In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus. When I am alone, give me Jesus. When I come to die, give me Jesus.
Continuing with Mark 12, today I’m reading verses 18-27:
And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because 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 passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
This passage is one that I have read several times in my life, and the focus is always on the content of the conversation between the Sadducees and Jesus. I’ve heard people refer to this passage and then discuss how it instructs us on heaven and the nature of marriage. We refer to this passage in order to draw conclusions about how these relationships will look in the new heaven and the new earth. But today, as I consider this passage, my focus is on what Jesus said to them, which is applicable also to me today: Do I know the scriptures and the power of God?
That seems to be the bigger issue—the bigger concern. These guys are coming at him with something akin to a riddle or a word problem, but Jesus doesn’t bite. Knowing that they are not on a genuine search for truth, but rather on a mission to trip him up, he instead addresses a bigger, more weighty question. Jesus is pointing these men back to not only the study of scripture, but to the ongoing, relational knowledge of God. And this knowledge requires not just study, but also faith. It requires time and communion and meditation and contemplation. It requires humility. And it is only out of this knowledge of scripture and the power of God that we can even begin to address these other big questions, like, “What happens after we die?”
Sometimes we seek answers to the secondary questions without acknowledging that the only way to really know the answers to the questions is by illumined study of scripture and humble communion with God. As usual, Jesus is not really talking about what he seems to be talking about—he’s talking about walking with God, informed by God’s word, and illumined by God’s spirit.
This is why I’m so passionate about Bible study and meditation and prayer. They are all so intertwined with one another and are, in fact, the only way to know God and to understand God’s will and calling. These other questions (i.e. “What happens to my marriage in the next life?”) are not insignificant, per se, but they can only really be wrestled with once we are standing on a bedrock of scripture and ongoing communion with God.
This is also why I don’t get into too many conversations or arguments with folks about the nature of hell or the afterlife or even marriage and divorce and ethics if we don’t share a commitment to the authority of scripture and the reality of God’s power. I’ll talk, I’ll discuss, I’ll even share what I understand Scripture to tell us about these things—but I won’t argue. We can argue about these other things all day, but the exchanges will not be fruitful if we don’t start with first things first—if we don’t start where Jesus starts: knowing scripture and knowing God’s power.
I feel like that’s what Jesus was getting at here. Why are we trying to answer with these questions without trying to know scripture and know God?
I just read a book this week that addresses this, in fact. Skye Jethani’s With (Thomas Nelson, 2011) describes the four typical postures humans assume in relation to God. He describes them as Life Under God, Life Over God, Life From God, and Life For God, and then he lays out the flaws of each posture, concluding, instead, that we are called to Life With God.
The book is terrific. In fact, in just the few days since reading the book, I have noticed that these five prepositional postures (under, over, from, for, and with) have already become my new lens for how I see my approach to scripture, prayer, my behavior (why do I do what I do?) and my expectations of God (why do I expect what I expect?).
In his chapter “Life Over God,” Skye addresses the attitudes of the religious leaders of Jesus’s day:
“This understanding of God [post-Enlightenment views that God exists and has set laws in place, but is not involved in the day-to-day life of God’s creation] informs how many Christians engage the Bible. They believe the Scriptures are a divine instruction manual for life; a resource to be culled for principles that may then be applied to any challenge or dilemma. I’ve heard pastors quip that B-I-B-L-E stands for ‘Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,’ and others have called the ‘owner’s manual’ for a human being. We may chuckle at these cute metaphors for the Bible, but behind them is a very un-Christian understanding of God and ironically an unbiblical one rooted in Enlightenment thinking.
When the Bible is primarily seen as a depository of divine principles for life, it fundamentally changes the way we engage God and his Word. Rather than a vehicle for knowing God and fostering our communion with him, we search the Scriptures for applicable principles that we may employ to control our world and life. This is not Christianity; this is Christian deism. In other words, we actually replace a relationship with God for a relationship with the Bible. If one has the repair manual, why bother with the expense of a mechanic?”
This seems to be what the Sadducees were doing, and why Jesus responded as he did. As Skye points out in the same chapter,
“The religious leaders in Jesus’ time were expert students of Scripture. They had memorized the entire Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). And they had parsed every command, extracted every principle, and delineated every instruction it contained. But their mastery of Scripture had not resulted in actually knowing God or recognizing him when he stood right in front of them.”
But their mastery of Scripture had not resulted in actually knowing God or recognizing him when he stood right in front of them. This is a danger for any student of the Bible.
Is it interesting to think about what happens to a married couple after the resurrection? As a newlywed, I’d say, sure, it’s interesting to think about. But Jesus knew that this was not the core issue when the Sadducees and other religious leaders came to question him. He knew they were not earnestly seeking answers—they were not earnestly seeking truth.They were not earnestly seeking to know God (who was standing right in front of them). They were seeking to trip him up. They were seeking to rule over him.
Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
No, this passage is not about marriage or the resurrection at all. This passage is about the human tendency to want to rule over God, even through the guise of studying Scripture. Instead, we are called to know Scripture in such a way that we see Christ everywhere, in order to know God and to be ever-knowing God. We are invited to know God in such a way that we are not only cognizant of his power, but eternally impressed, delighted, emboldened and inspired by who God is and motivated to walk closely beside him every day.
We are created for communion with God. The Bible is our means of knowing God and fostering our communion with him. The end goal of Bible study is to know and delight in God Himself. My application here is to be reflective and meditative on my posture as I read, pray, and interact with God and others from day to day. Am I seeking to live life with God?