'We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts...' -- II Thessalonians 3:4-5

We're so accustomed to thinking and speaking about an afterlife that we can't imagine people of biblical faith not believing in a hereafter. Yet the vast majority of the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures knew only this life.

That's why their theologies revolve around God rewarding us for our good and punishing us for our evil right here and now, long before our physical deaths.

Only about 100 years before the birth of the historical Jesus did some Pharisees begin to reason -- especially in chapter 1 of Wisdom -- that if we build a relationship with God in this life, God will continue that relationship into an afterlife. We especially hear that theology expressed in one of the Hebrew Scriptures' last books: Second Maccabees.

In Sunday's reading from that book (II Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14), the first of seven martyred brothers, buying into that Pharisaical theology, can taunt his executioners with his conviction that "you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever."

Raised up
The fourth brother heroically states, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by Him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life." Obviously, at this point of theological development, there's still no concept of hell (or purgatory). People only have a choice between resurrection and death. Those who have a proper relationship with God will live with God; those who don't will end up being dead for all eternity.

The authors of the Christian Scriptures bought into the faith of their mentor, Jesus, and also professed faith in an afterlife, else the unknown author of our II Thessalonians (2:16-3:5) reading could never talk about an "everlasting encouragement."

Yet as we hear in Sunday's Gospel (Luke 20:27-35), Jesus had to deal with a large segment of His fellow Jews, the Sadducees, who thought the Pharisees' teaching on being with God after this life was simply ridiculous.

To prove their point, they bring up the classic example of a woman successively married to seven brothers: "At the resurrection, whose wife will that woman be?"

Jesus goes back to the Exodus 3 burning bush passage. He reasons that, if Abraham and Isaac and Jacob weren't still alive after their deaths, God would have told Moses, "I was their God," not, "I am their God."

Not like now
But Jesus' most important argument revolves around a mistake the Sadducees were making: They presumed the eternal life Jesus taught about was simply an eternal continuation of this life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This Galilean carpenter said our resurrected life will be a totally different existence from life here and now. A resurrected person will no longer have to live within the limits this life imposes. Our deepest relationships with one another, for instance, won't be restricted to the human boundaries of marriage. Once we cross into eternal life, we'll "neither marry nor be given in marriage."

Though we often talk in a consoling way about deceased loved ones continuing to do the things in heaven they enjoyed doing on Earth, Jesus insists we'll eventually have to deal with the fact that our existence in heaven will be the biggest surprise we'll ever experience.