John 6:35, 41-51
Eternal life – this is one of my favorite topics. I’ve been preaching and teaching about it for eight years, since 2004. And still, if you ask most people in my congregation “what is eternal life?” they’ll tell you it’s heaven.
If you’ve thought eternal life is heaven for sixty or seventy years, you won’t depart from that thinking. It’s the bedrock of your faith. And that’s okay, if you don’t mind waiting until you die for eternal life.
Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. The word that draws my attention is the verb – has. It’s in the present tense. It’s not in the future tense. Jesus didn’t say “will have” (as in after death). This verb indicates eternal life is something that is possessed in the present day.
We’ve been conditioned to think having eternal life now means that since we believe, then we know eternal life is ours for when we die—kind of like a receiving a birthday present a week early, but you can’t open it until your birthday. You have the gift now, but you can’t enjoy it until after your dead. We’re going to enjoy life after we’re dead. Does that make sense? No wonder it’s hard to convince people to join us.
The Greek word for “eternal” is aiwnos, also translated as “everlasting.” Eternal in the English language means “without beginning and without end, that which always has been and always will be” or it can mean “without end, never to cease.”
The problem is that aiwnos, as it was used in the Bible, rarely referred to an unending period of time. The reign of David was to be an everlasting reign. Except David died. His reign had a beginning and it had an end. Many of the covenants and ritual practices in the Old Testament were supposed to be everlasting. We’ve stopped performing many of them. Everlasting or eternal did not mean “without beginning or without end.”
The word “life” can mean the obvious – a living thing that walks and breathes and eats, but this form of life – our bodies – have an end. In the Bible days, “life” meant more than the physical. It meant life that was real and genuine, a vigorous and active life. Both the NIV and NKJV study Bibles say in their commentaries that “eternal life” – in biblical times – meant “the quality of life only God can give you.”
Can we have eternal life today? Yes. How? Those who believe in the Son have eternal life. Really?
Maybe you have to consider what it means to believe. It means “trust.” But trust what?
To determine what Jesus is suggesting, you’ve got to read what he said prior to the “believing” statement in verse 47. Are you supposed to trust what is in verse 40, or verse 44, or verse 45, or verse 46 – or simply what the church tells you you’re supposed to believe? And what does it mean to believe “in the Son?” Jesus hadn’t died on the cross yet. Is this about his teachings?
I think you have to decide that answer for yourself. And if what you decide guides you to a quality of life only God can give, a life that is real and genuine and full in the present day, then you have eternal life. It may not match your picture of “heaven” the way you imagined it, but spiritual growth requires letting go of some concepts we accepted as children.
So, what do you think? Is eternal life “heaven after you die,” or is it today?