Sermon on Mark 12:18-27 – “Afterlife in the Old Testament”

Sermon on Mark 12:18-27 – “Afterlife in the Old Testament”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, March 24th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

[Mar 12:18-27 ESV] 18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “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. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 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’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

Introduction

This sermon probably doesn’t fit well into the series I have been doing on “Living in these times.”

I want to look at something that has fascinated me for some time. That is, the teaching of the Old Testament with regard to heaven and hell. Let’s look at “afterlife in the Old Testament.”

And you might think it quite odd that a sermon on the Old Testament has a sermon text from the New Testament. But I’ll explain later.

This is particularly important for us to study because many have said that heaven and hell are NEW Testament ideas. They’ll claim the Jews only cared about THIS life, the here and now. Even though you’ll hear top rabbi’s saying things like this, they are so obviously wrong that you wonder if they are reading the Old Testament at all.

So I want to look at some quotes of what they’ve said. People who think there is no talk of afterlife in the Old Testament.

Some Jews do believe in heaven and hell. But others do not.

This sermon will be heavily dependent on an essay titled “Judaism and the World to Come” in a book I’ve recently read.

There the author quotes some modern Jews.

One of them is a Jewish leader named Yeshayahu Leibowitz was says this about the afterlife:

Death has no significance … only life matters. In the entire Torah there is not the slightest suggestion that anything happens after death. All the ideas and theories articulated on the subject of a world to come and the resurrection of the dead have no relationship to religious faith. It is sheer folklore. After you die, you simply do not exist.

One Professor of Near Eastern Studies back at my alma mater Michigan is George Mendenhall who said:

“Most of the scholarly world agrees that there is no concept of immortality or life after death in the Old Testament.”

Now it seems that these views are more prominent among Liberal Jews. The more Orthodox ones tend to believe in the afterlife.

And the view of the Old Testament having nothing to say about the afterlife is also prominent in Liberal CHRISTIAN circles.

So it seems that Liberalism (which is essentially Atheism) is to blame, and not any religious reading of the text.

But still I’ve seen this idea (that there is no heaven and hell in the Old Testament) so many times that it is worth rebutting, refuting.

I think some of these people are just trying to be clever. They’ll say there is no afterlife in the Old Testament, but what they mean is there is no spirits floating around with harps in heaven nor hoofed devils with pitchforks in hell. Rather, there is a physical resurrection and afterlife. Of course, this is what the Bible teaches. The ancient Gnostic heretics taught that there was nothing physical in the afterlife, but the Bible has always taught resurrection.

Still the Sadducees denied even that. The Pharisees held to the resurrection, which tells you that at least SOME of the Jews in Jesus’s time saw that the Old Testament taught an afterlife.

1. Job

Well, the first text that always comes to mind is from Job.

[Job 19:25-26 ESV] 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,

This verse tells us so much. There is a redeemer. He liveth. He will stand upon the earth. And then after Job dies, he will live again and see God because of the redeemer. That is the whole Bible summarized in two verses. And it is explicitly speaking about a life after this one; an afterlife.

Job also says “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15)

And finally Job says,

[Job 33:28 ESV] 28 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.’

Well, perhaps these Job verses are so well-known that we are not so affected by them anymore. We want to know WHERE ELSE in the Old Testament is there talk of an afterlife, of heaven and of heaven and the resurrection.

II. Enoch

You remember the Jewish scholar said there was no afterlife in the TORAH. That is the pentateuch, the first five books. So he’s avoiding Job.

But we come to Enoch in Genesis 5:24 “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

Well, where did God take him? There is the implication of ANOTHER REALM, presumably the same realm that God will take the rest of to one day … in our life to come in the world to come.

Probably the same place Elijah was taken to. 2 Kings 2:11 says Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”

III. Jacob

Again, in the Torah, we have Jacob in Genesis 37 desiring to “go down to Sheol” to his son. He wept for his son Joseph, who he thought was dead. And he desired not to die to get it over with, but to die in order to see his son again … in the afterlife … in heaven.

I mean it takes a real “scholar” to avoid the teaching of the Bible. There is either “interpretive gymnastics” or straight willing ignorance and blindness that concludes that the Old Testament doesn’t speak of life after this life.

Well this idea of Jacob mourning for Joseph I should remember in case I need to do a funeral for the loss of a child, even an adult child. That is one of the hardest things imaginable. Dealing with the loss of a child, and having to preach to someone in that state of mourning. There is one other text I know of that I’ve long had in mind if needed, and it too speaks of children and the afterlife … in the Old Testament.

IV. David’s Son

In 2 Samuel chapter 12, David’s son becomes sick and dies.

And David says this:

[2Sa 12:22-23 ESV] 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

I suppose someone could try to say this references (and others) are poetic; that they are not really planning to meet up again, but this is just a way of speaking.

I don’t think that is so. The comfort for David is not his own death, but the life after death in which he will see his son again.

Well, I’ve given a couple references from the Torah, so I hope suffices to prove wrong the opinion of those who say there is no such teaching in the Torah. Other references are in the prophets.

Next is Hosea 13:14

V. Hosea

[Hos 13:14 ESV] 14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

VI. Daniel 12:1-2

[Dan 12:1-2 ESV] 1 “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

VII. Jesus

Jesus believed the same as Daniel, whom he nearly quotes,

[Jhn 5:28-29 ESV] 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

And where does Jesus get his ideas on the afterlife but from the Old Testament. Jesus thought (and thinks still) that the Old Testament teaches about heaven and hell. So should we.

So we come also to our sermon text, and its from the NEW Testament. But it is Jesus ON the Old Testament and its view of life after death. So here in the NEW we find his view of the OLD.

It is like one of those “have you not read” moments. Jesus questions religious leaders.

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?

26 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’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

This is a great example of good and necessary consequence.

And Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are in the Torah.

So we have another good and necessary consequence.

God is a god of the living, the re-born to eternal life … in the Torah, therefore the Torah speaks on the afterlife. But we’ve already established that with references from the Books of Moses.

VII. Conclusion

So the Old Testament has MUCH to say about the afterlife.

Even the Torah has some to say.

And Christ reaffirms what the Old Testament has said.

So it is clear that the Bible teaches the existence of heaven and hell.

The only step left then for us is to believe it.

That’s what it ultimately comes down to; do you believe it or not.

Is the Bible the Word of God (the very truth), or do you question it, like Satan in the Garden who asked “Did God really say.”

Did God really say in the Old Testament that there is a heaven and hell?

He did indeed.

And heaven will be our home.

We saw it this morning in our text from Revelation 7:9 – ALL the people of God will be standing before His throne in heaven with Palm branches in their hands and white robes, made pure by the blood of the lamb, and saying “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

So we have that hope. An eternal hope.

We pray for our time in this world as well, but the next, by virtue of its infinitely longer duration and glory is far greater.

So let us conclude with this verse from the Psalms. The Old Testament.

[Psa 23:6 ESV] 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

That is a promise of God.

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.