Pastor David B. Curtis


Jesus on the Afterlife

Mark 12:18-27

Delivered 03/18/2007

It is the final few days of Jesus' earthly life. He has come to Jerusalem and has cleansed the temple. He has, by His actions, announced His identity as Israel's Messiah. The Sanhedrin question Him on His authority, and then they sent some of their disciples to Jesus to question Him concerning paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus' answer was not only unexpected, but amazing. As a result, they were left utterly speechless.

It is in this silence the Sadducees decided to take a shot at Him. They were only too happy to use this occasion to pose yet another question to Jesus. Their question has to do with the resurrection:

And some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) came to Him, and began questioning Him, saying, (Mark 12:18 NASB)

We talked about the Sadducees last week. Perhaps the easiest way to describe them is to say that they are the opposite of the Pharisees. If a Pharisee said, "White," the Sadducee would be almost certain to argue, "Black." The contrast between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, according to Edersheim at least, can be found in three major areas: (1) their view of tradition (at least the traditions of the Pharisees), (2) their view of the supernatural, especially the resurrection of the dead, angels and spirits, and (3) their views on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The Sadducees were disenchanted with the traditions of the Pharisees; they rejected the concept of the resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels and spirits, and they leaned heavily on the role of the responsibility of man.

So, to the Sadducees this life is all there is; when you die physically, that's it, you're done. This is a rather sad position. There is a book found in the Apocrypha called The Wisdom of Solomon. It was written before Christ, and there is a place in its second chapter in which men who don't believe in life after death­like the Sadducees­speak out. What they reveal is what you're left with if you've no expectation of life after death and no belief in the resurrection:

For we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been,
for the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts;
when it is extinguished, the body will return to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.
Our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will remember our works,
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and be scattered like mist
that is chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat.
For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,
and there is no return from our death,
because it is sealed up and no one turns back.
(Wisdom of Solomon 2:2-5).

Paul expressed life without resurrection like this:

If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE. (1 Corinthians 15:32 NASB)

If there is no afterlife, then we might as well party, eat and drink, because this is all there is.

In our last study we discussed the resurrection and what it meant. We said that the predominant view of the resurrection is that at the end of time God is going to gather the dead bodies out of the graves, change them to spiritual bodies, and take them to heaven. It is interesting to note that the Bible never uses the terms "resurrected body," "resurrection of the body," or "physical resurrection." The church uses those terms quite often, but the Bible never does. The phrases that the Bible does use are "the resurrection of the dead" and "the resurrection from the dead." So, in order to understand "resurrection," we must understand death. Resurrection is "resurrection from the dead."

Because of Adam's sin, we are all born dead, separated from God. But through Jesus Christ came the resurrection from the dead. The focus of God's plan of redemption is to restore through Jesus Christ what man had lost in Adam.

Jesus Christ came to redeem man from death; to resurrect man back into the presence of God. The Bible is God's book about His plan to restore the spiritual union of His creation. Resurrection is not about bringing physical bodies out of the graves; it is about restoring man into the presence of God.

In the First Testament the Hebrew word for where they were prior to the resurrection is "Sheol." In the New Testament the Greek word is "Hades." What this place amounted to was a waiting area for disembodied spirits. Their bodies went to dust and their souls/spirits went to Sheol. To be taken out of Sheol and brought into the presence of the Lord is what the Bible calls "the resurrection from the dead."

The resurrection of the dead that took place at the end of the Old Covenant in A.D. 70 was not a biological resurrection of dead decayed bodies, but a release from Sheol of all who had been waiting through the centuries to be reunited with God in the heavenly kingdom. They were no longer separated from God (dead), they were now in His presence (alive).

For believers who have lived since A.D. 70, we are resurrected when we trust in Christ. Jesus gives us spiritual life­which is a resurrection from our state of spiritual death. We have eternal life and can never die spiritually. Therefore, we don't need a resurrection. At death our bodies go to dust, and we go immediately to heaven.

Since the Bible does not teach a bodily resurrection for believers, a question that arises is: What about Christ? Was Christ physically resurrected? YES! Absolutely, without a doubt. Since Christ's resurrection was physical, won't ours be? NO! Christ's actual resurrection was His going to Hades and coming back out. When He was resurrected from Hades, He was raised into His original body, which was transformed into His heavenly form. This was done as a SIGN to the apostles that He had done what He had promised. The resurrection of Jesus' body verified for His disciples the resurrection of His soul. David had prophesied:

For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. (Psalms 16:10 NASB)

Peter preached that David looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of Christ:

he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. (Acts 2:31 NASB)

These verses speak of both spiritual death (the soul in Hades) and physical death (decay of the flesh). Jesus was resurrected from both.

The reason there are differences in the way we are raised and the way in which Christ was raised is because of those Biblically defined differences between Christ's body and ours. Differences such as:

Christ is the only one who is both fully God and fully Man­God incarnate (John 1:1-18). Christ is the only one who was virgin born and, therefore, born without original sin (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:12-21; 7:4-11; etc.). Christ is the only one who ever lived a sinless life (Heb. 4:15). Christ is the only one promised that His flesh would not suffer decay (Acts 2:27,31).

His human body was not subject to original sin, nor corruptible (i.e. He was "impeccable"), nor did He ever commit sin and become corrupted. Because of this, He could keep His selfsame body, whereas, we cannot.

Unless Jesus' body had been resurrected, His disciples would have had no assurance that His soul had been to Hades and had been resurrected. The physical resurrection of Christ was essential to verify the spiritual to which it was tied. While the physical resurrection of our bodies would have no point, since we will not continue living on this planet, breathing earth's oxygen, and eating earth's food after we die physically.

With that understanding of resurrection. let's go back to our text:

And some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) came to Him, and began questioning Him, saying, (Mark 12:18 NASB)

The Sadducees were asking Jesus about something they didn't even believe in:

Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN'S BROTHER DIES, and leaves behind a wife, AND LEAVES NO CHILD, HIS BROTHER SHOULD TAKE THE WIFE, AND RAISE UP OFFSPRING TO HIS BROTHER. 20 "There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died, leaving no offspring. 21 "And the second one took her, and died, leaving behind no offspring; and the third likewise; 22 and so all seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. 23 "In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one's wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife." (Mark 12:19-23 NASB)

What they referred to was the teaching in Deuteronomy 25 on levirate marriage. The word has nothing to do with the name Levi or the Biblical Levites, but is so called because of the Latin levir, meaning: "husband's brother":

"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 "And it shall be that the first-born whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6 NASB)

If a man dies without bearing offspring, his widow is to marry the deceased's brother (her levir). A child born of that union is considered to be perpetuating the "name" (lineage, honor, and inheritance) of the deceased (Deut. 25:5-10). Refusal to fulfill this obligation results in public shame (Deut. 25:9-10), because it indicates a greater concern for one's personal welfare than the welfare of one's extended family.

There are two examples of levirate marriage in the Bible. In Genesis 38, Judah's son, Er, is killed by God. His second son, Onan, dies too for refusing to serve as a levir to Tamar, the widow. When Judah refuses to give her his third son, Tamar dresses as a prostitute and tricks Judah himself into fathering a child. This initially evokes condemnation on Tamar, but subsequently she is regarded as "righteous" for her actions (Gen. 38:26), which demonstrates the great significance placed on fulfilling this obligation of the levir on behalf of the first husband. In Ruth a closer kinsman declines to perform this duty, apparently fearful of the economic stress it would place on him:

And the closest relative said, "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it." (Ruth 4:6 NASB)

This shows that a levir's obligations continue until the child he has fathered is able to assume the responsibility of defending the deceased's "name" on his own.

It was considered to be such a great sin that a man's genealogical line was ended within the nation of Israel that this Mosaic command was designed to safeguard the perpetuation of each and every man's name through the production of offspring, the first born son, after his death through the sexual union between his remaining wife and the deceased man's natural brother. It would also have provided for the welfare of the deceased man's wife in a society where widows would often have been left destitute and tempted into a life of prostitution if other means of support weren't available to them.

Was levirate marriage practiced in Jesus' day? Though it was allowed, apparently it was only found occasionally among the wealthy classes­the classes that favored the Sadducees. The school of Rabbi Shammai permitted levirate marriage in certain cases, where the school of Rabbi Hillel did not. Apparently two leading Jerusalem families, members of which officiated as high priests, were descended from such levirate marriages­perhaps even the High Priest Caiaphus himself.

Most scholars believe that this was a question that the Sadducees posed to the Pharisees often in order to mock their belief in a resurrection. If there really was a resurrection, then think of the problems it would cause. Who would she belong to?

This was not only an unlikely situation, it was ridiculous conjecture. The Sadducees didn't care about whose wife someone would be in the resurrection. They didn't even believe in the resurrection. It never really happened, it is simply a ridiculous story that they made up. I am sure Jesus must have been tempted to treat it as such. He could have asked them why they did not investigate her cooking, for example. When a woman has seven husbands one after the other, all of whom die off, something is suspicious in the kitchen!

The question of the one bride and the seven brothers is not a search for the truth. The Sadducees do not expect, indeed, do not want, an answer. They hope to stump Jesus, and thus to demonstrate how "foolish" ideas of a resurrection from the dead are. If Jesus, the most noted and unstumpable teacher alive, could be stumped by their question, then He would become (reluctantly) an endorsement for their view.

Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God? (Mark 12:24 NASB)

Even before He offers any response to the actual question, Jesus comments on the incompetence of the interrogators. "You are mistaken." The term originally meant someone that had geographically gone astray from a particular road or path. Then it came to take more ethical connotations. They had gone astray from truth­that's what Christ meant by "you are mistaken."

When Jesus declares that they deny the power of God, He may evoke the traditional Jewish view that God expresses His power most visibly in the resurrection of the dead. Paul also taught this:

who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, (Romans 1:4 NASB)

The resurrection is the standard of power in the New Testament. Now let's look at Jesus' answer to the Sadducees:

"For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Mark 12:25 NASB)

What does this answer of Jesus tell us? This text affirms the reality of an afterlife. It doesn't really tell us much about the afterlife, but it affirms that there is one. By "afterlife" we mean the continuation of spiritual life after physical death.

"For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Mark 12:25 NASB)

As I said, this text affirms the reality of an afterlife ,but it doesn't really tell us much about it. One of my college professors wrote a book called, The Truth About Heaven. The book takes all the passages that refer to the New Covenant and makes them about heaven. What does the Bible tells us about heaven? Not much. But it does tell us that there will be NO MARRIAGE! What is the purpose of marriage? Companionship!

In Genesis at the close of each creative day, it says, "God saw what He had made, that it was good." But when Adam was made, it is explicitly recorded that:

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18 NASB)

As to man the creative work lacked completeness until there should be found for Adam a help mate, a companion. Not until this was done did God see the work of the last creative day also to be good. I believe that this tells us that God's primary provision in marriage is companionship. We were created for companionship, with all the sexual aspects that that relationship implies. But when the physical stops, marriage stops:

they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:27 NASB)

Life after physical death will not be like life on earth. We will not marry and be given in marriage. Many passages we used to think were about the afterlife, we're finding out are actually about New Covenant truths. So the nature of the afterlife is a big question, and there's a lot to learn; maybe a lot that we simply can't learn in this life.

Look with me at Luke's account of this incident:

And Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; (Luke 20:34-35 NASB)

The Lord Jesus was an advocate of a "new age" movement. That expression has many disturbing connotations today, but the fact remains that Jesus was arguing for a "new age," as very distinct from the "old" order.

According to these verses in Luke, those who attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead don't marry. If this is true, then why do we marry? We are living in the "that age," and we have experienced the resurrection from the dead. We have been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life by the power of God. So does this statement about marriage apply to us? In the text, who is Jesus talking about? The subject is physically dead people. The woman and her seven husbands had all died physically. This "no marriage" state will also apply to us when we physically die:

"For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Mark 12:25 NASB)

As little as this verse tells us about the afterlife, it tells us more than any other verse that I am aware of. So what does it tell us about the afterlife?

Jesus did not say that resurrected believers become angels, as some have mistakenly believed. He said, "When they (those who died under the Old Covenant age­this age) rise from the dead (which happened in A.D. 70), they don't marry, but are like angels in heaven. The word "like" is a comparative adverb which draws a similar but not exact comparison. So in what way are we like the angels? (1) We don't marry. After physical death there is no marriage. In heaven men become spiritual beings like the angels and are not affected by physical desires and requirements. Marriage is for now, but not for heaven.

(2) Luke's account also tells us that we cannot die:

for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke 20:36 NASB)

Remember, in the context he is speaking of physically dead people that are spiritually alive. So the death that he speaks of is referring to any death­we cannot die physically or spiritually. Resurrection brings one to a state where he or she can never again experience death. Paul said:

knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. (Romans 6:9 NASB)

Which is to say that we can never be separated from God. This is true of us now, so the only thing for us to experience is physical death.

What else do we know about angels that will apply to us after physical death? They are incorporeal­they don't have bodies:

But to which of the angels has He ever said, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE THINE ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR THY FEET"? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14 NASB)

Angels are spirits, and spirits don't have bodies:

"See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." (Luke 24:39 NASB)

What do angels look like? In the Bible, the appearance of angels varies. Only cherubim and seraphim are represented with wings. Often in the First Testament angels appear as ordinary men (Genesis 19). Sometimes, however, their uniqueness is evident as they do things or appear in a fashion clearly non-human. The brilliant white appearance common to the New Testament angel is not a feature of the First Testament image:

And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; 4 and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:3-4 NASB)

This text describes an angel who appeared at the scene of Christ's resurrection. Notice that it says, "his" in referring to the angel. Angels always appear as men! The masculine pronoun is always used to speak of them. Angels are most often represented in our culture as women, but in the Bible they are always men.

The entire argument of the Sadducees is predicated on a single premise: life after death will be just like it is now. Consequently, the present institution of marriage is assumed by the Sadducees to continue on in the afterlife. Thus, a woman who was married to seven brothers would be in a terrible predicament in heaven, for she would have to choose one of them to live with.

What did the Scriptures teach about resurrection of the dead? They had quoted a passage from Deuteronomy for their conundrum. Now Jesus responds by quoting from Exodus:

"But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB'? 27 "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken." (Mark 12:26-27 NASB)

Jesus didn't go back to an obscure text buried somewhere in the Torah. This would have been one of the most well-known passages to these men. And Jesus is saying,

"You don't even get this one. When God said, 'I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,' He did not say, 'I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' And He's not the God of the dead."

Let's compart Marks account to Matthews:

"But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying... (Mark 12:26a NASB)
"But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, (Matthew 22:31 NASB)

Mark says, "Have you not read in the book of Moses" and Matthew says, "Have you not read that which was spoken to you by God..." Our Lord affirms the plenary inspiration of Scripture­"when the Scripture speaks, God speaks." Moses was not just speaking to the Israelites of his day, because Jesus says, "It was spoken to you."­referring to His first century crowd in the temple. God has spoken to you through His Word. It is God's revelation of Himself. Yes, we can know a lot about God's power and creativity by observing creation. But we only learn of God's ways, will, and the details of His nature, attributes, and person by the revelation of Holy Scripture:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2 Timothy 3:16 NASB)
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21 NASB)

God has spoken, and He has spoken to you. Since that is the case, it behooves us to spend time in His Word hearing what God has to say.

Back in our text in Mark Jesus says, "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living"­These words come from an early portion of the book of Exodus known as "the bush" section. That is, these words were spoken to Moses by God from the burning bush. Both the precise words and the context are of great significance to us in the matter of the resurrection of the dead.

God identified Himself to Moses, and thus to Israel, as the "I am," the eternal God. But further, God referred to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thus speaking of these patriarchs not as dead men, but as those who are alive, immortal. If God spoke of dead men as though they were alive, then this implied that these men would live again, they would rise from the dead.

There may also have been the further thought that God is the God of covenant. He was "the God of Abraham" precisely because He had entered into a living covenant with him. He had shown His love to Abraham time and again. That was what His being "the God of Abraham" indicated. Did the Sadducees then think that the living God would forget that covenant and that relationship when Abraham died? that He would just drop him and overlook him and let him sink into nothingness, while still claiming to be his God? Never! For then He would cease to be the God of Abraham. He would simply be the God of the present generation. He would cease to be the faithful God towards those with whom He was in covenant. And that could not be. So Abraham must still exist in some way.

This event in the life of Moses occurred about 1440 B.C. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived from 2000 B.C. to 1870 B.C. They were a long time dead, even when God said this to Moses. The Sadducees would have believed them to be extinct, no longer existing. But God said: I am, right now, still, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The resurrection is no small matter. It was, and is, one of the fundamental and foundational truths of the Bible. God is the God of the living. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, if there is no resurrection:

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19 NASB)

Believers, we have already been raised from death to life:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (Ephesians 2:4-5 NASB)

We are spiritually alive! Someday we will all die physically, and when we do, we will simply move into the heavenly realm for unhindered, unending fellowship with our Lord, never to die again!

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