April 16, 2017
When I say the word afterlife, what comes to mind? Seems most images have a stairway, which means our thoughts of heaven come more from a song than the Bible. It doesn’t matter where I say it – in what language or culture– it produces definite ideas and images. Nirvana, Brahman, happy hunting grounds, paradise, cloud nine, heaven, hell, seventy virgins. Almost every world religion teaches life after death – Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. There’s a reason for that: Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that God has placed eternity in the hearts of people. God has placed in us an awareness of an eternal existence – that it doesn’t end here; there is life after death. The fact is, no one is born an atheist – they have to be trained that way, or willfully become one – they have to intentionally suppress, even deny what they know in their hearts to be true. There is something beyond the grave.
We know eternity is set in our hearts because it’s the subject of endless books, articles, blogs, lectures, websites, even conversations around the coffee table. Google heaven and you’ll get over half a billion hits. Google afterlife and you’ll get 28 million more. Hell will give you three-quarters of a billion, although I suppose a lot of those are the bad word. Few people believe in their hearts this is all there is.
And so, humanity across the ages and cultures has believed in some kind of afterlife. In the Great Pyramid, the ancient tomb of Pharaoh Khufu who died some 5,000 years ago, archaeologists discovered a solar boat intended for his use in sailing through the heavens during the next life. Ancient Greeks often placed a coin in the mouth of a corpse to pay the fare across the River Styx, the mystic river of death into the land of immortal life. Some Native Americans buried a pony and bow and arrows with a dead warrior so he could ride and hunt in the happy hunting grounds. Eskimos of Greenland who died in childhood were customarily buried with a dog to help through the cold wasteland of death.
The afterlife – everyone knows it exists. But what’s it like? People want to know. And so, today, one of the big things is NDE’s, or Near Death Experiences. I took my dogs to the vet on Monday, and even he was talking about them. Around the world, people are relating experiences in which they almost died, and received a glimpse of the other side. Typical are dark tunnels, bright lights, cities of crystal, silver or gold. Follow the yellow brick road to the emerald city. Google NDE images and it will look like this, although this kind of looks like The Twilight Zone to me.
God has placed eternity in the hearts of people. Of course, we know from Christian Scripture there is life after death. That men and women do live forever – quantity of life is not the issue – quality of life is. Those who know Jesus Christ live forever in eternity with God in heaven; those who don’t live in eternal conscious torment.
As Christians, we understand that. But I would suggest even our ideas and images of heaven are somewhat tainted. “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop,” streets of gold, pearly gates, clouds, wings, golden harps, family reunions. For some reason, we’re always about 33 years of age, barefoot and clothed in white robes. Certainly, some of those ideas have some basis in Scripture, but many do not. You see, many of our ideas come from pop culture or country songs. I would also suggest many of our ideas of heaven are so small, so insignificant, so earthly, that we don’t even scratch the surface of the reality of heaven. Most of us just view heaven as a glorified earth. But Paul said in I Corinthians 2 eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has there entered into the hearts of people all that God has prepared for us. We can only imagine – someone ought to write a song.
Eternity is set in our hearts. We know in our hearts, there’s a God. There is life beyond the grave. There’s resurrection, and there’s heaven. It is our blessed hope. There is coming a day when all who are in the grave will hear His voice and will come forth – some to a resurrection of life, some to a resurrection of judgment. And we can only imagine what that life will be like. Again, I would say our ideas about it are puny and pathetic – our imaginations don’t run wild enough. And yet, it is also true our thoughts about heaven and eternity must correspond as closely as possible to that which is revealed in Scripture. And we get a little glimpse – another sliver of truth about the resurrection, about heaven, this morning. Our text is found in Mark 12:18ff. This is my 20th straight Easter message at Alliance – and the first time I’ve been able to continue in our current study. I think you’ll see why – read it with me.
We are continuing this morning in our study of the Gospel of Mark. You remember the context. This is the second in a series of three attacks in the form of three questions that came against Jesus on Tuesday of His passion week. The religious and political leaders were incensed with Him – they were fed up and looking for a way to be rid of Him. So, each group in turn, the Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees, and the scribes took a crack at Him.
We looked at the first one last week – some Pharisees and Herodians, natural enemies, came together to trap Jesus with this question: “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” They didn’t even agree on the answer to this thorny question. They had Him on the horns of a dilemma. If He said, pay the hated poll-tax, then He would turn the crowds against Him. If He said, don’t pay the tax, He would have been arrested and tried as an insurrectionist.
We examined Jesus’ brilliant response – render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God, the things that are God’s. We found that meant a whole lot more than just, pay your taxes. It meant, render, give back to Caesar that which bears his image, and render, give back to God that which bear His. The Pharisees and Herodians were amazed – they had no answer for His response, so they went away, speechless. Which leads to the second group, the second attack which we just read a moment ago. This one came from the Sadducees. As we look at it, let me give you the outline:
- We’ll look at this week’s opponents, The Sadducees in verse 18.
- Then we’ll see The Sadducees’ Attack in verses 19-23 as we see them take their best shot.
- Then we’ll see Jesus’ Answer in verses 24-27. It’s both amazing, and troubling.
Let’s start with that first one – just who are the Sadducees? An understanding will help understand their attack. At this time, there were primarily four religious and political groups in Palestine. First, most numerous, were the Pharisees. We’ve met them before. They were the religious conservatives who accepted the entire Old Testament, as well as the oral traditions that arose from the Old Testament. They believed in heaven, hell, angels, spirits, and a future resurrection. But remember, they were also the legalists – they had invented their own system of keeping the Law of Moses, and they saw themselves as the only ones acceptable to God.
Next were they Essenes, the religious hermits of the day. They spent much of their time copying the Old Testament. It was a group of Essenes living at Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea who produced what we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The third group were the Zealots. These were the political activists – we might even call them terrorists. They were violently opposed to Roman occupation, often rebelled against Rome. They were the ones who started the rebellion in 66 AD which resulted in the fall of Jerusalem.
The fourth group is the one we’re interested in today – the Sadducees. They were the priestly aristocracy of the day. Few in number, they were rich and well-educated – and they were proud they were the few, the rich, the educated. This was one arrogant group. Rome had granted them a certain degree of power and authority, therefore, they were pro-Rome. They had their own police force called the temple guard. At this time, most of the high priests and the chief priests were Sadducees and they were in control of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body.
What is significant for our purposes is their theology – they were the religious liberals of the day. Meaning this: while they accepted the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses, they were skeptical of the rest of the Bible. They denied the oral tradition of the Pharisees which made them arch-enemies. They denied just about anything spiritual and supernatural – they denied angels and demons, heaven and hell, the resurrection and any future afterlife. All that mattered to them was the here and now.
Since there was no life after death, there was no answering to God, no future judgment – no rewards, no punishments. Therefore, they could live however they wanted, and they did. They were primarily Epicurean in philosophy, which means they lived for present pleasures and power. Priests? There was nothing spiritual about them – it was all control and wealth for them.
Much of their wealth at this time came from their control of the Temple – that is, from the moneychangers and the sacrifices sold at the temple. They received a kickback from the entire sacrificial system. Now think about that. The day before, on Monday, Jesus had driven the moneychangers and those selling sacrifices from the Temple. And this was Passover Week – this was the week they made most of their profits – think Black Friday. Jesus kicked them out – my Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer, and you have made it into a den of robbers. The Sadducees were infuriated – Jesus had wrecked their economic agenda, and they wanted Him out of the way. They also rightly understood the kingdom He came to bring would mean the end of their control. So here, they sought to discredit Him before the people. After all – they were the proud Sadducees – the educated, priestly aristocracy – how could a peasant, unrecognized rabbi hope to stand up against them and their intellectual prowess? How indeed.
Which brings us to our second point in verses 19-23 – The Sadducees’ Attack. They thought they could take care of this Jesus problem. Like the group before them, they started with a term of respect, hoping to disarm Him – get Him to lower His defenses. Teacher, they call Him, we have a question about the levirate marriage and this supposed resurrection. Again, the idea was to ask a question that would prove how absurd the resurrection was.
Levirate comes from the Latin, levir, which means, brother-in-law. You see, according to Moses – and remember, they accepted his writings – in Deuteronomy 25, if a man died, and his wife had borne him no children, then the man’s brother was to marry the wife/the widow, so that he might give her children and perpetuate the name and inheritance of the dead husband. We see that happening as early as Genesis 38, and it was the levirate marriage responsibility that prompted Boaz to marry Ruth.
So, here’s a hypothetical situation for you, Jesus. Suppose a woman marries a man, and he dies. She then marries his brother, he dies. This goes on through all seven brothers – she marries all seven of them, but none of them give her a son. Then she dies. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Bam – they thought they had Him. Certainly any answer Jesus could possibly give would result in polygamy or immorality in heaven. How absurd.
You see, they thought this question had no answer. This was a logical absurdity, which, for them, disproved the resurrection. Just like atheists today revel in questions they think have no answers, like – can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it? These guys thought their answerless question would be a fly in the ointment. They really didn’t expect Jesus to answer – they thought they’d silence Him, and He’d walk away embarrassed.
No doubt, they had used this very question on their rivals, the Pharisees. Remember, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the Sadducees didn’t. In fact, a little aside. A little later than this, in Acts 23 when Paul is arrested at the Temple, as he’s standing before the Sanhedrin, he notices there are Pharisees and Sadducees present. So, he says, listen guys, the reason I’m here is because of my hope in the resurrection. The place erupted into a riot – the Pharisees said, hey, we got no problem with this guy – the Sadducees were mad – and while they’re fighting, the Romans showed up and rescued Paul.
Well, the Pharisees and Sadducees had fought for years over this issue. And whenever the Pharisees tried to support their belief in resurrection, they would, of course, go to the Old Testament Scriptures. But there was a problem. Every time they quoted a verse, like Psalm 49:15, “But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, For He will receive me,” or Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt,” the Sadducees would say, we don’t accept that – it’s not in the first five books – Moses didn’t write that, and all we accept is Moses. Proving the resurrection from the Pentateuch proved difficult to do.
So, they felt very smug. They’d used this argument before, and it had shut up the Pharisees – now, let’s see how smart this self-professed rabbi is, anyway. He won’t be able to answer this one, we’ll prove ourselves smarter, and we can discredit and do away with Him. You can almost see them winking at each other – we’ve got Him now.
Which brings us to Jesus’ Answer in verses 24-27. You are mistaken, Jesus says – the word is planao, from which we get our word planet. You have wandered away, you have strayed from the truth, you are wandering in outer space. Jesus says, you have two very significant problems here: First, you don’t understand the Scripture, and second, you don’t understand the power of God. That would have shocked these religious leaders.
Jesus deals with those two charges in reverse order. First, you don’t understand the power of God, For, He says – don’t miss that word – for, and then goes on to explain it. And I need you to stick with me here – this is both difficult and important to grasp. For, He says, in the resurrection – that is, in heaven, in the afterlife, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage – men won’t marry, women won’t be given in marriage – why? Because people will be like the angels. What in the world does that mean? I have to tell you – some people don’t like this verse, others like it a lot. Some say, you mean I won’t be married to him for eternity? Hallelujah. Others say, I kind of like her, what do you mean we won’t be married in heaven?
What does this mean? Some say, in heaven, we’ll be genderless like the angels – there will be neither male nor female, so there will be no marriage in heaven. While it’s true there will be no marriage, He doesn’t say we’ll be genderless. There will be no marriage because the sexual relationship is unnecessary. In heaven, there will be no procreation, there’s no need for it – we will live forever. Sorry, no 70 virgins either.
But, if you have a good marriage – and I have a great one – and I’m not even saying that for brownie points – if you have a good marriage, the thought of leaving it behind is a bit troublesome. For years I’ve told my wife, listen, when we get to heaven, let’s use your mansion as a summer home, and mine as a winter home. In the early years of our marriage, she’d quote this passage. By now, I almost have her convinced.
Even if you don’t have a good marriage – even if your marriage has ended in disaster, there could always be the hope of a good one in heaven, right? Maybe we could do it right there. And what if you’re divorced and remarried? What if your first spouse died, and you remarried? When you get to heaven, do you flip a coin? You say, won’t need to, my ex won’t make it to heaven.
Jesus says, there will be no marriage in heaven. What does that mean? I want to remind you we tend to look at heaven as a glorified earth, and it is much more than that. The Sadducees were thinking in earthly categories – that heaven was subject to earthly categories. But Jesus says, it’s altogether different. By the power of God, things will be changed – marriage will be different, relationships will be different, our bodies will be different. Paul gives us a picture of that different-ness in I Corinthians 15. There, in that great resurrection chapter, he says:
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” [that is the question Paul will answer – how we’re raised and with what kind of body – what kind of life exists in heaven?]
36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies;
37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else….
Stop there a minute. He says, when you plant, you don’t plant a tree – you plant a seed. And it doesn’t grown into a giant seed – it grows into something else – something different, something bigger, something grander. So also, physically, we get planted, we get buried when we die, and then we grow into something else – something different, bigger, grander.
40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another….
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;
43 it is sown in dishonor, 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…. [we can only imagine, but we have no idea.] 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.
49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,
52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Get this – Jesus says, you don’t understand the power of God in the resurrection. You’re thinking in earthly categories, but heaven is a completely different category. A transformation takes place. It will be something completely different than you’ve ever imagined.
So what about this marriage thing? Let me give you a thought – it’s just a thought, but it’s one many commentaries expressed. I would suggest what we experience here in marriage is just a seed, a small expression of the intimacy we’ll enjoy in heaven. And again, I’m not talking about sexuality here – I’m talking about intimacy – oneness, closeness that is supposed to exist in the marriage relationship. What we experience here is just a seed – what we’ll experience there will be the full-blown thing – something completely different, and altogether wonderful. I believe the capacity we have to be intimate with one person on earth – our spouses – is just a seed. Our capacities will be dramatically expanded in heaven, such that, we can enjoy intimate relationships with one another, in fact, with everyone. We will be a family. There will be no loneliness – there will be fullness of relationship. What we enjoy now is just a seed – then, we won’t need marriage, because the fullness of relationships will be experienced between all of us.
The point is this – our thoughts are too small when it comes to heaven. Sadducees, you don’t get it. Because the resurrection doesn’t fit into your logical thought processes, puny as they are, you dismiss it. And by doing so, you don’t understand the power of God. You’re trying to apply physical, temporary realities to spiritual, eternal realities. And you can’t do that. You can’t even begin to imagine what God is preparing for those who love Him.
Not only do you not understand the power of God – you don’t understand the Scripture. And He proves it in verses 26-27. You want a verse, Sadducees – here’s one for you – right out of Moses – right out of Exodus 3 – one of your favorite passages of Scripture. God said, “I am the of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” That means two things. First, notice the present tense. When God said that to Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead. But He said, I am their God – not, I was their God. I am their God, because they are still alive – He’s not the God of the dead is He? He’s the God of the living.
Second, God made an everlasting covenant with these patriarchs, and their descendents. How can it be everlasting, if one of the parties to the covenant is no more? No – His everlasting covenant is with eternal sons and daughters of God. So there’s your verse, Sadducees, right out of Moses. And they walk away, like everyone else, beaten.
Matthew tells us the crowds were amazed. You see, they knew about this ongoing battle between the Sadducees and Pharisees. And no one had ever been able to answer the question. No one had ever been able to give the Sadducees a verse. Jesus did. And the crowds watched in amazement as these well-educated, aristocratic, arrogant priests walked away speechless. There was no beating this guy – at least not in a fair fight.
My question for you as we close is this: what have you done about that nagging question in your heart, that you haven’t successfully been able to suppress – what are you going to do about the fact of the afterlife? You know it exists – there can be no denying it – unless, you just want to live for yourself and deny any responsibility and accountability to a Creator. You can refuse to believe it since God and the resurrection and heaven don’t fit into your finite understandings of the universe. In your great intellect, you can say, I don’t get it – it seems absurd, it must not be true. What are you going to do about that nagging eternity God has set in your heart?
And for most of us, who are Christians – be encouraged, the resurrection is a fact. We serve a living God who is our source of life, in this life and the life to come. Jesus confirmed it. It is coming. And the heaven that awaits us is not a glorified earth. It is so far better than anything you’ve ever imagined. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has entered into the hearts of men what God has prepared for those who love Him. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.