Mark 12:18-27

(A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds)

January 17, 2013


1.      The most basic, fundamental question in all of life has been asked in many different ways by many different people, but to my knowledge no-one has phrased it better than did the Old Testament character named Job.  In the 14th chapter of the book that bears his name, Job muses about the brevity of our lives in this world and the finality of death.  In Job 14:14 he asks "If a man dies, shall he live again?"  That single question cuts to the very heart of our identity, of who we are.  Basically, Job is asking: 

·        Are we nothing more than sophisticated insects that live for a while in this world, then die, never more to exist? 

·        Or, are we eternal beings?  Is there something God-like about us?  Do we have a destiny beyond our brief time in this world?

2.  Truth is, whether a person lives 10 minutes or 100 years, when we view that person's life-span in the scope of eternity, the amount of time any of us spend in this world is relatively very short.   James put it well when he compared our earthly existence to a morning mist that is present for a short time and then is gone.  James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

3.  And the question of what happens to us when our lives in this world come to an end has understandably been of intense interest to humans since the beginning of human history. 

·        Do we just cease to be, entering the blackness of eternity as only a memory in the minds of a few people? 

·        Or do we experience some kind of life after life this life? 

4.  That is an extremely important question, not just in terms of what happens to us after death but also has tremendous implications for this life as well. 

·        If really, sincerely believe this life is all there is to our existence and there is nothing beyond this life, then we have no real basis for any kind of ethical or value system. 

·        If this world is all there is, if there's nothing beyond this life, if there is no accountability to a higher power, if no judgment, if no life after this life, then we have no logical basis for moral decision making. 

·        If this world is all there is it makes perfect sense just to do whatever we desire, with no regard for others. 

However, if there is indeed life beyond this life, if we really are destined to live for all eternity, we have every reason to develop a strong sense of ethics and values.

5.  In our journey through Mark's Gospel have come to passage with deals with the issue of the after-life.  Mark 12:18-27 contains the third in a series of four trick questions asked of Jesus by the religious authorities in Jerusalem who were attempting to discredit Him.  These questions were asked on Tuesday of the week of the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection.

·        Mark 11:28 – “By what authority are You doing these things…”

·        Mark 12:14 – “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”

·        Mark 12:18-27 – A question about the resurrection of the dead

·        Mark 12:28-34 – A question about which commandment is greatest


There are three main parts to Mark 12:18-27

·        Verse 18 identifies the questioners

·        Verses 19-23 contain their question

·        Verses 24-27 contain the response of Jesus


The Questioners (v.18)

Verse 18 – The questioners – “Sadducees” - This was an aristocratic, priestly sect of Judaism that controlled the High Priesthood and the Sanhedrin. They were the wealthy, politically powerful “in” group. They were very conservative and accepted only the writings of Moses (i.e. Genesis through Deuteronomy) as authoritative (i.e. rejected the Oral Tradition).[1]  If a teaching was not in the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch), they rejected it.  Thus, they rejected belief in the resurrection, in the existence of angels, and future judgment.  While the Pharisees fought with the Herodians over political issues, they fought with the Sadducees over theological issues.  Paul used the division between the Sadducees and the Pharisees to his advantage in Acts 23 (see Acts 23:6).  This is the only place in Mark’s gospel that the Sadducees are mentioned.


The Question (vv.19-23)

Verses 19-23 - This Jewish law came to be known by “Levirate marriage.” The term was from Latin for “a husband’s brother.” Inheritance rights were very important in Israel because God had given the Promised Land to the tribes by lot. Therefore, if a man died with no male heir, his brother was expected to marry the widow and father a child by the widow; the child then became the heir of all of the dead brother’s property.[2]  (See Deut. 25:5-6)  That is why the Sadducees emphasized that each brother had no offspring with the woman.  Once the deceased brother had a male heir, the family inheritance was intact and there was no need for further marriage.


The Response of Jesus (vv.24-27)

Verse 24 is the heart of Jesus’ response to their silly question.  In that verses Jesus issues a stinging indictment of the Sadducees.   He bluntly tells them that their question reveals that they neither understand the Scripture (which He explains to them in vv. 26-27) nor the power of God. 


“…power of God…” - One reason Sadducees rejected the concept of the resurrection is because they arbitrarily rejected the possibility of the supernatural...while they believed in God, in their thinking they greatly restricted what God could do...they limited the realm of the possible to only those things they had experienced...since they had not experienced a resurrection they did not believe in a resurrection...


They were not unlike people in our world today who reject the possibility of a life after this life because such a possibility does not fit into their narrow understanding of our is the height of human arrogance to reject arbitrarily the concept of a resurrection just because we don't understand it...


Even in realm of our current understanding we are forced to admit things are possible today which were deemed impossible just a few years ago.  For example, on February 14, 1946, a machine known by the acronym ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was unveiled.  That remarkable machine is widely considered to be the first computer.  It weighed nearly 30 tons, was 8’ x 3’ x 100’ in size, had more than 17,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, and 10,000 capacitors.  But none of the very smart people who developed that machine could ever imagine that we would be carrying phones in our pockets or notebooks in our hands that would have many times more computing power than that gigantic machine.  No-one at that time would have thought possible such advances in computer technology.


And in much same way, while our current understanding of life after this life limited and hazy, to say that such a thing as the resurrection is not possible is to place unreasonable limits on the power of God.  It is foolish to reject something merely because we do not understand it.  It is God's power which makes possible the resurrection. To me, it makes perfect sense to believe that.  The Bible says it well in 1 Cor. 6:14 – “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.”


Verse 25

The Sadducees wrongly assumed that marriages would be resumed after the resurrection. In resurrection-life people will neither marry (contract a marriage) nor be given in marriage (have a marriage arranged by parents). Rather, like the angels in heaven they will be immortal beings in God’s presence.[3]


Precisely how we will be like the angels Jesus does not say.  But the point is that relationships in heaven will be different than relationships in this life.  That fact made the question of the Sadducees irrelevant.


Verses 26-27

In these verses Jesus shows the Sadducees that the resurrection of the dead is indeed taught in Scripture.  He pointed them directly to the heart of the Mosaic law, to the law upon which they claimed to base their beliefs, and showed them where it taught the resurrection. Jesus quoted to them Exodus 3:6 where God told Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." ...then Jesus bluntly told them "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken."


The logic of Jesus is obvious and powerful.  He emphasized God did not say He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but He is their God.  One writer summarized the argument this way:  "It is ridiculous for God to say that he is the God of men who have no existence.  Therefore, because God says, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," they must be living, and thus the resurrection is a reality.  Or put another way:  if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are nothing more than dust, God cannot now, at this moment, be their God.  God is not the God of that which has ceased to be." [Hughes, p.109]


The seed of the resurrection can certainly be seen in the earliest parts of the Scripture.  As the Scripture develops, the seed begins to take root and sprout.  And it blossoms forth fully for all to see in the resurrection of Jesus.  Then the Apostle Paul, in I. Cor.15, that great chapter about the resurrection, looks back on the resurrection of Jesus and points out it is the promise, the guarantee of our own resurrection.


All of that is to say that the resurrection of the dead is a basic, fundamental biblical teaching.  You cannot read the Bible and fail to see that. 


Aristides was an Athenian philosopher who lived in the early 2nd century.  He is mentioned in the writings of two prominent early church fathers, Eusebius, known as the father of church history, and Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin.  Aristides became a Christian and wrote of defense of Christianity for Hadrian, the Roman Emperor.  Around 125 AD Aristides wrote to one of his friends, trying to explain the extraordinary success of the new religion, Christianity. In his letter he said, “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they accompany his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.” [Today in the Word, April 10, 1993]


And that message of hope in the face of death is the very heart of the gospel.  Jesus came to our world to defeat the power of death over us.  That’s why Paul could write in Romans 14:8, “…if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”


The good news of the gospel is that death is not the end.  After death, there awaits for us a wonderful life.  How do we know?  Because the Scripture promises it and the power of God makes it possible!

[1] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (143). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[2] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (145). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[3] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mk 12:25). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.