Monday, March 5, 2012

Biblically Defining Eternal Life

What is Eternal Life according to the Bible? Have you ever really contemplated that question?

Growing up, I was always under the impression that "eternal life" didn't start until after I died.  I don't recall actually having been taught that specifically, but it was generally implied by the worldview and culture that I lived in.

Of all the shifts that I have experienced over the past few years, understanding what the Bible means by eternal life has been one of the most profound.

Do you realize that there is only one place in the entire Bible that specifically defines eternal life?  Yep, just one!  It is actually Jesus that defines it for us.

In John 17 Jesus is praying for his disciples as He prepares to embark on what is traditionally called "The Passion."  (On a quick side note, this is actually what should be called "the Lord's prayer". The traditional "Lord's prayer" that is recited on Sundays was actually what the disciples were supposed to pray, but I digress.)

Now read John 17 verses 1-3 again.  Maybe again for the very first time!

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Did you catch that?  Eternal Life, as defined by Jesus, is "knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ whom he sent."

In the Bible the language of "knowing" is often set within the context of sexual union between a husband and wife. It is presented as a deep intimate relationship.

To know God the Father and Jesus Christ is eternal life.

Is it really that simple?  Yes.

Unfortunately, that simple answer brings into question many of our deeply held traditions. Here are just a few.

If eternal life is relationship, then what is the "death" that the Bible talks about?

Is it possible that eternal life starts on this side of the grave, here in this world?

Is the message of Jesus actually about how to get into Heaven before you die?

Take some time to ponder how John 17:1-3 will affect the way you answer these questions.  And if you're not already, start living the eternal life that you already have!


  1. In Col 2:12, one was buried with Christ and raised with him through Baptism. I believe that was during the transition period before Christ came back.

    "and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." Revelation 21:4

    This passage stated that there is no more death. I believe this is the death of Adam. If there is no more death, then we are all alive.

    "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Revelation 21:8

    If we are all alive now, then we can reject God and be sent to a second death.

    So my question is, are all in Christ until we reject Him?

    This is a novel idea to me. How would you interpret Revelation 21?
    If I am understanding this correctly, we are all born into the garden and remain until we choose to leave. I'm very confused now. LOL


  2. Tabatha,

    Thank you so much for your comments. Your insight is great. Your questions are exactly the ones that I would expect, which shows me that you are thinking things through.

    I will post another blog post that hopefully will clear some things up for you, but hopefully this short response will help as well.

    I agree with you on Col. 2:12 and Rev. 21:4. I also think that Rev. 21:8 is tied to the judgement of AD 70 on the OC world. The corporate body of Israel was dead and those who refused to be made alive in Christ would experience a fuller and final 2nd death. Eternal destruction from the presence of God. (Not what we traditionally think of as Hell though, but that is another topic.)

    Another thought is this. Maybe we are thinking in individual terms too much? I believe we should think in corporate terms so here are some thoughts.

    What if Adam is Israel and never was meant to represent all human beings?

    What if we see eternal life as only found in Christ and then understand that Resurrected Israel (the body of Christ) can never die?

    I don't think all are born into Christ, just as I don't think all were born into Adam. (Yep, that just opened a can of worms...)

    If someone chooses to leave the Garden (the gates of the New Jerusalem are always open) I wouldn't see that as "death" as the Bible defines it. I would say that it is a kind of death, but again, I make a sharp distinction between the corporate body of Christ and individual believers. If I turn my back on Christ, the body of Christ doesn't die. Think about the flip side in the OC world. Even though there were righteous individuals they never brought about life for the corporate body.

    So, in closing, I think the traditional tendency is to universalize and individualize Adam, but I think that is a bad presupposition.

    Let me know if that helps and I will post another blog post that deals more with this question.