An inerrant Bible demands expository preaching. If every word is true, every word must be preached, otherwise, you’re editing God. You can’t skim lightly across the surface of the text, you’ve got to embed yourself in its thrust and argument. So I want to just pick one subject to talk about tonight and start with a question: “How important is the truth of life after death?” How important is that?
Generally speaking, that would be the one most compelling question that any religion would ask. Philosophy doesn’t need to ask that question, philosophy doesn’t need to answer that question, so theology doesn’t need to ask it or answer it. But religion really is faced with that question as their raison d'être, why do they exist, if they can’t answer the question: “What about life after death?”
Isn’t that the main question that religion has to face? Isn’t that the issue that is absolutely the most important? If there is no life after death, then what is the point in religion? For that matter, what’s the point of anything? What’s the point of morality, or what’s the point of ethics? What’s the point of anything?
At the heart of Christianity is the resurrection. The heart of Christianity is eternal life in glory, resurrection life, bodily resurrection – the whole person living forever in heaven. That’s at the end of our gospel preaching. It’s not anything temporal. In fact, the gospel calls it effectively for shedding anything and everything temporal. Jesus said you have to be willing to get rid of your money, your possessions, your friends, your family, everything if necessary, to grasp that which is eternal.
Sacrificing everything in this world for all that awaits in the world to come, that’s the heart of the Christian gospel. God sends His Son into the world that we might have eternal life; that’s the gospel: God gives life, Christ is the life, the Holy Spirit is the life-giving Spirit. The message is life: life everlasting, life eternal. The whole Bible ends in heaven. It starts in Eden and it ends in heaven – the eternal new heavens and new earth. We preach life forever with God.
I was reading an interesting booklet, a book called The Tattooed Jesus written by Kevin Swanson – he may be here. Thank you, Kevin, for sending it. He had an interesting little section that goes like this: “The Halloween festival makes for another interesting example.” Talking about how culture has changed. “Technically, the word is of Christian origin, a derivation of All Hallows’ Eve. It had nothing to do with Freddie, Jason, and the slasher movies. For thousands of years, the world celebrated the Day of the Dead on or around October 31st.
“The Day of the Dead seems to have begun after the worldwide flood when many of the descendants of Noah turned their backs on the true story of God’s judgment on the world who had rejected His law, so they chose to commemorate the event in a different way. Rather than celebrating God’s mercy on their ancestors – Noah and his family – they spent their time lamenting God’s judgment on everybody else. Many pagan peoples around the globe kept the Day of the Dead until the Christian age began to dawn. Then as Christians sought to remember the faithful men and women who served Jesus Christ under severe persecution, All Hallows’ Eve became the default holiday for a thousand years or so.
“As time went on, however, the Day of the Dead made a comeback; and during the apostasy of the 20th century, almost everyone forgot about All Hallows’ Eve in favor of the Day of the Dead. There are now more Americans celebrating Halloween as the Day of the Dead than Easter. And there is every year a massive increase in the Day of the Dead paraphernalia. This culture is preoccupied.” Thank you for that, Kevin.
This culture is preoccupied with skulls and bones, and graves and the undead, and zombies and vampires, gothic costumes; dark, sinister fascinations with death – evidence, I think, of a kind of nihilism, the absolute rejection of everything. The Jews, however, in our Lord’s day, and before, believed in resurrection. That’s what made any sense out of their faith.
Second Maccabees, around 1 B.C. tells of an elder named Razis. “Rather than fall into the hands of the hated Greeks, he took a sword and disemboweled himself. Then standing on a steep rock, he tore out his bowels and threw them to the crowd – ” 2 Maccabees 14 “ – so he died.” I guess. And this is what 2 Maccabees 14:46 is, “Calling on Him who is Lord of life and spirit, to restore those organs to him again in the next life.” That is a crude perception of the resurrection, but it is nonetheless.
Another 1st century A.D. – from B.C. to A.D. – Jewish writing, Baruch says this: “The earth shall then assuredly restore the dead, which it now receives in order to preserve them. It shall make no change in their form.” That’s bad news. It shall make no change in their form – ” he said, “ – but as it has received, so shall it preserve them; and as it delivered them into it, it shall also raise them from it; for then it will be necessary to show to the living that the dead have come to life again, and that those who had departed have returned. They shall be transformed then into the splendor of angels. They shall be made like unto angels and be made equal to the stars, and they shall be changed into every form they desire, from beauty into loveliness, and from light into the splendor of glory.” So you start out the way you were when you left and then something happens to change you into all of that. That’s the Apocalypse of Baruch, chapter 50.
There are documents like the Apocalypse of Ezra and Enoch that cover the same kind of resurrection theme. The resurrection of the body is a common, common subject in the Talmud. The primary eschatological teaching of Judaism was resurrection – life after death, life in the next world. In addition to all of those writings, of course, we have the Old Testament, things like Psalm 16, “You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption,” David says. And Job who says, “Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh will I see God.” All that is background.
There has always been in religion the necessity for a life after death to give some reason for religion, because religion is about God and ultimate things. Strangely, so strangely and contrary to this, there grew up a sect that was dominant, in some ways, in the life of our Lord, that openly rejected life after death and resurrection, and they were called the Sadducees. Open your Bible to Matthew 22.
In spite of all this Jewish belief in resurrection, this group rejected it. And we don’t have to guess about that because there are a number of occasions in which it’s made very clear, very clear. In fact, if you’ll notice verse 23 at the beginning of the text that we’re going to look at, in Matthew 22:23, it says, “On that day some Sadducees, oh, by the way, who say there is no resurrection.” If you compare that with Acts 23:8, and the final appearance of the Sadducees in the New Testament account, same thing is said. The Sadducees say, “There is no resurrection.” That was the defining reality of their religion; it was what they didn’t believe.
Very, very important Jewish sect. There weren’t many of them, but they had the power. They tended to be the high priests, the chief priests, those who ran the operation at the temple. They were a ruling class in Judaism, and they dominated the life of Judaism by the power that they wielded in the temple operations and the money they garnered from the corruption of that operation. They are highly influential aristocrats that sat on the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the supreme court of Israel – chief priests, high priests. The majority of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees.
The Pharisees were another group and they were more popular with the people. They were sort of the populous theologians. But the Sadducees had the structural power, and the Pharisees and the Sadducees were in serious conflict theologically and doctrinally over the fact that the Sadducees also didn’t believe in angels, they didn’t believe in spirits – that’s in Acts 23:8 – they didn’t believe in resurrection. Politically, they made every effort they could to ingratiate themselves to Rome. I mean if this is all you got, you’ve got to get it when you can. If it’s all over and you become protoplasm turning into manure and it’s over when you leave or when you die, you’ve got to make the most of this. So they did everything they could to establish expedient, accommodating relationships with the occupying Roman power. They pursued policies that pleased Rome, and thus, they angered the Jews.
I would assume that at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry, the end of our Lord’s ministry, when he went in – I don’t say He cleansed the temple because it was as bad the day after as it was the day before He arrived. It wasn’t really a cleansing, but it was an assault at the front of His ministry and the end of His ministry. I’m sure there were a whole lot of Jews who were beleaguered by the corruption of the place applauding in the background because the Sadducees were not favorites of the populous. And, by the way, they disappeared from history in 70 A.D. because all their power and influence and wealth was connected to the political power which they sustained prior to that under Rome’s tolerance. And when Rome was no longer tolerant of the fomenting rebellion and crushed the whole thing, they went out of existence.
Now, what about their theology? Religiously, they were very narrow. We always think about narrow legalism as belonging particularly to the Pharisees. That’s not true. They were all legalists in some form. The Sadducees were very strict and very, very narrow. In applying the internal justice of the land, they were actually cruel, cruel. Josephus tells us they were, of all the Jews, the most savage in dealing with people.
The Pharisees, Josephus says, were lenient. They were traditionalist; they were fundamentalists. They refused to accept the oral law. They refused to accept the scribal law, which was everything to the Pharisee. They prided themselves on being the absolute purest, the guardians of the true, pure faith. They interpreted the five books of Moses, the Torah, more literally than anybody else. They were fastidious in matters of Levitical purity. And it is in this kind of a situation that we learn they didn’t believe in resurrection. Denied any future life of pain or any future life of blessing. In fact, Josephus tells us, they believed the soul and body perished together at death; therefore, in the next life, there are no penalties and no rewards, because there’s no life. They had no salvation; you didn’t need it. They had no Messianic hope.
But how could such a doctrine arise from a literal interpretation – a hardnosed, narrow, literal interpretation of the Old Testament? Answer: they believed that God only inspired the Torah, the five books of Moses. Everything was subordinated to them. They thought the rest of the Old Testament was arbitrary commentary on Moses. They were protectors of the Mosaic writings which they deemed to be the “pure faith,” and they said they could not find the doctrine of resurrection in the Pentateuch, so they rejected it. And since all the rest of the Old Testament was negotiable commentary on Mosaic writings, they weren’t mandate level.
Now, the Pharisees had argued with them a lot, and they came up with some really interesting arguments. According to some historians, one of the popular arguments the Pharisees sited was they quoted Deuteronomy 31:16 to convince the Sadducees about resurrection. This is what it says: “This people shall rise up.” That’s not going to work because the rest of the verse says, “and go a whoring. That’s not going to happen in heaven. Not very convincing. The Pharisees couldn’t find a Bible verse in the Pentateuch. And this went on day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year, this wrangling about resurrection. That’s the best you can come up with? That sounds an awful lot like some preachers I’ve heard, who take half a verse, you know.
Now, the Pharisees, on the other hand, were definite about the resurrection. They discussed whether – hang on – men would be raised with their clothes on or unclothed. If clothed, then they would arrive in heaven in the clothes they had on here. They also felt that people would arrive in heaven – and we read a little about this earlier – with the same physical defects they had before death, at least for a period of time. And they said this: “The Jews will rise in Israel. In fact, if you die somewhere else and you’re a Jew in the earth, when you are buried, there are great tunnels so that the body of Jews rolls through a series of tunnels until it finally rests in Palestine.” So Sadducees and Pharisees were at two ends; they debated it often.
And so we pick it up on Wednesday of Passion Week in verse 23: “On that day, some Sadducees who say there’s no resurrection came to Jesus and questioned Him.” They don’t really play a big role in the early ministry of Jesus, but they’re sort of hiding in the wings, remembering what He did when He began His ministry. Didn’t get a lot of trouble out of Him after that, and then He spent a lot of time in Galilee away from their operation.
But He started out this week with action, assaulting them, and they saw Him as a threat. And when they’re threatened, they fight. Their position and their power is tied to the temple. And that’s why Caiaphas jumps up, who’s the leader of the Sadducees and says, “Look, we’d better do something about this man, or He’s going to ruin our relationship with Rome,” John, chapter 11.
Mark 14 also talks about how they were scheming to kill Jesus. You’ll find them again in the 4th chapter of Acts, and the 5th chapter of Acts, wanting to kill the apostles, because the whole thing – I mean Jesus and His apostles threatened their power. And what made it worse is the apostles were preaching Jesus and – fill in the blank – the resurrection. Josephus says, “They killed James, our Lord’s brother.” So they’re going to bring their issue to Jesus.
Now listen, the Pharisees had never been able to trump their argument, never been able to find something in the Pentateuch that could demonstrate the resurrection. Their goal is to trip up Jesus since He had claimed to be the Messiah sent from God, since it was clear that He had spoken of resurrection from very early in His ministry. And, by the way, I’m not exactly sure how they spun Lazarus, because that had happened, at the most, a few weeks before this. But they’re going to do their best to trap Jesus in some kind of logical absurdity that they can use to mock Him.
So they approach Him and they introduce an absurd idea about resurrection, verse 24. So they say, “Teacher, Teacher.” This is polished scoffing: “Teacher.” They desire, more than anything, to demonstrate that He is an utterly incompetent teacher; they throw some flattery at Him. “Teacher, if a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.” That’s what we call Levirate marriage from levir, [???] which means brother-in-law. That’s Deuteronomy 25. Remember that, Deuteronomy 25?
Go back and look at it for just a moment – won’t spend a lot of time there – Deuteronomy 25: “When brothers live together – ” verse 5 “ – and one of them dies, has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother – ” the assumption is that he’s single, he’s single, “ – shall go into her, take her to himself as wife, perform the duties of a husband’s brother to her. It shall be that firstborn whom she bares shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”
This is how they guaranteed tribal succession and the possession of the land the way it had been divided among the tribes. “If a man doesn’t desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go to the gate of the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel. He’s not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of the city shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists and says, ‘I don’t desire to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who doesn’t build up his brother’s house.’ In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’” Now this is a pretty serious thing, extremely serious: “Take off his shoe and spit in his face.”
This actually first appeared, not in Deuteronomy 25 – that’s where it’s kind of codified. It first appeared in Genesis 38: “In the household of Judah, son of Jacob – ” because there was a man named Onan who refused, you remember – that kind of strange situation – to raise up a child to his dead brother’s wife. And do you remember what God did to Onan? What’d He do to him? Killed him.
The law was originally given in patriarchal times to preserve the name and honor of the oldest son and to guarantee the security of that land for the future. The first child born to the brother-in-law and the wife was considered to be a true son of the family and the heir. And Moses had laid this down as a standard requiring the nearest kinsman to marry the widow and raise children. The most familiar story where that actually took place is the story of who? Ruth and Boaz. And we all know that wonderful story. So everybody knows about Levirate marriage.
So here comes this trumped up, absurd scheme. “Now – ” verse 24 “ –there were seven brothers with us.” I don’t know what the “with us” means. Sadducee brothers? “And the first married and died; and having no children, left his wife to his single brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh.” Let me tell you, if I’m the fourth, I’m leaving town. I mean I think this is probably before they had rat poisoning.
But something’s going on here. Everybody in the family married this woman and they all died. Those are the people who are hearing translation; it really wasn’t that good a joke. So they say, “Last of all, the woman died,” mercifully. She could have wiped out an entire generation. “So – ” they say, “ – in the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.”
So this gives you a good indication of the assumptions of the Pharisees view of resurrection, that it included marriage, or they wouldn’t have even posed this question. It’s just a bizarre notion; it’s an absurdity about the resurrection. I want you to see the answer. But Jesus answered and said to them, “You’re mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.” That’s direct: “You are mistaken, you are ignorant of Scripture, you are ignorant of God’s power. You show your ignorance.” One could say the bubble blown by the Sadducees is punctured. He discredits them.
Now, keep in mind, they’re the top dogs in the establishment, they’re the elite, they’re the members of the Supreme Court. “You are mistaken, you do err.” That’s the Greek word planaó [plan-ah'-o] [???] from which we get the English word “planet.” Literally, the verb means “to cause to wander,” “to wander around.”
You will remember Jude 13, that false teachers are wandering stars. It’s in the middle voice, which means it’s reflective. “You cause your own selves to wander around. You are leading yourselves astray.” Very much like our Lord’s word to the Pharisees: “You’re the blind leading the blind.” Mentally, theologically, in terms of reality, “You have been cut loose from reality; you’re wandering stars. You don’t know the Scriptures.”
That is a powerful denunciation of an entire group of people and their entire system: “You don’t know the Graphé [graf-ay'] [???], Scripture. And do you remember that all Scripture is what? Inspired by God, God-breathed. “You don’t know the Scripture.”
That’s the problem of every wanderer – roaming, floating, disconnected from reality, away from Scripture. “And because you don’t know the Scripture, you don’t know the power of God.” And the implication is, “You don’t know God’s power operation in resurrection. You don’t understand the Scripture. You don’t understand the power of God with respect to resurrection. Had you known the Scripture, you would know God’s power, and you would understand that God has the power to raise people in a state and a condition where marriage would not be needed. God isn’t like you think He is. He isn’t limited in power. You think He is because you don’t know the Scripture. You don’t know how powerful God is.”
So in verse 30, He helps them: “In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Nobody’s married heaven, nobody. The things that necessitate marriage here don’t happen there. There’s no propagation. I’d like to announce that to the Mormons and the terrorists. There are no 72 virgins sitting on green pillows, waiting for heavenly sex. Do you understand how vivid that expectation is that makes people blow themselves to bits? None of that is in heaven. There’s no propagation in heaven. You’re not going to get your own planet, like the Mormons think, and propagate your own spirit children on some celestial planet. Sex, marriage, reproduction, childbirth – that’s for this life, not the life to come.
This was a pretty severe blow to even how the Pharisees thought about it. “For in the resurrection – ” he says, “ – those things don’t exist. They do not exist.” It’s necessary here; it’s not necessary there. Then He says, “but are like angels in heaven.”
Angels don’t have physical relationships with other angels. Angels don’t propagate. Angels don’t have a progeny; there’s no reproduction. Angels don’t die; they don’t have families. And I remind you again in Acts 23, they didn’t believe in angels. Marriage is necessary in this life because people die and the race must be preserved. The next generation must be born in order that God can complete His redemptive purpose. But after death, no one dies. After death, no one is married. After death, there are no such relationships.
Luke, in his parallel account to this, says, “They are equal to the angels in that respect.” It’s not that we become like angels; we are not like angels. Now we are a little lower than the angels. When we get to heaven, we’ll be a little above the angels because we’ll be like Christ and like His glorified body.
But we never stop at the point of the angels. Our Lord is saying, “You Sadducees only show you’re ignorance. You don’t get the power of God. You don’t understand that God, as the Creator, could create anything He wanted to create.”
Turn to 1 Corinthians 15 for a little reminder of that, verse 35. “Someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? What kind of body do they come?’ You fool!” I mean I don’t say that a lot in church when I’m preaching, but there are certainly times when someone is presenting something that they ought to be reminded that it’s a foolish idea. “That which you sow doesn’t come to life unless it dies.”
You put a seed in the ground and what happens? The seed dies. The seed dies, and out of it comes life that’s nothing like the seed. “You fool! That which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body just as he wished, and to each of the seeds, a body of its own. All flesh isn’t the same flesh. There’s one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are heavenly bodies, earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly is one; the glory of the earthly is another. One glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, another glory of the stars. Stars differ from stars in glory. So is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, raised an imperishable; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. If there’s a natural body, there’s a spiritual body.” Wow.
Hasn’t God already demonstrated really the amazing variety of bodies that He can create. “You fool! You don’t know either the Scripture or the power of God.” And then He says this – let’s get specific, “about your ignorance of Scripture.”
Verse 31: “And regarding the resurrection of the dead – ” specifically, let’s get past your general ignorance and go to this specific point. “Regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God.” I mean this is, in some ways, the ultimate indictment of people who are fastidious experts, holding to the pure faith, and He says to them, “Haven’t you read it? Haven’t you even read it? Haven’t you read what God said.”
I have to believe there’s some sarcasm there. And then He says this, verse 32: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” “Yeah, what does that have to do with anything?”
“Egó eimi [???], I am,” emphatic. the essence of God, the Tetragrammaton. What is this? This is Exodus 3:6 – you don’t have to turn to it. This is Exodus 3:6. Why is this important? Because in Exodus 3:6, when He said that, Abraham was dead, Isaac was dead, and Jacob was dead, and He was still their God. He didn’t say, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” God speaks of His covenant relation with the patriarchs and makes an identification with those men in the present tense, even though they’re all dead.
In Genesis 26:24, God calls Himself the God of Abraham when Abraham has already died. In Exodus 3 and 4, He calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, after all three had died. All three have died in this world, but God is still their God and they still worship Him. When He says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” He means, “I have a relationship with them, and they have a relationship with Me.” And He singles each of them out: “I am the God of Abraham; I am the God of Isaac; I am the God the Jacob,” personal reality in each case. They are extinct historically, but they are living individuals who still have a relationship with God: the God whom Abraham worshipped, Abraham still worships; the God who granted Abraham righteousness by faith is still the one who cares for Abraham. God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.
If you were going to make a point of trying to convince people of something as massive as the resurrection, would you build that point on the tense of a verb? Would you build that entire point after years and years and years and years of trying to find a verse somewhere in the Pentateuch to prove the resurrection. Our Lord knew exactly where to go, and He built the whole case for the resurrection, which is the heart of all religion, and the heart of true religion. He built the whole thing on the tense of a verb – present tense, not past tense. You think inerrancy matters? You think the words matter? Verse 33: “When the crowds heard this, they were – ” what? “ – whoa – they were astonished, they were astonished.”
Luke said, “Some of the rabbis said, ‘You won. You have spoken well. This new rabbi from Galilee knows the text in the Pentateuch that proves the resurrection – life after death. Amazing, astounding, marvelous. This is our King; and this is Jesus, the great expositor.
Father, we thank You for Your Word. We preach a living God, Christ who is our life, and a life-giving spirit. We thank You for the resurrection. We thank You that that’s our message. It’s not about a better marriage, it’s not about a better life, it’s about heaven, about eternity – eternal glory, eternal bliss, eternal peace, eternal joy, eternal worship, eternal service, eternal fellowship. It’s about life-everlasting. And for now, it’s the spirit of just men made perfect.
But in that day when You return, there will be the resurrection, when all the saints of all the ages will receive glorified bodies; and the resurrection will be complete and we’ll be fitted a body to occupy the new heavens and the new earth forever. This is the heart of the gospel, it’s about that; and Jesus hung the whole thing on what we might think is a slender thread, the tense of a verb. May we be so careful in handling Your precious Word, we pray in His name. Amen.