The Sadducees are up next to challenge Jesus. They don’t believe in the resurrection. They were conservative both religiously and politically not liberals as we might imagine their disbelief in the resurrection would make them.
-Moses didn’t teach it and Sadducees regard the five books of Moses the most authoritative part of the Bible.
-It was politically risky, as N.T. Wright explains.
“It had become popular particularly during the revolutionary movements of the second century BC, as a way of affirming that the martyrs had a glorious future awaiting them, not immediately after death, but in the eventual resurrection when they would be given new bodies. This belief was based on the fundamental idea of God as the maker, and therefore the remaker, of the world. People who believe that God is going to recreate the whole world, including Israel, and even including their own dead bodies, are much more likely to do daring and risky things. Wealthy ruling classes prefer people not to think thoughts like that.” (Wright, Mark, 207)
-Plus, the Pharisees, enemies of the Sadducees, most likely believed in the resurrection. Did Jesus too?
The Sadducees try a reductio ad absurdum on Jesus. All these brothers marrying their brothers widow in order to bear a son to carry on his line. Seven brothers married her after each previous husband died but without an heir. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection (12:8-23)? What foolishness this resurrection business is!
But Jesus declares them “quite wrong” (v.27). And that in two ways.
-His first response, that there will be no marrying or giving in marriage in the life to come reflects a debate among Jews of the time as to whether resurrected life was a renewal of earthly life and its relationships or whether it was a new quality of life altogether, still bodily but different (see Hurtado, Mark, 292). Jesus holds the second view whereas the Sadducees hoped he held the first and they could trap him in a logical conundrum. But he doesn’t and thus demonstrates their scriptural misunderstanding.
-Jesus’ second response, that the Sadducees do not know the power of God, derives from Exodus 3, a part of the scripture the Sadducees most valued. If one does not believe in resurrection, and that ancient worthies like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob simply died into oblivion, then there is no hope in God’s power to save his people in spite of his covenant promises to them, indeed, there is doubt about his power to save at all!
Another disappointed and defeated interlocutor slinks away from a confrontation with Jesus. Stay tuned. More challenges to come!