This part of the Easter Times article will focus on the Sadducee’s beliefs and their current day counterparts. It makes the most sense to begin with the ancient times. From there move to contemporary groups whose ideas are touted by many individuals today.
First it is a good plan to remind everyone that the ancient peoples were not living in a vacuum. They had interactions with other cultures too. A specific belief system, Zoroastrianism, as previously mentioned in Part 1, began in the land of current day Iran. That religion spread around and almost certainly had been introduced to the captive Jews of Babylon. Interestingly, Cyrus the great of Persia, who let the Jewish people return home after 70 years of captivity, may have been a Zoroastrian. (Remember they believed you either served the good god or the bad god.) Members of his court/retinue would have also shared their beliefs to the Jews.
Now it is true, the Sadducees didn’t believe in a physical resurrection but they did believe there was a place where all of the dead went. To them it was called Sheol. Other cultures and languages had different names for the same “place.” This idea of an underworld was called Aralu to the Babylonians and to the ancient Greeks it was known as Hades. The Sadducees could naturally assume, since the dead went to be with the dead, it made sense that God’s place for the dead was there for every culture. The thinking was of God pouring out His grace upon all mankind with each culture going to be with their ancestors. In a book by John W. Cooper, “Body, Soul and Life Everlasting” some thought the Sadducees believed that Sheol had separate places for both the faithful and the wicked. This idea could be an example of their being influenced through contact with Zoroastrianism.
Some people claim that by the time of Christ the Sadducees had adopted the Epicurean position of later Greece. This belief was in a materialistic world where there is nothing but extinction after death. This position is possible, but it is doubtful very many Sadducees adopted it. However, today there is a substantial element of society that proclaims annihilation. These people are known as naturalists and atheists.
This idea isn’t the only one being presented in today’s society. There are religions, mostly Eastern, that delve into the afterlife that hint of the Sadducee’s positions. Some of these mystical religions don’t differentiate between the observable life and an afterlife. They do have an ultimate destination where individual lives become absorbed within a universal oneness. They call this claim, “Atman is Brahman.” This ‘oneness’ has some similarities to what Sheol was to the Sadducees.
A current offshoot of the Eastern religions called “The New Age” has added a final twist into the mix. In their belief system, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or any other religion. They claim everyone is trying to get to the same place. Another religious group, the Bahá’ίs, hold a similar position. They believe in a universal, fundamental, worth of all religions. Their origins go back to Islam, but they’ve been totally cut off from them.
There is one more belief system in today’s world that needs to be brought up. Its origins loosely go back to Christianity and they are called Unitarians. They too hold a Universalist position where everyone goes to heaven and they don’t believe in a literal hell.
A central idea for all these religions is that all roads lead to heaven or at least to Sheol. A common trait held between all of these religions, including the Sadducees, is an acceptance of the idea of a universal grace. But they don’t think faith of a specific kind is necessary to obtain God’s Grace. That isn’t to say being ‘good’ is a bad thing.
Now would be a good time to return to the book of Matthew. Remember that Jesus had called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. Well, Jesus didn’t make that derogatory remark to them alone. In Matthew 3: 7 it says, “But when He saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’”(NASB). His rebuke was more severe in Matthew 23: 33 saying, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
These verses expose the false positions of the Pharisees and Sadducees. It also exposes the false religiosity of today. Whether you believe it is adequate to merely have a faith or say that grace by itself is enough, you are mistaken and wrong. No, there is only one way to come to God and experience his grace. It is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and through faith in Him alone. His death, burial, and resurrection is the only true atonement for man’s sins and a forgiveness that leads to eternal life.
Many New Testament verses proclaim this truth, but the most concise verse is found in John 14: 6 where it states, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” There is one other verse that is simply telling mankind the same thing. It is John 3: 16 that says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever Believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” It should sadden our hearts, just like it did Paul’s, to see so many people swept away in man’s own inventions trying to play God themselves.