Because Ye Know Not the Scriptures
Sunday, January 21st, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
18 Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, 19 Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. 20 Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. 21 And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. 22 And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife. 24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? 25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven. 26 And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.
Father as we consider the life that is to come, and ponder what resurrection and eternity with you shall be like, we confess that we are far too carnal in our thinking. It is hard for us to imagine any joy or pleasure or love that surpasses what we enjoy in a good marriage or enjoy with our bodily senses. And yet, you have promised to us a life of bliss and fullness of joy in your presence, for as it says in Psalm 16:11, “at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” And so we ask now for you Spirit to be at work within us to make us into more spiritual creatures, with spiritual desires, that transcend this world which is passing away. Make us to live for eternity, for we ask this Jesus’ name, Amen.
What will life in the new heavens and new earth be like? What will that future state of glory and resurrection be like for the saints?
The Bible teaches that when we die, and our soul is separated from our body, our soul (that immaterial part of us that knows and loves) immediately goes to heaven to be with God.
Paul says in Philippians 1:22-23 that to live in the body is fruitful labor for the Christian, but to depart and be with Christ is far better.
Likewise in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2 he says, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle [referring to the body] were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.”
So in this life we groan to be with God. And when we die, our soul is welcomed into the Father’s House, and God Himself becomes our dwelling place, our habitation, our house not made with hands. We behold Him in His essence and our soul is made radiant.
And it is there in heaven with God, that our glorified soul awaits the final resurrection and reunion with the body.
This final resurrection is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 where the Apostle says, “the body is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”
The final destination for the Christian, is not being a disembodied soul in heaven, though that is far better than being here. Our final destination is the resurrection of the dead wherein God by His power reunites soul and body never to die again. This is the eternal life that the resurrected Son of God has purchased for us, and it this power and resurrection that the Sadducees of Jesus day did not believe in.
In our text this morning, the Sadducees pose a question for Jesus that is a kind of reductio ad absurdum. What isa reductio ad absurdum? It is an argument where you take the premises of your opponent and follow them out to their logical end, and the intent is that the logical conclusion is so absurd or contradictory that it makes the premises invalid.
For example, against atheists we can run the reductio that if there is no God (as they claim), then there is no objective basis for morality, and therefore any moral objections they have against Christianity are purely arbitrary.
Or to give a very different example, if the world is flat, then there is an edge, but because no one has seen or found that edge, it is absurd to think the world is flat.
So that’s the basic structure of a reductio ad absurdum. And this is the argument the Sadducees deploy against Jesus regarding what is in their mind the absurdity of the resurrection.
Now before we look at their argument, let me first say a word about who the Sadducees were.
Who were the Sadducees?
The best we can conclude from what Scripture and other ancient sources tell us, is that the Sadducees were an upper class or aristocratic group of Jews, and they had strong ties to the high priesthood in Jerusalem (Acts 5:18). It is possible they received their name and lineage from Zadok and thus laid claim to being the divinely appointed heirs of the high priesthood (Ezek. 44:15).
As to their doctrine, Mark tells us here in vs. 18 that they did not believe in the resurrection, and we are also told in Acts 23:8, “the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.”
So the Sadducees were theological enemies of the Pharisees (Jewish heretics), and Paul actually uses this to his advantage when the Jews are trying to kill him.
Josephus (who was a 1st century Jewish historian) tells us, “But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies; nor do they regard the observation of anything besides what the law enjoins them” (Antiquities 18.16). Elsewhere he adds that they reject God’s sovereignty over man’s actions.
So the Sadducees rejected any Scripture outside of the law of Moses, the Pentateuch alone was their canon (Genesis-Deuteronomy).So they are already working with a truncated canon, and one of their great points of contention with the Pharisees was this doctrine of the resurrection and the existence of spiritual substances (angels, an immortal soul, etc.).
So those are their premises, and what they try to do against Jesus is take the Pharisees premises and run them out to absurdity.
How do they try to do this? Well let us turn to expound our text.
19 Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
Note first the appeal to Moses and the law as their authority. What specific law are they referring to?
It is Deuteronomy 25:5-10, which we heard earlier in the service, and this is often called the “levirate marriage law.” This word levirate comes from the Latin word levir, which means “a husband’s brother.” So a levirate marriage is literally a marriage to a brother-in-law. Elsewhere the man who fulfills this law is called the “kinsman redeemer” (גאל).
We are given the purpose of this law in Deuteronomy 25:6, which states, “it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.”
So because of the tribal inheritance each family received in the promised land, it was importantfor a male heir to carry on his father’s name and ensure that the inheritance God had given them stayed within the family.
One of the most famous instances of levirate marriage is the story of Ruth. Ruth is a Moabite who married into the tribe of Judah, but her husband dies, and her father-in-law Elimelech dies, and so both Naomi and Ruth are widowed and in danger of seeing their family line come to an end.
In God’s providence, Ruth meets Boaz, and Boaz fulfills this duty (after a closer relative declines) and raises up seed to carry on Elimelech’s name. And it is by this obedience to the law in Deuteronomy 25, that Obed is born, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David, and from that line of Elimelech we eventually have the birth of Jesus Christ.
Now while this law might sound strange to our modern ears, it was God’s way of both providing for widows and also the means by which His promise to Abraham could be fulfilled.
God had promised in Genesis 15, to give Abraham seed as numerous as the stars, and also to give him the land of Canaan as his inheritance (Gen. 15:7, 18-21). And so for family name to die out, was like having a star go out in the sky.
We read in Galatians 3:19, Paul answers the question, “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.”
So God gave many ceremonial and judicial laws in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, laws like this levirate marriage law, as a temporary and typological safeguard to preserve the people of Israel until the Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ was born. Jesus is the seed God promised to Abraham, and by faith in Jesus, we also become heirs together with him.
So that is the background to this law that the Sadducees are now going to use to prove the absurdity of the resurrection.
20 Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. 21 And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. 22 And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.
So the argument of the Sadducees is that if there is a resurrection from the dead, then in that resurrected state, this woman will have 7 husbands. And because having 7 husbands is clearly contrary to God’s law and violates the one flesh monogamous union of marriage, there can be no resurrection.
How does Jesus respond to this attempted reductio of the Sadducees?
He begins by rebuking them for their ignorance.
24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?
There are times when ignorant people ask stupid questions and the best way to respond is to not answer at all (Titus 3:9-11). As it says in Proverbs 26:4-5, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
This is one of those occasions where Jesus chooses the latter and will answer them according to their folly so that they are not wise in their own eyes. The way he begins then is with a stern rebuke: You are in error because you don’t know the Scriptures, neither the power of God. In other words, “You have no idea what you are talking about.”
And just in case they didn’t understand this rebuke the first time, Jesus will say again at the end of his response in vs. 27, “ye therefore do greatly err.”
So Jesus is challenging the false assumptions behind their question, which they have arrived at because they don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power. And remember he is saying this to men who style themselves experts in the Scriptures. In verse 25 he tells them what that false premise is.
25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
So whereas the Sadducees argued that there is no resurrection because that would make marriage eternal (and create all kinds of polygamous situations), Jesus says that they’ve got it backwards. Marriage is not eternal, but the soul is, and in the resurrected state men do not marry, and women are not given in marriage, but are like the angels who cannot die and find all their satisfaction in God.
The problem with the Sadducees is that they are enslaved to their carnal senses, and therefore when they read the law of Moses, they come to it with a warped and corrupt mind, and therefore warp and corrupt the Scriptures. In their minds, the only sense in which man “rises again” and “lives on after death,” is in his children. This is the only “resurrection” or “raising up” they can imagine.
And because the Sadducees denied that there even is a spirit, or an immortal soul,what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:6 comes to pass, that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
If you come to the Bible with false assumptions, you are going to read it and the letters will slay you. False assumptions lead to false conclusions which lead to ignorant questions, and this is the great error Jesus wants to expose.
So Jesus says that when we rise from the dead, we are not rejoined in marriage to the spouse (or spouses) we were married to on earth. Marriage is a temporal institution for the raising of children, for help and companionship, but as Paul says in Ephesians 5, marriage is a great mystery that will give way to something far greater, which is the union of Christ and the church, the union of God with the human soul.
Now many people find this teaching about no marriage and no sex in the resurrection to be a bit of a letdown. But that is only because we are thinking like Sadducees. We are allowing our carnal senses and sentiments to blind us to the far greater love and intimacy that we shall have with God and all the saints, including our former spouse (if they were a believer) in the resurrection.
The truth is that however great and pleasurable your marriage may be (and I hope that is!), it is not worthy to be compared with the love and pleasure we shall enjoy in the world to come. Even in this life, there are far higher pleasures than sexual intimacy and marital friendship, namely the pleasures of knowing and loving God.
This is why Jesus can say in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
To be a Christian is to love God in such a way that nothing and no-one else competes with God in your affections. You love God more than life itself.
And so if you have not experienced this pleasure of the soul, this pleasure of union with God that brings peace and gladness and indestructible joy, then search your heart. Consider what it is that you really love and are living for. Because no matter your state, whether single, or married, or widowed, or divorced, the love of God and abundant joy is constantly held out to you.
Unlike a husband or wife, whose time and attention and affections are limited, God is unlimited. God is not bound by time or matter. He does not grow weary, He neither slumbers nor sleeps, and therefore God alone can be your constant companion.
Moreover, whatever goodness or beauty you find in your spouse, whatever loveliness there is in them, God is the source and fount of that goodness and beauty and loveliness, for it is from Him that anyone has these qualities. God has all of those things essentially, infinitely, endlessly.
And so if you find it a letdown that there is no sex or marriage in the resurrection, consider that when you were a child, you thought that eating ice cream or chocolate, or playing in the mud was the highest pleasure there was. Before puberty, you thought girls had cooties. A newborn baby has no conception or ability to begin to understand sexual marital love.
Well in this life, we are babies, and we cannot even begin to imagine the joys that await us in the resurrection. When the Apostle Paul was caught up into Paradise, he says “I heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). The things that Paul heard and saw were so great, that God had to give Paul a thorn in his flesh, to keep him humble. And that was just heaven, not even the full consummation that awaits us.
Isaiah 64:4 says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man, The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
In Isaiah 65:17 God says, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: And the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.”
The joys that await us in the resurrection are so great, that this life will become as a distant memory. As it says in Ecclesiastes 5:20, “For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”
So again I say, if this joy is foreign to you, search your heart, consider your loves, and then ask God to help you re-order them so that He is utmost in your affections.
Returning to our text, Jesus having stated their errors regarding marriage and the resurrection, he goes on to prove from the law of Moses, that the dead rise again.
And it is a good test for us to pause here and ask ourselves, if we were in Jesus’ shoes, and had to prove the resurrection from the Old Testament, where would we go? What verses would we use?
Perhaps some of the Psalms comes to mind, David speaks of God not leaving his soul in Sheol in Psalm 16. Or we might think of Job who says famously in Job 19:25-26, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God.”
Well of all the passages Jesus could have used to prove the resurrection, he limits himself to only what the Sadducees considered to be authoritative, namely the law of Moses.
26 And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.
Now maybe, you are scratching your head, and wondering how is it that that verse proves the resurrection. What does Jesus see in this text that the Sadducees (and many of us) are blind to?
The passage Jesus cites is Exodus 3:6, where God speaks to Moses from the burning bush and reveals this name to him, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
There are at least two ways in which this passage proves the resurrection:
1. First, is from the fact that “God is the God of the living and not the dead.” The argument runs as follows:
Premise 1: Dead bodies cannot worship God or have him as their God.
Premise 2: When God revealed this name to Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead for hundreds of years.
Conclusion: Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must still be alive in some sense, and this proves the existence of the immortal soul. And because it belongs naturally to the soul to be united to the body (since that is how God created it), by the same power of God, the body and soul of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob shall be reunited in the resurrection.
Summary: So if God is the God of the living, as the Sadducees accept, and if God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as they also accept, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive and shall rise again.
2. The second way this can prove the resurrection, is by remembering the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This argument runs as follows:
Premise 1: God promised to Abraham in Genesis 13:15, “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.”
Premise 2: Abraham died not having received that promise (Heb. 11:13-16).
Conclusion: Therefore, either God is a liar, or He keeps His Word, and one day Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob shall be resurrected and the whole land given to them.
So both of these arguments demonstrate that the Sadducees have not rightly interpreted their own Scriptures. And Jesus has used their highest authority, Moses, to prove what they reject.
In Matthew’s version of this same scene it says, “And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching” (Matt. 22:33).
One of the things that our world and our region is in desperate need of is hope.
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”
Our land is filled with hopeless people who think they can treat a sickness of the heart, a sickness of the soul, with medication, with prescription drugs, with surgery, with money, with things that promise to make us happy but cannot actually touch that spiritual part of us that needs healing.
Well Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life. And it is He alone who can touch our soul and heal us. Only the God who never changes and who is infinitely happy in Himself can give us a new heart, with new desires, that shall be fulfilled and make us into trees of life.
As Paul says in Romans 5:5, the hope that God gives is a hope that shall never put us to shame, “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
God wants to you give His very Self, His Holy Spirit. And when you receive the Holy Spirit, you are receiving thedown payment and guarantee of a resurrection to come. And so forsake your earthly and carnal hopes, lift your heart to heaven and say with the Psalmist in Psalm 43:5, “Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, Who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.