Why We’ve Gotten Eternal Life Wrong.

daily text logoMay 18, 2015

1 John 5:11-12

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.



Eternal Life.

What is the meaning of Eternal Life?

Somewhere along the way “Eternal” became primarily understood as quantitative. It became another way of meaning “infinite,” or higher than one can count. In other words, we think about Eternal Life in the same category as we think about time.

The later—and likely most popular—addition of what is widely considered to be the final verse of Amazing Grace makes the point.

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”

See what I mean? We think of “Eternal Life” along the lines of years and days, which naturally is the only category we can really grasp. Here’s the big problem with this way of thinking. It tends to create an unfortunate and very limited category for Eternal Life. If we think of it as an extension of time, we will primarily consider it as something that happens after time as we knew it ends. There’s life and death and eternal life. Eternal life must mean the extension of our life beyond our death.

At this point I want both to assure you that Eternal Life at the very least means the extension of our life beyond our death, yet I want to stretch your understanding to a much larger and more biblical way of grasping it. This is going to sound deep but stick with me. It’s important. Time and Eternity are two separate yet coexisting realities. Time is not a feature of Eternity. The big miracle is that because of Jesus, Eternity has made itself a feature of Time. (I know– deep thought– but you’re smart. Hang with me).

The Bible, reveals a bigger picture. The Bible gives us life in three basic epochs. First, the Creation. Second, the Fall from Grace which inaugurated “The Present Evil Age,” and third, “The Age to Come.” Here’s the kicker. The “Age to Come” was inaugurated with the coming of Jesus Christ. He was and is “The Eternal Life.” Think back through his life on earth and all the ways he reversed the agendas of sin and death. Jesus life was one massive take-down of death—right up to the present day. In fact, remember the very opening of 1 John with me:

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 1 John 1:2. 

You see, death is not something that happens to us when we die. It’s something we carry around in our bodies that finally takes us down. Death is the disease we are born with and the one that will eventually kill us. It’s why the great quest of all of human history, from fountains of youth to time travel to revolutionary new juice diets, has been to find a cure for death. The best we’ve been able to manage is to extend our life expectancy by a few years. Why all this? Because in the deepest place of our soul, we remember Eden. We know that we know that we know we were not created for death. We are created for Life and not just endless life but Eternal Life.

Because of and in the midst of this present evil age, death seems to win. This is why the resurrection from the dead was such a long anticipated sign for God’s people. The resurrection from the dead would signify the defeat of death and the beginning of “The Age to Come.” The Age to Come is nothing short of the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. With the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit, the Age to Come has actually broken in on the Present Evil Age.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Eternal Life is not that portion of life that begins after we die. No, Eternal Life is the Person of Jesus Christ. Eternal Life means the restoration of human beings to God’s original intentions—i.e. like Jesus Christ. Eternal Life is a qualitative change, one dimension of which is the end of thinking about time as a quantitative reality. Eternal Life is the infusion of the very life of God into a human person. It has a durable nature of an unending quality. It’s why one of the Church’s most ancient songs says, “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. World without end, Amen. Amen.

BEFORE: We have primarily thought of Eternal Life as a conceptual albeit real truth meant to comfort us concerning the shortness of our life on earth and the promise of something much better later. The general sentiment is, “You are going to die, but don’t worry. You will live forever if you believe in Jesus.”

NOW: We must grasp Eternal Life as the intervention of Jesus Christ into the Present Evil Age to inaugurate the Age to Come right in the midst of it—something akin to a table in the presence of our enemies. When he returns to the Earth there will be the final cataclysmic consummation of his Kingdom, but it is now a very real and powerful going concern. The Promise is every bit as present tense as it is future tense. It is the right now infusion of Eternal Life, which is to say, “The Life of God,” into human beings to remake them together into a people whose presence manifests the Presence of God, the overwhelming power of holy love in which nothing is impossible.

According to our text today, this Life is given exclusively in Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, and extended inclusively to all who will believe and receive it. That’s the Gospel.

Folks, we won’t be there 10,000 years, because no one will be counting. ;0)

What say you?

J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at jd.walt@seedbed.com. Get the Daily Text delivered to your inbox fresh every morning. Subscribe HERE.

All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.