The Sadducees, who were the deists of that age, here attack our Lord Jesus, it should seem, not as the scribes, and Pharisees, and chief-priests, with any malicious design upon his person; they were not bigots and persecutors, but sceptics and infidels, and their design was upon his doctrine, to hinder the spreading of that: they denied that there was any resurrection, and world of spirits, any state of rewards and punishments on the other side of death: now those great and fundamental truths which they denied, Christ had made it his business to establish and prove, and had carried the notion of them much further that ever it was before carried; and therefore they set themselves to perplex his doctrine.
I. See here the method they take to entangle it; they quote the ancient law, by which, if a man died without issue, his brother was obliged to marry his widow, Mark 12:19. They suppose a case to happen that, according to that law, seven brothers were, successively, the husbands of one woman, Mark 12:20. Probably, these Sadducees, according to their wonted profaneness, intended hereby to ridicule that law, and so to bring the whole frame of the Mosaic institution into contempt, as absurd and inconvenient in the practice of it. Those who deny divine truths, commonly set themselves to disparage divine laws and ordinances. But this was only by the by; their design was to expose the doctrine of the resurrection; for they suppose that if there be a future state, it must be such a one as this, and then the doctrine, they think, is clogged either with this invincible absurdity, that a woman in that state must have seven husbands, or else with this insolvable difficulty, whose wife must she be. See with what subtlety these heretics undermine the truth; they do not deny it, nor say, There can be no resurrection; nay, they do not seem to doubt of it, nor say, If there be a resurrection, whose wife shall she be? as the devil to Christ, If thou be the Son of God. But, as though these beasts of the field were more subtle than the serpent himself, they pretend to own the truth, as if they were not Sadducees, no not they; who said that they denied the resurrection? They take it for granted that there is a resurrection, and would be thought to desire instruction concerning it, when really they are designing to give a fatal stab, and think that they shall do it. Note, It is the common artifice of heretics and Sadducees to perplex and entangle the truth, which they have not the impudence to deny.
II. See here the method Christ takes to clear and establish this truth, which they attempted to darken, and give a shock to. This was a matter of moment, and therefore Christ does not pass it over lightly, but enlarges upon it, that, if they should not be reclaimed, yet others might be confirmed.
1. He charges the Sadducees with error, and charges that upon their ignorance. They who banter the doctrine of the resurrection as some do in our age, would be thought the only knowing men, because the only free thinkers, when really they are the fools in Israel, and the most enslaved and, prejudiced thinkers in the world. Do ye not therefore err? Ye cannot but be sensible of it yourselves, and that the cause of your error is, (1.) Because ye do not know the scriptures. Not but that the Sadducees had read the scriptures, and perhaps were ready in them; yet they might be truly said not to know the scriptures, because they did not know the sense and meaning of them, but put false constructions upon them; or they did not receive the scriptures as the word of God, but set up their own corrupt reasonings in opposition to the scripture, and would believe nothing but what they could see. Note, A right knowledge of the scripture, as the fountain whence all revealed religion now flows, and the foundation on which it is built, is the best preservative against error. Keep the truth, the scripture-truth, and it shall keep thee. (2.) Because ye know not the power of God. They could not but know that God is almighty, but they would not apply that doctrine to this matter, but gave up the truth to the objections of the impossibility of it, which would all have been answered, if they had but stuck to the doctrine of God’s omnipotence, to which nothing is impossible. This therefore which God hath spoken once, we are concerned to hear twice, to hear and believe, to hear and apply—that power belongs to God, Ps. 62:11; Rom. 4:19-21. The same power that made soul and body and preserved them while they were together, can preserve the body safe, and the soul active, when they are parted, and can unite them together again; for behold, the Lord’s arm is not shortened. The power of God, seen in the return of the spring (Ps. 104:30), in the reviving of the corn (John 12:24), in the restoring of an abject people to their prosperity (Ezek. 37:12-14), in the raising of so many to life, miraculously, both in the Old Testament and in the New, and especially in the resurrection of Christ (Eph. 1:19, 20), are all earnests of our resurrection by the same power (Phil. 3:21); according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.
2. He sets aside all the force of their objection, by setting the doctrine of the future state in a true light (Mark 12:25); When they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage. It is a folly to ask, Whose wife shall she be of the seven? For the relation between husband and wife, though instituted in the earthly paradise, will not be known in the heavenly one. Turks and infidels expect sensual pleasures in their fools’ paradise, but Christians know better things—that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50); and expect better things—even a full satisfaction in God’s love and likeness (Ps. 17:15); they are as the angels of God in heaven, and we know that they have neither wives nor children. It is no wonder if we confound ourselves with endless absurdities, when we measure our ideas of the world of spirits by the affairs of this world of sense.
III. He builds the doctrine of the future state, and of the blessedness of the righteous in that state, upon the covenant of God with Abraham, which God was pleased to own, being after Abraham’s death, Mark 12:26, 27. He appeals to the scriptures; Have ye not read in the book of Moses? We have some advantage in dealing with those that have read the scriptures, though many that have read them, wrest them, as these Sadducees did, to their own destruction. Now that which he refers them to is, what God says to Moses at the bush, I am the God of Abraham; not only, I was so, but I am so; I am the portion and happiness of Abraham, a God all-sufficient to him. Note, It is absurd to think that God’s relation to Abraham should be continued, and thus solemnly recognised, if Abraham was annihilated, or that the living God should be the portion and happiness of a man that is dead, and must be for ever so; and therefore you must conclude, 1. That Abraham’s soul exists and acts as a state of separation from the body. 2. That therefore, some time or other, the body must rise again; for there is such an innate inclination in a human soul towards its body, as would make a total and everlasting separation inconsistent with the ease and repose, much more with the bliss and joy of those souls that have the Lord for their God. Upon the whole matter, he concludes, Ye therefore do greatly err. Those that deny the resurrection, greatly err, and ought to be told so.