Today’s passage — like the one last week — is related to the parable of the wicked tenants which began chapter 12. Remember? The wicked tenants in the parable symbolise the leaders in Israel in Old Testament times; and over the years the Lord God sent his prophets to appeal to them to repent and to return to him. But they refused to listen to the Lord’s prophets; and they even killed some of those prophets. And so, the Lord God eventually sent his Son:
Surely they will respect my Son?
But just as the wicked tenants did not respect the landowner’s son, so the leaders in Israel did not respect or honour God’s Son when he came; they did not want him to rule over them; and they were not willing to yield their lives to him. And so, we read last week how some of them — the Pharisees and the Herodians — came to God’s Son in order to catch him in his words and to get him to say something incriminating. They did not come to worship him, but to entrap him.
And in today’s passage, the Sadducees came to him with a question. Mark doesn’t say that they came to trap him; however, there’s no indication in the text that they came to him as they should. How should they have approached him? Well, since he is the Eternal Son of God, they should have worshipped him; and they should have come to him with humble and contrite hearts to ask for mercy and forgiveness. That’s how they should have come to him; but instead they came to argue with him.
And so, the first thing we should notice about this passage today is that it once again shows us how an unbelieving world despises and dishonours the Son of God. Instead of worshipping him, an unbelieving world despises him; instead of submitting to him, an unbelieving world argues with him. And so, before going any further today, we need to see that every single one of us should bow before the Lord Jesus Christ and worship him as God and yield our lives to him. Instead of doubting him, and rejecting him, we should believe in him, and ask him for forgiveness for our sin and rebellion, and pray for his help to live our lives for his glory. That’s the first thing; and it’s fundamentally important and it would be wrong to go on with this passage without making clear that it is the duty of everyone here to bow before him as worship him as Lord and Saviour.
But their question provided the Lord with the opportunity to speak about eternal life and the resurrection of our bodies from the dead. And that’s a very important and vital subject for all of us. In fact, there are few subjects more important and vital than this one; and it is one that people are naturally curious about. People want to know:
What happens when we die?
For many people, it’s a great mystery; and they wonder what happens:
When we die, do we cease to exist?
Is life over whenever we breathe our last breath?
Does life continue beyond the grave?
If there’s life after death, is it the same as this life or is it different?
What happens whenever we die?
Do you see? This is something that we’re curious about. And it’s something that will affect all of us, because all of us have known people who have died and all of us will die some day unless the Lord comes again. This is something that affects us all; and so, it’s a vital and important subject for us to study so that we will be clear on what will happen whenever we die.
Let’s look at the passage. The Sadducees come up to the Lord Jesus with a question. Who were the Sadducees? Well, you don’t need to know too much about them, apart from two important things. Mark tells us the first thing we need to know about them: and it’s that they did not believe in the resurrection. They did not believe that the bodies of the dead will rise from the dead. In fact, the historians tells us that they didn’t believe that there was anything beyond this life. This life and this world is all there is. They believed in God, of course; but they didn’t believe that there was any life or existence for us beyond this world. And therefore, they’re like many people today who do not believe in any kind of afterlife. For many people today, this world is all there is; and this life is all there is. All we have is this life and then, after we die, there’s nothing. That’s what many people believe today; it’s what more and more people believe today; and it’s what the Sadducees also believed: that there is nothing beyond this life.
And so, they came to the Lord Jesus with a question which they believed made the idea of the resurrection seem like nonsense. They said to the Lord that there was a woman who — in the course of her life — had seven husbands. When she died and was raised at the resurrection, whose wife would she be? Whose wife would she be in the life to come when she was married to all of them in this life? That’s their question.
They’re attempting to show that the idea of the resurrection is ridiculous. Imagine a woman who — in the life to come — finds herself with seven husbands! It’s absurd. It’s nonsense. And their attitude is that it’s so absurd, it can’t possibly happen.
The Lord replied that they were wrong, quite wrong. And he went on to explain that the reason they were wrong is because they don’t know the Scriptures; and they don’t know the power of God. What did he mean?
The Power of God
Let’s think about the power of God, first of all. The Lord went on to say what resurrection life will be like. Look at verse 25:
When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
In other words, when the dead rise, they’re changed. Life beyond the grave is not the same as life on this side of the grave. A transformation takes place. And that transformation, of course, is due to the power of God, who takes this weak, frail, perishable body and transforms it so that it becomes imperishable and glorious and perfectly suited to life in the world to come.
The apostle Paul explains this a little more fully in 1 Corinthians 15 which we were studying a few weeks ago on Sunday evening. Paul wrote in verse 35 of 1 Corinthians 15:
But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’
Paul was referring to the questions we have and the trouble we have with understanding the resurrection and how it happens. We can’t imagine what it will be like. We’ve never seen someone who has been raised from the dead; and so we have no experience of it; and we’re perhaps baffled by the idea. What will it be like? What kind of body will we have?
And of course, often when people don’t know how something happens, if they can’t explain it or if they have no experience of it, they don’t believe it. They think:
It doesn’t make sense to me; therefore it can’t be true.
And so, people do not believe in the resurrection, because they cannot understand how it happens or how it works; it doesn’t fit with what they already know and have experienced. And so, they decide it’s not true; it doesn’t happen.
But what we need to remember — says the Lord Jesus — is the power of God. God is almighty and all-powerful and he can do far more than we can even imagine. Someone says:
I can’t believe that the dead are raised. How is it possible? What kind of a body will they have?
But remember the power of God, who can do all things. And so in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul goes on to explain that a transformation takes place when we’re raised: God transforms us; he glorifies us so that everlasting life is not the same as life here on earth. Paul wrote:
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 dishonour, 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.
In other words, we’re transformed. When we’re raised, we’re not the same as we were before.
Do you wonder at this? Do you struggle to understand it? Do you scratch your head in puzzlement? Well, you need to remember the power of God. He can do far more than we can ever imagine. And so, when the Sadducees came to the Lord with a question about whose wife will this woman be when they rise, they needed to remember the power of God and that he transforms us so that everlasting life in the presence of God is not the same as life here on earth. We will be changed when we’re raised. We will be transformed. We will neither marry nor will be given in marriage, but we’ll become like the angels.
So, that’s the first point the Lord makes. The Sadducees — who didn’t believe in the resurrection — were wrong because they don’t know the power of God who will transform our bodies when we’re raised.
But then the Lord went on to make a further point. They were wrong, because they didn’t know the Scriptures.
Now, when the Lord was on the earth, the New Testament hadn’t been written. All they had were the Old Testament Scriptures. But there are a number of places in the Old Testament Scriptures which teach us to believe in the resurrection. Let me give you just two examples. First of all, there’s Isaiah 26:19 where it says:
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
And secondly, there’s Job 19:26:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
Those two passages teach us clearly that there is life after death.
However, I said before that there were two things we need to know about the Pharisees. The first is that they did not believe in the resurrection. The second is this: they only accepted the first five books of the Bible. Whereas every other Jew accepted all 39 books of the Old Testament to be the word of God, the Sadducees said that only the first five books of the Bible — Genesis to Deuteronomy — were the word of God. So, the Lord didn’t quote Isaiah 26 to them or Job 19; he didn’t quote from any of the books which they rejected. Instead he quoted from one of the books they did accept as God’s word. He quoted from the book of Exodus. But look: if only they knew their Bible better, they would see that even the book of Exodus teaches that there’s this life and there’s the life to come.
You see, the Lord referred to Exodus 3, where God was speaking to Moses and where God said that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the point the Lord Jesus was making is that when God was speaking to Moses in Exodus 3, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were long dead. They had died generations before. Nevertheless, God still called himself their God. Why would he do that unless they still existed? If they no longer existed, if they had ceased to exist whenever they died, as the Sadducees believed, then God would presumably have said:
I was the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
But he didn’t say that; he said he was their God. He was still their God, even though their life on this earth had ended years before. God’s relationship to them and his promises to them continue after death, because they’re still alive in his presence in heaven. And so, the Lord told the Sadducees that they are wrong. God is the God of the living.
Let me say a little more about eternal life and the resurrection so that we’re all straight on what the Bible teaches. And this is what the Bible teaches: when we die, our bodies are buried in the ground or cremated, but the souls of believers are made perfect and go immediately to be with the Lord. How do we know that? Well, think of the Lord Jesus on the cross. One of the thieves asked the Lord to remember him. And what did the Lord say to this dying man?
Today you will be with me in paradise.
He said: today; today, you will be with me. What did he mean except that once we die those who believe in the Saviour go to be with the Lord. The apostle Paul taught the same thing in his letter to the Philippians. He has been arrested and was awaiting trial in prison and he was writing about whether he will go on living or whether he will die. If he lives, he said, he can continue to serve the Lord and his people on earth. But if he dies, he says, he will be with Christ. He was teaching the same truth: once we die, the souls of believers go to be with the Lord Jesus. Our life in this world ends; but our life continues, because we will go to be with the Lord.
That’s what happens immediately after we die. But then, the Bible teaches that when the Lord comes again, the bodies of believers will be raised from the dead. That’s what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15. Our bodies will be raised and they will be transformed and made imperishable and glorious and will be reunited with our souls. And so, in body and in soul, we will be with the Lord forever.
That’s the great hope the Lord gives to all who trust in him. Now, it will be very different for those who do not believe. When they die, their bodies are buried or cremated; but their souls are cast into hell to be punished for their sin and rebellion. And when the Lord comes again, the bodies of unbelievers will be raised and re-united to their souls; but since they did not believe in the only Saviour of the world, they will be condemned on the day of judgment and will sent away from God’s glorious presence to be punished forever for their sins.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Those who love the Lord, here in this life, will go to be with the one they love. They will find themselves in the presence of the one they love. And those who do not love the Lord, or trust him, in this life, will be separated from him forever. They did not want him in this life; and so they will not be with him in the life to come.
And so, if you have not yet trusted in Christ, then I say to you: Repent and believe. Turn from your life of sin and rebellion and unbelief and turn to God, trusting in Jesus Christ who is the only Saviour of the world and the only one who can save you from everlasting punishment in the life to come.
Death is not the end; but it’s the doorway either into eternal life and everlasting joy in the presence of the Lord; or into eternal condemnation and everlasting pain away from the presence of the Lord. And so, repent and believe: turn to God in heaven above and confess your sins to him; and ask him to pardon you for the sake of Christ the Saviour who gave up his life for sinners; and ask God to give you — in his mercy — eternal life, because the only way to receive eternal life in the presence of the Lord is through repentance and faith. And so, repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and God will forgive you and give you the free gift of eternal life.
But before we finish, notice two other things briefly. Notice how the doctrine of the resurrection and eternal life demonstrates God’s faithfulness.
What would we think of God if he only cared for us and loved us in this life? What would we make of God if only for this life he looked after his people? What would we say about him if he could only protect us in this life, but when death comes near, he abandoned us to suffer death and to be overpowered by it? What would think of him if he cared for us in this life only, but when death approaches, he turned his back on us?
We wouldn’t think much of such a God; but the good news is that the doctrine of the resurrection demonstrates God’s faithfulness towards his people. The Lord Jesus mentioned Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Well, God revealed himself to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and promised to be their God. Would his promise to protect and guide and bless them last only to the point of their death? Would his promises to them end at their death? Can we only trust in God up to the grave and no further? No, because the Lord binds himself to his people and he promises to protect his people and to care for his people and to love his people; and his promise to his people extends beyond the grave and into eternity.
If you have Jesus Christ as your Saviour — if you trust in him and love him and want to obey him — then you can count on him to be faithful towards you in this life; and to remain faithful to you for ever in the life to come. It’s not for this life only that God is faithful. His faithfulness — like his love — is without end. And though you die and are buried in the ground, yet he will remain your God and you will be forever blessed in his presence.
The Lord promised that thief on the cross:
Today you will be with me in paradise.
His faithfulness to his people, his commitment to his people, his promises to his people, extend beyond death and beyond the grace and into eternity.
But finally, what about our loved ones? The Sadducees asked whose wife will this woman be who was married to all seven brothers here on earth? Whose wife will she be in the life to come? And the Lord answered and said there won’t be marriage in heaven; we’ll be like the angels.
So, people wonder whether they’ll see and know and be with their loved ones in the life to come? Couples who have been married all their life wonder whether their marriage will continue beyond the grave; and though they’re separated for a time by death, will they see one another in the life to come?
What do we say to them? I’ve been getting ready for a wedding later this month; and it’s interesting that in the marriage ceremony, the couple promise what? They promise to be loving, faithful and dutiful to one another until when? Until God shall separate them by death. Even as a couple are married and pledge themselves to one another, there’s the acknowledgement that their marriage will eventually come to an end; it will come to an end when one of them dies.
And what about in the life to come? Well, for those who believe, the promise of the Lord is a promise of everlasting joy in his presence. In the life to come, none of us will be disappointed; none of us will be saddened by anything; none of us will feel any sorrow or sadness; and there will be nothing to make us weep; and there will be nothing — nothing — that will take away even slightly from our enjoyment in the life to come.
Whether we will see our loved ones and recognise them in the life to come is for the Lord to decide; but whatever happens, we can be confident of this that all we’ll know in the presence of the Lord is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore which he has prepared for his believing people.