in the book of Ruth. Ruth was a widow, and she didn’t have a child to continue the family name and inheritance of the land. She met a man named Boaz who was a near relative. He qualified for levirate marriage. Boaz married Ruth. Together they had a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David. That was king David. Jesus’ birth line was continued by the practice of levirate marriage.
So levirate marriage was an important and well-known law. It was commonly practiced during that time. The Sadducees took this practice and made up a really weird fictional scenario in an attempt to prove the resurrection couldn’t be true and leave Jesus embarrassed.
This takes us to verse 20 where Jesus is presented with this strange scenario and question, Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. 21 So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. 22 This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. 23 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”
Remember, the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection or life after death. If they were to answer their own question they would tell you that she is no one’s wife because there is no resurrection. She is no one’s wife because she no longer exist and neither do her husbands. In reality, The Sadducees didn’t care about whose wife someone would be because they didn’t believe in the resurrection.
But, since they know Jesus believes in the resurrection they think they have asked Jesus a tough question that will reveal his lack of understanding of spiritual matters and place doubt in many of His followers with whether Jesus is really the Messiah or not.
This is a theological question. It is a good question. There are many people today who take a marriage vow under God and the Bible talks about them becoming one. So if one of them dies or gets divorced and marries again whose wife will she be or whose husband will he be?
This brings us to Jesus’ answer and the power of God.
Jesus responded in verse 24, Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” Jesus is clear when He responds. He says, “You are mistaken. You are wrong. The problem here is not with Me. It is with you. You Sadducees just put your ignorance on display. Instead of making me look foolish, you just made yourself look foolish because you don’t understand two things. You don’t understand your Bible and you don’t understand the power of God.”
By the way, when Jesus referred to their mistake, the Greek word for mistake is planeo. We get our word planet from it. In essence, Jesus was saying, “You guys are so wrong on this that your understanding missed the target so much that it’s on another planet.”
Jesus then begins to show them why they didn’t understand the power of God and why they didn’t understand their Bible. In verse 25 Jesus addresses the power of God and in verse 26 Jesus addresses the Scripture.
You don’t know the power of God
Jesus starts with the power of God by saying in verse 25, 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. Jesus is saying that when people rise from the dead, they will not be married or given in marriage in heaven. The whole idea of sex, reproduction, having babies, and raising families will cease to exist in the resurrection.
This is contrary to what the Mormons think, as they claim men will populate planets with spirit babies from multiple wives. This is contrary to what Islam teaches, when they claim men can end up with 72 virgins in eternity to satisfy their desires. Jesus said sex, reproduction, and birth is limited to this life. It is not for the resurrection life.
Notice Jesus said, “For when the dead rise,” not if they rise, but when they rise. Jesus believed in the resurrection, and so should we. Jesus knew that the resurrection from the dead was a real thing. He believed it so much, He even raised Lazarus from the dead as an object lesson. He believed it so much, He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He believed it so much that later on He Himself would rise from the dead. It’s not a matter of if the resurrection of God’s people is going to happen, but when.
Then Jesus gives you some insight into what you will be like when you are resurrected. Jesus adds that you will be like the angels in heaven. A couple of things here.
- First, Jesus acknowledges the existence of angels. Remember, the Sadducees did not believe in angels, but here Jesus throws this statement in to challenge their belief about the spiritual world and angels. He reminds them and us that He is a firm believer in angels and that angels exist.
- Second, Jesus did not say we would be angels. He said we would be like angels in heaven. When people die who we care a lot about they don’t become angels who look over us. The baby that dies, the loving grandparent that dies, the spouse, the brother, sister, or incredible friend that dies do not become angels. As much as we would like to believe that, the Bible does not teach that at all.
- What Jesus said was that when we die we would be like angels in heaven. What does that mean? It means a lot, but for our purpose today it refers to being a spiritual being, an eternal being, and one who does not reproduce. You will not be an angel, but you will be like angels.
This is Jesus’ way of saying to the Sadducees that there is a resurrection, life continues after death, but that life is not like the life you experience here on earth.
Later on, the apostle Paul would address this same issue in 1 Corinthians 15. He says, “But someone may ask, ‘How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question!” (vs. 35-36). Then Paul goes into an example of planting a seed into the ground and when the seed grows it is completely different than what went into the ground. You take a seed and plant it, you get an oak tree. You take another seed and plant it, you get an apple tree. Then in verse 42 Paul says, It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies (NLT).
You cannot imagine how amazing your resurrection lives will be and how powerful your resurrection body will be. Trying to imagine how great and wonderful your resurrection life and body will be is like a baby in the womb trying to imagine how wonderful the universe is. The beauty, majesty, glory, and power of your resurrection life is beyond your ability to comprehend.
Remember, Jesus is addressing why they don’t believe in the resurrection. He is addressing they don’t understand the power of God. Stay with me.
For some of you, you are or were married to the most wonderful person on the planet. They completed you. You love them and felt loved by them so much! You wish you could live with them forever. You are thinking, but I want to live with my spouse in heaven. I want us to continue the joy we had here on earth in heaven. To hear Jesus say there is no marriage in heaven is discouraging to you.
However, some of you married people you regret. They were horrible, mean, selfish, rude, and they caused more pain and hurt than joy, intimacy, and closeness. The day they died or left you or you left them was a great day of celebration. That relationship was horrible. For you to hear Jesus say there will be no marriage in heaven is the sound of the sweet nectar of heaven. You thank God you don’t have to be married to that man or women in heaven forever.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how great your marriage is here. Even though marriage does not exist in heaven, all of our relationships in the resurrected life will be much closer, deeper, richer, and more satisfying than the greatest marriage or relationship on earth. We must remember the infinitely creative God who created everything in this world with all the fish, birds, sunsets, plants, animals, colors, and designs in only six days will vastly outdo Himself in the new creation, making it far better than this creation. In heaven, with your resurrected life and resurrected body your life will be a 1000 times better. Every relationship will be a 1000 times richer and meaningful. Everything will be beyond our wildest imaginations.
Listen carefully, Sadducees assumed there was no resurrection because they underestimated the power of God. The Pharisees were wrong to assume the next life would be no better or simply a little better than this life and the reason they assumed this is because they massively misunderstood the power of God.
You don’t know the Scriptures
Jesus told them, Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. Jesus has already addressed their misunderstanding about the power of God, now He begins to address their mistake about the Scriptures.
Remember, the Sadducees refused to believe the resurrection because they claimed it wasn’t found in the first five books of the Bible written by Moses. They only accepted the first five books as the true word of God. Jesus is going to show them that in their smaller version of the Bible (5 books) they had missed God’s truth about a resurrection and afterlife right in front of them. It was there, but they didn’t see it. They missed seeing proof for life after death in the books of Moses.
Before we go any further, I want to point out two practical observations regarding how Jesus handled these Sadducees.
- First, Jesus started where they were. For whatever reasons, the Sadducees believed one part of God’s Word, but not another. The part that they do believe has the power to change their thinking and get them into position to believe the rest of God’s truth. Later, Paul would say, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, CSB). Jesus knew that God’s truth is powerful. He knew if they understood God’s Word they already believed as God’s Word that would lead to transformation. What I’m saying is, when you encounter someone who does not believe all of God’s Word, don’t give up on them. Focus on what they do believe in order to address their unbelief. Jesus started where they were.
- Secondly, Jesus stayed on subject. Their question dealt with the resurrection. Jesus could have said, “Before we deal with your view of the resurrection, we need to deal with your view of Scripture. Let’s talk about how all of God’s Word is God’s Word, not just the first five books.” He did not do that. He was going to prove to them that the resurrection was true using what they already trusted as God’s Word. Jesus was going to stay on subject and not get distracted or derailed into a theological argument.
Jesus goes on to say in verse 26, 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.’
Jesus addressed their marriage issue, but now He addresses the more important aspect of their question, whether the dead will be raised. Jesus asked, Haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush?[i] The implied answer is “Yes, they have.” They had read, studied, and memorize much of Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses).
The section of the Bible Jesus is referring to regarding Moses and burning bush is found in Exodus 3. This is where God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). Jesus is quoting that verse to the Sadducees.
Jesus points out that long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died is when God told Moses that He was there God. This is incredibly significant. At the time God said that all three of those men were dead. Yet, God spoke in the present tense, not past tense. God did not say, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” God is their God currently. God said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Even though they had physically died, they were still alive spiritually. Not only was He their God while they lived on earth, but He is their God after their life on earth. From God’s perspective they are still alive.
This is why Jesus says in verse 27 that [God] is the God of the living, not the dead. By His very nature, God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Jesus’ point is that there is a spiritual world. When people die, their life is not over. There is more to this world than meets the eye. There is the physical world, but there is also a spiritual world. There are things that are temporary and there are things that are eternal. There is a death, but there is also a resurrection. Jesus is saying that if you don’t get this then you have made a serious error.
Like the Sadducees, there are religious people who believe in the existence of God, but they don’t really believe in a supernatural and spiritual world where there are angels and demons. They don’t believe that Jesus is really going to return and rapture His people, nor do they believe in a heaven or hell. They believe in God but they believe when we die their existence is over, they simple cease to exist. The reason they believe the way they believe is the same reason the Sadducees believe the way they believe. They don’t know what God’s word actually says and they don’t understand how powerful God really is.
When it comes to God’s Word we must be careful here. The mistake the Sadducees made was limiting God’s Word. Even though they had the whole Old Testament they rejected most of it for one reason or another. Today, there are people who do the same thing. They believe in God, but they reject most of the Bible because it doesn’t line up with what they have already decided is true. We must let God’s Word shape our beliefs rather than our beliefs to shape God’s Word.
Based on this, here is what we know.
- There is life after death.
- We will be resurrected with new bodies.
- We will be resurrected within perfect relationships.
- We will be like the angels in the sense of being eternal and spiritual.
- There is a spiritual world.
- God’s word confirms all of that and God’s power will make it all happen.
[i] When some Christians refer to something in the Bible they may say something like, “In John 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead or John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loved the world….” In Jesus’ day there were no chapter and verse markers. Instead of saying “Exodus 3:6” they would say something similar to what Jesus said, “Let me address what Moses heard from God during the story of the burning bush.” This is what Jesus is doing when He refers to the story of the burning bush. He is identifying that He is referring to what God said in the Pentateuch in the section on the burning bush.