And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:26-27 ESV)
This week’s passage in Mark presents to us the second of five questions that the religious leaders in Jerusalem pose to Jesus in order to trip him up. Last week, the question was political in nature: should we pay taxes to Caesar or not? This week, we’ll encounter a theological question concerning the resurrection of the dead.
This time, the group scrutinizing Christ is the Sadducees. In one sense, the Sadducees were the theological conservatives of their day; they confined their teaching to the Torah alone (the first five books of Moses) and did not accept anything other than their own literal interpretation of those books and nothing more. In another sense, they would be considered theological liberals if they were alive today, because they deny one of the cardinal truths of the Christian faith – the resurrection of the dead.
The Book of Acts tells us that they also denied the existence of angels and spirits. In their view, the Books of Moses do not teach any of these things. Yet, many Jews in the first century believed in angels, in spirits, and in the resurrection. So like the Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees seem to want Jesus to settle the matter. Except, just like those other groups, they don’t really want to accept what Jesus says as authoritative; rather, they simply want to trap Jesus and show the world that the idea of a resurrection is foolish.
To achieve these ends, they present a fictional scenario involving levirate marriage, in which the brother of a widowed sister-in-law would marry her to bear offspring and preserve his brother’s lineage. What if such a woman married all seven brothers? Which one would be her husband in this supposed resurrected life?
Once again, Jesus’ response transcends binary thinking. His response gets to the heart of the matter. Twice, Jesus tells them they are wrong, and that because they don’t know the scriptures. Yikes! He has the audacity to tell these scholars, these learned men, that they actually don’t know the very source of authority in which they claim expertise! And to further expose their ignorance, Jesus doesn’t debate them about the other books of the Bible; rather, he meets them on their own grounds: he quotes from Exodus 3, a passage that they would accept as authoritative.
Jesus reminds them that their own scripture records God saying to Moses that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Such a title signifies God’s covenantal love to his people. But by the time of Moses, those patriarchs were dead. They were dead in the time of the Sadducees, and they are still dead now. Physically dead, that is. Yet, God identifies himself as their God. How so? Because they really aren’t dead. They live on. And their physical death did not nullify God’s covenant with them. One day, their souls will be united to their bodies in the resurrection. God is not the God of the dead; he is the God of the living!
Brothers and sisters – take heart! The world as we know it is not all there is. The old is passing away. A great time of renewal is upon us, through Jesus Christ. Those who are in Christ will be raised and will be with him forever. God will wipe away every tear. Earthly contracts will come to an end, but our covenant with God will last forever! What an amazing thought to meditate on as you and I walk through this world of decay.