We have seen how the Lord responded to a Spiritual challenge (11:27-12:12) and a Political challenge (12:13-17). In this article we will consider His response to a Doctrinal challenge which concerned the all-important question of resurrection (12:18-27).
A Doctrinal Challenge: the Question about Resurrection (12:18-27)
The Lord had already faced “the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders” (11:27) and “the Pharisees and … Herodians” (12:13). The next group to approach were the Sadducees. It is no surprise that the Sadducees raised the subject of resurrection for they did not believe in it (v18). They intended to show that resurrection could not be true because, if it was true, it would lead to an absurd situation.
The Coming of the Sadducees (v18)
“Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection” (v18). This group are identified by their name and by their beliefs. The Sadducees “controlled the official political structures of Judaism at this time, being the majority leaders of the Sanhedrin” (NET notes). They were an aristocratic party with members from the high priestly families in Jerusalem. This is Mark’s only mention of the Sadducees.
They were naturalistic in their beliefs, saying that “there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit” (Act 23:8). Apparently, their small Bible included only the Pentateuch, which they regarded as normative for Jewish life and thought. Because they couldn’t see the teaching of a resurrection in the Pentateuch, they rejected it.
The Challenge of the Sadducees (vv19-23)
They begin, “Master, Moses wrote unto us …,” referring back to the Pentateuch as their authoritative source. Moses had written that “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” (v19). This instruction for Levirate marriage was recorded in Deuteronomy 25. The firstborn of the second marriage was intended to carry on the name of the deceased.
They present their story of one bride for seven brothers. A woman had no children from her first marriage and, outliving her husband, she married his brother. This marriage also produced no children and her second husband died. She married a third brother with the same result until “seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also” (v22). Now the punchline of the strange story is presented: “In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? For the seven had her to wife” (v23). Imagine one woman surrounded by seven brothers, each having claim upon her! Which one does she belong to? They believe they have shown resurrection to be absurd.
The Correction of the Sadducees (vv24-27)
The Lord reveals where the problem lies: “Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?” (v24). They did not know the Word of God, and they did not know the power of God. Their supposition that resurrection was absurd and untenable was the result of a lack of true knowledge of God’s power and promises. Why? Because God’s power makes resurrection possible and God’s promises make resurrection essential.
Their difficulty with God’s power is seen in their presupposition: they assumed that resurrection life was no different than the present life. It seems they regarded the present visible world as the climax of God’s creative ability. But the Lord assured them that this is not so: “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” (v25). The Sadducees didn’t believe in angels, but the Lord set them right. He reminded them that there are other created beings and these beings operate differently. The angels in heaven don’t marry; they don’t have the same natural relationships as we do. And the God who raises people from the dead is not restricted to keeping them exactly as they were before death. God’s power can and does transform people; it makes them different.
This undercuts the notion of absurdity. If the relationships of resurrected people are not the same as they were before death, then the situation envisaged by the Sadducees won’t happen. God’s power makes resurrection logically possible. As Paul taught the Corinthians, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1Co 15:44).
However, God’s promises do more than this. “And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses …” (v26). The Lord continues on the theme of resurrection and refers back to the Sadducees’ own source of authority, the Pentateuch. God introduced Himself to Moses by saying, “I am … the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (cf. Exo 3:1-10).
Why did God speak of Himself in these terms? He was reminding Moses of His covenant relationship with the patriarchs. His relationship to them was not broken and His promises to them remained intact and in need of fulfilment. This was why the people of Israel had to be delivered out of Egypt. God had made promises that the descendants of the patriarchs would live in the land of Canaan.
But God had done more than promise this to their offspring. In Genesis 13 God told Abraham, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever” (vv14-15). Abraham himself was to inherit this land. This was confirmed and re-emphasised to him (15:7; 17:8).
Abraham was, all his days, a stranger in the land of Canaan, but God promised that both he and his seed would come into the full possession of this land. Similar promises were given to Isaac and Jacob (26:3; 28:4; 35:12). How could these promises be fulfilled as they surely must be? There was only one means by which God’s words could be kept – the same means Abraham anticipated when he “offered up Isaac” – God must be a God of resurrection (cf. Heb 11:17-19).
God’s promises to the patriarchs must be fulfilled; His covenant promises are inviolable. This demands their resurrection. God’s promises make resurrection essential.
For us this is surely a comfort. The God of resurrection will likewise ensure our resurrection, reunion and rapture. It must happen for God’s promises to be kept and it will happen by the power of God. “Therefore … be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1Co 15:58).
 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.