Session 18 — John MacArthur
Note: What follows is not intended to be a full or exact transcript of what was said.
23 On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Jesus and questioned Him, 24 asking, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; 26 so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.” 29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.
An inerrant Bible demands expository preaching. You can’t skim lightly across the surface of the text, you must embed yourself in its context and argument.
I’d like to start with a question: How important is life after death? This is the main question that religion has to face. If there is no life after death, what’s the point of religion? For that matter, what’s the point of anything?
The heart of Christianity is the resurrection, and eternal life in glory. Jesus said that you must be willing to sacrifice everything in this world in order to grasp what awaits you in the world to come.
The message is life, life everlasting. The whole Bible starts in Eden and ends in heaven, the eternal new heavens and new earth. We preach life forever with God.
Our culture is fascinated with death. But the Jews of Jesus’ day and before believed in resurrection. The resurrection of the body is a common theme in the Talmud and in Jewish apocryphal writings. Also in the Old Testament (in the Psalms and in Job) there has always been a recognition of life after death.
Now, there were some dissenters to that view among the Jews. They were known as Sadducees.
Acts 23:8 characterizes them. “For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit. But the Pharisees acknowledge them all.” They were at the opposite pole from the Pharisees, who believed in resurrection, angels and spirits.
Now, this group was not an impressive Jewish sect by numbers. It was very small. But it was impressive in power. The Sadducees were the aristocrats. Most of the chief priests were Sadducees.
Politically, they were eager to cooperate with Rome. Since there was no resurrection, they put all their stock in this life. They went after all the power, wealth, position, and control that they could get.
The people hated them for their accommodation to Rome and they hated them for the corruption of the temple system which they controlled. They pursued policies that pleased Rome, and angered the Jews.
They went out of existence after the destruction of 70 A.D.
Religiously, they were very narrow and very strict. In applying justice in the land and in applying the law, they were virtually cruel. Josephus tells us they were more savage than any other group of Jews.
They prided themselves on being committed to the pure faith, nothing more. They interpreted Mosaic Law more literally than any other groups and were fastidious beyond all others in the matters of Levitical purity.
They denied any future life of blessing or reward at all. They believed, according to Josephus, that the soul and body perish together at death. Accordingly, they taught that there are no penalties or rewards in the life to come.
How could such a doctrine arise from such a literal interpretation of Scripture? The answer is they held to the primacy and priority of the five books of Moses. Everything was subordinated to that. They could not find the resurrection in the Pentateuch, so they rejected it.
Now, on the other hand, the Pharisees were very definitive about the resurrection. The Pharisees loved to discuss the resurrection. The Pharisees discussed tangential things like: When people are raised from the dead, will they be clothed or unclothed?
It was the Wednesday of Passion Week, and the religious leaders were scheming to kill Jesus. In spite of their differences, the Pharisees and the Sadducees came together to plot His death.
The Sadducees wanted to discredit Christ in front of the people by asking Him a question that none of the Pharisees had been able to answer. The called Him “Teacher.” But their words were a mockery, since they sought to discredit Him as a teacher.
In order to attempt to stump Jesus, they brought up a case involving the levirate marriage.
5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
Levirate marriage was a way of protecting and preserving the nation. It is called levirate marriage from the Latin meaning “brother.”
It first appears in the Old Testament back in Genesis 38 in the household of Judah, son of Joseph. Onan refused to comply and raise up a child to his dead brother’s wife and it resulted in God taking his life Genesis 38.
Perhaps the most notable illustration in the Old Testament is that of Ruth and Boaz.
So the Sadducees bring up levirate marriage. They come up with an absurd situation: There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; and the second and the third took her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children.
Wow. This is a dangerous lady. I think if I’m brother number four, I’m getting out of town! This woman is fatal. Seven brothers marry this woman and they all die.
Then, mercifully, “Finally the woman died also.” So they make this kind of bizarre situation and then they say, “In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For they all had married her.”
Jesus answers by noting that they are mistaken. “You are mistaken,” from the verb planaō meaning “to cause to wander, to lead astray.” You are cut loose from the truth and from reality. You don’t get it. Why? “Because you do not understand the Scriptures.” That is a powerful indictment against the Sadducees.
The problem of every wanderer is that they do not know the Scriptures. Because you don’t the Scripture, you don’t know the power of God.
Had they known the Scriptures, they would have known that God promises resurrection. Had they known the power of God, they would have understood that God can raise people in a state where marriage will not be needed.
Jesus goes on to explain, in verse 30, that there is no marriage in heaven. Resurrected saints are equal to the angels in that respect. The Sadducees were simply showing their ignorance.
In verse 31, Jesus gets to the specific issue. He asks them “Have you not read…” That would have been a severe rebuke to the Sadducees who considered themselves experts on the Mosaic Law.
Jesus then quotes Exodus 3:6. When God said that, the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were dead. Yet, God speaks of them as presently being their God. He does not use the past tense. He does not say, “I was their God.” He says, “I am their God.” God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.
If you were going to make a point for something as massive as the truth of the Resurrection, would you build your case on the tense of a verb?
That is evidence, from the Lord Jesus Himself, of the inerrancy of Scripture.
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished (v. 33). This is Jesus, the Great Expositor.