He is not the God of the dead, but of the living… (Mark 12:27)
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Nor did they accept the Old Testament as the Word of God except for the first five books, or the Pentateuch as it is called.
They put a hypothetical question to Jesus about a woman who had morally married seven different brothers during her life. It was the command of the Law that if a brother died without children, that his younger brother must marry his widow (Deut. 25:5). So in their imaginary story seven childless brothers had married the same woman, all dying one after another. Then finally the woman died. Their question was: “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” (Mark 12:23, see also Matt 22:23-33 and Luke 20:27-40)
All of the synoptic gospels repeat the story, so the argument of the Sadducees must have been a rather popular one – hypothetical and far-fetched though it was they and the people of that time seemed to think it carried weight.
How little we know of eternity: The Bible does not explain to us all there is to know about eternity. We have many questions about the afterlife. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12) The Lord does not burden our minds with details that we are unable to comprehend.
Jesus did explain a little, however, about our future life. He said that we will be “like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25), that is we will not be given in marriage. It does not say that we shall become angels, only that in this respect we will be like them. The Bible describes angels as “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit eternal salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). Since we redeemed humans are those who will inherit salvation, it should be clear that there are different roles given to us and given to angels. We will be similar to them but not identical, but one of those similarities will be in the area of marriage. We will not be married to our earthly spouses in heaven.
The emphasis on the living relationship with God: There were many places in the Old Testament where the resurrection was taught, none stronger in their proclamation than Job:
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. (Job 19:25-27)
But the Sadducees did not accept any book beyond the Law of Moses, so Christ met them on their own terms. He quoted Exodus 3:6, where God revealed himself to Moses. “I am the God of Abraham” (Mark 12:26), was said centuries after the death of Abraham. God did not say that he “was” the God of Abraham but that he “is” the God of Abraham. The meaning was that Abraham still lived in some capacity and God was still his God.
This is the miracle of God’s interaction with human life, that he brings life and immortality to our lives. We are more than merely earthly or physical creatures. Humanity was made in God’s image and that means that there is a spiritual dimension to humanity. The lost world speaks of the spirit also, but they can only connect it to human emotions or to some vague sense of a spirit world. Only in Christ does the spirit of man truly come to life.
Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We cannot be deader than dead, and the description of our existence without Christ is one of desperate lostness. We were by nature “objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), and it would require a miracle of God’s grace to awaken us to our need and turn our hearts to Christ and to his salvation. but this is exactly what happens in the gospel: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5).
The Sadducees were “badly mistaken” (Mark 12:27). Their religion only had room for man, not for God. They saw only the reality of human life and decisions, nothing of the spiritual dimension of the power and life of God. Our hope is in the living God, and when we trust in Christ we enter that moment into life.
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:24-26)