Day 63 – Take the Long View

Mark 12:18–27 NRSV

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married the widow and died, leaving no ­children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left ­children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

Consider This

This is starting to feel like an episode of the popular game show Jeopardy. Today’s question from the Sadducees brings even more drama to the plot of coconspirators surrounding Jesus.

First for a little background, the Sadducees enjoyed an aristocratic reputation. They strike me as the sophisticates of the Jewish pantheon of religious players. Like the Pharisees and the Scribes, they highly valued the Scriptures though they advocated for their own interpretation.

In particular, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. For them, death meant the party was over. This question was a bit of a ruse.

“In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”

Why would they ask a question about the resurrection they did not believe in? In their minds, this complicated riddle of a question would expose not only Jesus’ faith in the resurrection of the dead but also its absurdity. Jesus sees straight through them and indicts them for their bad exegesis (method of interpreting Scripture) and chides them for their lack of faith in the power of God.

Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?”

First, Jesus gives an authoritative word about the resurrection of the dead and marriage. Bottom line? Marriage ends with death. In the resurrection there will be no marriage. There is a much larger covenant at work within which the covenant of marriage is controlled. The covenant between God and his people supersedes the covenant of marriage. It outlasts it. Next he takes on their biblical interpretation by citing a covenant-oriented text he knew they embraced, Exodus 3:6. It’s the burning bush story when God says to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

My sources make an interesting case for Jesus’ application of this text. It goes like this. In this covenant affirmation, God affirms his faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which is a covenant that transcends death. Of what worth would it all be if only for the infinitesimally short period of time in which a person is alive on this earth? This God has power over sin and death. God is a God of the living and in his kingdom, though people die because of the curse of sin, yet shall they live because of the promise of resurrection. Jesus then rebukes with these words: “You are quite wrong.”

It’s probably as close as he will come to calling someone an idiot. He’s telling them that their big problem is they don’t believe what they believe. In other words, if you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you believe in the resurrection of the dead. You don’t get one without the other.

Moving this forward a couple of thousand years, let’s ask ourselves this question: Do I believe in the resurrection of the dead? I’ve said it ten thousand times in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

Over the past couple hundred years, we have mostly bought stock in the idea of an ethereal heaven where disembodied spirits enjoy the presence of God and loved ones who have gone before—you know, the better place we reference when a person dies. I don’t want to diminish anyone’s faith in the immediacy of being in the presence of God at one’s death. After all, Paul clearly said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 5:6). I do want to say heaven as we commonly conceive of it is not the long view. The long game is the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. The long view isn’t heaven; it’s earth—as in “on earth as it is in heaven.”

The resurrection of the body is our core faith. As Paul also said,

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:16–19)

The resurrection of the body is the long view. Permit me an emphatic declaration of biblical faith: Jesus’ bodily resurrection means our bodily resurrection or it means nothing. If we do not believe in the resurrection of the body, whatever it is that we believe about the resurrection of Jesus is something other than the Christian faith—“the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3 NRSV).

The Prayer

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

The Questions

  • Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? Is it core to your faith or peripheral?
  • What difference might taking the long view have in your everyday life?