Mark 12:18-27 “Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’ Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising – have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!'”
In 1972 on the southern coast of Oman eight Special Air Service soldiers had been secretly deployed to help the local troops counter the possibility of a Marxist inspired insurrection. These SAS men with thirty local policemen were occupying in a mud-walled fort when at 5.30, as dawn was breaking on July 18th, three hundred rebel tribesmen who had come across from the Yemen attacked the fort with all the fire power at their disposal. It was utterly unexpected. The man in command was 23 year-old Mike Kealy, and his small force had to leap out of their sleeping bags, dress, grab their rifles and defend themselves. Wave after wave of tribesmen advanced with rifles and machine guns up to fifty yards from the fort. They were beaten back but soon another wave of attacks began. For four hours Mike Kealy led his men in defending the fort, resisting all the attacks and keeping up the morale of his men throughout the time. Only two of the members of the SAS were lost while they killed eighty of the enemy who were forced to retreat to the Yemen. Mike Kealy was awarded a DSO for his bravery in rescuing some of his wounded men; some people felt that he deserved a Victoria Cross.
In these chapters of Mark’s gospel we find wave after wave of men coming and attacking the Lord Jesus. Mark is describing some of the incidents of the last week in the life of our Lord. Having condemned the temple the Lord Jesus returns to it the following day where various groups advance on him with their criticisms. First of all come the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders challenging Jesus’ authority (Mk. 11:27); Christ has no sooner dealt with them than a group of Pharisees and Herodians approach with a question about paying tax to Caesar (v.13). The Saviour deals with them too, and then representatives of the Sadducees walk up to him challenging him about the resurrection (v.18). But this isn’t the end of the attacks; the scribes are represented in the next encounter (v. 28). They’re all attempting to get the Lord to incriminate himself. The first point I want to make is this:
1. THE SADDUCEES’ PROBLEM WAS THAT THEY BELIEVED IN THE LIMITED INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE.
This is the first time the Sadducees are mentioned in Mark’s gospel. They were the top people in the nation, the elite group of aristocrats who owned a lot of land, men of wealth and rank. They were the power brokers in Israel’s supreme court, the Sanhedrin. The high priests came from the families of the Sadducees, and they had also gained most from the Roman occupation of Judea. What sort of men were they? Josephus the Jewish historian seems to have been one of the Sadducees. He knew them well, but he had such a low opinion of them. He comments on their rudeness to one another (he describes them as being “as rude as aliens”), and on their typically harsh spirit when they passed sentence on men and women in the Sanhedrin court. So we have his picture of them as merciless and cynical men, boorish in their manners and materialists through and through.
Why did they behave in this way? Because of what they believed. They were selective in what they accepted from the Scriptures. They chose to believe the bits of the Bible that suited themselves. They rejected all the historical books, from the book of Joshua all the way through to Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. They wouldn’t accept a word of them. They also rejected all the psalms and the other ‘writings’ like Job and Ecclesiastes. Not one of the books of the prophets would they accept; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the Twelve were all binned by the Sadducees. They were left with the first five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That was it. That was their canon, so when they come to Jesus and they characteristically begin, “Teacher, Moses wrote . . .” (v.19); they claimed Moses as their authority. They also rejected the resurrection of the dead; “Men stay dead,” they said. Human beings only have this life here and now. That is what they believed; no judgment; at death the soul perishes with the body. They affirmed man’s free will. They were the captains of their own fate and the masters of their own souls. They had clearly been influenced by Greek philosophy more than they cared to acknowledge. So when Mark introduces them in verse eighteen as representatives of a kind of first century rationalism he says that they were “the Sadducees who say there is no resurrection.”
There are millions of men and women just like the Sadducees living in the Western world today. They live just for this life, rejecting the fact that the living God can be a righteous and a sin-hating God, the judge of all mankind. “Not for us the God of wrath,” they say, and what inevitably are their next words? “Not the God of the Old Testament.” But rejecting the God of wrath by tearing out of the Bible the Old Testament is not as simple as that, is it? Doesn’t Jesus Christ himself refer to the judgment of God coming on Sodom? Doesn’t the Saviour refer to the flood at the time of Noah? Doesn’t Jesus tell his disciples to remember the judgment that fell on Mrs. Lot – “Remember Lot’s wife.” Didn’t Jesus talk about hell more than Moses and all the prophets put together? Didn’t Jesus tell us to fear the God who can destroy both body and soul in hell? Who knows more about God? The 21st century man in the street, or the Christ who is the Son of the living God?
Let me put Mr. Sadducee on the spot now. You say, Mr. Sadducee, that you believe in the inspiration of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? “Yes,” he says. So you will accept whatever you find in those books? “Oh yes,” he affirms. Then what of Genesis chapter 2 and God breathing life into the dust of Adam so that he came alive (Genesis 2:7)? Can’t God do that to our dust after death? What of Enoch in Genesis chapter 5? Aren’t we told that he walked with God and then he was no more because God took him (Genesis 5:24)? Where did God take him? Into nothingness? Did God vapourise him? Of course not. Or again, when Abraham took his son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac on an altar (as God had commanded him), didn’t Abraham tell his servant, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship, and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5)? Abraham obviously believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Or what of Abraham at the end of his life? What are we told about him? He died, “in a good old age, an old man, and full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8). We might have expected something different to be said of that great man of faith, for example, that Abraham went to be with God, but Moses wrote that Abraham was gathered with his people. Life after death possessed a great reality for those people. Abraham went to join the company of all of his own who had gone before. Or again, Mr. Sadducee, what did the patriarch Jacob say at the end of his life, “in mourning I will go down to the grave to my son” (Genesis 37:35)? The grave was not ‘non-existence’ for the patriarchs. It was a place where all alike go. Mr. Sadducee, you believe in the inspiration of the book of Numbers don’t you? It is one of the five books of Moses. What are we told about all of Korah’s men? “They went down alive into the grave” (Nums. 16:33). We are not told that they were snuffed out like candles in the wind. We have restrained ourselves to some of the verses from the five books of Moses that teach life after death. Mr. Sadducee, what can you say about such verses? About each one Mr. Sadducee will hum and haw and finally say, “It’s all a question of interpretation. You have merely given your interpretation.” That is how rationalists who claim to have some regard for the Bible try to get round the obvious meaning of verse after verse after verse of God’s truth. We have restricted ourselves to five books of the Old Testament for the sake of Mr. Sadducee. Once you get to the New Testament there is of course abundant teaching about resurrection and eternal life.
There is a book found in the Apocrypha called “The Wisdom of Solomon.” It was written before Christ, and there is a place in its second chapter in which men who don’t believe in life after death – like the Sadducees – speak out. What they reveal show what you’re left with if you’ve no expectation of life after death, and no belief in the resurrection of the body:
“For we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been,
for the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts;
when it is extinguished, the body will return to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.
Our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will remember our works,
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and be scattered like mist
that is chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat.
For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,
and there is no return from our death,
because it is sealed up and no one turns back” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:2-5).
Don’t you hear there the bleak pessimism of our very own generation? On they are going to nothingness! That is what they think will be their inescapable end, born by mere chance, and after death they imagine they’ll be as though they’d never existed. So “grab what you can while you’re still breathing. You are your own god and your own saviour. Get it while you can because you can’t take it with you. Life has no meaning, so don’t ask why you’re alive. No one knows. Live for the day; trust in yourself. There is nothing else. ‘There is no return from our death’.” That is what they said. But Jesus Christ did return from the grave, and even in the Old Testament the widows’ sons at the time of Elijah and Elisha were both raised from the dead. One psalmist said, “I shall not die but live and tell Jehovah’s power to save.” Another psalmist said that God would not allow his own Holy One – the Christ – to see corruption in the grave. Job said, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25&26). God raised our Redeemer from death. He was declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection. It is this Saviour says, “Because I live you shall live also. I am the resurrection and the life.”
So these were the Sadducees who came to Jesus in the temple precincts.
2. CYNICAL BELIEFS LEAD TO MOCKING QUESTIONS.
The Sadducees came with a question: “‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?'” (vv.19-23). They plead as their authority for this spoof question Moses, the author of the first five books of the Bible. He taught in Deuteronomy 25 verses five to ten that if a husband died leaving no heirs one of the surviving brothers should take his widow and marry her and so provide the dead brother with an heir. So the brother’s name and honour and inheritance would be kept in the family. The first child of that union would be counted as the dead man’s child. Here, in this contrived story of the Sadducees a women had no children from all seven brothers whom she married and who all died one by one. Then she herself died, and the question they asked Jesus was whose wife would she be in the resurrection for she had been married to all seven brothers. The Sadducees told this stock conundrum in order to ridicule the whole concept of resurrection. They wanted to explode the whole theology of life after death. They thought that just a bit of crude wit and their ‘common sense’ would reduce the belief in the resurrection to an absurdity.
It is like those occasional questions people ask in which they think they are embarrassing Christians. I have told you before of a Christian carpenter in New Jersey named Elmer Albright who in the shipyard where he worked witnessed to all the other men, and especially to a young atheist named Ernest Reisinger, but praying for him in secret more than he talked to Ernie openly. The other men would tease and rile Elmer: “Elmer, where did Adam’s son Cain get his wife?” they asked him. But Elmer gave as good as he got: “Aw, I’m a Christian; I don’t bother with other men’s wives,” he replied. We know that Cain must have married one of his sisters. So the Sadducees brought this old chestnut to Jesus to belittle the resurrection. Other men came sincerely to Christ and they were answered sincerely by him.
3. IN OUR LORD LIE ALL THE TREASURES OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE.
“Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising – have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!'” (vv. 24-27). Christ didn’t get mad, but he answered their question seriously.
i] The Sadducees were in error because they didn’t know the Scriptures.
The Lord Christ didn’t reply that all men look at truth in different ways so that every opinion is relative. There is truth and there is error, in our Lord’s thinking, and we must cleave to the one and resist the other. Jesus didn’t say that no one knows what happens after death or whether there’ll be a resurrection or not. He didn’t suggest that the Sadducees’ guessing was just as good as his own beliefs. When they spoke the winds and waves didn’t obey them. The Sadducees couldn’t cure the common cold, let alone raise the dead. “You are in error,” said Jesus. The word means that they had wandered off the track. They were wrong, and not in some fringe beliefs but at the core of their system. They were seriously at error at the very heart and centre of their lives. None of us knows everything. All of us are wrong in some things we believe, in our assessment of issues and events and people we’ve got it wrong. Let’s cry to God that he will help us sort such things out, but what if we are going astray in our strongest convictions? What if we are mistaken in the fundamentals of what we believe? We have to cry mightily to God for help.
How does God help us? He has given us the Scriptures to teach us, correct us, rebuke us, and to point out to us what’s true. Why do we believe in the resurrection? Because on the third day Jesus rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. By those words we don’t mean that the soul of the Lord Jesus Christ survived; nor are we referring to the survival of his memory; nor do we mean the survival of his teaching; nor are we thinking of the survival of his influence; nor are we saying that his ideas survive. Men sing that John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on. Those are not the sentiments we sing about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection. We don’t think that Christ is alive in the sense that men may have a ‘religious encounter’ with him. It means none of those things, even though all those things are true. They are inadequate as an explanation of what the Scriptures say when they tell us, “He is risen.”
The Scriptures are speaking in the most literal terms of a phenomenal occurrence, that is, of a physical event. They are not talking about the soul of Jesus, nor his ideals, nor of the religion proclaimed by his followers. They are speaking of the body of Christ. Something happened to that body which means it was reanimated; it was brought to life again so that it still exists; it still functions. This whole concept of Christ’s resurrection must be lifted out of the realm of ideas and doctrines; it must be firmly rooted where it belongs in this world of physical reality where our bodies grow old and weak and then die.
Wasn’t John Mark who wrote this gospel probably one of those who belonged to the five hundred followers of Jesus who saw the risen Christ? I presume he was a witness to the resurrection. He and the apostles and the women will tell you what they saw. They saw a body; they saw Christ in a certain physical form. It was a visible form, and a tangible form. The body had hands and feet; it had eyes and ears. It was able to speak with its lips, and to think with its brain. It was capable of locomotion, of killing a fish, making a fire, cooking the fish and eating it with his friends. His larynx was able to speak, and his lungs could breathe upon them. His brain entertained questions and gave them answers. He invited them to touch and handle him – “Put your finger in the holes left by the nails,” he said to Thomas. “Put your hand into my side.” It was all very visible and tangible.
The whole doctrine of the resurrection taught in the New Testament by the Lord Jesus is literal; it is physical; the body rose. A huge heavy stone was rolled away; the grave-clothes were there, neatly folded with the napkin that had been wrapped around his head in a separate place. The soldiers slept through it all, and then Jesus made these appearances in the garden, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, by the lake, on the mountain top, in Galilee, to James, to Peter, to the five hundred, and weeks later to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. For almost six weeks the disciples saw him very regularly, and the sight and sound of Jesus transformed them. They had been cowards who would swear and curse if a teenage girl challenged them with being one of Jesus’ disciples. Now they themselves were prepared to challenge the leading men in the land, and lay down their lives not for a revolution but for a fact that on the third day God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. This is the testimony of the Scriptures to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let me put it like this, that there is a place where Christ is, where he exists today. Do we ponder that? It is not that he used to exist – in the same way as Mohammed once existed, or as John Peel the disc jockey once was alive, but that Jesus still is, as I am now standing before you in this place. It is not that Christ exists in the hearts and mind of his people, or in the memory of his church, or in Christian preaching, or in religious art, but that he is, objectively, in a place, in the world out there and he is as real as you or me. He is the one who actually is at this moment, the living one, who once was dead. There, in that place, he exists, not as a disembodied spirit but as a living embodied Saviour. He has physical form and in that place men see him, and one day the whole of the people of God are going to see him. The Christ of the resurrection appearances is a physical Christ. He is also a transfigured Christ; he has undergone the most marvellous transformation. He was crucified in weakness – you consider that bruised, lacerated, disfigured, emaciated body that Joseph of Arimathea took down from the cross. It was inert, immobile and utterly impotent. It was laid in a tomb in that state, but that body came alive again, transfigured by the power of God and raised in glory. The Lord Jesus had a new body – he who was seen by Saul on the Damascus road, or the one John saw on the island of Patmos. He had a body equal to the splendour of the Son of God. That is the resurrection of Jesus Christ taught in the Bible. If you don’t know about it you are going to make mistake after mistake all through your life.
Now if you protest what can resurrection bodies be like? Then again the Scriptures will tell you, for example, in I Corinthians chapter 15 and we can read these words beginning at verse 35, “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Cors. 15:35-58). You must know the teaching of the Scriptures concerning the resurrection of the dead, otherwise you will go astray like the Sadducees.
ii] Jesus also said this, that the Sadducees were in error because they didn’t know the power of God.
See the thousands of men listening to Peter on the day of Pentecost as he is preaching to them the resurrection of Jesus: “he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:31&32). Peter preached to them the resurrection in those words, and then what happened to 3,000 of the men listening to him? They were cut to the heart; they were convicted that they had crucified the Son of God and they were facing an open-ended encounter with God whose Son they’d murdered. His blood was on their hands. What could they do? Here were men who had come under the truth, but more than that, under the energy of God, which divine power was convicting them, illuminating their minds, giving them repentance, and giving them faith to believe it was indeed true when Peter told them that if they repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They did repent and they did receive the gift of the Spirit of God.
It is not enough for you to know what the Christian faith teaches, nor to memorise verses that explain the resurrecti on of the body. Every single demon believes that Jesus Christ is alive from the dead. They are devils yet. You must know the power of God taking that word and begetting you again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. God has to work that faith right into your heart. That is salvation; “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Roms. 10:8&9). Have you done that, made a personal confession that Jesus is your Lord, and in your heart personally believed that God raised him from the dead? If that has happened to you then let me tell you that you are a blessed man, that the living God has been powerfully working in your life. You might have known the Scriptures before this happened, but now you know more than the truth, you know the saving power of God, and that is everlasting life.
Do you know something of the word of God coming to you in power? In the autobiography of Alfred Dye we are told that as a young man he was living in Bedford, and was in great trouble of soul when one day he walked over to the Southill church’s anniversary services where the preacher was A.B. Taylor of Manchester. Alfred Dye had never heard a sermon like the one he was to hear that afternoon, one which made such an effect on his life. A.B. Taylor’s text was: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” But there was a beautiful simplicity in it, as Alfred Dye remembered it. First of all the preacher said Christ has a flock in this world but they are only a little flock. They are little in number, they are little in the eyes of the world, they are little in their own esteem; only a little flock. Ah, but they have a Father. There is nothing little about that Father. He is in heaven. He is great in his person, in his majesty, in his glory, in his work. They are only a little flock, but they have a Father in heaven. And would you know, he said, that that Father in heaven has a kingdom and he is going to give it to them. He is going to give it to that little flock, and not only is he going to give it to them, but it’s with the greatest delight that he is going to give it to them; it is his “good pleasure” to give it to them. So what does the Saviour say? “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” and Alfred Dye went back to Bedford enjoying a gospel day and heaven begun below. He gave to the winds his fears. He was no longer a stranger to the power of God. Oh that there may be a few hearts here today touched, longing that this portion might be yours.
iii] Jesus also says this that the Sadducees were in error because they thought that the world to come was essentially an extension of conditions on earth today, including the marriage state – except of course that it would be more glorious.
So Jesus said to them, “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven,” (v.25). You have heard people criticise the Bible phrase ‘everlasting life’ by saying that they “wouldn’t want to live for ever and ever and ever. How boring and tedious it would be.” They are thinking that heaven is simply a continuum of life on earth.
Remember what we read from the first letter to the Corinthians and the fifteenth chapter, that there is certainly continuity between this body of ours now and the resurrection body so that there will be mutual recognition. We will know one another in heaven. Our individuality will not be destroyed. There will also be transformation of this body of our humiliation to a new resurrection body which will be glorious. Continuity and yet transformation; that is the Biblical picture, and Paul relates that difference to a plain brown seed and a beautiful flower; there is continuity between the two, but what transformation. Think of the link between a seed and a head of golden wheat, or an acorn and an oak tree. You put that wizened seed in the ground and in time it is transformed into a beautiful flower. Christ’s body was laid in the grave so damaged and emaciated, but he was raised in a glorious and powerful body. What our bodies were in the eyes of those who loved us we will be tenfold that in heaven, but all that was accidental and incidental about us will have been removed. All that was distinctive and grand about us will be more visible than ever. Ken Hughes makes a helpful observation talking about heaven, “Abraham has everything about him that was Abrahamic. Isaac has everything that properly belongs to him. Jacob has everything that makes him God’s Israel. These great men have lost nothing. Rather, they have grown and developed gloriously. They are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at their very best – or at least, they will be at their ultimate when the trumpet sounds” (R. Kent Hughes, “Mark, Volume Two,” Crossway Books, Wheaton, 1989, p.111).
Jesus says to these Sadducees that in heaven there won’t be husbands and wives, with babies being born. In heaven we will be in this one respect like the angels there, that just as they don’t marry there are no marriages in heaven. When Princess Diana was killed in 1997 books of remembrance were opened for her in various Cathedrals, and people could sign them and make comments. Many said that she was like an angel, or an angel in disguise, or that now she was back to being an angel again, or that she had graduated to being a real angel. People who don’t know the Bible think that when children die they become angels. There is no warrant for us to believe this. In the Bible we are told a few times of angels who took on the form of a man for a short time and a specific purpose, for a number of hours, but that is all. We are never told of a Christian becoming an angel. Men and women made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ and indwelt by his Spirit are higher than the angels; they will judge angels. Angels won’t judge us. We will only become like angels in this one regard, that the angels don’t marry. There will only be one wedding in heaven, and that is the marriage feast of the Lamb of God and his bride the church. There will be no need in the new heavens and earth to propagate the species or continue the family. We will be in a new mode of bodily life where such things are irrelevant, but we will love one another much more in heaven than on this earth, more affectionate and more capable of loving than ever we were on earth.
But there will be nothing like Islam’s gross and sensual ‘paradise’ with virgins with glasses of sherbet satisfying men’s needs. J.C.Ryle says, “Hunger and thirst being no more, there shall be no need of food. Weariness and fatigue being no more, there shall be no need of sleep. Death being no more, there shall be no need of births to supply the place of those who were removed. Enjoying the full presence of God and his Christ, men shall no more need the marriage union in order to help one another. Able to serve God without weariness, and attend on him without distinction, doing his will perfectly, and seeing his face continually, clothed in a glorious body, they shall be ‘as the angels which are in heaven'” (J.C.Ryle, “Expository Thoughts on Mark,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, p.259).
When John Penry, four hundred years ago, sat in his dungeon in the Tower of London the day before his execution he wrote a letter to his wife and the four little children. He left the four girls a Bible each and he then gave his love to his wife, and he signed the letter from her “husband for a season and her eternal brother.” I won’t be a grandson, and a grandfather, and an uncle, and a cousin, and a nephew, and a great-grandson for ever. A woman won’t be someone’s third wife for ever and ever. Brothers and sisters with Jesus our great elder brother and Saviour and Lord – this is to be our destiny. We don’t know the answer to the problem whether someone who died as a child will be a child still. We don’t know whether parents will bear the marks of age. We do know this, that the flower is the perfect maturity of the seed. Our own resurrection body has been chosen for each one of us by the Master Gardener. He is the one who will give to each of our individual bodies the full perfection of our characters.
iv] Jesus also said that the Sadducees were in error because they ignored the implications of the way Almighty God designated himself; “‘Now about the dead rising – have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!'” (vv. 26&27).
If I said to you today, “My God is the God of Superman, and the God of Batman, and the God of Spiderman,” would that enlarge your concept of God? No; the exact reverse. I am referring to comic book characters, utterly unreal figures of fantasy and escapism, with no relevance to our living and dying at all. So it is with God; he does not promote himself by declaring that he’s the God of nonexistent beings. Who is God? He is the God who is not silent. He spoke to Adam, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God who revealed himself to Moses at the bush, and then centuries after Moses’ death bringing Moses from heaven to speak to his Son on the Mount of Transfiguration. God acknowledges himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at this moment. They, as to their bodies, have died and have been buried and their dust lies somewhere in the Middle East, but as to their souls they will live as long as God himself, the Almighty who says, “I am still the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and will be for ever.” They live with God, and in God, and God is in them. When God called Abraham into a new relationship with himself, God called a whole person. He didn’t call his soul. When God justified Abraham freely when he trusted in the Lord, that new relationship of Justifier and justified began and exists for ever. “I will never stop being your God, Abraham.” This relationship is the result of God making up his mind, the covenant keeping God whose power is greater than death.
Was God’s covenant with these three men merely for the duration of their brief earthly span, three score years and ten? Was it ’till death us do part’? Did God’s promise disintegrate the moment Abraham, Isaac and Jacob breathed their last? What sort of grace would that have been? One which provided some temporal benefits, and that was all? Then we observe that the god of this world gives to his followers more earthly benefits than the mighty God. The devil gives riches, fame, power and long life to his children. Is that the stuff that God would like to give his people? Finite promises; unfulfilled words relating to an uncertain life of suffering and pain which all ended when they died? What an insignificant redemption that would be. No! God committed himself to these men and their seed until the one great promised Seed came, and then through that Christ for ever. Our hope in God is not in this life only. God’s intention is to raise Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from the dead. He is still their God. He wouldn’t pledge himself to those dead patriarchs as their living God unless the dead were going to be raised. God is going to reverse their death. They are going to have a new body in a new world.
This is what these men themselves were taught by God; this was their hope as death drew near. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.” The writer goes on to say, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebs. 11:11-13). He even adds this, “Instead, they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one” (Hebs. 11:16).
Please grasp this, that to the living God the grave – the state of death – is not a natural state. Death is an enemy. God breathed life into man’s dust. God formed us in the womb. It is he that hath made us and not we ourselves. What God has made he will certainly remake. To deny the resurrection is to deny God, his word, his power, his binding love for his people, and his very character. “Deny the resurrection and you become a practical atheist,” says Sinclair Ferguson. Believing in the resurrection is not just the best hope for the world, it is what gives this world its full value. God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (v. 27)
You see Jesus’ last words to these Sadducees? “You are badly mistaken” (v.27). Most seminary professors of preaching tell their students today never to end a sermon on a negative note. “Send the people home full of positive thoughts!” I don’t know so much. Have you every noticed how the first psalm ends? I wouldn’t mind if there were Sunday services when we went home corrected, rebuked and instructed in righteousness. I would be glad if there were Sundays when we left this building convicted of our sin and ignorance, our tails between our legs. Then I’d believe that the Holy Spirit had been here and had been dealing with men and women – “When he is come he will convict the world” – just like the Lord dealt with these Sadducees. “You are badly mistaken,” he warned them. He had given them those four reasons why they should change their thinking. Is it a big man who declares that he’ll never change his mind? Isn’t he a pathetic little man? You know how narrow he is. He thinks he’s sorted out all the big questions in life, why he is on his earth, what lies beyond the grave, what is the good life, who is God and how he may know him. He knows it all, and he’s stopped thinking about these things. How old is he? Twenty years of age, and his mind is locked and he’s thrown the key away. You talk to him, and he says, “That’s religion,” and he doesn’t want to hear. I hope some people here has heard about the resurrection of the body and life eternal, and they realise they’ve been badly mistaken about things and want to change. Every time they see the truth, they change. Great! Every time they spot an error in their thinking, they change. Great! Always changing; always being transformed into the image of the true and proper man, God’s great definition of what a man should be, how he should think, what values he should have, how he should live, changed into the likeness of Jesus of Nazareth by Jesus’ own Spirit and Word, from one degree of glory to another. That is what real living is all about. If there is anyone here who is badly mistaken, then please turn from it. Maybe that person is me. Maybe that person is you. Please let’s abandon our mistakes and cling to Christ.
31st October 2004 GEOFF THOMAS