Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who
sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has
passed from death to life.
I read it in an obituary just the other day. It said that the man had “passed into eternal life.” I sighed, then thought about how many people think we have to die before we enter the wondrous life Christ came to give us. It is as though we are just biding our time till we go to the sweet bye and bye. It’s sad to put off really living until the end. Sad to put off entering the richness of life Jesus promises us today.
For me this basic misunderstanding of the Gospel and of life itself goes back to when, as a boy, I first put my trust in Jesus. I was told that by believing Jesus I would go to heaven when I died, someday. So I knew that I was covered. I felt like I had taken out life insurance to be cashed in when I died. Unfortunately, that meant putting off many years of really living until I discovered what “eternal life” is.
The words “eternal life” translate the Greek zoe aionios, meaning, “life of the age to come”. Ancient Jews divided time into two epochs: “this present age” and “the age to come”. People longed and prayed for the age to come because it was the age of Messiah. It was that wondrous, foretold time God would step into His creation to begin healing what was broken.
It is significant that the words “eternal life” refer not just to a quantity of time, but to a whole new quality of time. Everything is different because Messiah Jesus has come! And because Messiah Jesus has already come, He has inaugurated His kingdom and the life of the age to come. “The life of the age to come is already present in Jesus and made available to his disciples, and at the heart of it is an intimate relation with God.” (Rodney Whitacre, John: IVP New Testament Commentary)
Jesus is explicit in His promise to anyone who believes: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). As Jesus assures in today’s Scripture, the one who believes “has passed from death to life.” This new quality of life was at the heart of the apostles’ message: “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We are not left biding our time until new life begins! It is the “abundant life” Christ said He came to give us (John 10:10). I love how William Barclay describes Christ’s gift of eternal life:
What Jesus offers us from God is God’s own life. Eternal life is life which knows something of the serenity and power of the life of God himself. When Jesus came offering men eternal life, he was inviting them to enter into the very life of God.” (John: Daily Study Bible)
What’s left then for believers to experience eternal life now? First, we must really want it. That means not being satisfied with mediocre, low-level living. We come to really want the new and abundant living Jesus promises. We really do hunger and thirst for it!
Second, experiencing eternal life now means making it a priority to spend time with the One who is eternal life, Jesus! Notice how Jesus wraps up eternal life in Himself and the Father as He prays: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent” (John 17:3). So to know eternal life means knowing Jesus more and more. That means spending time with Him!
Finally, we will grow in our experience of eternal life as we do what Jesus asks us to do. The reason why we often do not know this wondrous quality of life is because of disobedience. Sin kills our experience of eternal life.
So today I pray with Richard of Chichester (1197 – 1253):
Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou has given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou has borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.
Grace and peace,